C.S. Lewis once opined that the reason for which Aslan’s death and resurrection was so emotionally resonant with his readers – often time more potent then the religious feelings they thought they ought to feel towards the Gospel story – was precisely because it did not bear the weight of religious expectations. By dressing the story in the trappings of a children’s marchen, readers approached it with the same levity they’d give to any other entry in the genre. And so when the same essential plot played out amidst talking animals, they were able to see it with fresh eyes.
The Gospel has been subsequently translated into every genre imaginable – superhero stories perhaps more so than most others, even. Tom King’s peppering of the Christ-motif in Mister Miracle #10 is not a particularly notable instance of such. Wherever we encounter allegories and allusions to the Gospel, such already bear the burdens of expectations of religious reverence as the original itself; we can no longer experience even the ectypes with fresh eyes.
But King’s Mister Miracle operates as almost an inversion of Lewis’ use of Aslan in the Narniad, using a story explicitly about God to tell a quintessentially human story. We come to it with the expectation of theology garbed in a cape and spandex, only to lift the cowl to find anthropology behind the mask instead. It is a novel use of the God metaphor, and thus the first since the Chronicles of Narnia to truly have an emotional effect upon the reader.
King achieves this effect by employing a radical juxtaposition of the most mundane and the most extraordinary. The germ of this has been with cape operas since the start. Ordinary everyman Clark Kent sheds his drab suit to become the brightly colored Superman. But King is the first to take this to its logical conclusion. Suburbanite Scott Free is subject to all the mundanity of life as a middle-aged man: marital problems with the wife; the sudden stress of parenthood; maintaining adult friendships and managing relatives to whom he relates very little. And on top of it all, he has a tedious and soul-crushing job he absolutely hates as God.
Issue #10 is perhaps the best illustration of this thus far. Scott sits stuck in L.A. traffic, discussing with a co-worker the theological equivalent of TPS reports, having to hang up to run errands such as ordering a birthday cake at the supermarket. At the checkout line, he converses with the cashier, inquiring of the mere mortal if he can ask him a question. Anticipating Scott’s query, the clerk automatically begins explaining the store’s members rewards program. Scott then elaborates, explaining that the universe is locked in a cosmic struggle between good and evil, with billions of lives on the line, and that the war could end and good prevail if only he as God is willing to offer up his one and only son.
To which the cashier replies. “Yeah. That’s tough. Damn”
Perhaps the most familiar passage from the New Testament is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believers in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
How and why, exactly, the Father forsaking the Son to suffer and die on the cross achieves atonement for the sins of mankind is not entirely clear. Over the millennia, theologians have offered many various schemes to explain the necessity of the Crucifixion. Per the Ransom Theory, Satan was traded the life of the perfect Jesus for the sinful souls of all others, a seemingly solid bargain for the great deceiver, till the Resurrection robbed him of his reward. Both Satisfaction Theory and Penal Substitution place Man’s debt not to the Devil but the Deity, with the infinitely precious blood of Christ’s perfect life covering the cost of humanity’s infinity transgressions against God. In Recapitulation Theory, Christ is a second Adam, with His death and Resurrection reversing the first Adam’s introduction of sin and death into the world.
Though Scott’s conundrum as to whether to offer Jacob to the devils of Apokolips bears obvious semblance to the Ransom theory, such parallels are besides the point. The most-learned theologians would explain that such theories are mere models of the actual reality, stories and pictures to help humans have some infinitesimal apprehension of the divine life and their relation to It. All of the above stories explain God’s actions in emotional terms; His wrath towards sin; His love towards the sinful world; His mercy towards believers. But this belies an attribute of God which natural theology engenders far more confidence in than the poetic licence of the Scriptures: Impassibility. Without restating the entirety of Thomas Aquinas’ argument, Impassibility is the divine attribute according to which God does not experience emotions, not even analogically. Thus, as much as the various pictures of atonement reveal something of the divine nature in Christian theology, they equally obfuscate other aspects of God’s essence.
In Christianity, the mundane is a mirage, with divine emotionality such as wrath and mercy ultimately illusory, and any theologian worth his psalter tries to look past such to sneak a peek at the divine reality. With Mister Miracle, it’s exactly opposite. All the lofty titles like God and Highfather and talk of a cosmic war between Good and Evil are the things that are illusory, aggrandizements of how life feels. Every man feels as if he’s the hero of the story, as important to the drama of existence as God Himself. And every man feels that on his choices as a worker and friend and husband and father hinge the whole of history. He feels his own sons nol less precious than the Son, his own sacrifices no less costly than the Father’s.
The inner life of man is egomaniacally narcissistic, sacrilegiously so. King’s accomplishment is so perfectly capturing that in the character of Scott Free, whose life really is the strange admixture of mundanity and mythology that we imagine our own to be.