Death as a Beginning.
Both Ragnarök and Final Crisis begin with the unthinkable: the death of a god. For Ragnarök, it is the death of Baldr that signifies that something is very wrong in the world and that a great change is about to take place, as LoCicero says, “[t]he tragic death of Baldr was the single event that set the wheels of the Norse Apocalypse into motion” (LoCicero 142). O’Donoghue agrees, taking not also of the narrative shift that occurs in the story:[t]he death of Baldr is recounted just as the volva moves from recollection to prophetic vision, and his killing is presented as a decisive event in the inexorable progress to Ragnarök (O’Donoghue “What“ 87). For Final Crisis it is the death of Orion in the first chapter that portends the great disasters about to happen.
The deaths of both Baldr and Orion take place at the hands of family. Baldr was killed unwittingly by his blind brother Hod. For some time, Baldr had been having dreams about his impending death. Baldr’s mother Frigg petitions all things on earth to keep Baldr from harm, all things that is save for mistletoe, which she did not see as a threat. To celebrate his invulnerability, all of the Gods attempt to hurt Baldr with anything they can find. Hod, Baldr’s brother does not take part in the festivities because he is blind. Loki, the Norse trickster god and agent of chaos chides Hod for not participating and then gives him a spear of mistletoe and guides his aim. Baldr is struck by the mistletoe and immediately falls dead. The gods then go to Hel, the goddess of the underworld and the dead and ask her to return Baldr to life. Hel says that she will do so only if everyone on earth sheds tears for Baldr. The gods send messengers all over the world and ask everyone to weep for Baldr and all do except for Loki in the guise of a giantess and so Baldr must remain dead. Ultimately, Baldr is reborn after the events of Ragnarök and he reconciles with his brother Hod and they become gods of the new world (Sturluson 65-68, 77).
Because one of the main points of Final Crisis is that time and space have become distorted and are gradually breaking apart, the death of Orion is fragmented. Orion is shown dying in chapter one, where he warns detective Turpin that Darkseid and the other evil New Gods are hiding on earth. The moment when the bullet strikes Orion is shown in chapter three and Darkseid is seen firing the bullet in chapter ten. Incidentally, because of the time distortions, when Darkseid fires the bullet he is on the verge of death from being shot earlier by Batman in chapter nine with the very same bullet. Like Baldr, Orion dies at the hand of family, in this case, his father the tyrant god Darkseid. But unlike Baldr whose brother Hod unwittingly kills him, Orion’s murder is deliberate. Orion is killed by his father, presumably because Darkseid saw his son as being the only one who could stop him. After all, when addressing the other members of the Justice League in chapter one, Superman speaks of the power wielded by the New Gods with a kind of awe, saying that they are “capable of cracking the planet in half” (Morrison Chapter 1).
Each death in its own way contributes to the destruction that follows. Although Baldr is killed by his brother, the murder is Read More »
Death as a Beginning.
And Yet his Story is Rather Grim
The influence of Sigmund Freud’s ideas on the cultural landscape of the twentieth century is incalculable. Because of Freud, the human mind became a vast, complex dimension of its own– a world not unlike an iceberg where only a small part can be readily identified. The importance of dreams and their interpretations, once belonging solely within the province of shamans or mystics gradually moved toward the accepted realms of science. The actions of a person and the experiences of childhood were seen to have long lasting consequences. All of these things (and many others) which have shaped the way the western world perceives itself can be credited to Freud.
Nowhere is the impact of Freud’s theories seen more clearly than in the arts. Film directors like Fritz Lang, Ingmar Bergman, Alfred Hitchcock, and Woody Allen have made acclaimed films that incorporated Freud’s theories into the plots as well as the characters and sets. Literature, both on the part of writers as well as critics used Freud to create new methods of storytelling as well as new ways to examine the classics. Freudian themes also permeated the world of visual arts as well. Cubist painters like Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp created images that seemed to have been broken apart and reassembled, as if the paintings themselves had been psychoanalyzed. Surrealist painters like Salvador Dali and Max Ernst filled their canvases with dream imagery and symbols as a way to represent the subconscious.
Like Sigmund Freud, the ideas of American psychologist George Herbert Mead have also permeated our world in our never-ending quest to understand ourselves and those around us. While Freud’s theories helped us to see our mind as an infinitely more complex mechanism than previously thought, Mead’s theories on the self and identities helped us to see that we can only really know ourselves through our reactions to and interactions with others, not unlike Hegel who said of the self-conscious: it is only by being acknowledged or recognized (Hegel 11). Regarding the self, Mead said:
The individual possesses a self only in relation to the selves of the other members of his social group; and the structure of his self expresses or reflects the general behavior pattern of this social group to which he belongs, just as does the structure of the self of every other
member belonging to this social group. (Mead 40)
Annotated Bibliography and Influence Study on selected works
by Grant Morrison.
**note** This is in no way a comprehensive list of the books Grant Morrison has written. Rather, it is a (very amateurish) attempt at cataloging stories by Morrison where certain themes seem to be present as well as and authors that have influenced these themes.
Grant Morrison is one of the most acclaimed and controversial comic book writers of the past twenty years. Along with fellow UK comic book writers Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Warren Ellis, he was approached by DC comics in the 1980’s to revitalize their properties and inject some “new blood” into mainstream American comics, which had become pretty stale and rote by that time. The results of course were Watchmen (Moore), Sandman (Gaiman), Stormwatch and The Authority (Ellis) and many of the books that are included in this annotated bibliography. These books changed forever the ways that comics are both read and written.
I first encountered Grant Morrison’s work around 1989 or 1990 when I picked up his Batman hardcover graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. It was unlike anything I had read up to that time. It was mysterious, dark and crammed full of symbolism that I couldn’t yet (and still today do not quite) understand. Over the years as I read more of Morrison’s books—becoming quite a fan in the process–I began to see that there was something more to them than just the typical super hero action that I’ve always loved. That “something more” is what ultimately separates Grant Morrison’s work from that of most other comic book writers.
With a few notable exceptions, most of Morrison’s work is centered around non-traditional heroes. In fact most of his protagonists cannot really be called heroes, at least not in the traditional sense. Instead they are deeply flawed characters with familiar problems who react to situations very differently from traditional comic book super heroes. This focus on non-traditional protagonists both brings the reader closer to the character since they are seen as being more “human,” while at the same time creating a world or scenario outside of the comfort zone of established comic book
storytelling. This is but one part of Morrison’s overall hypothesis which is that with all of his books, from his earliest to most recent, Morrison has been tackling the same basic themes of the universe being in a constant state of conflict, or war, of perceptions as well as the spiritual or gnostic awakenings of his protagonists to this conflict. These themes of perceptual conflict and awakenings quickly evolved out of the traditional good versus evil conflicts and characterizations so prevalent in many comics as well as Morrison’s earliest work Zenith, into an infinitely more complex meditation on paradigms, memes, metatextuality and of spirituality.
This bibliography will attempt to both catalog the comics written by Morrison that tackle these themes, showing a progression or evolution of said themes as well as cataloging the disparate sources from literature, science, and the occult that have influenced Morrison’s writing over the years. In addition, this bibliography also groups together texts about comic books, specifically texts relating to the work of Grant Morrison. This bibliography is divided into five parts: first, books by Morrison, second, books about Morrison’s work, third, literary influences on Morrison’s work, fourth, philosophical texts that have influenced Morrison’s writing and fifth, esoteric books that have informed Morrison’s writing. The Morrison entries will be presented chronologically from first publication while the other entries will be alphabetical.
This bibliography will be of particular interest to scholars who are interested in the use, appearance and juxtaposition of disparate influences in a fictional context and how those influences grouped together create a bold and exciting method of storytelling in an often marginalized medium. For anyone interested in pop culture and the incredibly complex world that exists just below its surface as well as the limitless possibilities for storytelling that exists within the comic book medium, this bibliography will be very helpful in understanding the ideas of one of the most interesting writers currently working in the comic book medium.
Annotated Bibliographic Entries
Texts by Morrison
Seven Souls and Seven Soldiers
The ancient Egyptians postulated seven souls.
Top soul, and the first to leave at the moment of death, is Ren the Secret name. This corresponds to my Director. He directs the film of your life from conception to death. The Secret Name is the title of your film. When you die, that’s where Ren came in.
Second soul, and second one off the sinking ship, is Sekem: Energy, Power, Light. The Director gives the orders, Sekem presses the right buttons.
Number three is Khu, the Guardian Angel. He, she or it is third man out…depicted as flying away across a full moon, a bird with luminous wings and head of light. sort of thing you might see on a screen in an Indian restaurant in Panama. The Khu is responsible for the subject and can be injured in his defense – but not permanently, since the first three souls are eternal. They go back to Heaven for another vessel. The four remaining souls must take their chances with the subject in the land of the dead.
Number four is Ba, the Heart, often treacherous. This is a hawk’s body with your face on it, shrunk down to the size of a fist. Many a hero has been brought down, like Samson, by a perfidious Ba.
Number five is Ka, the double, most closely associated with the subject. The Ka, which usually reaches adolescence at the time of bodily death, is the only reliable guide through the Land of the Dead to the Western Lands.
Number six is Khaibit, the Shadow, Memory, your whole past conditioning from this and other lives.
Number seven is Sekhu, the Remains.
-William Burroughs, The Western Lands.
The above lengthy quote was taken from the last novel by William S. Burroughs, The Western Lands. It was published in 1987 and is the third part of a trilogy that essentially summarizes Burroughs’ life, his philosophy, and his literary and cultural influences. From reading Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, The Invisibles, and various interviews over the years, I found that Burroughs was a significant influence on his work. It was pure happenstance that I was reading both The Western Lands as well as Seven Soldiers around the same time. I was also listening to a lot of Material, an avant-garde funk band whose 1989 album Seven Souls features William Burroughs reading sections from the novel. But now that I think about it, was it happenstance or was it something else? This is Morrison and Burroughs we’re talking about so it’s hard to dismiss magical calling outright. The texts and music could very well have acted as a kind of sigil charged with meaning and connections.
So I set out first to connect the seven souls of man with the Seven Soldiers of the story:
Ren–“Top soul, and the first to leave at the moment of death, is Ren the Secret name. This corresponds to my Director. He directs the film of your life from conception to death. The Secret Name is the title of your film. When you die, that’s where Ren came in. This more or less corresponds to Zatanna, at least with regards to the director aspect. It’s Zatanna who ultimately unites the seven soldiers into a single purpose, though they themselves don’t know it.
Sekem–“Second soul, and second one off the sinking ship, is Sekem: Energy, Power, Light. The Director gives the orders, Sekem presses the right buttons. I put this with Frankenstein. He was brought into existence with energy.
Khu–“Number three is Khu, the Guardian Angel. He, she or it is third man out…depicted as flying away across a full moon, a bird with luminous wings and head of light. Sort of thing you might see on a screen in an Indian restaurant in Panama. The Khu is responsible for the subject and can be injured in his defense – but not permanently, since the first three souls are eternal. They go back to Heaven for another vessel. The four remaining souls must take their chances with the subject in the land of the dead. The flight aspect is analogous to Shining Knight, simply because of the horse. She also sustained the odd injury or two and her appearance (with the bound breasts) is of someone wounded.
Ba–“Number four is Ba, the Heart, often treacherous. This is a hawk’s body with your face on it, shrunk down to the size of a fist. Many a hero has been brought down, like Samson, by a perfidious Ba. The treacherousness of Ba follows with Klarion, who takes control of Frankenstein and becomes the leader of the Sheeda, also, the animal/witch-folk connection with the familiars as well as the Horigal beast that is a combination of the two.
Ka–“Number five is Ka, the double, most closely associated with the subject. The Ka, which usually reaches adolescence at the time of bodily death, is the only reliable guide through the Land of the Dead to the Western Lands. Alix Harrower, before she became the Bulleteer, was a teacher. Specifically, she was a teacher for autistic children. Very much a guide for children lost within themselves. This in addition to her looking after an infected Helen Helligan (if that’s not a Silver Age name I don’t know what is) and helping her to stop her sister’s marriage as well as taking care of Sally Sonic by driving her to the hospital, make the Bulleteer/Ka connection seem a little more logical (well, as logical as something like this ever can be).
Khaibit–“Number six is Khaibit, the Shadow, Memory, your whole past conditioning from this and other lives”. Guardian is, if nothing else a man haunted by his past. However, he overcomes his doubt to become a true hero.
Sekhu–“Number seven is Sekhu, the Remains.” Mr. Miracle. Dead, buried, but risen again.
Ok, so what does all of this mean? Well, I think, just as the seven souls are part of man, the seven souls represented by the seven soldiers are combined, the soul of the DC universe. Of course the question has to be asked: why not the big three, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman? They, more than any of the other characters, are the heart and soul of the DC universe as we’ve been told so many times.
Well, for me the true soul of the DC universe lay with its secondary and tertiary characters. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are icons, known all over the world and known independently from their comic origins. The DC universe is populated with so many diverse types of characters, from the silly to the horrifying. What DC is all about as a created universe can be seen in these seven little-known characters.
Zatanna/Ren/The Director: The voice of direction and continuity. Sometimes this voice can get lost or the director loses sight of the goals or objectives. But in the end, the course is set and all doubts are cast aside.
Frankenstein/Sekem/Energy, Power: Strength, Determination, Will. Physical and mental characteristics required of all heroes. Frankenstein does not stop in his quest to destroy the Sheeda. He pursues them to Mars and one billion years into the future. Also, it doesn’t hurt that Frankenstein is a resurrected character, both from the dead and from obscurity. But more on that in a bit.
Shining Knight/Khu/Guardian: A knight is symbolic of a quest, and like the characteristics mentioned above, a hero without a quest to fulfill isn’t much of a hero. Also confounds our expectations and adds a crucial element to the superhero mythos by having a concealed identity.
Klarion/Ba/Heart and animal instincts: Klarion is guided by instinct and a whimsical, care-free attitude. Like the others of his race, he has a close relationship with his animal familiar, a totem from which he can draw great power. Like so many other heroes in the DC universe, this connection to an animal is important both for the strength it gives as well as its power as a symbol.
Bulleteer/Ka/Guidance: The Bulleteer is unabashedly feminine and embodies all of the characteristics of the classic hero: strength, compassion, beauty, and wisdom. She is the embodiment of the feminine superhero archetype, though she fights against it at first. After all, it was the fetishization of that archetype that led to the death of her husband. But like all heroes, she accepts her calling in the end.
Guardian/Khaibit/Memory, Legacy: Jake Jordan inherits the mantle of the Guardian, a trait unique to the DC universe, where heroes can retire and pass on their legacy to a younger generation. Jake Jordan is also a haunted man, haunted by mistakes he made in the past and tirelessly works for redemption
Mr. Miracle/Sekhu/The Remains, Death, Sacrifice, and Resurrection: Sacrifice is expected of all heroes. So often the ultimate sacrifice, death, is called upon for a story. But true heroes hardly ever stay dead. Occasionally a hero will die and pass their legacy on to another, but more often than not, the hero simply rises from the dead and continues fighting. Shilo Norman inherited the name of Mr. Miracle, and in his story he makes the ultimate sacrifice for the good of humanity, only to rise again.
In conclusion I just want to thank you for reading this far. Seven Soldiers had a profound impact on me as I’m sure you can tell. In it, Grant Morrison has crafted a near-perfect statement on the possibilities of superhero comics as well as its rich history, and has done so using characters that, while largely unknown or forgotten, embody all of the archetypes of heroic fiction–the soul of the DC universe.
By David Faust
The Journey Is the Destination:
Grant Morrison and Batman R.I.P.
It has often been said of Grant Morrison that he doesn’t know how to end a story. However, I think it’s not so much that Morrison doesn’t know how to end a story, more that he focuses intensely on the journey and it is this journey that defines the characters, and not the end. Take for example The Invisibles, The Filth, and Doom Patrol. Neither of these books had really what you could call a big climax but as each story progressed, incredible things happened along the way to change the characters and alter the worlds in which they exist. Granted this type of storytelling is not for everyone and especially in serialized fiction, we expect and often get a grand Earth-shattering conclusion to the stories we read. More often than not though, the world changing climaxes are either retconned out of existence or are just stepping stones to the next line-wide crossover. The comic book medium is so vast and with near limitless possibilities, I think there is plenty of room for new and interesting methods of storytelling; one where great revelations happen along the way and not in the last issue.
Since Grant Morrison took over writing Batman with issue 655, he has been bringing together all of the eras of Batman stories and putting them into a context that not only explains the more fantastical stories from the past, but also strengthens the character of Bruce Wayne as well as the extended “Batman family.” It’s also worth noting that Morrison took over writing Batman not long after the DC Universe’s most recent line-wide event at that time, Infinite Crisis, which had some impact on all of the DC characters and their monthly titles. The timing was right for a close examination of the Batman character and his considerable history. All of this came together in the most recent six-issue storyline Batman R.I.P. with art by Tony Daniel. Ostensibly, R.I.P. is about a mysterious organization called The Black Glove, which has appeared for the express purpose of breaking Batman. Other characters include Bruce Wayne’s most recent love interest Jezebel Jet, Dr. Hurt, a shadowy figure connected to Batman’s past, Bat-Mite, a fantastical element taken from the Silver Age stories who exists here as a figment of Bruce Wayne’s imagination and a kind of advisor. Finally of course, Batman’s long-time nemesis the Joker who, under Tony Daniel’s pen looks more horrifying than he has in years.
Batman R.I.P. takes us through every age of Batman, from the pulp-inspired Golden Age beginnings (names like the sinister-sounding Black Glove, Dr. Hurt, and the temptress Jezebel Jet) to the psychedelic Silver Age fantasies and to the bronze and modern age toughness. It’s important to remember that when Batman debuted in 1939, he was really a pastiche of characters taken from the pulp magazines of the day, characters like The Shadow, The Spider, Doc Samson, as well as the cinema: The Mark of Zorro and The Bat. Morrison populates the R.I.P. storyline with characters and concepts that seem to be taken wholesale from this pulp tradition. A shadowy and villainous organization known only as The Black Glove, a mysterious figure called Dr. Hurt, and a femme fatale called Jezebel Jet seem tailor-made for old pulp magazines and stories.
In the 1950’s and 60’s, Batman stories took a radical turn for the fantastic. Science Fiction elements, like Batman traveling to other planets and dimensions took over. For many years afterward, these stories seemed to be something of an embarrassment for DC and often went unacknowledged. It’s understandable considering these stories came about as a way to make Batman seem more kid-friendly in the days of the Wertham hysteria and the rise of the Comics Code Authority. However, Morrison saw something of worth in these sometimes surreal stories and decided to bring them back into continuity after a fashion. They now exist as hallucinations from a time when Bruce underwent a severe drug and sensory deprivation experiment; his stated reason for doing so being that he wanted to better understand a deranged mind like the Joker’s. The idea of a League of Batmen; a group of costumed men inspired by Batman also returns, first in the earlier Black Glove story arc and again in the last issue of R.I.P. Another concept from the Silver Age making a return to Batman continuity is Bat-Mite. Originally, Bat-Mate was an imp from the Fifth Dimension, now he has returned as a figment of Bruce’s imagination, as Mite explains it: “Imagination is the fifth dimension.” The most interesting concept resurrected from the Silver Age is the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. Originally appearing in Batman 113, The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh was an admirer on another planet who adopted the Batman’s methods and a colorful version of his costume to fight crime on his own world. In Morrison’s hands, the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh becomes a kind of backup personality that Bruce can assume if he is ever in extreme danger. Probably the greatest strength of Morrison’s Batman run and the R.I.P. storyline in particular has been the way he took these lost stories and made them a compelling part of the current Batman canon; a difficult task, but like Batman himself says in 681: “difficult, but far from impossible.”
The Bronze and Modern age stories saw Batman pulling away from the Science-Fiction and fantasy of the Silver Age into a darker and a comparatively more realistic world. The Batman stories from the 1970’s, especially those written by Denny O’Neil and Steve Englehart are often credited with saving the character, along with the iconic artwork of Neil Adams and Marshall Rogers. In these stories, Batman became a lot tougher, at time he seemed almost like a James Bond-type character. While he did not travel into outer space, he did often travel to other countries to combat evil. From the beginning of his run, Morrison gave us a more outgoing Bruce Wayne, in contrast to the cave-dwelling paranoid obsessive he had become just before Infinite Crisis. The Modern age, and in particular Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s monochromatic retelling of Batman’s origins in Batman: Year One came just after DC’s grand universe reboot Crisis on Infinite Earths. This was a “back to basics” re-imagining of Bruce Wayne and his obsession to fight crime and the things that influenced him. Morrison touches on this in the epilogue of R.I.P. where Bruce and his parents, having just exited the theater after seeing Zorro are walking out to meet their fate. Young Bruce talks about how great it would be if Zorro were real and fought crime in Gotham. His father remarks that if someone like Zorro existed in Gotham he would be put into Arkham Asylum. Zorro-in-Arkham. The last words spoken by Thomas Wayne become Zur-En-Arrh, the trigger phrase of Batman’s mental break as well as his backup personality.
The journey that Morrison takes us on in Batman R.I.P. is one of summation. Through it we see almost 70 years of Batman comics consolidated into one six-issue story arc. Along the way there has been much speculation about the outcome of the story and when the final issue arrived this week there was in some people maybe a feeling of being let down. It’s safe to say that Bruce did not die in the fiery helicopter crash, a scene seemingly lifted from Batman 429, the last issue of the infamous Death in the Family arc, where the Joker, after killing Jason Todd appears to die in a helicopter crash, only to return again in Batman 450. We are given vague hints that Dr. Hurt might be “the devil”, a possible reference to a time back in the early 1990’s when the Batman books added some darker occult elements to the stories, like the Dark Knight Dark City arc (Batman 452-454), Detective Comics 616, 617, and 622-624, and Morrison’s own Arkham Asylum graphic novel as well as his Gothic storyline .from Legends of the Dark Knight issues 6-10. Morrison also alludes to Damien, Bruce’s son with Talia Al Gul, taking on the mantle of the bat in a dark future and selling his soul to Satan in return for the safety of Gotham City in his current run in issue 666. So, there aren’t any deaths, at least not any important ones and the last issue of R.I.P. ends with the future of Batman in some doubt. What was the purpose of the story, and why Batman R.I.P.? If I had to guess, I’d say that this arc was a way to lay-to-rest everything we have come to know about Bruce Wayne and Batman. As for the purpose, I honestly don’t know. It’s entirely possible a reboot is on the horizon once Morrison finishes his Final Crisis story and Neil Gaiman finishes his upcoming Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? Story. We could be seeing a brand new Batman in 2009, at which point the character will turn 70 years old. Just in time for a new beginning perhaps.
Before I end this, I really want to say a few more words about Batman 681. This issue more than just about anything else I’ve read hit me on a very personal level. You see, the very first Batman comic I ever bought; in fact it was also my first DC comic and pretty close to being my first comic book ever, was World’s Finest 269 from 1981. The first story, “Buried Alive,” by Gerry Conway is about a “nobody” crook who captures and buries Batman alive. This story completely captured my young imagination and I read it so many times over the years that the book just fell apart. But seeing Batman in a similar situation at the beginning of issue 681 completely took me back to those years. It almost felt like I was discovering this amazing character all over again.
By David Faust
Man, Myth, and Superman.
With their twelve-issue run on All-Star Superman having come to an end, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely have given us something that has often been talked about, but not often seen: Superman as American mythology. It’s all the more impressive that this was achieved by two Scotsmen, which on the surface could seem quite unusual, but this sort of thing has been happening for years. In a recent interview, former Talking Heads front man and visual artist David Byrne said of his long-time collaborator and friend Brian Eno:
Foreigners, maybe starting back in the 1960s, were kind of the first ones to hook onto American rock and roll; Little Richard, or the blues. Brian said he finds gospel music very amazing, whereas a lot of people here, if you’re dialing on the radio, would just skip through those stations. You kind of ignore the stuff because you just figure it’s out there, so you don’t need to know about it. Sometimes it takes foreigners to kind of point it out and say you’ve got some amazing stuff going on in your midst. And the foreigners will do a version of it and sell it back to you.
This I think is very similar to what has been happening with American comics since the 1980’s. Writers and artists from other countries have been, for years now, telling amazing stories based on their own perspective of the American comics they grew up reading. And in turn, the stories they have been telling often seem so new and fresh to us. One of the great Platonic Ideals of America is that it is a place where people from other countries can realize their dreams and aspirations.
But back to the story itself. From the beginning, Morrison was working in elements and themes taken wholesale from Greek mythology along with elements of Hebrew mythology as well, specifically the one page/four panel retelling of Superman’s origin in issue one, like the story of Moses and the appearance of (a somewhat re-imagined) Samson in issue three. Professor Quintum, an important character throughout the series, is very much like the Greek titan Prometheus, even referring to himself as having tried to steal fire from the sun. However, unlike the titan of mythology, Quintum is not punished for his actions, but is instead rewarded later by Superman when he gives Quintum his DNA and the DNA of Lois as a means to continue the legacy of Superman. Again, this strikes me as a unique and ultimately American revision of the Prometheus legend, where one is rewarded for his endeavors to serve humanity rather than punished.
In All-Star Superman, we see a Superman who is very much a god among humanity, but it is in the face of this god that we see the reflection of the ideals of humanity: truth, justice, and the drive to improve ourselves and those around us. One interesting point in the story is that Superman needs humanity as much as humanity needs Superman. In an early issue, Professor Quintum remarks that all clones of Superman so far have resulted in imperfect Bizarro creatures, but with the combined DNA of Kal-El and Lois Lane it is assumed that the addition of humanity to Superman’s alien DNA is the key to continuing the legacy of Superman. Kal-El is the world’s greatest hero not only because of his alien origins and physiology, but also his very human and idyllic American upbringing.
Tying all of these ideas together is the basic story of this heroic god (actually demigod seems more appropriate). From the beginning where, through his actions as well as through the machinations of his nemesis Lex Luthor, Superman is told that he is slowly dying, we watch as he confesses his love to Lois and grants her his powers for a short time, travels back through time to have one last moment with his father, confronts members of his long-dead race who, while as physically strong as Superman, and outnumber him two to one, are unable to defeat him because of who he is. In issue #10, (in my opinion one of the best issues in the series) Kal-El creates life, which in turn evolves and ultimately creates its own version of Superman as a fictional character—possibly our own universe. Until the final confrontation with Lex Luthor where Superman ultimately triumphs yet in a way sacrifices himself to save the Earth by going into the Sun to repair the damage caused by Solaris, the tyrant sun.
Like all enduring myths and stories, All Star Superman is both simple and very complex. Take for example the portrayal of Superman’s enemies Lex Luthor and Solaris. Until the last issue of the series, all confrontations between Superman and Luthor are by proxy; whether Luthor talking to superman through his “human suicide bomb” or Superman as Clark Kent talking to Luthor in prison. We learn a great deal about how each sees the other. Superman sees Luthor as a disappointment to humanity—a man with immense intellect and resources who has done nothing in all of his years to better mankind. Luthor sees Superman as an alien intruder holding humanity back, but this is only his way to justify his own actions and an excuse for not helping to make a better world, since it’s clear he despises the world and everyone in it. Solaris, a uniquely Morrison creation is an interesting character in its own right; a version of the thing that gives Kal-El his great abilities that wants nothing more than to destroy him as well as Earth itself. In the end Superman defeats Solaris, overcomes his own impending demise, and defeats Lex Luthor, but the victory is short-lived since Superman has to leave Earth and everyone he loves to repair the damage to our sun caused by Solaris. In the end this is also a kind of victory for Luthor who finally has a world without a Superman, at least until Professor Quintum can perfect his cloning technique and continue the dynasty of El, similar to how Morrison described it a few years ago in the DC 1,000,000 storyline.
It has been said by many that All Star Superman is quite possibly the greatest Superman story ever written and I find it hard to argue against that (although I would have liked a Brainiac appearance). Morrison and Quitely have given us something that will be written about and puzzled over and reinterpreted for many years to come. And for that they have my eternal gratitude.
By David Faust
Turn Me on Dead Gods: Final Crisis #7
Anyone who knows me knows that my twin obsessions in this life are music and comics. And inevitably my enjoyment of one is often filtered through the other. When I sit down to read an issue or a whole storyline I often put pair it with an album or two that I think will compliment the story I’m about to read. Also, while I’m reading a comic I’ll make associations between the words and pictures with certain sounds and lyrics. That’s just me and that’s how I read and I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember. For my first couple of read-throughs of Final Crisis #7 I opted not to choose any background music because I wanted 100% of my attention to be focused on the story in front of me. However, while I was reading this issue–the end of a very large crossover story spanning the whole of the 52 worlds in the DC multiverse–one piece of music kept playing itself over and over again in my head and that piece was the string crescendo and cymbal crashes followed by silence and then the piano chord at the end the Beatles’ song “A Day in the Life.”
It could be because that sound always made me think of chaos and climax or it could be because we see Zillo Valla’s Yellow Submarine (from Superman Beyond) in the beginning. This time this ship is being piloted by Captain Marvel, who we learned in Superman Beyond #2 was sent by Superman to warn the multiverse of the coming apocalypse and to gather heroes to help stop it. We see in the ship a gathering of Supermen from the various Earths as well as Renee Montoya. When we see Captain Marvel and the ship they have stopped at an unknown Earth where Superman and Wonder Woman are both black. Not only that, but on this Earth, Superman is President of the United States (I see what y’all did there). One interesting point in this sequence is that the black Superman is called away from the White House by the “Wonder Horn” a gift to the Amazons that plays the “Music of the Spheres.” I’m going to digress here for a moment because this small bit of information becomes very important later in the story. The Music of the Spheres is a philosophical concept that originated with Pythagoras. Basically the idea is that everything in the heavens—Earth, sun, moon, stars, planets, all revolve within their own spheres and this movement, as well as the connections between the spheres, can be described as music— a blend of harmonics and geometry. This is a concept that has always fascinated me for obvious reasons. Anyway, back to the story.
We next see the JLA Watchtower, but something about it is amiss. First, it’s still floating in the red energy indicating that at the multiverse is in full-on Crisis mode, and second, the Watchtower seems to have bonded with Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. In the fortress we see Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, Supergirl, and Captain Marvel gathering together mementos to record what has been happening on Earth—the struggle against great evil and the sacrifices made by the heroes to stop it. While at the same time, robotic versions of the JLA heroes newly arrived from another alternate Earth are trying to destroy everything around them in a nihilistic suicide attempt. We see also that this act of “techocide” is thwarted by none other than Lex Luthor and Dr. Sivana. A rocket fires from the Fortress/Watchtower carrying the records of all that has happened in the hopes that somewhere and at some time it will be discovered and people will know what happened.
Next we see Superman holding the body of Batman confronting Darkseid. Darkseid is noticeably wounded from his fight with Batman. Superman also recognizes the body that Darkseid inhabits as being that of Dan Turpin. Darkseid knows that Superman destroy life and attacks Superman with his legion of followers—humans under the control of the Anti-Life Equation. It’s at this point at the two Flashes, Barry Allen and Wally West arrive with Omega Beams and The Black Racer hot on their heels. The Black Racer (Kirby’s Fourth-World version of Death) instead takes the mortally wounded Darkseid, just as he fires the bullet that killed Orion in Final Crisis #1.
The story then returns to the Watchtower/Fortress where Superman is attempting to build a version of the Miracle Machine that he saw in the last issue. We see also, that Luthor and Sivana, along with Will Magnus, Dr. Miles Caulder, and other scientists, both mad and super, are helping to build this machine. From there we see the continuing battle first around the Checkmate Castle where both OMACS and Biomacs are fighting desperately to give the people inside enough time to complete their “black gambit”—the safe transport of everyone they can to another Earth in the multiverse. Above the Earth we see Green Arrow and Black Canary floating in a gravity-less Watchtower, and on the Earth we see the appearance of the sigil of Metron that The Ray took down when he went last issue. The sigil is a letter of the alphabet of the New Gods that means “freedom from restriction” and disrupts the Anti-Life Equation. Note that the deteriorating condition of the watchtower establishes this scene as taking place chronologically before the earlier scenes in the Watchtower/Fortress with Jimmy, Lois, and the others. Back on earth we see the Super Young Team along with Sonny Sumo fighting against the remnants of Darkseid’s forces. At this point it would seem that the battle should be over. Metron’s sigil has spread over the planet and Darkseid has been destroyed. But this is not the case. Something even larger than Darkseid is looming on the horizon and the multiverse is being torn apart. Lord eye, the Checkmate computer system is in the process of shitting down its doorway to the other Earth in response to this impending destruction of the multiverse, which would kill of the people currently in transit. Hawkman and Hawkgirl destroy Lord Eye and save all of the people inside disappearing in a blinding light. The Super Young Team and the others managed to escape thanks to Mr. Miracle’s Mother Boxxx, which generated a Boom tube and transported everyone to the other Earth. This story is related by Renee Montoya to the Supermen aboard the Monitor’s ship.
The story then shifts back to the place and time immediately after Darkseid’s demise. Wonder Woman, still infected with the virus form of Anti-Life arrives with her Female Furies to attack Superman. Luthor also arrives with Sivana and numerous villains still under the control of the Anti-Life Equation delivered through the Justifier helmets they all wear, but Luthor now controls the helmets. It’s here that Luthor and Superman agree to team up in order to end the war as well as the destruction of the multiverse. In this section we see scenes from the past as well as the future juxtaposed together. This gives us the sense of a story being told as well as time fracturing in the midst of this crisis. To avoid further loss of life, Superman and the other heroes are shrinking down the remaining population of earth and storing them until the crisis is over. Wonder Woman also relates to the children present how Frankenstein, a living creature composed of dead flesh was immune to the Anti-Life virus she carried and was able to save her. When she recovered, she bound Darkseid’s body with her lasso and freed the remaining people from the control of Anti-Life.
Although the body Darkseid inhabited was destroyed, his spirit was still alive and on Earth. Superman at last completes the Miracle Machine save for its power source. Superman hears the Music of the Spheres and understands what it is; that “the worlds of the multiverse vibrate together and make this sound…like an orchestra.” Superman sings this music and the spirit of Darkseid is at last destroyed, cast into a black hole. In the absolute silence that follows Superman’s defeat of Darkseid, he hears a faint sound coming from Metron’s chair and discovers the God-Fire, Element X; a source of energy powerful enough to activate the Miracle Machine.
Just before Superman can power up the machine, Mandrakk the Dark Monitor (the twisted and corrupted form of the original Monitor seen in Crisis on Infinite Earths) appears with the vampire Ultraman. We see that Mandrakk has drained both The Spectre and The Radiant, agents of God, not the New Gods, but God God. Meanwhile, the Green Lanterns who had previously been unable to get to Earth are able to follow Mandrakk’s machines through the barrier. Superman takes the Element X and uses it, along with the solar power stored in his body to activate the Miracle Machine. Just then, Captain Marvel arrives along with every version of Superman in the multiverse to combat Mandrakk and his forces. Nix Uotan, the fallen Monitor who was resurrected as the Judge of All Evil joins the battle along with the Animal-Heroes from earth 35 as well as the Pax Dei—The Angelic army of God. Uotan also summons the Forever People as embodied in the Super Young Team, thus showing the limitlessness of his power. Mandrakk and the vampire Ultraman are no match for the mighty forces set against them. The Green Lanterns combine their power and drive a stake through Mandrakk, killing him and at last ending the crisis.
Next we see time has passed and the world is slowly putting itself back together and the people are dismantling the remnants of Darkseid’s invasion. We next see Nix Uotan on the Monitor home world addressing the other Monitors. He tells them of what happened and he tells them that they can no longer interfere with the multiverse. We see also that, through Darkseid’s fall, the Gods of New Genesis are reborn. Uotan will also rebuild Earth 51, his earth that was destroyed back in the Countdown storyline. Nix Uotan then says goodbye to his love, Weeja Dell before fading away. Uotan then wakes up on Earth, but an earth that now knows it’s not alone, that it’s part of a vast multiverse.
In an epilogue we see an old man, an old man who was once Anthro, the boy visited by Metron and given power back in the beginning of issue #1. He has spent his life keeping the flame given by Metron and learning the secret of the powers. As he dies, a bearded Bruce Wayne puts his utility belt on him and begins drawing a bat symbol on the cave wall.
Well, I’m not sure if the above can really count as a summary, since summaries are usually shorter than their subjects. But like every issue before, so much happened in Final Crisis #7. This was the culmination of work that began around 2006, and possibly even before. Essentially, I see Final Crisis as Morrison’s current exploration of themes he has been working on and expanding upon since his Zenith stories from the late 1980’s. From Zenith to Animal Man to Doom Patrol/Flex Mentallo to JLA to The Invisibles/The Filth, to New X-Men, to Seven Soldiers and now to Final Crisis. Morrison has always had a deep fascination with fictional worlds, the rules that govern them, and their influence on the real world in which they inhabit. Along the way he uses ancient philosophical concepts, esoteric mysticism, modern theories of psychology and perception, and large doses of popular culture as a way to examine and grasp these worlds and by extension maybe understand our own world a little better.
Final Crisis challenges our perceptions and challenges the way we take in information. The fracturing of the multiverse as it was presented in the story is reflected in the way the story is told, from the jagged and layered panels to the fractured and disjointed time and ordering of events, especially in issue #7. As I said before, this serves to bring the reader closer to the events happening in the story. Our unease and confusion is mirrored in the unease and confusion of the characters. The art, with its reliance on close-up shots also serves to give the story an immediacy that can sometimes be lost in large-scale events.
In the end though, I can’t say whether or not Final Crisis is better than Crisis on Infinite Earths, however I do feel that it’s a worthy successor to that storyline and I do think it’s probably a little better than Infinite Crisis. However one thing that all three share is that and their ends, we are left with the feeling of great change and hope for the future. We see that the Earth has gone through a great hardship, but its people endure. In the real world, we see many possibilities for new stories with new characters as well as new aspects of familiar characters. It’s all up to whoever comes next.
By David Faust
Beyond the Infinite: Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #1.
Ever since the first issue of Final Crisis came out a few months ago, a lot of people have been wondering where are the great cosmic struggles that were in the center of the two previous Crisis stories. The answer is right inside the pages of Superman Beyond #1. For this, the first issue of a two-part story, Grant Morrison completely explodes with a visual and mental feast unlike anything I’ve seen before. This of course is helped by Doug Mahnke’s art as well as the fact that a large chunk of the book is in 3D. This is the comic book equivalent of the “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite” section of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The story opens in the midst of a heated battle between Superman and an unknown foe. We’re then taken back to the scene in Final Crisis #3 where Superman is confronted by the Monitor Zillo Valla and is told by her that she can help Lois if Superman will help her. It’s here that we get an explanation as to what the Bleed, or the Ultramenstruum is: a substance that doesn’t just exist between universes, but binds the multiverse together. Also, it is a substance of both immense healing and destructive power.
As they are walking to the Monitor’s ship the Ultima Thule, which is essentially the Yellow Submarine, we’re also introduced to other powerful beings that Zillo Valla has gathered: Captain Marvel from Earth 5, Overman from Earth 10, Ultraman from the Anti-Matter Earth, and a very Dr. Manhattan looking Captain Atom from Earth 4. We know and Superman knows that the ship is under attack, but we can’t see from what.
Once Superman adapts 4D vision (and we put on our 3D glasses) he sees the universe as it really is. He also sees what is attacking the Monitor’s ship and it’s here we get our first glimpse of the (possible) mastermind of the Final Crisis, beyond even Darkseid; The Echo of Midnight. Superman and Ultraman are able to divert Echo of Midnight to the Earth 51 universe, where all life on that Earth was destroyed in the battle between Superman Prime and Monarch in Countdown.
After a more detailed introduction of the main players, The Ultima Thule, powered by Zillo Valla’s weakening heart gets stranded beyond the Multiverse into limbo–a land where there are no heroes and nothing ever happens, and it’s here in Limbo where Morrison really unleashes his love for metafiction–a topic he has explored previously in Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Flex Mentallo, the latter part of The Invisibles, and The Filth. Limbo is populated by long forgotten characters of the DCU (I only recognized Ace the Bat-hound). Conversing with Merry Man, a jester-type character and one-time member of The Inferior Five (had to look him up in the Comic Book db), Superman notices the Library of Limbo. At this point in the story, Morrison is going back to is love for the stories of Jorge Luis Borges, first seen in the “Crawling from the Wreckage” arc in Doom Patrol where, like the Borges story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”, a fictional universe is slowly consuming the real (or actually another fictional) universe. Inside the Library of Limbo, like Borges’ story “The Library of Babel” resides every book that ever was or ever will be written in the form of one book inside a glowing sphere. Superman and Captain Marvel attempt to take the book back to the ship in the hopes that its infinite memory will be able study the book and find a way to repair itself. In attempting to remove the book from the library Superman and Captain Marvel inadvertently catch a glimpse of the history of the Monitors.
In the beginning, there was only one Monitor, “an abstract infinite intelligence, a conscious living void,” and through his probing of the multiverse he discovers something he had never before encountered: stories. Life, death, heroes, villains, love… and never having encountered the concept of stories, the Monitor had no defense against them and they began to enter his world, again not unlike Borges’ “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.” He is finally able to seal the breach until all that remains is a giant Superman, covered in divine metals like a great monolith on the Monitor’s home world. But still, stories spread like a virus and as the one Monitor becomes many, stories soon spread about the purpose of this great, rusting monolith. Soon we learn that the stories of the monolith arise from a great fear that the Monitors all share, a fear of “the Beast in Darkness”, “holocaust”: Mandrakk, the Prime Eater of Life. Gazing upon the Sepulcher of Mandrakk, Superman and Captain Marvel are suddenly and violently jolted back to their present, with Captain Marvel turned back into Billy Batson who can’t remember his magic word, and who says prophetically, “the thing most despised will save the thing most beloved…ultimate good is ultimate evil…”
Superman, takes Billy Batson back to the ship and encounters Captain Atom whose senses, once dampened by drugs that kept him focused, are now opening beyond the infinite. Superman then goes to confront Zillo Valla about the nature of Mandrakk and he finds her draining the blood from Overman, who originally joined her in the hopes of finding his cousin (currently on Earth 1, as seen in Final Crisis #3). She says that Overman’s sacrifice will save everyone. Captain Atom calls out for Superman, saying “The sky…the sky just shattered.” The last image we see is Ultraman holding the book from the library, and behind him the vast (to the heroes, but in actuality is Monitor nanotechnology ) eyes of Mandrakk.
In Superman Beyond, Grant Morrison seems to be providing us with a summary of not only his superhero work, but of his entire created output to date. The concepts we see in this issue: world ending terror, metafiction, influences both cinematic and literary, are being brought together in an overall story arc that almost feels like the last word on superheroes, which of course it really isn’t, and once the dust has settled and Final Crisis has come and gone, there will always be something new on the horizon. But more and more I get the feeling that whatever new thing comes along will always be filtered through our understanding and experience of Final Crisis.
The 3D sections did a great job of creating a dazzling, but very disorienting world, and while it was difficult to focus on the story while being confronted with this amazing artwork, in the context of the story it makes a lot of sense. Like the heroes and villains gathered together, we are also being confronted with a world we can barely understand.
The theme that seems to resonate the strongest in this issue is that of metafiction, and of fictional universes taking hold in reality. The debt that Morrison owes to Jorge Luis Borges is huge with concepts like the Library of Limbo and the book inside (very much like the Aleph; a point in space from which you can see everything in the universe, from the story of the same name) as well as the idea of a fictional universe infecting the real world like a virus, lifted wholesale from his stories.
In the space of just one issue, Superman Beyond has brought an amazing amount of depth to the larger Final Crisis story, and as for where the story goes from this point, like the heroes and villains in it, we can only wait and make (largely incorrect) guesses.
By David Faust
Greetings everyone! I’m David Faust and welcome to 4-D Vision, my own little corner of the Raging Bullets site (Thanks Sean!). By day, I’m a teacher working in a Korean university where I teach English conversation. I’m also in the process of completing my M.A. Degree in Humanities. My thesis will be an exploration of Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis and Seven Soldiers of Victory. This column is, in a way, a tool to help me get into the habit of writing a little more critically about subjects for which a feel very strongly. For this column, I will attempt to explore the DC-Universe works of my all-time favorite writer, Grant Morrison. I’ll be focusing exclusively on the stories set within the DC Universe and not any of the Vertigo titles. After all, better minds than mine have been tackling stories like The Invisibles and The Filth for a while now, and I doubt that there is much I can add to that conversation. The entries won’t follow any sort of pattern, they’ll just be about the books I’m reading and enjoying. I will try to post about current titles as much as is possible, but work, studies, and domestic responsibilities will ensure that I don’t spend too much time reading and writing about comics. From time to time, I might throw together an non-Morrison entry or two if the mood strikes. At any rate, if anyone reads this, let me know what you think. My e-mail is faustdpatgmaildotcom. You can also find me on the Comic Forums, The Eleven O’Clock forums and a few other places here and there.