In June 2016, DC Comics kicked off the start of its Rebirth initiative. After a wave of criticism surrounding the way they have treated their characters’ rich histories since 2011’s New 52 relaunch, DC has decided to rebrand. They hope that by restoring their characters’ pasts, they will restore readers’ faith in them as well. Do they succeed? That’s what the Comics Beat managing editor Alex Lu, entertainment editor Kyle Pinion, and contributor Louie Hlad are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
THIS WEEK: Kyle takes a Fourth World double-dose in Mister Miracle #5 and Bug!: The Adventures of Forager #6
Note: the reviews below contain **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Mister Miracle #5
Writer: Tom King
Pencils, Inks, Color and Variant Cover: Mitch Gerads
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Bug!: The Adventures of Forager #6
Storytellers: Lee Allred & Michael Allred
Colorist: Laura Allred
Letterer: Nate Piekos of Blambot
With Star Wars on the brain today, and ongoing discussions between myself and my partner and others I interact with on a regular basis about The Force and the machinations of the newest film in that series, it’s rather fitting that this week sees the release of two antecedents of one of George Lucas’ key source texts, so the popular wisdom goes, in Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga. Force, Source, blah blah blah. Many better writers than I have written at length about that comparison, so I won’t bother. Instead it just gives me a good excuse to tie these two books in together into one all-encompassing thought/piece/review/whathaveyou.
It’s funny, going back and looking at both of these series and gauging the sort of varying reactions they’ve gotten among my own personal circle that are fairly hardcore in the Kirby faith and the respective representations of his greatest DC contribution. Prior to either of these efforts, I think you can count on one hand the times that any of these characters were done justice by anyone that wasn’t Kirby himself. Simonson’s Orion has a number of partisans, Morrison’s “Rock of Ages”/Mister Miracle/Final Crisis has its devotees, and I’ve run into the occasional reader that really treasures efforts in this arena by Levitz, Gerber, DeMatteis, or Starlin. I’m sure I’m forgetting others But in the end, they all still pale to the sheer mythos-making that was the product of Kirby’s own singular brain.
So when DC introduced both Tom King/Mitch Gerads’ Mister Miracle, which is more or less a prestige mini without the format change, and the Allred family molded Bug!: The Adventures of Forager, the first extension of the Gerard Way Young Animal imprint. Readers were given the choice between two very different series: the introspective and rather weighty take on Scott Free’s own battle with what seems to be depression, and the wacky, multi-dimensional roller coaster that sees Forager take an adventure through some of his creator’s less heralded DC canon. The two titles couldn’t be any more different, and if you judged by some of my own friends reactions, which comic they preferred probably spoke some volume about what it is they find appealing about the Fourth World as a concept. While I can’t read anyone’s mind, and probably shouldn’t try…I can’t help but wonder, if you find Mister Miracle too slow to get to its point – is it the mega-superhero bombast of the concept that you prefer? Or if you think Bug! doesn’t quite hang together as a story, do you prefer that sort of great unknown that enshrouds the New Gods ala the Morrison take. Maybe it’s neither and I’m just spitballing bad theories about what appeals about one and doesn’t about the other.
But regardless, it’s difficult for me to escape (ha!) the idea that DC has published two very different takes on this property that approximate two key principles of the original work. It’s probably not possible to ever equal it as a whole, but what if you broke it down to its component parts and tried a couple of different takes through the lens of some of your more visionary creators? Well, you might have something there.
And for my part, both books have worked aces on me. Sure, sometimes I can’t quite follow everything that the Allreds are doing with Forager, and it’s a series that I think benefits from being read all in one gulp to follow the connective tissue between its individual adventures. And yes, I’m still not quite clear where King and Gerads may be headed – and if you asked me the define the overarching premise of the series, I’m not totally sure I could explain it, at least in a very basic “elevator pitch” style. But regardless, with both series, there’s a sense of excitement in each title’s monthly outings that always put them toward the top of my stack. As individualized chapters, the unpredictability of approach is commendable. Not that this is a surprise, as this has quickly become the stock and trade of Tom King’s DC output over the past two years, and Mike Allred has made an entire career out of this sort of thing.
With Issue 5 of Mister Miracle, we have what is basically the final 24 hours of Scott and Barda’s domestic bliss just ahead of his impending execution at the hands of Orion. They bask in a bit of fame, enshrining their hand prints at the famed Chinese Theatre, just before being waylayed by Mister Miracle mainstay Funky Flashman, who greets them with a not too subtle “Hey, True Believers!” (that he rushes them just as they get done visiting the Jack Kirby handprint is not lost on me). In their limo, he presents them with the dumbest of all possible solutions to the challenge facing them, and if you read it in Stan Lee voice, as I tend to do, that sequence takes on an extra humorous tone. The rest of the issue – until we reach the inevitable conclusion is made up of three standout scenes. The first, is one of the sexier bits I’ve seen in a mainstream superhero comic, where Scott and Barda consummate their final day together. And I shouldn’t be surprised, but they are fans of a little bit of bondage, with Scott in the submissive role. They’re definitely earning that mature reader tag. And it’s a moment where Gerads’ usage of subtle facial shifts within what almost seem like repeating panels really works out to his advantage. For the record, I think it always does, as his usage of that dramatic tool in the nine-panel grid is very purposeful and never feels out of place, particularly within the bounds of this series.
Following that steamy moment, Barda and Scott engage in a few assorted activities like visiting Oberon’s grave and sitting in terrible LA traffic. That I read this issue literally a day after I had gotten back from Los Angeles and had to fight some truly disgusting congestion a number of times between Century City and Burbank certainly aided my own feeling of the dichotomy between their happy faces and the screams of the torture pits they’re listening to for pleasure. Also, it probably got me the biggest laugh I’ve had reading a comic in a bit. We also get moments with them having lunch, spending time at what I have to assume is the Santa Monica Pier and then watching the sunset together. The entire driving force of this issue is to underscore the unusual and singular relationship that this unique couple holds, and as such it makes for a kind of adult-focusing romance comic that is a rarity in the annals of capes fare. And to a greater extent, it asks the reader “how would you spend your last day on Earth?”. Heavy, heavy stuff, and there’s still one area I really want to circle back to, but let’s talk about Bug!
This final issue of one of the stand-out Young Animal titles picks up with Forager, Kuzuko, and Bear facing the entirety of New Genesis having been turned into life-sized board game pieces; all done thanks to the machinations of Metron…or really, his corrupted copy Chagra. And in this opening frame, the Allreds do two things, at once they set-up the idea of Metron as an absorber of culture through Chagra’s usage of the Lifeopoly board game as a setting, but his understanding never really goes beyond surface level. A bit of a jab perhaps at how we as a society tend to regurgitate information without understanding any of its true context. In addition, the Allreds then play with our perception of what the impetus of the entire series has actually been.
From the first issue on, there’s always been a bit of a question regarding the reality that surrounds Forager. Has he actually been resurrected from his post-Cosmic Odyssey sacrifice? Or is he instead in some sort of purgatorial state that has set him upon this strange odyssey that has made up the bulk of the mini? Finally, the Allreds go right for that question, with Chagra outright telling Forager that is the case with the entire scenario being the final spark of his dying mind, and that he’s about the join the Source. Of course, it’s all a ploy to get him to destroy the Omphalos, but again, we immediately return to that theme of Metron’s weak academic scholarship as Forager sees right through his ruse due to a mispronunciation of Camus.
I’ll be honest; I didn’t know how to pronounce it either, so Lee, you taught me something this week.
On top of that, we get a great twist that reveals that in actuality, Chagra was not such a bad guy after all, and has been an unwilling pawn of Metron’s schemes, and now seeks to break free of that control. Metron then sets the Black Racer onto Chagra, the copy of himself made so well, he cannot destroy it. But much like his heroic end in Cosmic Odyssey oh so many years ago, Forager faces down the Black Racer and casts him aside easily with the full knowledge that the Source would never allow one to control the entity for his own ends. It’s an exciting moment, made all the more impressive by the always inventive Mike Allred pencil and layout work. The unflinching look on Forager’s face as he stares down the advancing skis of the Black Racer in thrilling little set of smaller panels before turning him away with the domino is a great moment, and classic Allred action storytelling.
So by the midway point of the issue, Metron flees the scene, Chagra becomes human, and the populace of Supertown is restored, and after those seemingly concluding moments; that’s when things get really interesting.
Thought the Omphalos, Forager meets the Entity behind the Source itself, a massive revelation that I don’t think has ever appeared in a comic before, though I wager someone more read than I may know the answer to that. I don’t want to be a Metron after all. But what’s really great about their interaction is that it deals with bit of theorizing regarding the “mind” and the “hand”, and the importance of that hand in how it acts as the moral compass of the mind itself. It’s a powerful discussion between Forager and this Entity that could be read a few different ways, but the obvious one is how it situates Forager within the hierarchy of New Genesis itself. As a character, he was literally introduced by Kirby as a way to view New Genesis through a more critical lens, a sort of Fritz Lang-esque look at the people in higher reaches of Supertown as the haves, and those who toil underneath as the have-nots. What the Entity argues is that without “the hand” to guide “the mind”, the true knowledge of the Source cannot be determined, which is why he favors Forager specifically due to his daily toil (not dissimilar from Metropolis‘ “the mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart”). It’s a heck of a statement, and by story’s end after we learn the truth of the Ghostly Girl and her teddy bear that we’ve been following along with this entire story, the final page indicates that Forager is finally accepted as an equal by his fellow New Gods. It’s a touching resolution and long overdue.
But amazingly, and to get back to Mister Miracle, it also presents some theoretical debate though it’s really more an internal struggle as Scott and Barda sit on the shoreline and he reconciles his own thoughts regarding Descarte’s “I think, therefore I am”, and runs through an entire exercise to explain to the audience, or Barda, or himself that he is doubting his own existence through a potential absence of God, and if God does exist, we must exist and in turn share his face. This is clearly a key reference point, that has slowly made its way through the series thus far, but comes roaring into view just as the first half of the series is coming to a close, as Scott continues to challenge the nature of his own perception – another element these two books share to some degree.
Another touching moment follows, with an explosive finale to close it out, but what struck me the most was how both of these books, so different in how they present this shared content: the larger than life approach of Bug! and the grounded, corner of the eye enigmas of Mister Miracle, both challenge the reader through bigger questions potentially beyond the scope of the work itself and theories of morality and existence. It’s fitting to have both titles came out this week as they play as two sides of that Fourth World coin. Not only are they excellent reads, but they pay tribute to the flexibility of the original concepts in a way that echoes much of the King’s original intent.
Mister Miracle #5 – Buy
Bug!: The Adventures of Forager #6 – Buy
I was a bad boy this week and didn’t get a chance to read much else between travel and some back issue diving. I do have a just about full-run of the O’Neil-Cowan The Question though, so that’s something!
I lied actually, I did take the opportunity to read this week’s Action Comics, since it was jointly Dan Jurgens’ return to Booster Gold AND penciling Superman. I thought it was fine, kind of your standard “going back in time and everything is wrong” story. I feel like the Superman books have run out of steam collectively lately, so anything that piques my interest right now is good and Jurgens coming back to art duties on my favorite DC creation of his certainly qualifies.
Oh and Michael Cray #3, with its twisted spin on Barry Allen is great fun to read. I really hope Hill and Harris are going to run through the entire Wild Storm universe iterations of the Justice League…I’d be terrified to see how Superman might turn out. This is a terrific book, by the way.
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