Saturday, August 30, 2008

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D #1 Review

Writer: Grant Morrison
Penciller Doug Mahnke

With Superman Beyond, we see the flipside of Grant Morrison's writing. Two weeks ago, he produced one of the best comic books in recent years, Final Crisis #3. Superman Beyond, however, is a book of loopy and impenetrable madness. Sometimes Morrison gets so engrossed in his own love of language that he simply stops making any sense, and that tendency is epitomised in this book that has a lot of interesting ideas, but gets lost in its own opacity. This book doesn't make sense in the way that Heidigger doesn't make any sense. The words mean nothing, while the author clearly thinks they do, and the reader is left having simply no idea what the author is talking about. I love Morisson's writing, partly because he is so ambitious, but one of the problems with ambition is that, when it fails, it fails spectacularly.

This book introduces what should be termed Morrison's metaphysics of the Monitors. The Monitors, it seems, are in fact extremely large. When we saw the Monitors looking at the orerary in Final Crisis #1, it appeared that they were looking at some sort of image of the Multiverse. Not so. Apparently, in fact, the Monitors somehow exist outside of the multiverse, to whom the entire multiverse is about the size of a building. The Monitors started as completely indistinct, but the introduction of narrative in the Multiverse, which formed itself, has changed them substantially. Instead of being an abstract "Monitor", they instead formed an entire civilization of distinct Monitors including a very evil one named Mandrakk who was trapped inside of a sepulchre. Now, Mandrakk has escaped, and is hunting the Monitor Zillo Valla, using nano-technology, which for Monitors, are immensely powerful ships. They chase Valla and the four Supermen she has recruited (including Superman, Ultra-Man, the Overman and Dr. Manhattan) through several alternate Eaths before they reach Limbo, a land ruled by a jester with glasses named Merryman.

In Limbo, nothing happens, except there is a library with a single book that is infinitely heavy because it was written by a monkey and contains every possible book (presumably it was written by one of the infinite monkeys on infinite typewriters). Superman reads the book and finds out the history of the Monitors, but before they can escape from Limbo. They learn that the universe was formed in the following way:

"Monitor makes a concept to contain the plan! Monitor examination reveals within terrifiying, unforeseen complexities and contradictions! Magnification reveals a structure of infinitesimal rippling manifolds upon whose surface intricate germlike processes thrive and multiply!"

Does that make sense to anyone? I don't think so. It's just nonsense. What I think Morrison may be trying to get at here is the postmodern idea of order imposed on chaos through narrative, however, when placed inside of a narrative, it just becomes gibberish. The stuff about stories an infinitely heavy book containing an infinite number of stories (which is just one story) is just all over the place in terms of what he is trying to say (all happening, of course, in Limbo, in which nothing ever happens. i.e. there is no narrative). In Superman Beyond, Morrison has lost complete control of his medium.

There is a real danger here in what Morrison is doing, as well, for the entire DC universe. When the New Gods were introduced, they were intended to be immensely powerful gods, who were to the DC universe what gods are in a polytheistic culture. Monitors appear to be taking on something of this role as well, being so large that the entire multiverse fits in a large jar. Such immensely powerful characters have never really fit well in DC, and there has been a lot of difficulty figuring out what to do with them. Now there appear to be a whole new class of gods, who are somehow connected to the universe (and to Superman), and now they will have the problem of trying to fit these incredibly powerful beings in. The problem with characters of this level of power is that they have a tendency to overwhelm the story, or, if they don't, render the stories implausible because they should overwhelm the story.

Something needs to be said about the 3D images as well. In general, I find 3D a lot of fun. However, in this book it doesn't work at all. One problem is that, given how difficult or rather impossible to follow this book is, it needs several readthroughs to make any sense. However, the 3D here would given anyone trying to do that a headache. Also, 3D using red and blue glasses works well if one's images include little actual red or blue. However, Superman's costume is red and blue, and just flashes back and forth when looking at it through the glasses. Also, for some reason the 3D work on this book is incomplete. It is sometimes 3D and sometimes not, which makes me think that somehow the book was never really finished. On some message boards, people were asking where they can get a 2D version, and I understand why.

Morrison has another issue to sort all of this out, and I hope he will, but right now, Superman Beyond is a huge mess. Morrison always has good ideas, and he clearly has put a lot of them into Superman beyond, but there is no sense of control here.


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