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