Funnybook Babylon

January 24, 2009

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

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.

25 Comments »

  1. Nice. That’s pretty much how I read it too. I think that “Final Crisis” hit critical mass w/ this issue, story-wise. The tale seems to take on a life of its own, like it’s improvising itself. Somehow, this issue is more ‘present tense’ than most comics (or stories!). Superman realizes he’s in a story, & before our eyes he changes the outcome. Morrison no longer acts as the Writer in Animal Man, he’s letting the story tell itself.

    For Morrison, Superman is an inspirational figure. I think that’s why you pick up a the connection to this week’s other big story, the Inauguration. They’re both inspirational world figures — as BHO knows!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vws9fTtQgz4

    Comment by Aaron Strange — January 25, 2009 @ 4:29 pm

  2. I originally thought that Mandrakk died falling into the void and was replaced in his role by his brother Rox Ogama. HOWEVER, now it’s apparent that Mandrakk was brought back from the void because the Monitors are too cynical to believe in a Disney death like that. They know it doesn’t count unless you see a body.

    I think Nix (and later Rox) can be banished to the multiverse without splitting because by this point in their history, the Monitors have been affected by story to the point where they can be good or evil. Zillo Valla also shows up in the singular.

    It is interesting that while the Monitor & Anti-Monitor were a duality, the plural Monitors protector/parasite natures are more of a symmetry. Or something like that, anyway.

    Comment by HitTheTargets — January 25, 2009 @ 4:33 pm

  3. Fascinating as always, David.

    One other thought I had on Mandrakk’s name: it’s “man/Dracula,” obviously, but it’s also close to Mandrake the Magician, the first comic-strip superhero!

    Comment by Douglas — January 25, 2009 @ 6:14 pm

  4. Interesting, too bad it will be lost on 90% of the common readers. Not particularly because of Morrison’s writing or composition, but because most people don’t care to delve that deep into the story. Initially I was very confused about Superman Beyond, because I couldn’t see past the 90mph storytelling that Morrison was throwing at us. i hought it was great, but initial readings left me with a big question mark floating over my head.

    I also think it’s unfortunate that Mandrakk will show up in FC #7 (and in the collected edition) and most people who only buy the main series will be confused as fuck. The last time we saw anything about the MONITOR world was in FC #1, and that was a long time ago. Maybe Morrison will provide a flashback or some sort of recap of Beyond for the casual reader, but I doubt it.

    Besides all of that, I’m loving it!

    Comment by Brad Bice — January 25, 2009 @ 9:16 pm

  5. Yeah, I agree that the reader just reading FC and not this 2-part will be greatly missing something. This is why I’m really depressed that when this gets collected, this Superman Beyond 2-part will only be in paperback in the FC Companion, and not in one of the hardcover volumes. It should be like a back-up or something in the main FC hardcover.
    That and it’s just so good I want it in hardcover on my bookshelf.:)

    Comment by Fearing — January 25, 2009 @ 10:19 pm

  6. Maybe Nix didn’t split because the whole good/evil thing between the Earth and the Anti-Matter Earth that caused the first Monitor to split is so out of whack with the gods being dead and evil winning on the good Earth and all that.

    Comment by Fearing — January 25, 2009 @ 10:21 pm

  7. Not much I can add, but do you think it was on purpose that Grant used the line “Come back to us Allen!”

    Comment by That Guy — January 25, 2009 @ 11:46 pm

  8. I thought Mandrakk was called such because he could be defined by some as “the root of all evil”.

    Comment by Wade — January 26, 2009 @ 2:01 am

  9. Maybe I didn’t pay much attention to Countdown but is it possible that Earth 51 was the DCU taken to it’s realism inspired conclusion? They wiped out villainy and then get infected by other Earths and becomes a desolate graveyard. What statement does this make of Marvel by having Weeja Dell love that worlds Monitor?

    Comment by That Guy — January 26, 2009 @ 3:17 am

  10. I actually think Earth 51 may have been the destroyed and lifeless earth featured in a bunch of (pre-Gage-relaunch) Wildstorm books. It looked like it at least.

    Speaking of Wildstorm stuff, I do love how we also quite possibly get the secret origin of the Authority’s Carrier and Planetary’s Shiftship in Superman Beyond.

    Comment by Kevin — January 26, 2009 @ 4:25 am

  11. Just another thing…

    “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.”

    This isn’t relevant to Final Crisis at all, but I thought it was funny that this could be seen as analogous to DC’s sales figures vs Marvel’s.

    Comment by Wade — January 26, 2009 @ 9:32 am

  12. Why would someone chose to read the main series and not this? Why would someone choose not to spend money on its loveliness? And why are we concerned about such people?

    Comment by Andy G — January 26, 2009 @ 9:37 am

  13. Another point – Nix may have split, and like the COIE Monitor, his anti-matter counterpart could’ve ended up in Qward’s universe, but as a human being living on the CSA’s Earth, and he just hasn’t been important enough to follow.

    Comment by Crusader — January 26, 2009 @ 3:48 pm

  14. Crusader, there’s a brilliant What If or something in how this whole story looked on the antimatter earth. If nothing else, a scene of Owlman shooting Highfather in the face.

    Comment by David Uzumeri — January 26, 2009 @ 4:53 pm

  15. @Andy G

    Because FC was supposed to be a self-contained 7 issue series that didn’t require you to buy any tie-ins to understand it?

    Comment by Graham — January 26, 2009 @ 4:58 pm

  16. Re: “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.”

    This reminded me of how the dual nature of fire was remarked upon in FC #1–it can be a tool or a weapon, can bring good or bad things. The Monitors in SB #2 look at the statue and decide “It can only be a weapon”.

    Re: “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”

    The areas of correspondence and/or turbulence between the current scene and what Morrison seems to be saying to us in FC will need to be commented on by someone smarter than me sometime in the future. I’m not an Obama hater, but whenever I read all of the Darkseid propaganda in FC, I immediately changed it amusingly in my mind into reverse-psychology Obama propaganda; all of Darkseid’s messages of despair become subversive optimism: TVs and radio’s telling the people “Hope! Hope! The Bush/Obama-sponsored bailouts are stealing all your children’s children’s money–but don’t pay attention to that and just Hope!” “Obama’s Anti-Anti-Life Equation is so easy! I just do what he says, smile, and everything will seem great!” “My tv tells me what to do–I love working for the government project my god-president gave me!” Instead, Morrison just gives us a ruler who’s obviously bad–maybe a little too obviously bad. After all, FC is (was?) supposed to SAY something about how we are now as human beings, and thus it’s impossible not to try bringing Obama in by comparison. Not saying that Obama is secretly a bad guy, just that Darkseid’s villainy leaves little room for nuance or social critique. In some ways Morrison’s much simpler dystopic vision is very, very passe, and way too simplistic. Orwell’s bad guys convinced the people of 1984 that a totalitarian regime was the way to go, whereas Darkseid forces mind-control helmets on people. Huxley’s Brave New World functioned by letting its citizens’ minds be consumed by their own free-love temptations, whereas Darkseid’s is just another boring repressive regime. Worst of all, in FC: Submit Morrison showed someone burning books–Oh please, you don’t need to burn books anymore; no one reads them anyway.

    Loving FC. Totally think some of the Joyce comparisons are justified. But as far as social commentary, I think this might go down as a big whiff.

    Comment by Don — January 26, 2009 @ 10:32 pm

  17. […] David Uzumeri has posted a further piece on Mandrakk, which really serves to reemphasise this point and lacquer another layer of being […]

    Pingback by FC:SB(!)3D#2 « Mindless Ones — January 26, 2009 @ 11:15 pm

  18. Read between the lines much? Final Crisis is the be all end all of DC Kirbyverse with a modern twist. Fourth World was supposed to be a finite series, and it’s time it was put to rest with it’s creator. Kirby was a firm believer in creating new material.

    Hopefully we will see more creativity these days. DC has been doing great with stars like Morisson and Johns.

    But how do you follow up after works like All Star and Beyond 3D?

    Comment by That Guy — January 27, 2009 @ 12:31 am

  19. “Because FC was supposed to be a self-contained 7 issue series that didn’t require you to buy any tie-ins to understand it?”

    Oh my god an author changed the detail of a piece going from conception to execution! Dickens was lucky he didn’t have to submit preview details.

    It’s not as if we’re being asked to buy irrelevant and poorly made filler material. It’s top quality entertainment written by the same author under the same banner, clearly advertised and still available in the shops! What is the problem? I liked Ulysses by James Joyce but I wish it didn’t tie into Portrait Of An Artist As A Young Man. Citizen Kane’s a good film but I thought it was going to be ten minutes shorter. I thought Monet was only going to paint eight Water Lily pictures. Only in comics.

    Comment by Andy G — January 27, 2009 @ 9:35 am

  20. Nix is a drastically scaled down, viral, mirror image of Dax Novu and the fundamental Monitor. He’s the product of the bisecting process began with God’s first contact with himself. The process of subdivision has got so rarefied by the time we reach him that pattern, story and narrative, as opposed to simple dualities, are the prime consequence of his swimming in the waters of our world.

    Or something like that.

    Comment by amypoodle — January 27, 2009 @ 9:40 am

  21. Like some trinity-style: Infinite = MONITOR mind, Nil = Mandrakk, One = Nix…?

    Comment by Duncan — January 28, 2009 @ 9:08 am

  22. Nix Uotan is Grant Morrison, the savior, come to rescue us from the corrupted writers and editors that have diminished that which has lasting meaning in comics.

    I don’t say this with any hint of sarcasm, and, to be sure, we know that Morrison has a penchant for writing himself into his works.

    Nix fights to restore proper stories, to show respect for storytelling (including its subjects and readers), and to help attain Superman’s wish (as seen in FC #7).

    The original Monitor, Dax, was split in two upon his “entry” to the multiverse (that is, when comics stories started being told). These two sides were the basic elements of classic comics stories: good/evil, white/black, etc.

    The original Crisis was a crisis of management; specifically storytelling management. The end result was that storytelling became overmanaged. What had before unmanaged and messy became orderly. However, those monitoring the management became corrupted. “Mere” stories about good vs. evil have been replaced with…something else. Look at where storytelling has come since 1985. Have we become more orderly concerning continuity? Sure. But are the stories beneficial? Are they, in multiple meanings of the word, any good? Nix/Morrison says no.

    Of Course, since Nix/Morrison is our teller of this story about stories, he doesn’t fight fair: he depicts the other storytellers as the ultimate evil personified as vampires. But, this is perhaps the point: Nix resurrects the story of good vs. evil and gets the audience to be on his side.

    At their core, Superman Beyond and FC are allegories. What Morrison does to make the pill easier to swallow is to give it all the trappings of a giant DC crossover crisis bonanza. We’ve got more Supermen than we’ll ever need for a single story, we’ve got Barry Allen returning, we’ve got Batman killing Darkseid; it’s all a great (and classic) show.

    Morrison seeks to remind of us why we love comics, and then proceed to give us some to which we can immediately direct that love.

    In the end, Nix/Morrison ends up “trapped” back in the stories themselves. The Monitors having been exposed, we all now have a part to play. Will we learn these lessons, take them seriously, and make use of them?

    To be continued…

    Comment by Damin J. Toell — January 28, 2009 @ 5:22 pm

  23. Nix Uotan’s lover is named Weeja Dell. Zillo Valla is a different monitor. Also @ That Guy, the monitor of Earth-51 was Nix Uotan, he was punished for letting it get destroyed.

    Comment by Tom — January 28, 2009 @ 5:44 pm

  24. […] Superman Beyond #1 Final Crisis #4 Final Crisis #5 Final Crisis #6 Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #2 Final Crisis: Superman Beyond – On Mandrakk Final Crisis […]

    Pingback by Funnybook Babylon · Archives · Final Crisis Annotations Epilogue: The Hardcover — January 15, 2010 @ 2:13 pm

  25. I read the Monitor’s growing corruption into Vampires as a result of the original Crisis as well, although the Monitors proxy as Editors mirrored things on a meta level. COIE was meant to “fix” the continuity errors of DC’s Multiverse and to do so required devastating changes to the DCU. As such, Monitor’s own probe (Editorial Direction) split into good and evil and sure enough, devastated the DCU. And the biggest sacrifice? Barry Allen … the guy who could jump from Multiverse to Multiverse.

    Darkseid’s interest in using the Multiversal Source as a means for enacting his ultimate goal I think probably stemmed from his involvement with Alex Luthor and fighting the Anti-Monitor. At least partially.

    So anyway, COIE was the first “major shift” in tone for the DCU and very shortly afterward, your Alan Moores and Frank Millers bleak stories came out and made it dark. So I always drew a connection between Mandrakk (Moore) and Miller (Rox Ogama). But it’s hard to draw any real connection.

    Comment by RetroWarbird — January 16, 2010 @ 3:02 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Powered by WordPress