Comic Fodder

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 2

by Grant Morrison and Doug Mahnke

I have to confess, as cool as 3D can be, I put off reading this book until last, because it’s not the most comfortable way to read. How about we just wait until you guys perfect hologram comics, and the pictures just pop up off the page when we open it up? I was also dreading the conclusion a little bit, because this story was supposed to be a one-shot allegedly at first, which means I am reading another late comic in the meta-story, which has slowly been ruining things for me. Ah well, once more into the breach…

I’m torn because there are two ways to look at this book, and two different ways to do that. By this, I mean there are a lot of concepts that are delightful to ponder and debate in this story, but in its simplistic form, this is really just a simple story of Superman beating up the bad guy and saving the day. The second way to look at it is this: I can delight in rereading the story for greater levels of understanding, or I can resent the fact that as a busy person with a real life, I have to go look up annotations to have everything make sense.

If there is enough demand, I might have to write an entire column (or full-length novel) just on this two-issue mini-series, because Morrison throws in a ton of metaphors that have multiple interpretations: the cycle of life, myths involving vampires and the creation story, the fall from grace, ideas of how dimensions interact, etc. The problem is that he is not specific enough when it comes to DC continuity, and he is causing a ton of confusion among the regular readership.

For example: Earth 51 is remarked in other places as lost or destroyed. Yet Zillo Valla declares that 52 universes are untended and undefended. This is because even though one of the universes is “dead” from the mess in Countdown, it still exists, and Zillo is lumping it in with all the others.

The biggest source of difficulty I have with the concepts in this book is that they are re-runs. So much of this has been covered in Animal Man, and Invisibles, and Seven Soldiers, where Grant Morrison has taken DC characters and corrupted them for his own means, to tell only the stories that he wants to tell, and cares not what effect he has on the shared universe. While he is recycling all of these ideas from stuff we have read of his before, he is also throwing in material from Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, and others, and it does not have the feel of homage to me, it has the feel of “rip-off.” It has the feel of Morrison trying to throw in the kitchen sink in a desperate attempt to make it all interconnected, even as he writes contradictions into his own story. The Watchmen version of Superman is so inherently relating back to Watchmen, it is hard for me to read.

A bigger part of the problem for me is that Grant Morrison is pretty smart, and has flashes of brilliance, and then makes mistakes the next second. For example, his thought robot can only be started by an energy breach, which should be fusion, where atoms are smashed into each other. This would match what Adam does with Ultraman and Superman. Instead, Adam calls it fission, which is splitting an atom, not compressing atoms. How do I read the brilliant parts, when he can’t seem to use the right words for what he wants to tell us? There is a great amount of exciting ideas relating to nuclear physics and explosions that can be covered here, but messing up fission and fusion kills everything dead in the water, which may be why, of all the annotations on the internet, you won’t find any of them talking about nuclear energy or nuclear explosions. Maybe if Morrison had used the correct terminology to correctly describe what was going to happen, more people might have picked up on it. Fission=split apart/ Fusion=fuse together. Fusion results in much greater energy release than fission.

There are other areas that have been lost among the readership. Nowhere can I find a discussion of the analogy of Monitor and Son of Monitor as they relate to God and Jesus Christ, with Jesus Christ in this sense having been “contaminated” by his time spent on Earth, being “the best of them,” and needing Superman to get rid of Him, until the essence of Christ is absorbed into the Godhood, lost in the overall essence. There are literally so many concepts crammed into this book, that not only is there confusion over how they relate to each other, but some entire concepts are going over peoples’ heads.

There is more confusion about the dimensional aspect of things, but the “higher dimension” can have multiple interpretations as well. When Adam broadcasts Superman, is he going from two dimensions into three, hence his reaching out to us on the next page? Or, is Superman, from his own relative perspective as a three-dimensional being surrounded by the fourth dimension that is the time/space continuum, being sent not just one dimension higher, but to the highest of all the dimensions? The receiver that Adam talks about is the Thought Robot, so the nice thing is that the story works either way, which brings us back to the cleverness that Morrison shows us from time to time. Having more than one possible way to interpret what you read is not necessarily a bad thing, and can even add to your enjoyment if done well.

This book being produced in 3D is no gimmick; it is essential to the nature of the ideas Morrison is trying to convey. As soon as Superman hits the higher dimension, he sees Limbo as flat, two-dimensional, just as we readers would. Things become more meaningful because if he fails here, then there are no more stories, the story ends. For there to be a “to be continued,” Superman has to succeed here. The Thought Robot is the writer, who can “adapt instantly to counter any future threat.” No matter what Crisis is thrown at the DCU, the writer is the one who thinks up the way to save everything.

The story goes sideways as the vampire theme is introduced into a Morrison project yet again, and we go from a single Monitor, to a being who was corrupted, to a race of his offspring that are all celestial parasites. I leave it to the message boards to figure out if this means the comic writers are draining the comics dry with their limited vision, or as many propose, the Monitors are the readers, vampires sucking the life out of a once-energetic industry, hampered by their need for continuity and limitations on what you can do with their precious characters. The major unaddressed problem is, how did the progeny of the Monitor’s descendants become vampires in the first place? Because Monitor himself was not. This is never discussed. It’s like one of the Monitors says: “nothing makes sense anymore.” Is it the exposure to human life that helped to turn them into vampires? Is it Dax Novu leading them to see how they could partake of the Bleed? I can find no conclusive explanation.

So I end undecided. The concepts are intriguing throughout the story, even though many of them I am tired of seeing Morrison write. His attempts to involve the reader and make them part of the story are usual clever Morrison, but unsatisfying as to make for a genuinely coherent story, because he has failed to give enough guidelines to make things clear, hence the confusion on whether Dax Novu, Mandrakk, is the original Monitor from Crisis on Infinite Earths (COIE), or if Mandrakk was the first, prime Monitor who created the Monitor from COIE and sent him to the multiverse to observe things (this latter part is how it reads to me, but it could have been made clearer).

There are no simple answers, really, and that will turn off a lot of readers who want everything wrapped up into a nice, neat bow. I have read thought-provoking comics by many other writers, and I have enjoyed the questions they left me with. For this story, and for Final Crisis overall, I can say truly that I appreciate the brilliant concepts that Morrison raises in the format, but I also am very frustrated that he fails in a way that every other brilliant writer has succeeded: he was not clear enough to maintain the established continuity of the world in which he was working. I can put down Watchmen, go back and read it, and pick up additional details that I missed before, adding to my enjoyment. But rereading this story does not help me to put the evil figure in a proper identification, so that I can understand his position and importance within the confines of or in relation to the DCU.

The regular comic readers will hate this mini-series. They want a good story, but they also want it to be self-contained enough that when they put it down, the writer has told them what was up, and how the story ended. Then you have the Morrison lovers, who have been following his every work, and will sit bedazzled by this epic. I am in-between, enjoying the time I spend chewing on some of the ideas, but wishing he had given a us a few things in a clearer manner.

I have deliberately left a few things out of the review, because as I mentioned, you can go on for quite a while dissecting just one of the metaphors presented in this book. Props go to Doug Mahnke for trying very hard on his end to give us some good art to make part of the reading easier, not to mention his usual good work. But we leave this to head for Final Crisis 7, hoping they will fill in a couple of blanks, and if not, waiting for someone to come along after Morrison has left to put things in a better semblance of order.

Way too much to comment on in full but a few notes:

The concept of a vampire as truly evil is part of its core concept - namely they contribute nothing and take everything, even the essence of living, from others. Dax is such pure evil that he "becomes" a vampire, which is why the turning of Ultraman into a vampire requires him only to fully embrace the knowledge/idea instead of being infected with a bite (which is an entirely different notion of what a vampire is). The other monitors have subscribed to enough of his knowledge that they have become his sort-of avatars.

Sorry, but I disagree with your interpretation of fission/fusion. By fissioning Superman and Ultraman, Adam expands the idea of the two characters into a third. The Superman robot is required to house such a full idea. Since Adam is referencing a regular universe idea (fission) in a limbo reality, I can only assume that some rules of physics still apply. Fusion would cause a release/loss of energy which is not wanted. The robot needs to evolve and grow to combat any threat the evil Monitor can throw at it - that expansion can only be achieved through the addition of energy (Superman + Ultraman + the power of Adam). The idea of matter and anti-matter coexisting to create consistent expanding energy - instead of wiping each other out in a massive release of energy - is the pseudo-physics basis for Star Trek's warp drive also.

I agree with some of your criticism, especially about Morrison revisting himself (though the very basis of the series is a Kirby/Wolfman crib so I suppose it feels right somehow) and while his use of incomplete ideas is typical for him, this story would have been better served if not used so much here. I'd still give it an 8 out of 10.

-- Posted by: David at January 28, 2009 11:51 AM

Hmm, thanks David. I'm wondering now if Starbreaker is a rogue Monitor somehow.

I'm sticking with my fusion preference,as the root of "fuse" is to bond together, while fission splits apart. That's not an interpretation, that's the way it works in physics, so since Adam did not split them apart in any way, but combined them, I think fusion still works better. Fission and fusion both result in a mass release of energy, but fusion releases energy on a much larger scale, which fits the scale of the story here.

One of the problems is you never know if the writer had a specific reason for choosing a certain word, if he messed up, or if he even thought about it. It could be we're putting more thought into this part of the story than he did. :)

As a small digression, the theory behind Star Trek actually supports my view more, if you look it up, you'll see that the matter and anti-matter are held separate, then the fictional dilithium crystals regulate the flow of anti-matter. When the matter and anti-matter meet, they annihilate each other and a massive energy release occurs; the resultant energy is what they use to form the "warp bubble," but the matter and anti-matter definitely do not co-exist in the same space (longtime Trekkie, too). In both cases, you have a massive energy release that is harnessed to do something bigger. If you want to have some real fun trying to continue the analogy, here's a question: which "equal but opposite" characteristics of Ultraman and Superman might have been temporarily wiped out of existence when their forms were fused into the higher dimension?

-TP

-- Posted by: tpull at January 29, 2009 1:44 AM

My point is that you cannot combine or fuse matter and anti-matter at all and any attempt to do results in only one thing - energy. A reaction of two things, as defined in chemistry and physics, produces something new, a 3rd thing (fusion). Toss gaseous hydrogen and oxygen together and they create a massive release of energy (fission) but they also create a 3rd thing, namely water.

However you cannot combine matter and anti-matter and create a 3rd thing. The warp core is a perfect example. By using matter (Superman) and anti-matter (Ultraman) injectors and pushing them thru the dilithium chamber (Adam) we get the energy to power the warp engines (Mecha-Superman).

Instead of a physical byproduct there is but one reaction – the release of energy. Thing is, the energy was always there stored as potential energy. Since only energy results then the interaction of matter and anti-matter approximates to the definition of fission not fusion. For the purpose of this story, that energy is also a consciousness that inhabits Mecha-Superman.

Course we are talking about physics used in a story where a magic warrior woman infect mutant humans with a god virus to rob them of their powers so who knows really.

-- Posted by: David at January 29, 2009 4:22 PM