Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #2

Chad Nevett: Week two of our three-week wrap-up of Final Crisis continues with a book that actually falls after issue three and during the same shipping month as issue four (you can tell by the logo and how decomposed it is). Not that matters, but I just wanted to point that out, because I'm weird like that. Now, I reviewed this issue over at CBR, so why not start with your response to that review, Tim, and go from there.

Tim Callahan: I think your review was waaaaaay off base, especially when you categorized it as a "" and said it "makes brains hurt." That's a shallow reading of the comic, and why is making a reader think somehow a negative???

Oh wait, that was CBR's own Hannibal Tabu's review I was reading.

Your review is, not surprisingly, a lot more receptive to the metafictional aspects of the comic. It is indeed a story of competing narratives, and it seems to be a commentary not only on what Morrison has done within the DCU, but a commentary on the DCU itself as a complex meta-narrative. This is a comic about the way in which these kinds of stories have been told before, so we get the recursion of Morrison's ever-popular character-senses-the-presence-of-the-reader trope along with an explanation of the Monitors as cosmic vampires feeding off the lives of fictional characters.

I think my own review would have tended more toward yours than Tabu's.

CN: I think nearly every review of yours would tend more towards mine than Tabu's...

But, yeah, this was a bit more obtuse in its presentation, but it's the same story Morrison has been telling for years. Your latest "When Worlds Collide" named a few precursors to Final Crisis, and you could have easily thrown in a whole bunch of other Morrison tales, but he keeps exploring these same ideas over and over again in different ways. This time, it was through the ultimate superhero fighting for life against a being that is anti-life through the lens of some metafictional commentary. Superman's fight here (and the decision he makes to win) is mirrored in Final Crisis by Batman's choice to shoot Darkseid. Both characters reach beyond their typical morality to "save the world," although, in Superman's case, it's save the... hyperuniverse?

And even if you don't get everything, it all comes down to: Superman fight evil Monitor to obtain magic potion that will save his wife. That's easy. Ignore the captions and look at the pictures then... even on just that level, there's still a lot to appreciate in this comic.

TC: Since this comic is clearly about the art of narrative -- specifically the art of the superhero narrative as embodied in the character of Superman -- what do you make of Morrison's portrayal of the Monitors here? I've seen critics refer to it as a commentary on fandom, feeding off a fictional universe for their own intellectual (and emotional) sustenance. And I've also seen people compare the Monitors to superhero comic book writers, who simultaneously feed off the lives of fictional characters (a writer's gotta get paid and buy food) and also manipulate the destiny of the characters they "monitor."

Do you think such a specific allegorical reading works for this comic?

CN: I'm not sure either really works, because of the use of the "corruption" the Monitors experience. Do readers or writers experience something similar? Especially because it's clear that the "corruption" isn't actually a negative at all, which the Monitors seem to realize because of Superman. I think you can see a broader commentary about feeding off of characters and watching them, but it's far too general to be about a specific group.

TC: What role do you see this story playing within the larger Final Crisis context? On its surface, it seems to have nothing to do with the greater Darkseid plot, and the Monitors see Earth as the "germ-world," a term which implies contamination and insignificance (simultaneously) yet they realize also that it's the keystone to the multiverse (and presumably the keystone to their existence as well). So how does the Monitor plot -- the Mandrakk plot -- echo/relate/reflect the concerns of the overall Final Crisis?

CN: It seems to mirror the plot of Final Crisis with the return of the "dark god" type figure, don't you think? This is the metacrisis that causes all of the various crises that are happening not just on the Earth the heroes we follow inhabit, but, apparently, on all of the others. Because of Mandrakk's return, every Earth is experiencing a crisis... Also, that Mandrakk is basically called the embodiment of "anti-life" surely points to Darkseid, don't you think? It also makes me wonder about the solution to Final Crisis being a combination of "good" and "evil" since it required Superman and Ultraman to coexist to defeat Mandrakk.

CN: How do you think this little tangent story works in relation to All-Star Superman? It seems to have some relationship, but where that book fell flat for me, this one really worked. Is there any relationship beyond the same writer and character?

TC: There's certainly a parallel between All-Star and Superman Beyond, most emphatically on the final page of each series. In All-Star we get the promise that Superman will continue via Quintum's technology -- "Superman 2," which we know will lead to a future strain of Supermen, as seen in the appearance of the Superman Squad in issue #6 -- while in Superman Beyond we get the ultimate Superman epitaph: "To Be Continued." It all ties in to Morrison's constant articulation of the existence of Superman above and beyond our own mortal existence. The whole "Superman is realer than us" idea.

Plus, both series feature that moment of transcendent awareness where Superman realizes how everything fits together, but, ironically, in All-Star, the moment is one in which he realizes that "we are all there is" and there is no higher power or meaning above the deeds of humanity/superhumanity. In Superman Beyond, he not only recognizes the existence of a higher realm in the Bleed, but he senses the reader as well, as he feels our breath as we "cradle" the comic book in our hands. I think the difference between those two moments speak to the differences between the two series. All-Star is a sealed-system look at the Superman mythos and our universe exists inside that one -- we are the pocket universe inside Superman's Fortress. Superman is the ultimate example of goodness upon which our sense of right and wrong is based, or something along those lines. Superman Beyond is the DCU as a creation of our universe, and like Buddy Baker, Superman can only look up at us from inside his comic book reality, but he is always trapped within it. Of course, if we take Morrison's cosmology to its logical extreme, the DCU is a layer nestled inside our reality, and our reality is a layer nestled inside the DCU -- it's a physically impossible situation to be in, or it seems to be, but maybe that's because we lack the fifth-dimensional vision to see it properly.

Why do you think Superman Beyond works so well for you, but All-Star didn't do a thing for you?

CN: I hate to go to my old stand-by, but Superman Beyond 3D just seemed to have more "energy." It's more a frantic, high-speed charge through an insane adventure, while All-Star Superman was more... purposeful, more planned, a bit too static for my tastes. Superman Beyond 3D is told in the same fashion as my favorite Morrison stories where everything happens too fast and you need to go through it a few times to really pick up on everything. It reads like a six-issue arc compressed into these two issues, which is a style that I love. And while it shows off Morrison's love of the character, this story seems to be more about demonstrating how great Superman is without spending an equal amount of time telling us that he's great, which All-Star did quite a bit through secondary characters. It was more show than tell, I guess. Plus, it's in 3D and who doesn't love 3D?

I'm pretty sure most people don't love 3D -- or at least 3D comics. Didn't you complain about the 3D last time? I know I did.

But the 3D is FAR more important in this issue. It's a great use of the effect to break the fourth wall, and while it's not an absolutely essential part of the story, it does provide a new spin on an old Morrisonian cliche as Superman reaches out toward us. I read this issue differently than the first one, too. I read the whole thing without those damned glasses, then I went back and re-read the 3D stuff with the glasses on. I just have a hard time reading the words.

CN: Yeah, the 3D wasn't that great in the first issue, but worked really well here. I do think the 3D ended a page too early since there's a non-3D page that takes place in that "higher Monitor reality" and I don't know why it's not in 3D. If you look at the story as a whole, I'm not sure the 3D works, particularly in the first issue where it's like you need 3D glasses to comprehend one level of reality, but that wears off and then you need 3D glasses to comprehend another level of reality. It's kind of odd and arbitrary in many ways. But, if you take this issue alone with the 3D, it works for the most part, I think.

TC: What a bold defense, my friend! I guess we should probably wrap this up, and get our brains ready for whatever is in store for us next week with Final Crisis #7. Do you think the Monitors will play a role in the finale at all? Will Mandrakk reappear in the end? Or will this 3D detour remain just a thematic parallel to the main event, and someone else (Judd Winick? Gail Simone?) will pick up on the space vampire Monitors and use them as villains in the future?

CN: Actually, Mandrakk's introduction here reminds me of the way Morrison brought Solaris into Superman's world in DC One Million. I could see either Morrison or someone else picking up on the character and his followers, especially vampire Ultraman. I think Morrison began something here that will have to be addressed at some point. As for the Monitors in the finale... I don't expect much beyond Nix Uotan, but maybe he'll have a nice reunion scene with his long lost love... or maybe he'll initiate some sort of "upgrade" with the other Monitors, making them the new gods... who knows?

1 comment:

  1. "I'm not sure either really works, because of the use of the "corruption" the Monitors experience. Do readers or writers experience something similar? Especially because it's clear that the "corruption" isn't actually a negative at all, which the Monitors seem to realize because of Superman."

    The corruption element actually reminded me strongly of the end of Morrison's run on Animal Man, where Grant tries to justify the crappy existence he's forced Buddy to endure. Happy fictional creations are boring; it's only perpetual conflict that keeps them interesting to us.

    Great observations, guys, thanks.