Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mitch Gerads
Colors: Mitch Gerads
Cover: Nick Derington
Published: June 13, 2018
Wow, Tom King Knows how to pack an issue. This one is only 28 pages, but it is absolutely chocked full of interesting things to discuss, so lets start with a discussion of nihilism. At various points in the last eight issues this book has waded into the waters of does any of this f***ing matter. The moment when Scott had an extremely callous reaction to a pile of dead New Genesis soldiers is the one that sticks in the mind (mine at least), but this whole issue just seems to be wading there. The premise is that New Genesis and Apokolips want to stop fighting and Scott is negotiating with Darksied’s generals the conditions of the treaty. On the first page Scott asks to use the bathroom and one of the Apokolips generals walks him to the end of a deep pit. Scott relieves himself as the general launches into a story that Leonardo DaVinci supposedly told him about a painter and his student. As the story is told 16 panels follow the path of the urine down to the bottom of the pit. The story is that the painter and the student had a competition to see who was the better artist. The student painted grapes that were so lifelike crows pecked the canvas, but then the student went to take the curtain off his teacher’s painting only to realize there was no curtain. This story comes from Naturalis Historia and is the story of Zeuxis and Parrhasius. There’s some theories (here) on the interweb about the meaning of this parable, but let’s ignore them and consider it in the context of this comic book (I imagine there are more satisfying answers in scholarly works, but a cursory google didn’t turn up much). If you want to answer the question of who wins the contest, then it matters what your definition of art is. Is it more valuable to fool nature or to fool humans. But this question sort of divides humans from nature which doesn’t seem right. You also have to ask if the purpose of art is only to accurately reflect the natural world? The answer there seem to be no, art can reflect the world how it is or how it couldbe. ‘Emotions’ (I don’t know if that’s the right word here but I don’t have a better one) haven’t yet been considered, and while it’s too limiting to say that art must invoke some emotion, they can’t be completely ignored. We could continue in circles around this question for a while, but does the interpretation change if we consider that the punchline, “What curtain” occurs in the same panel that Scott’s still falling urine lands on the head of a prisoner at the bottom of the pit?
Maybe the thing that actually betrays a small nihilist bent in this book is when Scott, near the end of the issue, returns to the edge of the pit with the same god who previously told him the art parable. This god turns to Scott and says it wasn’t true and he lied because, “you piss with the son of a god you got to say something.” Lies and people lying to others and themselves happens a number of times in this and past issues. Previously the question is more what is the truth about what’s happening in this book and what Scott is experiencing. But here nobody can be trusted. There is one god telling bogus stories about DaVinci, the Apokolips generals keep changing the terms on Scott and Barda, the Mirror of Goodness is creepy, and a weird interaction around bonewine. At one point Scott is given deceased Granny’s Mirror of Goodness which displays Scott and Barda as shriveled living corpses when they stand in front of it. What exactly the mirror is revealing isn’t explained but it is showing some aspect of them (their soul perhaps) that is obscured by their external heroic presence. In another scene Barda and Scott drink bonewine even though they both know it is made from the corpses of dead gods. Their callous treatment of this fact and that they continue to drink it is chilling and harkens back to Scotts indifference at the towering pile of dead New Genesis soldiers in a previous issue. Cumulatively the value of life and truth seem to be diminishing as this story continues, which is where the nihilist thread creeps into this book. But is that nihilism aimed at the characters in the story, or at us the readers for caring too much and wanting this all to mean something? Is the point that ongoing war (at one point in this issue Scott and Barda are already preparing for the next one) creates cynics, or is Tom Taylor poking the reader and reminding us to lift our heads up and care about the world we exist in? Perhaps this is entirely too much editorializing and the point is simply that war is hell, and we are seeing its myriad effects on Scott and Barda.
The issue ends with the Apokoplips generals changing the deals of peace one last time to a single request. Scott and Barda can dictate all the terms of the peace treaty, but their son must be given to Darkseid to be raised on Apokolips. It is a wrenching scene that will (potentially) force them to estimate the value of the life they know versus the lives they don’t. The final panel is just Mr Miracle’s slack jawed face saying “what” becasue they have been presented with an impossible choice. Both Scott and Barda were raised on Apokolips and know what that does to a child, can they let it happen to another one?
Mitch Gerad’s art is always always always on point and this issue is no exception. There are no real action scenes here as most of the interaction occurs around a long table or between Scott and Barda in private moments. The way he draws those two together is always so intimate and a reminder of how strong their relationship is. There are two sets of panels of particular note (unfortunately) for their gruesomeness. There’s a moment where Scott is arguing with the head Apokolips general who becomes angry, grabs one of lower generals at the table and throws them head first into a wall. The panel of the head collapsing is unnecessarily violent, but reminds you how brutal this world is. The other panel is the previously mentioned page of Scott and Barda in front of the Mirror of Goodness. They transform into corpses with skin stretched like cheesecloth over their bones and larges chunks of skin missing. It’s horrible scene that makes you wonder what was done to these people and what have they become?
(Subjective) Score out of 10: 7