Funnybook Babylon

August 8, 2008

Downcounting Backwards: Overman

At some point Downcounting became too much of a chore to bear; it was a struggle to write something more cogent than variants on, “NO REALLY, WHAT IS ANYONE INVOLVED WITH THE PRODUCTION OF THIS BOOK THINKING?” Once it became obvious that Countdown to Final Crisis and its related titles weren’t really counting down to Final Crisis or anything else, I made peace with the fact that I had developed intimate knowledge of something with no real significance or worth besides being DC’s life-imitates-art “Great Disaster”.

But now that we know that Grant Morrison had literally nothing to do with the hundred-or-so books that were meant to lead into his Final Crisis series, picking through these books becomes a fascinating exercise in reverse-engineering. There are clearly threads that someone with access to Final Crisis’s plot decided to pick up on, though it seems much was lost in translation.

Take Overman, for example. The second issue of FC shows deposed Monitor Nix Uoton sketching out “visions” of superhumans, including sinister versions of Superman and Supergirl. The actual design doesn’t resemble anything in particular, though the lightning-bolt S shield calls to mind John Francis Moore and Kieron Dwyer’s Elseworld series Superman: The Dark Side where Kal-El’s rocketship lands on Apokalips.

Despite visual differences, it’s pretty obvious (and implied by the note written on the Evil Supergirl sketch) that these two characters are intended to be Overman and Overgirl. This is pretty much confirmed when the self-described “Ãœberfraulein” crash-lands in New York City in today’s FC #3. Overman is a character Morrison’s touched on repeatedly over the years, and Morrison has indicated he will be a member of Superman’s crew in Final Crisis: Superman Beyond:

[The book features] a team of alternate Earth Supermen: Captain Marvel from Earth 5, Ultraman, the evil Superman from the Anti-Matter Earth, Captain Atom from Earth 4 and the ‘Nazi Superman’, Overman, from Earth 10 in a kind of ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ voyage beyond the Multiverse.

Overman was a character Morrison introduced back in his Animal Man run, when as a “Second Crisis” loomed and beings from the universes destroyed in Crisis on Infinite Earths were streaming back into 1988 DC’s “One True Earth”. He was from some unnumbered pre-CoIE universe, a “realistic” one where all the heroes worked for the government and Overman contracted some sort of Super-syphilis that turned him into a nihilistic maniac:

animalman-overman

Animal Man managed to defeat Overman, and like all the pre-Crisis character he faded away and wasn’t seen again until a brief cameo in Infinite Crisis #5 by Geoff Johns & Jerry Ordway panel:

splittin-superman

 

As the DC Universe threatened to split back into “Infinite Earths”, pretty much every DC book made use of this motif of cascading alternate heroes in their pages. These were probably just Easter Eggs for hardcore fanboys, but since this particular cascade happened in the event book, they may well have been more thought put into it: Overman’s right between the “Tangent” Superman (currently starring in Tangent: Superman’s Reign) and the Silver Age “Nova”, the inspiration for 52’s Supernova. Perhaps Overman was already on the minds of Johns, Morrison and the rest of the DC Braintrust?

Regardless, about a year later we first saw the “Post-[Infinite] Crisis” Overman on Earth-10 in the Morrison co-written 52 #52:

overman52

 

Morrison’s 52 “exit interview” indicated big plans for this Earth:

…there could be one book or a whole line of books spinning out of the new Earth-10 (I handled that particular revamp, so I can tell you that the original concept of the Freedom Fighters on a world where the Nazis won World War 2 has been greatly reconsidered, expanded and intensified into something that’s a bit more Wagnerian and apocalyptic and a bit more adult.

So like so many other plot threads in Final Crisis, Overman and Earth-10 make a bowlderized appearance in Countdown and its related books. During one of the Monitor’s many speeches about a potential CRISIS, a “Nazi Superman” is featured in another cascading gallery of Supermen, which again contains Tangent Superman, Kingdom Come Superman (currently in Justice Society of America), Red Son Superman (subject of a Countdown one-shot and star of Countdown: Arena), Earth-2 Superman (freshly killed in Infinite Crisis) and Ultraman of Earth-3 (another Countdown cast member/victim). This wasn’t written by Johns, Morrison or anyone else who seemed to know what was going on, but given that the creative staff of Countdown seemed to at least be receiving vague dictation as to what was coming up, it’s reasonable to assume this is supposed to be Earth-10 Overman, even though his costume doesn’t look like the one in 52 #52:

crisis-a-comin

A couple months later when Monarch decides to build his Grand Multiversal Army (a major Countdown plot that still baffles me), his first visit is to Earth-10, in Countdown to Adventure #2. Though it’s never explicitly named in-book, promotional copy for the book states that “Forerunner travels to Earth-10, the universe where the Nazis won World War II” Now, it’s possible that out of fifty-two universes, there are a couple where “the Nazis won World War II” and has an evil Justice League working for them, and that they dropped the “Earth-10” thing because they realized it didn’t line up with Morrison’s plans. This theory is given some credence, as CTA #2 lacks the “Earth Numbering Logo” that most other Countdown books with multiversal themes had. Also, “Nazi Superman” (and “Nazi Wonder Woman”) are given dye jobs between solicitation and publication:

cta2-solicitvscover

 

Regardless, in CTA #2, Forerunner defeated the “JLAxis” (presumably from Earth-10) single-handedly, forcing them to the Monarch’s army. His recruitment drive continued in Countdown: Arena where Earth-10 makes an explicit appearance in the form Nazi Ray!

nazi-ray

I know singling out continuity errors in Countdown is just mean-spirited at this point, but the explicit premise for Earth-10 is a re-imagining of the pre-CoIE Earth-X, “the Freedom Fighters on a world where the Nazis won World War 2″. So choosing a member of the Freedom Fighters, one that even showed up in that 52 panel fighting the Nazi “heroes”, is a pretty hilariously ill-advised Token Nazi in Our Epic Fanfic Fight. He ends up dying, but it’s clear by this point that no one anywhere was paying attention to this.

Finally, in the main Countdown book, Monarch used his Big Army to fight a bunch of Monitors on Earth-51 – the Earth sheperded by Nix Uotan. It was a big fight with lots of ciphers fighting back and forth — Monarch actually says in the book that the names of the people involved “aren’t worth remembering”. Blonde Nazi Superman and other Nazi Justice Leaguers are shown in the background, fighting people. After four issues of this, SuperboyMAN Prime wanders in and rips Monarch’s containment suit in half, killing everyone in the universe, presumably including the Nazi Justice League. The only apparent survivors are Nix Uotan and a single plant:

nix-and-plant

This unfortunately isn’t the end of Nix’s trouble, and after Countdown #13 someone must have realized that this scene doesn’t line up at all to Nix’s FC #1 protestation: “I arrived too late to save Earth-51. There was sabotage, I swear,” so they went ahead and re-destroyed a miraculously reborn Earth-51 a few issues later. This time, Nix was mysteriously absent.

So what does this all mean? It means that we should probably take Morrison’s advice not to “spend the rest of the year fixating on the plot quirks of a series which has ended” and instead “breathe a sight of relief, settle back and enjoy”. I am trying to do the latter as much as possible, but I am sure people will continue to wonder about this, and hopefully this will save those poor souls some time.

20 Comments »

  1. As I mentioned on Wolk’s blog, it would be nice to see the notes that Morrison handed the Countdown folks that read “Get the DCU to THIS point during the pre-FC year”. I’m betting that either no one paid enough attention to the notes, or that Morrison simply wasn’t explicit enough in his notes, or that Morrison was explicit, but whomever read the notes didn’t read into them like they should have.

    Comment by Squashua — August 8, 2008 @ 10:10 am

  2. I’m not sure Morrison gave them any notes other than the script to Final Crisis #1 and the plot breakdown of the series, to be honest. Which, you know, should kind of be notes enough.

    Comment by David Uzumeri — August 8, 2008 @ 10:36 am

  3. Two things: Did you pick out the Countdown art that looks like amateurish and embarassing as possible or did it all look like that? The Ray one in particular is hilarious cause all they did was slap a swastika on him.

    The other thing: You should do a column on Sunshine Superman.

    Comment by ATOM HOTEP — August 8, 2008 @ 11:32 am

  4. You ever wonder whether DC should find some way to officially ‘announce’ that Countdown is apocryphal? I would imagine that there are at least some people out there who (1) have read/are familiar with Countdown and/or Death of the New Gods and are somewhat confused by Final Crisis as a result, and (2) don’t frequent the comics blogosphere. At the very least, they could tell people to not worry about it and enjoy the ride.

    Just a thought.

    Comment by Jamaal — August 8, 2008 @ 1:06 pm

  5. Did you pick out the Countdown art that looks like amateurish and embarassing as possible or did it all look like that?

    He didn’t have to cherry-pick. If he did, there were worse panels at times to choose from.

    Comment by Syrg — August 8, 2008 @ 2:24 pm

  6. I’ve been browsing the comments on scans_daily and it’s amazing how many people seem to be genuinely upset that Final Crisis doesn’t line up properly with Countdown and DONG (tee hee, DONG). A few commenters have decided that this is evidence of Morrison’s monumental self-regard and he’s just ruthlessly bulldozing our beloved continuity! Apparently “but Countdown was shit and no one liked it” is no excuse.

    Comment by Ryan — August 8, 2008 @ 2:30 pm

  7. Ryan: in addition to Countdown being kind of terrible, there’s also the fact that practically all of the DC creative staff (not just Morrison) is ignoring Countdown. And the fact that Morrison had a long enough lead-time on Final Crisis that the first issue or two was effectively “done” on his part by the time Countdown sputtered into production. At that point, it’s really the staff of Countdown‘s responsibility to “line up properly” with Morrison, not the other way around.

    Comment by Chris Eckert — August 8, 2008 @ 2:35 pm

  8. Oh, I know, and that’s the argument I’ve put forward, but a lot of people seem to be willfully ignoring it in favor of using their misconceptions as another bludgeon to hit Morrison with. Because his books are so terribly, terribly confusing, and weird, and occasionally refer to things outside the tiny, incestuous world of superhero comics, which is a cardinal sin.

    Comment by Ryan — August 8, 2008 @ 3:13 pm

  9. And then there’s the smaller subset of commenters (commentators? commentatrices?) that are convinced that Countdown is Morrison’s fault, because he worked on 52 and Countdown was hyped as a 52 sequel of sorts. Never mind that this makes about as much sense as, say, blaming James Cameron for Alien Terminator.

    Comment by Ryan — August 8, 2008 @ 3:15 pm

  10. I don’t really think scans_daily is the place to go for intelligent commentary about anything ever.

    Comment by David Uzumeri — August 8, 2008 @ 3:21 pm

  11. I dunno, they’ve made some decent headway in the area of Jason Todd Is Totally Dreamy Studies.

    Comment by Ryan — August 8, 2008 @ 3:25 pm

  12. Wow, thanks. Overman and Earth-10 was maybe the #1 thing that was bugging me about Countdown vs. FC, no joke. Now I know exactly how bad it got.

    Comment by Jbird — August 8, 2008 @ 10:40 pm

  13. “You ever wonder whether DC should find some way to officially ‘announce’ that Countdown is apocryphal?”

    At this point, I’d settle for Superboy Prime waking up next to Forerunner, Newhart-style.

    “I don’t really think scans_daily is the place to go for intelligent commentary about anything ever.”

    True, but on occasion I’ve used the Superdickery forums to disabuse myself of rabid fanboyism. It’s like Thogal, only instead of a cave it’s a bunch of people upset over Cass Cain’s face heel turn.

    Comment by HitTheTargets — August 9, 2008 @ 3:02 pm

  14. “The actual design doesn’t resemble anything in particular, though the lightning-bolt S shield calls to mind John Francis Moore and Kieron Dwyer’s Elseworld series Superman: The Dark Side where Kal-El’s rocketship lands on Apokalips.”

    Actually, I imagine that the S on Overman’s shield is based on the symbol of the infamous Nazi SS (Schutzstaffel) organization.
    (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schutzstaffel).

    Also, and I know this is rather beside the point of the article, I find it interesting that the Earth-10 Overman and the Overman from Animal Man both represent nations/societies gone mad.

    The Earh-10 Overman obviously represents Nazism, thus symbolizing the German people’s darkest moment. And I read the Overman from Animal Man as representing an America gone insane during the nuclear arms race against the Soviet Union during the Cold War, barreling down a road that leads towards the destruction of the planet (the picture included in the article, of Overman, with an American flag on his back, madly clutching a nuke, says it all, I think). Furthermore, perhaps the lack of S inside his shield is a way of suggesting that at that point the United States had let go of all pretense of ideology and was just doing it all to compete with the Soviets for domination.

    Anyway, to also mention something on-topic: I’m pleased that writers like Morrison and Johns are ignoring Countdown. I, for one, decided some time ago that as far as I’m concerned, the whole thing didn’t happen.

    Comment by Derk van Santvoort — August 10, 2008 @ 6:00 am

  15. In regards to Nazi Ray, the one shown in the 52 panel looks more like the original Ray, while the one in Arena is the second Ray, so it’s entirely possible he could be a Nazi.

    Not to excuse them or anything, but it’s not too far out.

    Comment by EndlessMike — August 11, 2008 @ 11:35 am

  16. It’s interesting that Supes only seems to adopt national iconography when he goes bad: the Commie Superman, the Nazi, the psycho Overman.

    I guess, there was that alternate Brit Superman who used the Union Jack as a costume element. He wasn’t a Supes-gone-wrong type, but he seems to have been forgotten.

    Comment by CRwM — August 11, 2008 @ 5:10 pm

  17. CRwM: “It’s interesting that Supes only seems to adopt national iconography when he goes bad: the Commie Superman, the Nazi, the psycho Overman.”

    Ha, yes, good observation. One must be careful to make blanket statements about works written by multiple writers (even more so than with a single writer, I mean), but I may have an explanation.

    Superman is often defined by the statement “truth, justice and the American way.” The statement’s last part makes it clear that there was always an nationalistic aspect to him. However, in the cases of the two Overmans and Red Son Superman, the nationalistic aspect overwhelms the truth and the justice. It seems that when Superman let’s himself be defined by national ideology and identity, he cannot be a hero, merely a symbol of a country and creed, and is corrupted by this narrow viewpoint.

    Of course, this explanation isn’t absolute. As you say, there’s the Superman from True Brit, and there may be other versions that we’re not thinking of.

    Comment by Derk van Santvoort — August 12, 2008 @ 8:13 am

  18. Also, as an addition to my comments on the Animal Man Overman from my first post: If he indeed represents a nuke-crazed Cold War America, the fact that he had been removed from continuity, only to return to threaten the world again, could be interpreted as meaning that this particular threat (the destruction of the world by American nuclear weapons) was over, but could still resurface (the nukes are still around, of course). By the time Overman appeared in Animal Man, the Cold War was nearly a thing of the past, so it certainly fits timelinewise.

    Comment by Derk van Santvoort — August 12, 2008 @ 8:25 am

  19. I don’t really think it’s fair to bring the True Brit interpretation in here, considering it was written by John Cleese, who’s hardly a scholar of the character on a level with Grant Morrison or Mark Millar.

    Comment by David Uzumeri — August 12, 2008 @ 8:49 am

  20. […] what brings the recently compacted multiverse ghosting back, the major players being Ultraman and Overman… in Superman Beyond! the wisdom that Alexander Luthor Jr. imparted in the (terrible) Infinite […]

    Pingback by Unreal Estate - Superman Beyond, the Book of Sand and the Harlequin « Mindless Ones — September 1, 2008 @ 12:23 pm

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