Jan
24

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond – Annotations Epilogue: Mandrakk: A Brief History

Posted by on Saturday, January 24th, 2009 at 06:46:18 PM

For me Final Crisis, is about the type of guilt-ridden, self-loathing stories we insist on telling ourselves and, especially, our children—about the damage those stories do and about the good they could do if we took more responsibility for the power and influence of our words.

Grant Morrison

Before we move on to #7 this week, I just want to take a final look at Superman Beyond and what it meant – and see if I can disentangle the timeline of events, causes and effects Morrison is setting up here.

At this point, how it fits into the larger story is fairly clear – the entire adventure takes place between Lois’s heartbeats on New Earth, due to what’s likely a time dilation between Earth-0 and the rest of the multiverse. The vampire army that Mandrakk will doubtlessly invade Earth-0 with in Final Crisis #7 has its first conscript in the form of Ultraman; I assume Mandrakk has, in his relative timeline, hundreds if not thousands of years to get together his crew.

Zillo Valla

But who is Mandrakk? Let me see if I can figure it out.

As we saw in the origin story, the vast MONITOR intelligence discovered the multiverse within itself and sealed it off with the Orrery. It then created the first Monitor as a probe – this Monitor would later become known as Dax Novu, “first son of MONITOR.” However, when the probe entered the multiverse, it was forced to split into two due to the Manichaean nature of the DC Multiverse; although a Monitor probe would be beyond good or evil, it had to split into good and evil halves. (This is why Superman and Ultraman need to join together to reach the Monitors’ world.)

(Not a Watcher)

Dax Novu suddenly shows up in the DC Universe, and the Anti-Monitor takes over Qward fairly quickly, leading to the original Crisis on Infinite Earths. In that book, Alexander Luthor relates a story regarding the origins of Novu and the Anti-Monitor, a narrative that was likely formed around Novu by himself since Superman Beyond makes it fairly clear that MONITOR did not discover the multiverse until that time, which essentially makes all the horrors of the initial Crisis the results of MONITOR dropping that probe in there – so much for impartial observation.

Anyway, after a pretty huge disaster of a science experiment, Dax Novu withdraws, ending the original Crisis. However, he’s been infected by narrative, and either builds or mentally forms the big Superman statue, and then, I guess, some other Monitors to talk to and make stories with.

The Circle of Monitors and the Superman RobotThe thing about the Monitors is that it’s important to remember that just because they tell a story doesn’t mean it actually happened that way. The MONITOR intelligence can turn its thoughts into reality within the Void; it’s the ultimate state of being, a gigantic self-aware Miracle Machine. This is evident in the scene where the Monitors evaluate the big Superman robot; it becomes a doomsday machine because they decide it is, not necessarily because Novu created it as a doomsday machine.

Anyway, so as the story goes, Novu was kingshit Monitor and he “brought knowledge and the riches of the Bleed.” This was probably the beginning of the end for him, as I guess Bleed is really really tasty, and he got incredibly addicted and “showed [the Monitors their] true faces” as vampires. What we know, though, is that they realized they were vampires because they believed Novu; the MONITOR mind was creating more and more elaborate scenarios. According to the story, they were horrified by finding this out, so they locked Novu in a big sepulchre. They didn’t kill him, or couldn’t, since Superman notes in Beyond #2 that they’ve got Bleed tubes feeding directly from the Orrery to Mandrakk’s crib, so they’ve got a constant supply of the multiverse’s lifeblood for him to drink. It’s possible Mandrakk’s feeding was preventing the expansion of the multiverse, since certainly lapping up all the Bleed produced by the flaw isn’t going to leave the multiverse in a particularly healthy, growing state. Or maybe it’s the “divine metals” that sealed and “scabbed” it over.

In any case, now Mandrakk’s hanging out in the Sepulchre, and the Monitors create an elaborate doomsday prophecy that they call “Last Day” (no definite article – it’s referred to as Last Day in both issues) whereby the big Superman statue will come to life when Mandrakk’s clock counts down, and then they’ll fight and it’ll be the end of the world. It’s incredibly important to note that in the Overvoid, a world made of thought, this doomsday prophecy is only true because the Monitors – and, by extension, MONITOR, since these are all sprites/aspects of the massive artificial intelligence that is MONITOR – believe it to be. MONITOR is scared of the part of itself that eats up Bleed, that likes the multiverse, so it locks it up in a tomb and everybody relies on tradition and fear to continue.

A Rush of Bleed to the Head

But another part of MONITOR, Rox Ogama, is conspiring with Mandrakk somehow to ensure the fulfillment of the doomsday prophecy. Something about Nix Uotan is special, so he exiles Nix Uotan – who is just a sprite, a part of MONITOR – into the multiverse. (One wonders why he wasn’t split in two.) This happens in Final Crisis #1, and J.G. Jones doesn’t really show the premises as anywhere near as disastrously kept as in Superman Beyond; reviewing the script in the Director’s Cut shows that the city is supposed to be in ruins beyond the immediate area of the Orrery. I am assuming that, at one point, there were far more than fifty-two Monitors to justify this massive city. Or maybe the city was made in ruins, and there never was a mighty race of Monitors, and the whole thing is just the result of MONITOR’s story – making MONITOR the God of these “space angels” since they are all parts of him and, quite likely, what the New Gods refer to as “The Source” itself.

See You on Wednesday!The rest of the events are in Final Crisis – with Uotan gone, things quickly go to shit, the Orrery gets pretty busted up and the Earths are out of formation. Dax Novu’s ex-lover, Zillo Valla, goes on a last-ditch save attempt, engineering events so that Superman and Ultraman could converge into a thoughtform that could inhabit the huge Superman Robot (which the story has decided is a thought-robot for just this purpose on Last Day) and fight Mandrakk, who, as Zillo Valla points out, only exists because they believe he does, and that the hopeful, inspiring story of Superman is “better.” Superman realizes what’s going on, impales him on his old staff from when he was Dax Novu, and he falls down onto an unnamed ruin which may or may not be Limbo because I still don’t know why there’s another Ultima Thule there that’s all busted up, but whatever. He turns Ultraman into a vampire and he’ll show up again on Wednesday.

Morrison’s always had a major interest in the relationship between words and thoughts, and it looks like my initial annotations undershot for the metaphor – it’s not just about comics, but about stories in general, and how hopeless stories and doom and gloom and apocalypse can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s an oddly timed call for optimism in Obamerica when it would have seemed more prescient if it had all come out as a oneshot in August, but I thought it was a pretty effective one with a brilliant and pointed ending that’s both a rallying call for life and all that feelgood crap and a wonderful way to tacitly nod to and acknowledge the nature of comics’ Neverending Battle.

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