kirbsday: the closing jaws of death

Last time: super-escape artist Mister Miracle literally stepped into Doctor Bedlam’s latest trap–a fifty-story building filled with ordinary humans driven to murderous rage by the doctor’s paranoid pill–and was bound in chains, locked into a trunk, and thrown off the 45th floor!

Mister Miracle #4 takes up split seconds later.  Short version: Mister Miracle escapes.  But that’s not the memorable part of this story.

big bonus! big surprise! big barda!

A woman!  A woman in a Jack Kirby Fourth World title!  Who’s not “simple but worried secretary Claudia Shane!”  Who’s not a wallflower like Beautiful Dreamer, whom readers didn’t think could talk because she was so passive!  Who’s not a villainess like Granny Goodness!  Mister Miracle #4 debuts Barda, a friend of Scott Free’s and an officer in the Female Furies of Apokolips.

Barda’s here partially for sex appeal.  Kirby based her look off actress and singer Lainie Kazan, who had done a nude spread for Playboy in late 1970 (not pictured because I value your continued employment).  Later this issue we see Barda in a bikini, and it’s an unusual amount of skin for a Kirby book, though she has no belly-button…

Barda’s also here to provide backstory. In the Mister Miracle series so far, every month something eerie and threatening happens, but Scott Free does not lose his cool: he expects it, and he’s pretty tight-lipped about explaining things to the poor, mystified Oberon.  Clearly there’s an origin story here, but Scott apparently is keeping it bottled up inside.  Barda’s less circumspect: she tells Oberon (and the readers) that she grew up with Scott in Granny’s orphanage and eventually helped him escape to Earth.  They’ve got a shared history, and at least one of them is willing to blab about it.

Barda is also here to add some chaos to Oberon’s somewhat-frayed domesticity.  It’s interesting to contrast the home life scenes in Mister Miracle with those in Forever People and New Gods.  The Forever People hang out with Donnie and Uncle Willie for a little while in issue #2, but the humans are weird hosts and the gods are strange guests, and they can’t wait to tell Donnie, “Have a nice life!” and leave in issue #3.  (The typical super hero doesn’t make such a formal goodbye unless he doesn’t expect or intend to return.)  The “O’Ryan Gang” is somewhat more ordinary than a crippled child living alone in a slum with his senile, gun-toting uncle, but they can’t take a break from formally introducing themselves long enough to have normal interactions.  Yet Scott and Oberon have a convincing foolhardy-child/worrywart-parent relationship, and Barda helps bring this characterization to the fore.  I’m trying to think of the last time I saw a male super hero cook dinner in a Silver Age comic…

And of course, Barda is also here to punish fools.

Yes, butch Barda’s version of Mother Box is called her “Mega-Rod.”  Don’t joke about it to her face.

It’s hard to talk about Barda without also talking about female characters in super hero comics.  DC’s major heroines at this point were Wonder Woman and Supergirl, both of whom were strong and effective, but weren’t directly at war with traditional gender expectations.  Over at Marvel, the most prominent female characters at that time were probably the Invisible Girl, who was so stupid she couldn’t even pick a name for her baby:

And the Wasp, whose reaction when told that an innocent man is dying of a rare blood poisoning is that her boyfriend should stop working on a cure and take her out dancing:

By the late 60’s and early 70’s, the Women’s Lib movement was hitting its stride, sometimes depicted rather clumsily in comics.  So it’s kind of cool that Kirby presents this Barda character as someone who is physically powerful, assertive as hell, totally indifferent to gender expectations–and yet very friendly and cool all the same.

the day of the multi-cube!

So anyway, what happens in this issue, plot-wise?  How does Mister Miracle escape the falling trunk?  Well, he just does!  But later he explains the trick to Oberon:

He then gets throw into an iron maiden, on the set of some kind of Dungeons & Dragons style medieval TV show–because why wouldn’t there be a medieval TV show filming inside a modern office building?

Again, the multi-cube dissolves the back of the iron maiden, allowing Scott to escape.  Though Barda frequently offers to help, Mister Miracle refuses as it would compromise the warrior-code of this duel with Doctor Bedlam.  Eventually Bedlam himself manifests…

…and threatens them with a human stampede, except the multi-cube casts a sleep spell and the heroes are spared.  Mister Miracle wins again!

This issue closes with Mister Miracle giving Oberon a hypothetical account of how he pulled off these tricks, which is kind of a nice structure–maybe encouraging children to imagine how Mister Miracle could have done the impossible, and then revealing the secret.

9 Responses to “kirbsday: the closing jaws of death”

  1. 1 Lord Bodacious
    February 23, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    The miser miracle escapes do not seem all that miraculous to me, this is a pattern in much of Kirby’s plotting that I have trouble buying into.

    1. There is an INESCAPABLE trap
    2. But our hero is able to ESCAPE
    3. Because he has a gizmo that lets him do ANYTHING.

    Is it me or is this the deal with all his heroes? I guess the fun is in all the gimps and weirdos scurrying around the edges while this happens.

  2. February 23, 2012 at 6:26 pm


    That’s exactly right. When I first read the New Gods series about ten years ago, I was really puzzled by the capabilities of the Mother Box. It can create a force field. It can create oxygen so Orion can breathe underwater. It has telekinetic powers. It senses danger.

    I kept on asking myself, “But what can the Mother Box do, exactly?”

    And finally it hit me: “Duh, the Mother Box can do anything, stupid. It’s like a get-out-of-jail-free card,” which is pretty much literally true in the pages of Mister Miracle.

    You can see bits of this in other comics characters: Batman’s utility belt, the crazy arrows used by Hawkeye or the Green Arrow, all the uncountable and inexplicably specialized gizmos in Iron Man’s armor, the never-ending weird super-things that Superman can do, Green Lantern’s power ring, etc. It’s basically magic, just gussied up as some kind of bleeping polyhedron from space.

    But even though there’s precedent for it, I agree that Kirby draws from this well rather often in the Fourth World titles, and it really saps a lot of tension out of the stories. In a typical Captain America plot, for example, the hero is going to get put through the wringer, and you’re thinking, “Gee, in order to save New York, Cap will have to be in two places at once! But he’s basically just a kung-fu acrobat with a really sturdy frisbee! How can he do it?!” And then the plot goes through some crazy rigamarole where he finds an ally, or the whole thing was a trick to snare the villain, or something. But in the Fourth World titles, you can just sit back because Kirbytech can do anything.

    This is especially frustrating in the case of the Mister Miracle series, because the thing that’s cool about Houdini is that he really did that stuff on his own, with meticulous preparation, a lifetime of training, and a ton of self-confidence. If Houdini instead had an infinitely useful bag of tricks, where would the skill or courage come in? What would be admirable about a guy whose mother does everything for him?

    As you said, the interest is mainly in the kooky side characters and the weird bits of setting that get thrown in.

  3. 3 Lord Bodacious
    February 23, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    > “This is especially frustrating in the case of the Mister Miracle series, because the thing that’s cool about Houdini is that he really did that stuff on his own, with meticulous preparation, a lifetime of training, and a ton of self-confidence. ..What would be admirable about a guy whose mother does everything for him?”

    THIS is the issue I have always had with Mr. Miracle, but was never able to articulate! The dude has one of the coolest outfits out of any super hero, but he always felt like kind of a turd because not only does is his “super power”, the odds he faces are often puny for a super-hero, and he has space magic that just whoops everything!

    I do recall a later appearance of MM in some of the Longshot story lines where he is part of a gameshow to the death in some kind of crazy world on Mojoworld and is escaping. It’s probably frowned upon by comic neckbeards, but I actually thought that was a very compelling execution of the character as he was constantly overcoming really really tough challenges.

  4. February 23, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    I don’t think that Barda’s Mega-Rod is a Mother Box, but rather a separate weapon/device.

  5. February 23, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    Barda’s strongwoman body type is definitely a nice change of pace for the superheroic woman.

  6. 6 Charlatan
    February 23, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    “This is a nest of bumbling hams!” would have been a perfect addition to my trollbabe’s repertoire. At the very least, it will go into my fantasy resignation letter.

  7. February 23, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    You might be right! But in this issue we see the mega-rod create Boom Tubes, it has jets permitting Barda to fly, and presumably is a mighty weapon as well. It seems to have much of the versatility of the Mother Box, and if it were an Apokoliptian (?) version of the Mother Box you’d expect it to have a “masculine” aspect. I guess we’ll have to see if it performs crazy stunts in the upcoming issues to be sure.

    “Barda’s strongwoman body type is definitely a nice change of pace for the superheroic woman.”

    Yeah, no kidding. One of the things that’s kind of cool about Barda’s design is that while she’s a good looking woman, she doesn’t seem obviously designed to flatter the presumptive male gaze. Like, Thundra is a hellcat too, but kind of a trailer-trashy, “women’s jail” exploitation movie hellcat.

  8. February 23, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    Big Barda may be the most Trollbabe -ish character in all of super hero comics. (She refers to her enemies as “hams” because they are lousy actors on the medieval costume drama, but I actually like the line better stripped of context. It’s the sort of thing she would say anyway.)

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