Welcome to another in a series of posts on DC One Million, DC's epic and unprecedented transtime crossover of 1998. The posts began here, and this entry is organised around week 4, where the events in the far future build towards their climax. If an attentive reader didn't already know that every issue of this crossover had been plotted by a single author with a vast tale in mind, the issues we are about to look at would offer quite compelling evidence of a single mastermind behind the whole thing. Plot points picked up directly from one issue were carried forward to the next. If the strand set on Earth in 1998 was all about a version of Starman that Morrison had created especially for this series, the strand set in the DCU of 85,271 really belongs to the oldest superhero worth the name - Superman. Of the 10-odd comics we're about to look at, Kal El played a major role in 6 of them.
It's a matter of record now that certain editors at DC were severely upset when Morrison and his friends put forward their Superman 2000 proposal without the permission of the right people. As a result, Waid, Morrison et al were told that they would never work on a regular Superman monthly. Superman's central role in DC One Million looks like Morrison's 'workaround', to some extent.
Superman must have been very close to Morrison's heart long before the critically acclaimed All-Star Superman appeared, but it's worth noting that the storyline that led directly into DC One Million from the pages of JLA was the Starro story that explored Superman's meaning and power at the level of myth (JLA #22-23). It's probably not a coincidence that Morrison chose to do that story practically the moment Superman returned to his classic costume after his Electro-Superman 'phase'. He followed it up with DC One Million, which has many elements in common with All-Star Superman, Morrison's most critically acclaimed Superman story.
Before we return to Kal-El's adventures though, we have to take a detour to see how some of his teammates are faring in the 853rd century...
The Stranded Royalty Strand…
Aquaman #1,000,000 Abnett & Lanning and Grindberg. (Week 3)
This close look at one crossover has been quite an educational experience for me. As well as forcing me to formulate general rules for when loads of text is okay and when it’s best to keep schtum, I’ve learned a new respect for certain writers that I hadn’t given much consideration to before. The writing team of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning join Chuck Dixon in my rising esteem. Both ‘writing units’ have great command of pacing and plotting and produce satisfying comics that respect the reader. Politically, I suspect they are probably all a bit to the right of me, but you have to respect craft.
Incidentally, Abnett and Lanning also share with Dixon the honour of producing the most tie-ins to DC One Million, as both produced 4 each. Perhaps their understanding and control of more than just a single issue allowed them to make each of their contributions fit into the overall plan better and use the crossover set-up more fruitfully than might otherwise have been the case.
Both the Aquaman and the Wonder Woman tie-ins give us the standard ‘celebration goes wrong and then hero decides to hook up with the rest of the JLA on Jupiter’ plotline that each of the main core JLA characters got. Both Superman and Green Lantern, as described below, uncovered the conspiracy against them and had a showdown with Solaris, the Big Bad of the crossover, which made their comics feel quite central to the event. Perhaps this is a fault in Morrison’s plotting, that such central JLA characters as Arthur and Diana don’t get to do anything meaningful to the outcome in their own comics.
But what the Hell? It’s a superhero comic. In this one, the King of Atlantis visits planet Neptune and fights a giant Kraken from outer space. Sometimes that’s enough.
Wonder Woman #1,000,000 Christopher Priest and Mike Collins (Week 3)
In which Diana finds that, of all the societies based on the 20th Century JLA, it is the world exclusively populated by women, in fact the only one named after a goddess, that has allowed a harsh and battle-obsessed warrior culture to flourish. This is unfortunate, considering that Wonder Woman was created specifically to showcase how a society of women could be an example to ‘Man’s World’ and do things better.
In this light, Wonder Woman 1,000,000 can take its place beside Amazon’s Attack, and Azerello’s New 52 Wonder Woman, with its sisterhood of murdering rapists, as another perversion of the original vision of the Wonder Woman concept. This fearful and suspicious view of empowered women is not just a betrayal of Marston’s original vision, but it also ignores whatever power and integrity the Wonder Woman brand has that has made her such a mainstream icon for so long. True, in-story, it is Diana who teaches the vicious harpies of 853rd Century Venus to be more peaceful and ‘ladylike’, but the creative team had to get there by presenting a whole world of empowered free women as deeply problematic.
It’s almost as if geekdom gets to act out its fear of strong women in these storylines, and then gets to put these scary women in their proper place by the end…
Alas, quite surprisingly really, Morrison himself isn’t immune to these criticisms of mishandling Wonder Woman and her iconic power. Wonder Woman’s role in Final Crisis didn’t show her at her best at all. She was swiftly turned into a monstrous Female Fury of Darkseid rather than getting a proper arc, like Batman and Superman got.
That was only one story, but Wonder Woman’s fractious planet here in DC One Million, conceived by Morrison, is one more story, and soon they start to build into a pattern.
To be fair, Morrison might have wanted to work with the Wonder Woman concept a bit more in this crossover. It would seem that he had probably plotted a co-starring role for Wonder Woman 1m, a being made of marble rather than clay, in his notes for Supergirl 1,000,000. Peter David seems to have thrown away the notes and told his own story featuring a Supergirl of the 853rd Century. DC then had to ‘patch in’ an explanation into DC One Million #3 that the marble Wonder Woman had saved Supergirl from being used as a nuclear bomb in a Rocket Red suit. Note that they used the same frame of Supergirl in these two contexts, which shows that it was probably a little editorial fix, to tie up the otherwise loose end of how Supergirl escaped her death-trap.
MEN OF TOMORROW - The Superman Prime Strand.
Action Comics 1,000,000 Mark Schultz & Ron Lim (week 1)
This was really the first issue of the crossover after Morrison kicked it off with DC One Million #1. As such, perhaps this one feels freshest in exploring the brave new world of the 853rd Century DCU. (Remember that the title of the crossover refers to the number of months from Action Comics #1, and adding 1,000,000 months to 1938 gives you the year 85,271.) Action Comics #1,000,000 is the first to show the hero's challenge going wrong and the hero having to flee the scene. Here we see something that is only background in the other versions. Namely that Solaris spreads the rumour that the visitors from the 20th Century are actually Bizarro doubles, which makes everyone fear them. We see elsewhere that the Bizarros have struggled to be accepted over the years, so this may be another critique of this so-called utopia. "We can all live in peace and harmony so long as everyone is just like us!"
We've been discussing elsewhere on the board whether there can be too much text, and when the art should be allowed to do its work. In this case, the art is mostly functional and workmanlike in telling the story, and fittingly for the first chapter of the crossover outside the core mini-series, there is a lot of explanation of how this society works and the various technologies that the plot spins around. The masses of text work here though, because the story has a strong central spine and most of the exposition is given during the forward rush of the story, presenting us with a fresh new world, and relates to the plot right here.
Superman is shown to be really out of his element on this future world as his abilities are hampered by the continuous chatter of the 'Headnet' - the internet-like system that keeps everyone in touch with everyone else via their thoughts.
Along the way, Superman fights Solaris, and then meets Platinum, the last surviving member of the Metal Men. Platinum may have some alchemical place in this great symbolic space opera. She seems to represent, like platinum itself, the good things that last; that are sometimes forgotten or misplaced for a time. (According to wiki, platinum “neither tarnishes nor wears out”). Superman encounters her in a sort of futuristic rubbish dump. In the end she helps him to stop the headnet broadcasting for a bit so that he can locate his Fortress of Solitude and begin to save the day.
Green Lantern #1,000,000 Ron Marz and Bryan Hitch (week 1)
I've already discussed Green Lantern briefly in week 1, but its place in the careful plotting of Superman's 853rd Century adventure merit a few more words here. At the end of Green Lantern's aborted celebratory challenge, he discovers that Solaris is behind the sabotaging of the event and then he's intercepted by the sentient solar computer on his way to Earth to tell Superman. He's hopelessly outgunned by the sentient sun and is sent flying into the stratosphere of Mars. The two-page sequence where he crashes through the atmosphere is worthy of comment, and mine can be found here in our discussion on the overuses of text. Luckily Marz and Hitch's pages are an eloquent argument that sometimes less is more.
In any case, it is J'onn J'onnz, the Martian Manhunter, who breaks Kyle's interplanetary fall, and this strand of the future storyline is taken up in Martian Manhunter 1,000,000.
Green Arrow #1,000,000 Chuck Dixon & Frank Teran (Week 2)
Chuck Dixon produces his fourth and final script for the project, and it is another well-focused adventure yarn that balances a range of new characters and situations with a well-told tale. The story is told from the point of view of the future Green Arrows - plural, as they are a seemingly 'primitive' tribe that live in the vast forests that tesseract technology has allowed to take over Earth once more, as they did in prehistory. Dixon manages to make us feel that we are seeing just one in a long series of their adventures, which is a neat trick.
In this one, Hawk and Canara, two of the leading Green Arrows, are attacked by the Groddchild, who tries to force them to help him enslave the first Superman. They attack Superman while he’s pottering around his future counterpart’s Fortress of Solitude, so this fits nicely between the end of Action Comics #1,000,000 and Superman’s next appearance in Adventures of Superman #1,000,000.
Most interesting for anyone who follows the extreme longform over-arching saga of DCU in-universe history, the issue ends with the Green Arrows of the future finding a way to contact Conner Hawke in 1998. His tenure as hero of the Green Arrow ongoing comic had just ended, and Dixon had retired him to a Buddhist monastery. The Arrows tell him that they are descended from the children (note the plural) of Oliver Queen. As our bright boy doesn’t allow that hopelessly unfaithful philanderer Ollie might have other children than Conner himself, this makes him think that the Green Arrow tribe must be descended from children Ollie has yet to father! Therefore– dan-dan-DAA -:
Dixon is trying to play fair with the audience, to some extent, and sowing the seeds for the inevitable revival of the Green Arrow comic with Ollie in the lead, even as his own tenure on the title finally closes with the ending of this volume of Green Arrow. It’s a commendable service to the character and concepts and the whole shared universe, even as Dixon is, so to speak, kicked out the door!
As it happened, Ollie would not return until Kevin Smith’s 2001 ‘Quiver’, and they went with a much more convoluted return than that he’d simply survived the blast that the heroes of 1998 had believed to have killed him. For all Dixon’s care, Conner’s realisation on that fateful final page is wrong. (And Conner, along with everyone else in 1998, doesn’t know that Speedy/Arsenal/Red Arrow/Dead-Cat-Swinger is actually Ollie’s son, too.)
Martian Manhunter #1,000,000 John Ostrander & Tom Mandrake (Week 4)
I made the conscious decision to organise these blogs around the 5 weeks of publication of the event. I wanted to give readers an idea of how the whole thing actually has a shape and a structure despite seeming so baggy and random when viewed as an entire crossover. I wanted to show that there were strands and themes around which the forward movement of the story is built. I didn’t want to present either a sequence of issues each discussed separately, nor a whistlestop tour of the main story, which would not take in much more than the 5 issues Morrison himself scripted. My aim was to show the hand of the architect behind the whole crossover, and comment on his collaboration with the DC creative staff of the day.
This has meant that each of the 40-odd comics in the event can only get a short section of each blog entry, even when each entry is so long. In the case of Martian Manhunter 1,000,000 unfortunately, this means that I don’t have anywhere near the amount of space I’d like to have to discuss what is in my opinion, one of the best superhero comics ever. (And I’ve just wasted 2 whole paragraphs telling you why I don’t have more room to discuss it! D’oh!)
Like Starman 1,000,000, the issue is a long conversation between two characters, and like Superman, the Man of Tomorrow 1,000,000, it recounts the long history of how one of our JLA stalwarts fared between 1998 and 85,271. In this case, the ancient J’onn J’onnz of the 853rd Century relates the long saga of the Manhunter’s life to Kyle Raynor of our time. We follow J’onn across vast distances of space and time as his battles to protect the Earth traumatise him and take him far away from those he loves. J’onn, it seems, will become a lonely, marginal, barely remembered figure precisely because he sacrifices so much to protect the Earth and the people he loves. Occasionally he briefly finds rest and companionship before having to take up arms again.
The comic has spectacle and wonder, and there is deep feeling in this brief meeting between the time-weary Martian and his JLA comrade from so long ago. Ostrander adds a few twists in what J’onn doesn’t tell his friend about Kyle’s own future. That the Green Lantern legacy wasn’t carried forward to the utopian future turns out to be one of the key plot elements of the whole series, but Ostrander gets good emotional mileage out of that here.
This is one of the few DC One Million comics that I got at the time, and a few of the lines in it have stayed with me since.
“The way of things is to heal, Kyle. Did you know that?” is one of them. In the context of the extreme soul-bruising trials J’onn goes through, this comes across as a beautiful sentiment. If it’s not the whole truth, it’s a truth, at least!
The other words of wisdom occur at the end, when his incredible tale has been told. It’s a message J’onn needs Kyle to pass back to his younger self, to give him the resolve to keep fighting the good fight through the long hard years ahead:
“The future is worth it. All the pain. All the tears. The future is worth the fight.”
Perhaps these lines sound simple or banal, but they hit the reader hard as part of Ostrander and Mandrake’s masterfully told story. I found them incredibly moving when I reread them recently on my commute to work, and might even have shed a tear or two.
Earlier, we'd discussed the series that ended during DC One Million, but some began during it too. Martian Manhunter 1,000,000 was actually chronologically the first issue of Ostrander’s series, and what an opener it is! Even though most of the action of this comic takes place long after any ongoing comic series could possibly cover, it tells you everything you need to know about J’onn J’onnz going into the new series – his nobility and strength, his loyalty and melancholy, all founded in the love and compassion that drives him.
DC One Million hasn’t been collected in its totality, but now is a good time to mention that all of the issues of the main crossover are available on Comixology and for $1.99 you could do a lot worse than download and read at least this particular little masterpiece.
Adventures of Superman #1,000,000 – Abnett & Lanning and Will Rosado. (Week 4)
The fine sequence running from Green Lantern through Martian Manhunter continues into this comic before taking us back to Mars and J’onn J’onnz once more.
Here Superman meets Mitch Shelley, the Resurrection Man and they team up with Justice Legion B, who are really this era’s Teen Titans, to deal with a Solaris-led attack on the Fortress of Solitude.
It’s a fun, action-packed issue, which by now is what I’ve come to expect from the Abnett-Lanning writing team. As well as how satisfyingly it fits into the larger narrative, most interesting about this chapter is how Morrison has totally subverted the bleak, Noir-ish, and existential tone of Resurrection Man the character and the series, up to that point. Instead of being the hard-bitten, cynical loner and outsider of the regular series, we discover that Mitch Shelley has become Superman’s best friend, and subsequently the highly respected ‘Tactical Adviser to Justice Legion A’.
This is Morrison showing us just one of the positive effects that someone of the personal calibre of Superman can have on history and on individuals’ lives. The central thesis of DC One Million is that the DCU ultimately celebrates a world where the good guys not only win, but actually consistently behave in a way that is admirable and positive. Getting the actual writers of Resurrection Man to subvert their own creation away from its ‘dog-eat-dog’ roots is the icing on the cake for me. Mitch here is responsible, powerful and altruistic, none of which would apply to the lost soul in the ongoing series up to this point, but because we have the same writers handling the character, it’s easy to believe it’s the same man, who’s been given a chance to reach his true potential.
The other clever touch is to reveal that Resurrection Man and Vandal Savage have become deadly archenemies down through the centuries. At first glance, a hammy Justice Society of America villain from the 40s doesn’t seem like a good match for a painfully Nineties, grim’n’ gritty newbie like Mitch, but this issue, and especially the next in the sequence, really sell their enmity to us. Their rivalry is an inspired choice by Morrison, and the addition of a potentially first-class supervillain to Resurrection Man’s story further helps sell him as a top rung superhero of the 853rd Century. Not bad considering he had only been around for 18 issues prior to the crossover. Going forward, Abnett and Lanning ran with Morrison’s gift of Savage as their heroes’ archenemy. Savage appeared in many issues of Resurrection Man after September 1998, and was there when the series drew to a close with issue 27.
Resurrection Man #1,000,000 – Abnett & Lanning and Butch Guice. (Week 4)
There are some remarkable strokes pulled in the course of DC One Million, but here we have another one. We’ve already seen Starman Farris Knight going from non-entity to betrayer of everything that’s good to the saviour of the Solar System and the entirety of the future in a few issues within a calendar month. We are also introduced to Mitch Shelley’s character-defining eons-long struggle with Vandal Savage, the avatar of the evil that men have done since earliest times and see it develop over vast stretches of time and space to reach its epic climax on the sands of Mars in this issue.
Their confrontation is epic and dragged out. An ironic subtext is that after all they’ve been through, they are in some ways like old friends, who understand each other and appreciate that they have more in common than with anyone else still alive.
The upshot is that Vandal figures out a way to kill Shelley, apparently permanently, by trapping him in a time-loop where he dies over and over again. As Savage escapes to carry out the final steps of his plan in DC One Million #4, Shelley slips into oblivion and the Resurrection Man is comforted by J’onn J’onnz, one of the few beings to have survived as long as himself and Savage.
Once again, it is J’onn’s compassion and humanity that is being highlighted. I’d guess that this crucial aspect of J’onn’s personality has been lost in more recent reboots of the character. But that’s another story.
This sequence of comics benefits from how Abnett and Lanning are able to knit Adventures of Superman together with their issue of Resurrection Man and tie it closely with what has been set up in Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter to keep this strand of the project very focussed.
Superman Man of Tomorrow #1,000,000 Mark Schultz and Georges Jeanty (Week 5)
This is the final comic in our sequence before everything is wrapped up in the final issue of the central mini-series. As with Martian Manhunter and Resurrection Man, we get a one-issue précis of an epic centuries-spanning life, however, this time the focus is on the hero’s legacy rather than his own long life. It would seem to be part of Morrison’s plan to preserve some of the mystique of Superman’s future adventures, as our Superman spends much of the intervening time in self-imposed exile of one kind or another.
Platinum of the Metal Men makes a follow-up appearance to relate the long saga of how the descendants of Superman fought alternately alongside or against Solaris the Sentient Sun down through the centuries.
As in those stories, we get the waxing and waning of fortunes as the good side or the bad appears to be winning at any one time, but with the comforting implication that in general, morality and goodness tend to get the upper hand in the long run.
The most startling aspect of this ‘history of the future’, is how Morrison appears to have predicted the tragic, so-called 'War on Terror' chapter of modern history in a 1998 comic! Superman only gets hints regarding his own adventures over the future centuries, but it is clear that he goes through bouts of extreme despair and loneliness and exiles himself from humanity for long periods. During one of his long absences, Solaris becomes the central, leading figure of the forces protecting and guiding humanity. And then we get this:
“In an epoch veering towards universal paranoia and instability he [Solaris] formed the Pancosmic Justice Jihad, whose aggressive agenda included pre-emptive strikes against worlds considered potential threats to the system.”
DC One Million #4 Morrison and Semeiks (Week 5)
So here we are at the grand finale of the event. In this issue, Morrison brings together the various plotlines and set-ups that he has weaved through the proceeding comics, and he underlines some of the themes he's been working on.
Carried over from DC One Million #3, the Kal Kent Superman manages to punch his way into the 853rd Century (don’t ask!), where he knows that the outgunned 20th Century JLA needs him in their battle with Solaris. Back in the 1998, the JLA starts to make preparations so that various things will be in place for the battle millennia in the future. This is all instigated by the Huntress. Not only does she finally prove her value to the team, but also strikes a blow for us non-super-powered types in the middle of all this.
Everyone plays their part in the battle against Solaris. The Flash is able to use the Justice Legion A's battle simulator at high-speed to map out the plays, guided by Batman. The JLA's trump card is Green Lantern Kyle, who has been missing and forgotten so long that Solaris does not know what he's capable of.
As the newbie trainee, Kyle has been the reader-identification figure in the JLA up to now, so this is the issue where he finally shows that he’s got the right stuff. Under instruction from Batman, Kyle is able to make Solaris ‘go nova’ whilst containing the subsequent solar-system obliterating blast within a ring-formed force-field.
With Solaris despatched, Morrison then proceeds to several epilogues where we get the whole ‘point’ of the crossover. Superman's return was the cause of the great celebration that set all these events in motion in the first place. Solaris had wanted to use the last Kryptonite fragment to kill Superman as he emerged from his long stay in the Sun. When he emerges he seems to have been transformed into a being of pure gold. Much of DC One Million has turned on very Morrisonian symbolism, at times drawing on ‘magickal’ and even alchemical principles. Superman being purified and transformed into gold by his long ordeal of loneliness and despair is a very alchemical idea. The element platinum was probably discovered long after the heyday of alchemy as a serious subject of study, but the way the character Platinum represents the good values that last and should be treasured is a very alchemical idea.
How this Golden Superman is presented bears a lot of thought. Morrison makes his appearance all the more awe-inspiring (and just plain inspiring) by maintaining his mystique and minimising how much we learn about him. Our Kal-El of the 20th Century withdraws back home early, as he doesn't want to interact too much with his future self, or learn too much about what his future might hold. It's a typically mature and humble attitude for the DCU's 'perfect man' to take.
The JLA in 1998 needed some human DNA to build Solaris and we saw Superman 1m borrowed it from Lois Lane in Superman #1,000,000. Now the Golden Superman of the 853rd Century, after all his travels, is able to use it to remake Lois Lane as his sterling silver bride. Not only that, but he is also able to use the last fragment of Kryptonite to remake all of Krypton, including bringing his parents back to life, for an emotional long-sought reunion. It’s all presented in a most wondrous and uplifting way. Almost as if Superman is being finally rewarded by Morrison for being there for us through all this time.
Endings are often problematic for Morrison's long epics. For The Invisibles, he created a whole new story-arc, set of characters, and oppositional forces for the final issue. In his New X-Men, both the resolution of the Magneto strand in the penultimate story-arc, and the final arc, which came way out of left-field, left most readers somewhat dissatisfied. In DC One Million, Morrison follows everything through to the final issue and wraps everything up very satisfactorily. Even more than that, compared to most events/crossovers since, the ending of it feels like a triumphant conclusion, rather than an anti-climactic, damp-squib set-up for the next phase of the company's marketing plan.
So it's a really satisfying read, with a great ending - Vandal Savage even gets his just rewards in a very fitting way in one of the epilogues. Perhaps how satisfyingly Morrison wraps everything up, and brings all his story elements together into a complete story, is a small problem in itself. Both DC and Marvel were often left with the problem of ‘where can we go from here’ once Morrison completed his runs on their properties. Doom Patrol fizzled after Grant left, and the X-Men have been largely a disappointing, nihilistic mess since the end of his New X-Men run. Even attempts to create ongoing characters, like his Marvel Boy and Seven Soldiers, left subsequent creators scratching their heads as to how to integrate them into their respective universes. Frankenstein and Shining Knight both needed to be unhitched from the previous continuity before they got roles in their own series in the New52.
Likewise, despite the popularity of this crossover, creators tended to shy away from using the DC One Million concepts after Morrison had left them in the continuity. Perhaps Morrison's ending here was just too complete, and what he had to say about the future blossoming of the DCU's potential was too final? In our next and final post, after we look at some of the fifth week issues that wrapped up the DC One Million series, I’ll have a look at how the few subsequent visits to Morrison’s future Utopia went down.
(100 - 200313)