Having reached the end of our complete readthrough of DC One Million, the September 1998 event, I thought it’d be worth following through with some of the subsequent appearances of the 853rd Century and its concepts. Hot on the heels of the event, DC released JLA in Crisis - Secret Files and Origins. In the main story here, the Flash relived all the traumatic events of the JLA’s history. What the story is really reveals is how at this time, all the creators were using a specific timeline for the DCU, so that it had a definite post-Crisis history. Thus the Superman and Batman began their careers 10 years previously, the events of Legends happened 5 years previously, etc. An arrangement like this can only work for a while, until you have to readjust things again, but it’s another reason the stories of this period feel grounded. There is a 'timeline' taking up the middle section of this book, but it doesn't list how many years ago the significant events happened, even though the Flash/Hourman story does.
The package was filled out with profiles of the various worlds of the 853rd Century solar system. The text is credited to Morrison and Semieks in the DC wiki page, and illustrated by Pat Garrahey’s computer generated depictions of them for the covers and intro pages. I notice the description of Venus in the 853rd Century, Wonder Woman’s world, emphasises the peace and wisdom advocated by the Amazons, which we didn’t see at all in Christopher Priest’s script, as well as their love of battle, which was all we got.
As it happens, the tale of the Flash’s breakdown starred the Hourman of the 853rd Century, now a member of the JLA, and struggling to deal with his vast powers and inability to relate to his team-mates. As such it is a deliberate stepping stone between DC One Million, and Hourman’s own series, which would begin in April 1999 and run for 2 years. Tom Peyer and Rags Morales were the creative team on both this Secret files and Origins tale and the follow-up Hourman, so this serves as a true set-up for that series, while seeming to provide a Flash and JLA story for the regular fanboys of the day. In fact, how Hourman eventually solves Flash’s trauma prefigures much of what goes on in the Hourman series. Hourman sets aside all his fancy time-powers and instead comforts Flash as one person to another while the speedster gets a handle on his speed-force induced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Hourman # 11-13 (Feb- Apr 2000)
Hourman was a highly enjoyable and worthwhile series. As with his two DC One Million Legion of Superheroes comics, Peyer freely acknowledges the input of Grant Morrison to the plots. “Complete indebtedness to Grant “Big Daddy” Morrison!” is how the credits of issue #1 put it, and there are similar credits in various issues during its run. Although the series starts with its protagonist Hourman being potentially omnipotent and omniscient, it quickly becomes a study in aimlessness, self doubt, and the quiet frustrations of lives that don’t seem to have a direction. Hourman decides to forsake most of his time-manipulation abilities by breaking up the Worlogog that embodies his power and scattering it throughout the timestream. He had only been created a short time before the events of DC One Million, and found that his inexperience meant that he often made mistakes that were potentially disastrous, most notably his infiltration by the Hourman Virus during the DC One Million crisis. His inexperience, naiveté, and insecurity came into particularly sharp relief when he was in the company of Morrison’s especially capable Justice League, which he leaves in issue 1 of Hourman. His inexperience and difficulty in relating to super-powered teammates was also the main reason he left the JSA after 16 issues as a rather subdued and voiceless member in that series.
As he settles into his new identity as ‘Matthew Tyler’, Hourman quickly becomes fast friends with none other than Snapper Carr, whose life has been without much direction or purpose since his glory days as Justice League mascot. As the series progresses, we find that Snapper’s self esteem has never really recovered from the incident where he had to leave the League in disgrace. Completing the under-achieving trio at the heart of the book is Bethany Lee, Snapper’s ex-wife, who begins a tentative romance with Hourman. Bethany is one of life’s eternal students, who is forever starting college degrees, but never finishes them.
The whole series centres around the under-achieving and directionless lives that many people find themselves living (most acutely so in their 20s for many people). However, Hourman recognises early on that the humbling experience that caused Snapper to leave the League has made him a better person; compassionate and tolerant of the failings of others. Indeed, as the series continues, the supporting cast is swollen by various apparent villains, and even a demon from hell, getting a second chance as hangers-on in Snapper’s circle.
All 24 issues are beautifully crafted, with much more warmth and humanity on display than we usually get in our spandex power-fantasies.
When the series reaches a sequence of issues set in the 853rd century (#11-13), Peyer juxtaposes Morrison’s high-achieving, almost ideal heroes with his own cast of likeable but aimless also-rans. There’s a lot to admire about the period of DC publishing that was built around Grant’s tent-pole Justice League. Although Morrison structured his greater JLA story around the idea of the team being the very best examples of heroism, and gave us an even more concentrated dose of this in DC One Million, Peyer’s tale of realistic, non-heroic, aimless lives meshes perfectly with both and uses what they have set up to highlight the humanity of his cast, and the limitations they have to learn to live with. He does this without undermining or ridiculing the idealism of Morrison’s work.
We do however, get the impression that the behaviour of Hourman’s ex-teammates in Justice League Alpha towards him comes across a little as bullying. The interrogate him when he arrives in their time and question all his choices, in giving up much of his power and moving in with loser Snapper in the historical backwater of the 21st Century.
The story Peyer brings us in issues 11-13 uses the 853rd Century set-up to further focus on his themes. It’s not just that Hourman is forced to confront the superhuman perfection of Justice Legion Alpha, but the threat he has to help them with takes Morrison’s core ideas of evolution and perfection a step further. We learn that strange beings called the Else-Men have taken over Adam Strange’s Rann of the far future. They are glowing balls of light that transform into the perfect version of whoever they touch and quickly eradicate whoever they are replacing. They are a great illustration of the pointy end of evolution, and an excellent contrast with Peyer’s under-achieving but striving and likeable main cast.
The Hourman One Million issues contrast the pinnacle of perfection and achievement with the flaws and fallibility of humanity. During the story, Hourman is repeatedly reduced pathetically to his component parts and then, at the other extreme, transformed into, or made to face, more and more powerful versions of himself. Hourman the series seems to present the main character as someone who is haunted by his huge potential for greatness and thus unable to enjoy the ability to ‘be here now’. The Hourman One Million issues examine this theme from all sorts of angles. We even have Rex Tyler, the Golden Age Hourman and ‘Matthew Tyler’s’ ‘Dad’ after a fashion, express his disappointment in how our hero is turning out. This will build towards some plotlines down the track exploring how the expectations of others force us onto paths which may not be altogether right for us.
It is completely in keeping with Peyer’s overall longform tale, that Hourman exercises his choice at the end of the Hourman One Million issues to once again give up all his power, and snub the New God Metron, in order to spend time with his friends, and continue his learning experience in the 21st Century.
Peyer rather deftly weaves other ongoing subplots into this DC One Million crossover, further illustrating his central themes as he goes. The stasis and pointlessness of his friends’ lives become even more pronounced when they get lost in the time-stream while looking for him. There, time doesn’t really pass at all.
The whole series is wonderfully concentrated and deftly crafted. There are few comics series I can think of that are so focused on exploring lives that are ordinary, or underachieving, or on hold, or at least those aspects of all our lives which can be described in those terms. Peyer doesn’t condemn his characters, but just presents them as people who have found themselves in this position, and by practicing mutual support and compassion they do show that some things are worth more than success and high achievement.
Whereas conflict between main characters is relatively easy to portray in a comic – God knows we see enough every month – genuine friendship and love are much harder. Peyer effortlessly conveys the instant bond that unites unlikely buddies Snapper and Hourman and sustains it for two years worth of comics. Although they represent completely different backgrounds and personalities, the two immediately hit it off and become like brothers, who support each other unequivocally, and offer consolation when the rogue chronotons hit the fan.
There is a lot to discuss regarding the series beyond the 3-issue trip to Hourman’s home time. He crafts good stories around some of the continuity gaps in the lives of Snapper and Rex Tyler’s descendents, and works them into the overall series to make a very complete whole. However, the ending is very bittersweet, and we don’t get any major resolutions. The lack of resolution is in keeping with how Peyer had forged the whole series, and artistically, it works beautifully.
Peyer’s Hourman series is a very personal response to Morrison’s vision of superheroic perfection. In some ways it is critical of that vision, but it is also a very fine development and examination of what Morrison was doing with DC One Million. Surprisingly, it is the only ongoing series that grew out of such a concept-rich crossover, and the only sustained use of any of its characters or ideas in the 15 years since the Justice League came back from that future!
My discussion of it here can only be brief, but it is a fine series that’s well worth a look. Rags Morales made his name with this series, and I’m not sure his recent work on Morrison’s Action run was much better. He invests these wonderful, all-too-fallible characters with a lot of life and heart. At the time, Morrison and Mark Waid both made a special effort to get more fans reading Hourman, and heaped considerable praise on it. Fans of Morrison’s JLA will love how well it complements that series, and fits into DC’s output of the time, while still being very much its own story, with its own themes and tone.
It’s clear that Tom Peyer was a fine writer who just needed the right property to work on to really shine, and this was it!
DC One Million – 80 Page Giant (August 1999)
Although Hourman picked out one element of the crossover and proceeded to look at some of its themes, the first true ‘sequel’ to DC One Million mini-series didn’t appear until a year after it, cover-dated November 1999. The one-off DC One Million – 80 Page Giant was a very pleasant surprise for me at the time. This collection of stories appeared seemingly without fanfare. Having looked at DC’s sales figures for this era of comics, DC One Million didn’t really produce a rise in sales for DC at the time, but it did leverage Morrison’s JLA audience into buying the 4 extra issues of the miniseries at the same level as the regular JLA monthlies, which was something. I’m basing this on the fact that there is only a slight uptick in sales of JLA 1,000,000 compared to the sales of JLA #23 the month before, indicating that interest in the JLA crossover didn’t bring in many readers not already on board Morrison’s blockbuster series. (In fact sales of the mini-series were a bit lower than the sales of the main series!) Further, the sales of the other tie-ins weren’t a big improvement on the sales of the previous month either.
I’m sure that for every reader intrigued by this sudden mega-crossover and plethora of new storytelling set-ups, there was another reader dismayed that the comic they were following jumped forward almost a million issues to a story they had no investment in. In any case, I’d imagine that after the 5 weeks ran their course, most of those who did manage to catch the important bits would have been full of praise for it. My own reaction was that DC had managed to produce a set of comics that replicated how it felt to read superhero comics when I was 9. No mean feat. In any case, it’s clear that the 80 Page Giant wasn’t a quick cash-in on a popular crossover, but a considered and well-planned follow-up with practically no filler.
The 80 Page Giant presents seven new tales set in the DC One Million universe. Two are written by Grant Morrison, and most of the rest are by creators involved in the original event. There are a good spread of styles of stories, each set at a different point in time relative to the main crossover. Chronologically, but not in order of presentation, we have:
A story set in the era of Solaris’ Pancosmic Justice Jihad featuring the ‘Legion of Executive Familiars’ (so-called presumably, because they didn’t like the sound of ‘Legion of Super-pets’.) I mentioned the classic Legion of Superheroes plot in my last blogpost, where a traitor in the team is suspected and/or uncovered, but this story uses the corollary to the that plot, where new members are auditioned for membership.
A story by Mark Millar and Mike Weiringo recounting the first meeting of the ‘System’s Finest’ team of the Batman and Superman of DC One Million.
A tale set in the immediate aftermath of DC One Million features Robin the Toy Wonder’s pals in the Young Justice Legion S trying to bring him back to life.
Similarly, Abnett and Lanning’s tale of a day in the life of Mitch Shelley, Resurrection Man, depicts members of Justice Legion Alpha repeatedly telling him how glad they are that his death in the crossover was only temporary, and how essential he is to their heroic labours. (He thus comes across as a bit of a Mary Sue, as he did in the crossover! In any case, no-one is too full of praise for Resurrection Man in any stories not written by Abnett and Lanning, and indeed he’s hardly mentioned in those!)
There’s also an Aquaman tale by the 2000AD team of Ian Edginton and Flint Henry, which is correspondingly weird, stylised and anarchic.
In the two stories written by Morrison, he characteristically pushes the mythos forward in time and expands on the concepts even more. The first story presents the origin of the 853rd Century Atom, who is new to this era (and is a fixture by the time Hourman revisits the 853rd Century in his own series). He increases numerically and exponentially as he shrinks down in size. Like the atoms from which he takes his name, he can combine in different ways to synthesis different metals, gases etc. This Atom best illustrates how Morrison often makes the figurative real within his fictions. The Atom here actually becomes a set of atoms from which any substance can be made.
This story gives us a welcome glimpse of the golden Superman Prime, as he guards the Universal Gate between realities. Superman Prime’s presence also denotes that this story and the final one, take place after the events of DC One Million. The story itself plays with the idea that the richness and superiority of this utopian DC Universe which is ‘stronger, faster, better than us’, might allow it to grow and envelope ‘our poor undernourished little universe of rational science and common people’.
Bring it on, I say!
The final story, also by Morrison, and drawn by Supergirl 1,000,000's Dusty Abell, introduces a rather cheeky take on the Owlman legacy. Owlwoman is the new half-human, half-Qwardian member of Justice Legion Alpha. Her outfit will look familiar to readers of Before Watchmen, no doubt! The Qwardian Owlwoman and Superwoman here might be the first appearance of the concepts Morrison would use in JLA: Earth 2, which he was probably working on around this time.
I love how Owlwoman is at once a tribute to early Batman substitute Owlman from the first Justice Society - Justice League team-up in the early 60s, and also to Nite-Owl from Watchmen who was also a Batman proxy of sorts. In the light of the self-advertised ‘controversy’ over DC’s recent cash-grab, Owlwoman here rather playfully looks forward to a time, perhaps a million months hence, when the Watchmen universe might be a contributory one to the DCU. There's also a playfulness regarding how concepts grow and develop from what went before.
This tale shows us how the utopian Justice Legion Alpha has even managed to initiate trading talks with the successors to the Crime Syndicate of America. We also see how powerful this era’s Superman is. He spends much of the tale preventing two galaxies from crashing together by the power of his will alone.
These are all pretty good stories that trade on the readers’ fondness for the concepts introduced in DC One Million. How the stories between them deal with different facets of this continuity in a balanced way does evince some editorial guiding hand in deciding what the different stories would cover. Whether that hand is Morrison’s, it's hard to say.
DC One Million, the mini-series/crossover worked as a single all-encompassing tale with a beginning, middle and an end, in which many of the parts were working towards the same purposes, expanding on or deconstructing the overall themes. Here we see what might have happened if further stories had been told in this continuity. Instead of the surging forward and outward that we see in Morrison’s original concepts, and then how he adds to the mythos in this 80 Page Giant, some of the other stories here are about giving us a certain comforting status quo. Despite their dramatic sacrifices in the main story, Resurrection Man and Robin the Toy Wonder are brought back to life here.
It’s not hard to see that for all its freshness, this continuity would soon begin to recycle, re-use and, as is literally the case with the Toy Wonder, reboot the central concepts, just as the main DC universe has been doing for years.
Even though they resurrect the Resurrection Man, and Mary Sue him to some extent, I have to single out the writers of the Resurrection Man story A Day in the Life for special praise. As in their contributions to the main event, Abnett and Lanning again produce a well-planned, thoughtfully-crafted script, which highlights how a superhero story set in the high-speed, information-rich science fiction utopia of 832 centuries hence would be different to the type of stories DC were producing regularly anyway.
There are three strands to ‘A Day in the Life’. First there is a continuous stream of headnet news items revealing some of the never-ending wonders, entertainments and threats that such a universe would present. Then we have Resurrection Man guiding the members of the various Justice Legions to neutralise the threats, and finally there is a thread of Toyman’s assassination attempt on Resurrection Man himself. This little ten-pager gives a great sense of what it would be like to live in the midst of such a flood of information and wonders, bringing Morrison’s futuristic utopia to life in a way the other stories don’t.
DnA, as Abnett and Lanning are known to their fans, also contributed the only DC One Million story to the JLA 80 Page giant #2, published around the same time. They would seem to have a knack for subsuming their creative vision to the tone and style of whatever story milieu they are writing for. Resurrection Man, their series, was noir and downbeat, whereas their appearances of Resurrection Man in DC One Million were very utopian and uplifting, reflecting exactly how Morrison pitched the whole series. Warhammer 40,000 looks like a quasi fascistic set-up of futuristic armies perpetually struggling for supremacy and I suspect DnA’s copious work for that franchise would be similarly at ease with those fascistic undertones. I mention their work on those wargames tie-ins because they probably contrast, in turn, the little tale DnA provide for the JLA 80 Page Giant. In it, Superman 1m defends the freedom of the worlds under his protection with charm and grace rather than brute force.
The stories in the DC One Million – 80 Page Giant are the adventures of highly evolved paradigms of virtue, so none of the plots really turn on the heroes’ failings or shortcomings, because there aren’t any! Thus, each of these short tales is plot-driven, rather than character-driven. This is a quality of Morrison’s own JLA stories, which were plot-driven for much the same reason, but here the fallibility of these ultimate superfolk is even less in evidence. The approach here is in complete contrast to the kind of super-tales that were just a few years away at this stage. Soon readers would thrill to the Justice League wiping minds in Identity Crisis, leading to Batman going psycho and building a vast globe-encircling survellience-cum-attack system in OMAC, in turn leading to Superboy Prime going on a mass murder spree in Infinite Crisis that ends with the battering to death of the first true Golden Age Superman. The subsequent trend amongst readers somehow was for their heroes to be shown just as messed up and self-sabotaging as the rest of us, and with even more desperation and aggressiveness into the bargain.
I was surprised to see that according to the Comichron sales chart for June 1999, DC One Million 80 Page Giant sold only 30,000 copies. That’s way lower than the mid-80,000 figure for each issue of the original mini-series. Perhaps there just wasn’t an interest in the kinds of optimism and idealised heroes that the DC One Million concept lent itself towards? It seems that the 80 Page Giants were generally for a more specialised audience than even the regular DC comics, which were for a specialised enough audience as it was. Most of these Giants and ‘Secret Files and Origins’ feature stories that tie together bits of continuity in ways that long-term committed fans would be interested in, rather than general readers. Still, that 30,000 sales figure is a low one for a tie-in to DC’s flagship title and a follow-up to their biggest crossover of the previous year.
One way or another, DC must have decided that subsequent DC One Million comics wouldn’t be such a big draw. This, together with how difficult it would be to write stories set there, could explain why readers didn't get to return to the 853rd Century very often after the comics discussed here left the shelves.
The DC One Million 80 Page Giant was also the last foray into the 853rd Century proper for Morrison himself. Apart from a one-page cameo in his Batman epic, and the adaptation of some of these concepts as elements of his All-Star Superman, Morrison has never returned to the DC One Million universe in any of his later mainstream DC Universe stories.
And not just Morrison stayed away. Weirdly, given modern comics’ love of recycling and revisiting old ideas and concepts, and considering how notably ambitious and well-executed DC One Million was, few subsequent tales returned to the 853rd Century after this 80 Page Giant was published.
In our next post, we will see how those visits to the 853rd Century played out, and perhaps in looking at them, we'll view the fate of the wider DCU in the years after Morrison’s tenure on JLA.
In view of this 80 Page Giant's standing as the last proper DC One Million publication, we'll leave you this time with a typically comprehensive panorama from it of all Morrison's weird and wonderful 853rd Century creations, as presented by Phil Jimenez in full-on "anything Perez can do...." mode.