Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #1

Well. Good to see you all again. I'm here late, but on the other hand I got to read this issue while sitting in the shadow of this structure, so I think it was worth it. As expected, David Uzumeri and his Legion of Super-Observant Commenters got to this issue first, so an awful lot of what appears below is cribbed directly from that site. I make no particular claims for originality.

Pg. 1:

As Jeff O'Boyle noted in the comments over at Funnybook Babylon, the Dark Monitor's pose here is based on the cover of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #96. Interesting! Note that Superman is wearing some kind of armor (check out the gauntlets, which are like the ones on the Monitors' "weapon" later this issue), and that his face doesn't quite look like his own, although the cape design is our Kal-El's. (We don't know who's inside the armor, of course, and Tom suggests in the comments that this might be a ZENITH-style switcheroo.)

I could swear I've seen the line "what shall we engrave upon your tombstone?" somewhere before, but I can't think of where.

This (and the opening of the next two-page spread) are pretty clearly a nod to the old DC splash-page tradition--the way stories would open with an image that would somehow encapsulate the central conflict of the story, then jump back to reveal how we got there.

Pp. 2-6:

A flashback to FC #3, of course. Scott over at Polite Dissent has a few things to say about the quasi-medicine on display here. Also, yeah, you'd think they'd have brought in the Purple Ray or some Kilowog-tech or something.

Is it me, or is the "recruit the greatest super-champions of the multiverse" business nearly identical to the premise of COUNTDOWN: ARENA?

Pg. 7:

"Universe designate zero": apparently DC UNIVERSE 0 was named after the place where it's set! The 52 parallel universes are numbered 0 through 51, not 1 through 52... but then what's Earth-1?

Pg. 8:

"Ultima Thule" basically means more north than north. There's also a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem by that title, which may be sort of relevant here.

The word "ultramenstruum" first appeared in THE INVISIBLES #22 in 1999; until now, I'm pretty sure, it was a hapax legomenon. "The Bleed" was first mentioned in STORMWATCH #7 in 1998. (Apparently Überfraulein's mention of the bleeding skies in FC #3 really was meant to have the implication of menstruation after all.) "The bleed" is also, of course, the space off the edge of the comics page

The phrase "germ-worlds" probably first appeared in Zadel Barnes Gustafson's 1879 poem "William Cullen Bryant."

"4-D vision" is also a callback to THE INVISIBLES, a surprising amount of which is concerned with the question of how to represent a greater-than-three-dimensional construct on a two-dimensional picture plane (like a comic book page); a 3-D comic book makes it easier to represent a four-dimensional construct. But what is the fourth dimension, you ask? It's time, of course; 4-D vision allows one to perceive multiple times simultaneously, instead of a temporal cross-section.

Pg. 9:

"Cast off! Weigh anchor!": I'm amused by the way Morrison has alien characters speak in totally Earthly metaphors (e.g. "dust for radiation").

As David Uzumeri notes, Übermensch is saying "We will have to accept losses! This machine is about to explode!" We first saw the Dr. Manhattan-ish version of Captain Atom in Nix's drawings in FC #2, pg. 9. And the Captain Marvel we're seeing here is not the DCU (0) one but the one from Earth-5 (a variation on Earth-S), where all the Fawcett characters live in their original incarnations.

Pg. 12:

Ultraman here--whose "weapons" appear to include a version of Etrigan the Demon and a version of, maybe, Batwoman?--appeared in his initial form in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #29 in 1964. Per pg. 18, this version is the one from Morrison's JLA: EARTH 2, which was actually not about the Silver Age Earth-Two (or the one Geoff Johns used recently in JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA ANNUAL #1) but about an antimatter universe that doesn't seem to be counted among the 52 basic universes. Don't confuse him with the Ultraman from Earth-3's Crime Society of America as seen in COUNTDOWN PRESENTS THE SEARCH FOR RAY PALMER: CRIME SOCIETY #1, although he is probably the Ultraman who turned up in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #11.

Pg. 13:

Earth-6 here, first seen for real in COUNTDOWN: ARENA #2, has a very familiar kind of New York cityscape, and is going through some kind of Civil War/Secret Invasion mashup. Plus: the guy in armor is secretly a shape-changing alien!

Pg. 14:

I like this little transtion from the plebeian quasi-Marvel Universe cityscape to the curvy high-tech one in the more brightly-lit world.

Earth-51 would appear to be the one from "moving part 51" that had been lost as of FC #1; its entire universe was destroyed in COUNTDOWN #14, then reinstated in COUNTDOWN #9, then turned into a Kamandi-like mess via the Morticoccus virus, and now... everything's dead again?

Pg. 15:

Lady Blackhawk and a character Morrison has referred to as "Doc Fate" are here on Earth-20. Earth-17 appeared very briefly in 52 #52; it's rather like the old Atomic Knights stories.

Pg. 17:

A yottabyte is one septillion bytes. The Zillo Valla/Overman scene is as weird as seductions get...

Pg. 18:

Overman is saying "All these universes vibrate at different frequencies."

Captain Allen Adam, the Dr. Manhattan/Captain Atom type from Earth-4 (established in 52 #52 as the Charlton-heroes-via-Watchmen world), is I don't think quite the same as the Earth-4 Captain Atom seen in COUNTDOWN: ARENA #4. (There was an albino Dr. Manhattan sort, Doctor Metropolis, who appeared there, according to Keith Champagne.)

Pg. 19:

And now we get to see Grant Morrison doing his own version of ARCHITECTURE & MORTALITY! This version of Limbo first appeared in ANIMAL MAN #25--see also the "monkey with a typewriter" business below. In the lower panel, besides Merryman (of the Inferior Five; created by E. Nelson Bridwell and Joe Orlando, first appeared in SHOWCASE #62 in 1966), Chris Eckert and David Uzumeri have identified Nightblade, members of the Alliance, Ace the Bathound, Gunfire, Voiceover, Ballistic, Golem, Geist, Hardhat, Chronos and Private Eyes.

Pg. 20:

Overman is saying something like "What is that? I can't remember why I made this. The whole business is for the dogs." The broken-off shard from the Rock of Eternity happened in DAY OF VENGEANCE, i.e. it may not have happened to this version of Captain Marvel.

I'm betting what the library gate should say (slightly misspelled) is "facilis descensus Averno" (or "Averni"): a line from the Aeneid, basically meaning "the road to evil is easy."

Pg. 21:

The monkey/infinite pages/infinite content business was referred to in ANIMAL MAN #25, but it goes back at least to 1913. Before J.L. Borges wrote "The Library of Babel" in 1941, he wrote an essay called "The Total Library" in 1939 that covered similar territory; the concept also has ties to Borges' "The Aleph," from 1949, and the Book of Destiny that turned up in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD.

Of course, if the Library contains all possible books, it also contains infinite sets of false instructions for repairing the Ultima Thule...

Pg. 22:

"In the beginning" is how a story with a finite starting point begins; "Previously!" is how an installment in a serial begins. And this is, after all, a serialized multiverse. The "concept to contain the flaw" looks a bit like Metron's chair, doesn't it? Also, emphasizing "intricate" in the final panel is a very Kirby-ish gesture.

Pg. 23:

"Liiving" is not to be confused with Liviiing. The last panel is, as David U. notes, a bit from CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS.

Pg. 24:

The majestic golden Superman here might be a callback to the conclusion of DC ONE MILLION. I suspect that Superman-as-a-concept is the original "flaw" in "Monitor perfection," the thing that makes possible infinite stories; it's sealed over with the divine golden metal (it's not likely that the golden metal of the time travelers in that totally baffling, apropos-of-nothing scene in 52 #27, which also involved time being frozen and space between seconds, is related, but I can always hope).

Pg. 25:

So wait, is the decadent doomed civilization threatened by "loathing and greed beyond measure" and waitin' for a Superman supposed to be comics readership?

Pg. 26:

"Who knew the day of holocaust would come again!": a callback to the first page of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #96 (Jeff O'Boyle pointed this out).

Pg. 27:

More prophetic language I could swear I've seen before: "ultimate good is ultimate evil," "the thing most despised will save the most beloved."

Pg. 29:

Overman's cousin must've been the late Überfraulein. "Carriers, destroyers, tankers and explorers": the Carrier from THE AUTHORITY is also part of the Monitor nanotech fleet.

Pg. 30:

The book contains all possible stories, including, I'd imagine, ones where evil doesn't win in the end... and I would feel much better about that "coming soon" if SUPERMAN BEYOND #2 were actually on the schedule.

Still catching up. More to follow...


David Uzumeri said...

A quick correction: I'm fairly certain this *is* the Ultraman from that issue of Brave and the Bold, as well as the one who's currently appearing in Trinity.

Tom said...

I wonder if the Superman on page one is also Ultraman: Morrison's described Final Crisis as a greatest hits album of his own stuff, explicitly mentioning Zenith among that, and the war in heaven in *that* story climaxes with a bait-and-switch in which a different version of the hero dies.

The flaw-perception origin of the Monitor presented here is of course directly linked to a best-selling mid-80s crossover, that being not COIE but Secret Wars I and the Beyonder's origin: a clever link maybe between the stories that began the modern age of mega-events. (And a prophylactic against Final Crisis II ever happening: nobody needs to see Mandrakk walking round with a curly perm asking Blue Beetle how to use the bathroom.)

Squashua said...

"Note that Superman is wearing some kind of armor (check out the gauntlets), and that his face doesn't quite look like his own"

The face has bolts on it. Superman (or whomever) is wearing/wielding the armor/weapon that stands over all the Monitors at the end of the book. The gauntlets are identical.

Squashua said...

"The broken-off shard from the Rock of Eternity happened in DAY OF VENGEANCE, i.e. it didn't happen to this version of Captain Marvel."

Unless you have access to papers and notes the rest of us do not, you don't know the story (yet) behind this Captain Marvel. It could easily be assumed that his one goal (per the promise of the Monitor) was to locate this piece of the Rock of Eternity. This piece might be from his Rock and not from the Rock of Earth 0.

David Uzumeri said...

Tom, I *absolutely* need to see Mandrakk doing this. He can keep the corn rows instead of going for the perm, though.

Douglas Wolk said...

Good notes, everyone. Thanks for the corrections--I've fixed some stuff.

Bots'wana Beast said...

On the Borges bit - the artifact in the library is more correctly The Book of Sand, as I mention here:

fcfanatic said...

Yeah, what is the deal with Earth-1?

Actually, Earth-1 has been the crux of my theory about how they can keep publishing DCU stories after they destroy the DCU.

But after reading "Superman Beyond," I have a new theory... something about heroes dying but their legends living on.

Earth-1 was seen in Tangent: Superman's Reign, but I think that was a goof-up and it was supposed to be New Earth / DCU 0. Then again...

David Uzumeri said...

That was a goof, fcfanatic. I think we'll see Earth-1 eventually, although whether the mystery of its existence is even part of Final Crisis or something later I have no idea.

Bots'wana Beast said...

Obviously, by their - Alexander Luthor's - own taxonomy, the Crime Syndicate's Earth is Earth-1: "I decided to call it Earth-2" isn't correct for the mainline DCU though and I rather prefer the antimatter universe as a (hyper)fly in the ointment of thuh Fifdee-Tuuh... Earth -(-1) or something.

I said...

A post-52/Infinite Crisis/OYL view of Earth-1 is offered in the first issue of the Tangent: Superman's Reign maxi-series.

raphaeladidas said...

The reference to Earth-1 in Tangent Superman was a mistake, i.

Or according to Jamal Igle, they decided New Earth was Earth-1 then Didio apparently changed his mind.

Will Staples said...

I'm confused - is Mandrakk, the Dark Monitor, supposed to be a new version or spiritual successor to the Anti-Monitor?

Ink-Stained Wretch said...

Pg. 1

I could swear I've seen the line "what shall we engrave upon your tombstone?" somewhere before, but I can't think of where.

Maybe here?

Pg. 8

Ultima Thule: Interesting also in that the phrase was often used to indicate terra incognito on old maps... It was one of those mythical land masses that would show up on the edge of the map, like Hyperborea, or Hy-Brasil (hello, Promethea). Also, Thule would have particular meaning to Ubermensch... Thule supposedly played a huge role in Nazi occult arcana as a mythical homeland for the Aryan race. (Fans of Roy Thomas's Young All-Stars (all three of us) may remember the Black Order's quest for Thule playing a role in the Arctic arc, "The Dzyan Inheritance.")


Menstruum, in addition to the obvious connotations, is also an alchemical term... referring to a solvent used in the transformation of base metals to gold.

Interesting, menstrua in the original Latin literally means "monthlies" and was originally used to describe the paying of wages. Of course, comicbooks also tend to be "monthlies"... and FINAL CRISIS and its various sequels can be seen as ultramenstrua in that they're "far beyond monthlies". (Insert scheduling joke here.)

4-D Vision: I couldn't help but recall how the spread in Superman Beyond recalled GM's other attempts to have his artists depict 2D space shattering into 4D... esp. various spots in the Dulce arc of INVISIBLES vol. 2 and Moog Mercury breaking out of "Status Quorum" in THE FILTH.

pg. 24:

I wonder if this goes way beyond "Superman as a concept" to "superhero as a concept." In that IGN interview, GM stated that FC and SUPERMAN BEYOND in particular are kind of his thesis statement on why the hero "monomyth" are such a persistent part of human culture.

Pg. 26

The "ultimate good / ultimate evil" / "most despised / most beloved" thing is driving me nuts too.... I swear I've seen that in some alchemical context as well!


Over here, Thom Young has a brilliantly nutso post on this subject, wherein among other items he suggests that....

Mandrakk may be a play on the name of Lee Falk’s character Mandrake (the Magician), who was arguably the first “comic strip” superhero to appear in print....
Metatextually, Mandrakk is threatening Superman for the title of the “first superhero story.” In a way, Mandrake/Mandrakk is Lilith to Superman’s Eve.

KA-POW! A theory so crazy it just might be completely insane.

And chew on this... who was the central figure in the godfather of metatextual, 4th-wall breaking comics riffs? That's right.... The Mandrakish figure in Alan Moore's "Pictopia."

bill9231 said...

I've been backtracking 52 pick-up while I read that series, and thanks for keeping up with Final Crisis.

That said, although this issue of full of ideas and wierdness like everything else Morrison writes, isn't anyone even mildly concerned that this appears to have ZERO bearing on anything going on with DCU continuity? I mean, wow, it's great and clever that Superman may be fighting Mandrake the Magician on a meta-textual level...and it's nice that Grant is doing a "greatest hits" review...but is that what anyone actually wanted in this event? Some actual, linear storytelling that addresses current DCU situations might be helpful. If Grant wants to do this, let him do it off to the side, like 7 soldiers.

I KNOW this was written a year/2 years ago, and that DC editorial screwed things up beyond repair, but to label this an important crossover book, while considering Last Will and Testament apocryphal...straight up heresy: I preferred Last Will and Testament. It has the mounting fear and dread of Final Crisis, yet events play out in a fashion that is easily understood and doesn't cater to the writer's pet obsessions (Deathstroke notwithstanding...but I would rather read about Deathstroke that these bizarre monitor spin-offs).

Kris Weberg said...

It does address current continuity: the villain is turning up in FC, and Superman's only on this mission to save Lois's life.

Pg. 8: The most recent version of this idea by Morrison may be Seven Soldiers: Zatanna, wherein interdimensional and intertemporal space is represented as flat comics panels characters like Zatanna can leap between out of sequence. Note also that Zatanna cries out to the fourth wall in both 7S: Z #4 and 7S #1.

Pg 22: The structure is a fractal, apparently.

Pg 28: "...No, but you see, now they know something can happen, they think anything can happen! The first thing they'll do is kill me for being so useless."

Merryman condemns the idea of the universe-altering megacrossover and the use of D-listers like himself as cannon fodder because they don't, as he laughingly claims a panel later, "have a real talent for gritty drama no one's ever thought to exploit."

If anything can happen in a fictional universe, then nothing that happens matters and no character in it matters. (They could wake up a Skrull tomorrow, after all.) Put another way, who cares if evil finally wins when there's nothing consistent enough to worry about winning in the first place?

I'd also note that the glasses insert labels the readers as "Overvoid Viewers," suggesting that we're all Monitors after all. Again, cf. Ztanna in Seven Soldiers pleading with the readers themselves (some of whom are also comics creators, the Seven Unknown Men).