When last we left our intrepid heroes back at the end of August(!), Superman and Captain Allen Adam were facing down Ultraman in Limbo as Ultraman hoisted the Infinite Book and Mandrakk’s Monitor nanomachinery cracked through the sky into Limbo. Meanwhile, Captain Marvel got knocked back to being Billy by the feedback of the end of the Infinite Book, but not before leaving a riddle: “Ultimate evil is ultimate good. The most despised will save the most beloved.” Zillo Valla, their Monitor guide, ends up getting all vampiric and sucking Overman’s blood to power the Ultima Thule, the ship.
So let’s take a look at pages 31-62 of the Final Crisis: Superman Beyond one-shot, which would have eliminated a lot of confusion about the FC timeline if it’d come out in one piece as planned.
Page 1: Mammon’s from the Christian Bible, and is basically as Ultraman describes him here.
Pages 2-3: I don’t have much to add here but to note what a cathartic moment this is for Animal Man fans – the poor, sad king of Limbo has been haunting me since I read that book, and I seriously got chills down my spine seeing that final panel of the poor, oppressed, forgotten denizens of a narrative compost pile finally rising up. That face Merryman makes, with one eye closed – I can’t imagine anybody but Mahnke drawing this book.
Page 4: The Ultima Thule appears to be running straight off of Zillo Valla’s circulatory system now. It’s clear at this point from Overman’s statements that every Earth is facing its own kind of crisis right now; as stated in the last annotations for this book, Overman’s cousin is Overgirl, who we know landed on New Earth and picked up and experimented on (well, they tried to) by Checkmate and S.H.A.D.E. “Every monster has a story” is a pretty solid theme to this issue (as Mandrakk’s story isn’t too uplifting itself), and the word and concept “story” play pretty huge parts in this comic as Morrison places the entire concept of the heroic narrative under a Mandrakk Attack.
Page 5: See, internet commenters? Even a child can figure this story out! The “love story” Billy smells is that between Zillo Valla and Dax Novu, as her motive in all this is to hopefully get Superman to restore Mandrakk to the science-god she loved. Of the rejected alternate Supermen she mentioned, Majestic and Icon are the “burly flying strongman” archetypes of the Wildstorm and Milestone Universes respectively, and therefore DC has the ability to straight-up use their names. The others, I think, are references to ones they can’t: Savior is Samaritan from Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson’s Astro City; Supremo is Supreme, created by Rob Liefeld for Awesome Comics but most famously written by Alan Moore, whose presence is felt all throughout this issue in a variety of ways; Guardsman is Sentry, agoraphobic schizophrenic hero/villain of the Marvel Universe; Hyperius is Hyperion, blatant Superman analogue of the Squadron Supreme universe at Marvel, and Principal is Prime, fame-seeking hero of the Malibu Ultraverse. Whew.
The two syllables Zillo references are, of course, “Sha” and “Zam.”
Page 6: The Monitor mind Adam’s trying to contact isn’t the mind of Zillo Valla or any particular Monitor, but rather of the “vast MONITOR intelligence” (capitalization from Morrison’s notes at the end of the Secret Files – it makes it sound sort of like a computer, which is, I think, the point) that encompasses the void around the Multiverse.
Page 7: Mandrakk’s attacking with Shadow Demons, which are I assume the result of Monitor technology, explaining their use by the Anti-Monitor in the original Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Page 8: Marvel calls the Monitors “space angels,” and it’s a term that’s repeated in the Secret Files Sketchbook, so a direct comparison between Dax Novu’s fall to Mandrakk and Lucifer’s fall to Satan can be fairly easily made, but there’s obviously a considerable twist in this story as we’ll see later. (Morrison’s really all about the devil archetypes recently, the Fallen; Mandrakk, Darkseid, Simon Hurt.) The “weapon” Marvel’s referring to is that big Superman statue from the Monitor origin story in the first issue; using his quantum powers to make multiple (size-changing) copies of himself was a trademark trick of Adam’s inspiration, Watchmen‘s Dr. Manhattan.
Page 9: “I’LL DO WHAT I CAN TO PLUG THE HOLE IN FOREVER!” Adam tears up what I assume is Mandrakk’s Destroyer while musing to himself about the nature of Dax Novu’s final great weapon, the almighty Superman thought robot. The long-referenced matter/antimatter explosion is, according to Adam, the activation sequence for the thought-robot, which is kind of interesting since I’ve been wondering where the Anti-Monitor was with all this Monitor chicanery going around. I mean, the first issue straight-up said the original Monitor was the dude from Crisis on Infinite Earths; did he have to split into matter and antimatter parts to enter the multiverse? Simultaneously, does that mean Superman has to essentially merge with his opposite to enter the Form-world of the Monitors?
Page 10: Well, that’s basically what he does. Adam evokes symmetry as opposed to duality, since good and evil are halves of the same thing. (Of course, leave it to the barely disguised Watchmen character to bring up symmetries as well.) The Ultima Thule takes off (with another quantum Captain Adam in it), and Adam claims to be “BEYOND conflict,” the ultimate superhero, beyond good and evil as the perfect Nietzschean Superman. Adam clarifies that this was all meant to happen; these specific people in this specific circumstance, since Limbo won’t be affected by the explosion (apparently).
Page 11: Superman and Ultraman combine to create the full Superman essence, which Adam is cradling in his hands and sending past the walls of the multiverse into the Void to inhabit…
Page 12: Superman’s Cosmic Armor, the Thought-Robot! Man, the names in this thing are both amazing and ridiculous. I have no idea why Limbo is some spinning sawblade far away from the Orrery, but apparently it is.
Page 13: I discussed the Thought-Robot earlier, but yeah, I guess it was made just for this day by Dax Novu to protect the Monitors from… Dax Novu.
Pages 14-15: This graveyard walk (any idea on the origins of “Yivaroth?”) reminds me a lot of Jack and the Blind Chessman’s walk through the symmetrical whole of the world of the Outer Church and Invisible College. This is really the page where I started to wonder how appropriate the 3D look was for this book; while it might have worked better with clearner lines, Mahnke packs so much detail onto this page that’s obscured by the 3D effects that it’s a shame it’s there, especially when it ended up serving not that much narrative purpose.
Superman posits that the Overvoid is shaped purely by the thoughts of the Monitors; controlled entirely by their whims. Weeja Dell refers to Uotan’s exile as “long ago,” and the premises do in fact look a lot shittier than they did back in Final Crisis #1, so I assume much more time has passed for the Monitors than it has on Earth-0. (If, indeed, time really passes in the Void at all.)
Is that creature Weeja’s playing with in the last panel a hyperfly like Mr. Mind?
Page 16: Bleed comes from the multiverse, so if it’s being siphoned to the Sepulchre of Mandrakk, that makes it pretty clear that the entire multiverse basically exists to feed him. It’s left unclear, though, whether all of this has been happening for a while or whether it’s all happening now; Superman’s comment about the “story growing around [him]” I would take more metaphorically in any other work, but since we’re dealing with science-gods whose narratives “formed around them, like crystals in solution”…
Page 17: So all the Monitors are vampires! This is where I have to start wondering what the basic metaphor going on here is – are the Monitors fans? That was my initial thought, but the thing is, the fans certainly don’t have the ability to transform thought into reality. Is Morrison basically trashing his boss and coworkers here? Or will things be clearer?
Either way, the nature of the Monitor is to both protect and feed off of the stories and life of the DC multiverse. Mahnke kills that panel of Ogama hanging upside down, feeding off of New Earth.
“Now comes the CONFLICT, THE FINAL CRISIS!” I usually hate it when characters in crossovers say the name of the crossover, but when the whole thing is wrapped up in mythology and prophecy like this in the first place it really works. I guess Rox Ogama is Dax Novu’s brother.
Page 18: The splash-page introduction of the latest addition to the “cosmic DC Universe villains” section of Wikipedia. He looks like, well, a skeletal, vampiric Monitor.
Page 19: If the Void is controlled completely by thought, does that essentially mean that the Monitors are a civilization that progressed to the point of being able to make their own Miracle Machine? And that their stray thoughts are leading to this entire conflict? Superman calls this a “self-assembling hyperstory,” again calling into question where there really even was a Mandrakk in that tomb, or whether he showed up there for the story to progress. Or does it even matter?
Mandrakk is a lot like Starbreaker, isn’t he? Morrison doesn’t even really shy away from that, stealing the Starbreaker cover pose for the first page of #1 and stealing his “heat of suns!” line as well.
Page 20: The sequence from the beginning of #1, again.
Page 21: Zillo Valla tries to get the Monitors to believe in Superman over Mandrakk — again, thoughts to reality, same as the Miracle Machine — when Mandrakk roasts his woman and has a moment of remembrance and recognition.
Page 22: Of course, like any self-respecting power-mad god, he blames Superman for his loss as soon as it’s feasible.
Page 23: The thing is, Captain Adam said there were no dualities, but here we are, life versus anti-life – I don’t see it being all that symmetrical, either, although apparently their power levels are according to Superman’s narrative captions.
Page 24: And we get the big Dax Novu/Mandrakk reveal blown a few weeks back in the Secret Files. Mandrakk seems to have forgotten that, though, and the knowledge makes him screw up and fall – Superman mentions that he forgets even the idea of Mandrakk, as well, but he seem sto remember the Monitor world so I’m not sure how literally to take that.
Not sure what the rod he uses he impale Mandrakk on is, either – I guess just a random piece of debris.
Page 25: I guess they filled up the grave, since obviously Superman isn’t gonna be lying in it any longer. We’ll find out Superman’s tombstone inscription on the final page (it’s utterly perfect), but check Ogama getting led away in the last panel and the shit-shared look on his face.
Page 26: He splits in two as he falls, of course, since Overman is with him. I guess Superman finds his way back to the Ultima Thule pretty quickly.
Page 27: (Thanks to commenter Joe Iglesias for noticing this) Superman can’t speak because he’s holding the sample of Bleed in his mouth, which he’ll return to Lois via a kiss on page 30, therefore healing her completely.
Page 28: And what’s up with Ultraman landing next to what looks like a ruined-ass Ultima Thule? Is there a copy of it shaped by memory in Limbo now? I assume that’s where this is, that or the graveyard Universe-51. I guess Mandrakk really is sort of a Man-Dracula, if he’s getting followers through his blood at this point.
Page 29: So I guess Ultraman, Ogama and Mandrakk will be showing up in #7, with the Infinite Book in tow. (All of existence in a single object! – it might be a book now, but could that be the Worlogog?)
Page 30: This series really had a whole blood imagery thing going on – Lois’s heart was at stake so Superman had to stop using his heat vision to keep the blood pumping to instead keep the blood of the greater multiverse pumping from the Overvoid. All within heartbeats, while her blood was in stasis. More of those Monitore energy-signatures that almost look like they’re trying to be a sort of Kirby dot for these new space-angel-science-gods.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention: This also really clears up the timeline, since it’s still blue skies outside so Superman probably flew away, got caught up in Legion of Three Worlds, and then came back in Final Crisis #6 all after this. So all the parts where I talked about how Superman was busy in Beyond were incorrect, he was actually stuck in the future, so I guess we won’t see everything that goes on there until after well after Final Crisis #7 comes out.
Page 31: And, of course, what brought Lois back was the all-powerful corrupter and purifier of Story. The last-page wink seems like a reference to the end of “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow,” a story which, as supposedly final and apocalyptic as it was, even ended with a bit of hope from the message on the next page…
Page 32: “To Be Continued.” Not only a message to the reader, but also a message to the Monitors (and, by extension, whoever the Monitors are supposed to represent) from Superman that the stories never truly end – what we’re really seeing here is the fight to preserve the superhero narrative from a force that wants it to end forever basically for his own, well, satisfaction.
Which makes me ask, what the hell is the metacommentary here?
We’ve got a race of observers who can transform thought into reality in their world, the Overvoid. They’ve built this big civilization and now it’s down to 52 Monitors and 52 Earths, because their brightest light was fascinated by the multiverse and studied it and I guess tried to cultivate it until he discovered he liked the taste of Bleed and realized he was a vampire? Then the other Monitors kept him in the sepulchre and fed him a steady supply of Bleed until he was crazy enough to go loose?
First off, the whole thing is very reminiscent of the Terrible Time Tailors from Seven Soldiers, a work which definitely takes place in the same universe. If concepts have different faces and the Black Racer can be the Black Flash, are the Time Tailors the Monitors and Zachary Zor Mandrakk? I doubt this’ll ever be resolved or anything, but it comes to mind.
Secondly, following that line of thought… is Mandrakk Alan Moore? Superhero comics pioneer until he got twisted and sucked the life out of it and made everybody else think they had to do the same, and now the idealistic power of Superman is fighting him in Heaven and winning over the belief of the rest of these… writer-gods? Is this how Darkseid won the war in the other Heaven, by having Mandrakk write that it is so?
Just one week, fellas!