Ask Chris #232: Big Barda And Mister Miracle Can Teach Us A Lot About Love
Q: Mister Miracle and Big Barda: great superhero romance or greatest superhero romance? --@ReverendMagnett
A: You know, Reverend, ComicsAlliance is having a poll right this very minute to determine what our readers think is the greatest superhero romance, but as we all know, polls deal in opinion, while Ask Chris deals entirely in facts. Sure, they might appear to just be opinions with a lot of exclamation points thrown in, but trust me, it'll save us all a lot of time if we just agree that they're facts and move on.
Anyway, with Valentine's Day right around the corner, it's probably not a surprise that I got a lot of questions about comic book relationships, and while a couple of people wanted to know who was the worst lover in comics history (Lucy Lane), there were a few that specifically asked about Mister Miracle and Big Barda. So with that in mind, I'll just go ahead and confirm it: They are, in fact, the greatest romance in comics history, even beating out Lois Lane and Satan --- mainly because they compare their relationship to beating a shark to death from the inside.
Seriously. It's one of my favorite single panels ever:
It probably says a lot about me that this is what strikes me as one of the most genuinely romantic moments in comics, but the idea of finding someone in a world full of terrible things who will not only stand beside you, but charge right in and destroy everything in their path so that you can go back to living a happy life together? If that's not love, then folks, I don't know what is.
Of course, it's also kind of the perfect summary of how love works not only in Jack Kirby's (Fourth) world, but how it works for Barda specifically. She is, after all, built as a character who's very straightforward. She doesn't let any obstacles stand in her way, and that's one of the things that makes her go so well with Mister Miracle. He's the ultimate escape artist, the person who can slip out of any situation no mater how dire, relying on trickery and sleight of hand to get around things. But Barda? Barda doesn't get around things. She goes through them.
In the immortal words of Prince, Big Barda is not here 2 funk around.
There's a very basic level where that kind of contrast makes them a really fun couple to read about, especially since Barda is so ridiculously, hilariously aggressive about smashing everything that stands between her and what she wants. But really, that level of aggression makes a lot of sense. Barda is not, after all, one of the peaceful gods of New Genesis. She's from Apokolips, and not only that, but she was trained to be the most aggressive, brutal and utterly ruthless warrior on a planet that was built on brutality and ruthlessness --- a planet, as Kirby himself says in one of his typically amazing next-issue blurbs, "where holocaust is a household word!"
I've written before about the morality of the New Gods and how much I love the simplicity of it, the simple idea that Good and Evil are opposing forces, but not equal ones. It's the idea at the heart of "The Pact," the story that forms the core for everything else that goes on around it. If you're not familiar with it, the gist is that Darkseid and Highfather exchange their children to ensure a fragile peace between their two planets.
Orion, the son of Darkseid, the living embodiment of evil, goes to New Genesis, and even though he's in the difficult position of being the God of War on a world where war is anything but godly, he grows up good and honorable.
Scott Free, on the other hand, is the son of Highfather, the ultimate force of good, and even though he's subjected to every bit of evil that Darkseid can throw at him, it doesn't corrupt him. Good wins out on both sides, and shows just how weak Darkseid really is. There's plenty of self-interest, greed and hatred for him to manipulate and use for his own awful purposes, but in Kirby's cosmology, evil can never hope to compete with good on its own terms.
Which is exactly why Barda and Scott fall in love.
Scott's story may be about resisting corruption and embracing freedom and self-determination, but Barda's is about actively fighting against it because you've found something better. She loves Scott, and she's not going to let a little thing like an entire planet built on a foundation of suffering that has done its level best to forge her into an unthinking weapon stop her from reuniting with the person she loves and making a new life with him. And the thing that really makes it work is that for her, it's not easy.
Scott's escape from Apokolips is pretty justifiably regarded as one of the high points of Jack Kirby's fifty-year career in comics, but when you really look at it, there was no way that it wasn't going to happen. Even before he becomes Mister Miracle and starts making an actual living as an escape artist, Scott's defined by his ability to get out of things, his devotion to freedom even in the heart of oppression. Escaping from Granny Goodness's orphanage and making his way to Earth might not have been easy, but it was always what he was going to do.
But like I said, Barda's not an escape artist. She's a fighter.
For Barda to walk away from Apokolips is a much bigger sacrifice than Scott's. He's leaving a situation that's oppressive and horrible, but she's leaving a situation that, while still pretty oppressive and horrible, is also one that plays to her strengths. She's been built for it, and she's good at it. So good, in fact, that she's the highest ranked soldier in an army of warriors who have been trained for battle for their entire lives, the leader of the elite Female Furies. She's exceptionally good at what she does, and leaving it represents a much bigger sacrifice.
But that's exactly what she does, because there's something she wants out there that makes her want to fight against everything she's ever been taught, and since she's a blunt, straightforward fighter, she goes straight for it and pretty much obliterates everything in her path. And what she wants --- and what Scott wants, although looking back at those Kirby issues, it sure does take him a lot longer to admit it --- is to love and be loved.
Which is exactly what happens, and another reason that they're one of the best romances in comics is that it's remained that way ever since. Scott and Barda are almost universally shown to be completely in love with each other, and while I love seeing Barda in action, I've always had a soft spot for seeing her in the sort of Sitcom-Housewife role that she had in the '80s. It's one of those weird character shifts that follows logically from what the character wants --- especially since she's always willing to go back into action to defend that idyllic life of love.
Put them together and you have an incredible pair of characters that aren't just great, but that are driven by their love for each other in a way that very few superheroes are, so devoted to each other that they're willing to be devoured by a shark and beat it to death from the inside, metaphorically and literally.
And that, my friends, is what love is all about.
Ask Chris art by Erica Henderson. If you’ve got a question you’d like to see Chris tackle in a future column, just send it to @theisb on Twitter with the hashtag #AskChris.