This will hopefully be an insightful part of our Grant Morrison Reading Project and a continuation of my own Bat-Journey. As I gather some references and take some notes before I delve deep into the Morrisonian version of the Greater DCU, I want to look at Final Crisis Sketchbook (Jl'08) which came out the same time as FC #1. It contains, naturally, some sketches by J.G. Jones and comments by Grant Morrison in this comic book version of a DVD extra. Some highlights, note-wise:

  • Darkseid--he appears to be "ossifying" and is in great pain. He is the shadow of decay!
  • Desaad-torturer of the gods and a hidden cross-dresser. Which gives certain scenes from JLA some unintentional comic visions!
  • The Black Racer-from goofy to frightening!
  • Terrible Turpin-- "Jack Kirby as drawn by Frank Miller"
  • Orion- No longer the Dog of War but the Soldier of the New Gods. His symbol is the sun!
  • Mister Miracle-he is the same one from Seven Soldiers! I'm going to have to finish that soon!
  • Kamandi-- how does the Last Boy on Earth fit in with Kirby's Fourth World?
  • The Forever People--- from Hippies to Goth?
  • Libra- nice to know that Grant and I read the same comics as kids!!
  • The Monitors--bridging the two Crises! Cosmic soap opera!
  • Big Science Action-- Morrison's Japanese JLA. The Silver Age meets Anime!
  • Super Young Team-- interesting combinations of classic DC heroes with a modern twist but these teen heroes are annoying!

Everyone please feel free to comment on this as I want this to be, as Figs believes, the culmination of the Post Crisis DCU that deserves to be celebrated!

Next: Who is the God Destroyed? or Just the Cosmic Facts, Ma'am!

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Was it really five MONTHS between issues when it was published? That's one LOOOOONG heartbeat! People didn't NOT understand Morrison's story. They simply forgot it!

 

If it was some editorial decision to butcher this story and include a 5 month wait between episodes then that is a shame.  The other possibility is that part 2 wasn't completed on time.  In which case, I still don't see any reason why they didn't wait until part 2 was finished to bring out the whole story as one book.

 

The pity for me is that it was the only chance to bring Superman Beyond out as a single story.  Now it is just two middle chapters of a much longer story to which it kinda connects to, but not in a linear way.  Now Superman Beyond is buried inside a collection of comics, and can't really be cited as a good Superman story on it's own merits.

 

I wonder where Morrison got the name "Ultima Thule"?  I should start reading the annotations of this series again soon.

 

Ultraman has read from the Infinite Book and discovers that there is a God and he hates us all. Could this be how comic book characters would think if they knew about their creators whose livelihood is based on making their lives miserable and overly complicated?

 

By Jove!  I think you've got it.  That hadn't really occurred to me.  Superman Beyond does a lot of the same things as Morrison's Animal Man, but it obscures much with a more arcane and Baroque take on the metafiction.  Animal Man was just a jump or two away from talking to his actual creator and finding out exactly what was going on, but Morrison adds many layers here, with the whiteness and the first Monitor etc.

 

I wonder if DC could have directly used any of them in their true forms briefly? What could Marvel do? Sue them? "Hey DC is ripping off OUR Superman rip-offs!!"

 

I read an interview with Morrison where he said he seriously tried to use 'real' Supermen analogues from other companies in a later scene in the series.  He was told that it was utterly impossible, but if ever there was a justification for the companies paying back the debt owed to Superman a tiny bit by allowing a few cameos it was in this series.

 

Oh, yeah, by the way - "Up and Adam(s) or I'm My Own Monument!" - Rocky Squirrel, right?

 

'Up and Adam!' is a reference to a Simpson's joke.  'I'm my own monument', I'm not sure of, but I like it!

 

Flicking through Superman Beyond again, I have to admire the Mahnke's depiction of how the Ultima Thule 'surfaces' in the hospital from the depths beneath Superman's reality.  Perhaps its just easier to admire in the non-3D version.  It's beautifully done.  Notice how the floor turns to liquid as Superman is about to board it.  It must have looked really tough in the script but Mahnke pulls it off with aplomb.

Hah!  Yes, but we'll get around to finishing it one day.

Oh, yeah, by the way - "Up and Adam(s) or I'm My Own Monument!" - Rocky Squirrel, right?

 

'Up and Adam!' is a reference to a Simpson's joke.  'I'm my own monument', I'm not sure of, but I like it!

 

Actually, the Simpsons joke was "Up and at them!"    The title above certainly does sound like a riff on the sort of episode titles they used to have on the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show.

Well, I always regretted that this thread stalled. There's some great stuff on it from you, Philip. Maybe your encyclopedic knowledge of DC lore gives you an unfair advantage, but your posts on Final Crisis and in the parent Batman thread showed that a reader didn't need to be a Morrison 'initiate' to enjoy and appreciate these comics. You were just prepared to apply a little thought to them and approach them slightly differently than the usual 'read once, stick it in the longbox, wait til next month' manner that most comics are made to be read in.

You mentioned recently that you really got stuck here, which surprised me, as you'd been going big guns with some fairly tricky stuff in the Batman readthrough.

Anyway, it was the combination of you mentioning this thread elsewhere, and my enjoyment of the wonderful Multiplicity #1 that put me in mind to kick-start it again.

Before I jump in, I decided to read all of Final Crisis up to this point. Wow! Whatever about the rest of the series, issues 1-3 are a rock-solid superhero tale. It's dense, but Morrison does carefully tell us all we need to know, War in Heaven, Evil won, New Gods dead, Orion killed with a bullet fired backwards through time. At every turn, the heroes figure things out, but just a heartbeat too late.

I was surprised how enjoyable the first three issues were, just on the level of superhero fun. I don't think I was stretching into the realms of pseudo-intellectualism to say that Morrison keeps clustering his thematic symbolism - 4 'super-women', 3 Flashes, two Martian war gods, Metron linked to both the Flash and J'onn Jonnz - or that Morrison is trying to produce a story that 'contains' the complete history of superhero comics, including their pre-history and future developments, and trying to bring us a tale that contains every type of superhero tale. But for all that, the first 3 issues are just a very tight, lean superhero tale that takes us on a whistle-stop tour through every facet of the wonderful DCU. The best word that applies for my reading experience, is immersive. I'm sure JG Jones bears much of the praise, but it's so easy to believe every panel aand lose yourself in this world.

It's possible that what makes it so immersive for me is what puts others off. The action is presented in quite a low-key way. These superheroes are shown just doing their thing, rather than posing for the reader, or making self-aware quips to each other. No Awesomeness or Badassery here. Well, perhaps Dan Turpin is Badass, but he's a cranky old man, and he's here to represent Frank Millers contribution to our beloved artform.

The story up to the end of issue 3 is gripping and fun. Actually I'm trepiditious about the remainder of the series after Superman Beyond, as I'm not sure they have the solid immersive narrative throughline, with the explanatory handholding, of the first 3 issues.

We'll see....

But first let's get to the end of Superman Beyond issue 2...

FINAL CRISIS: SUPERMAN BEYOND #2 (Ma'09) (Part 2)

Up and Quantum!  Or … I am Monumentally Discombobulated!

It looks like Mandrakk’s footsoldiers are the shadow beings that attacked all the multiverse worlds in Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Superman gets some dodgy dialogue to show how sorry a state they are in.  Captain Marvel must “Warn everyone, like Paul Revere!  Tell them Mandrake is coming! I’LL DO WHAT I CAN TO PLUG THE HOLE IN FOREVER!”

 

Over-egging it much there, Kal?

 

At this point Captain Adam starts to put together the solution, which is great because he’s just used his powers of ‘quantum positioning’ to even up the odds in the battle against the shadow creatures.

 

He works out that there are ‘no dualities, only symmetries’.  The story has already shown us this, with the 5 Supermen each having different strengths and weaknesses, but Captain Adam is in particular considering the opposites of Ultraman and Superman, one utterly evil, the other very, very good.

 

We actually see the Ultima Thule take off with Captain Marvel playing its controls like a harp.  It’s easy to miss because there isn’t any ‘handholding’.  (Ultima Thule is one of the many names various Earth cultures for a heavenly utopia, it seems)  I think, when we see it again, it will be carrying the Montoya Question around in the final scenes of the whole series.

 

It is of course based on the Yellow Submarine in the Beatles movie.  For what it’s worth I thought the dogs in the world ‘bathed in radiation and hope’ that the Ultima flies through in issue 1 looked like the blue devil-dogs in that movie.  But then the Beatles are superheroes in the DCU, as per the Sgt Pepper giant robots in Kingdom Come.

 

I hope that the forgotten citizens of Limbo managed to stow away on the Ultima Thule or were otherwise allowed on it, because Captain Adam decides to ‘fire the gun’ that you mentioned earlier, ie he precipitates the huge world-destroying explosion that we were told would follow Superman and Ultraman coming into contact with each other.

 

He bashes them together, releasing enough energy to “broadcast his (Superman’s) pure essence to a receiver in a higher dimension.”

 

This is where things get really difficult for you perhaps, Philip?

 

Superman finds himself ‘the ghost in the machine’ of the huge monolithic statue of Superman on the Monitors' realm that we saw in part 1.

 

It’s worth pointing out that we’ve seen something similar to this before in our Morrison readthrough.  When Green Lantern Kyle was shown around Wonderworld by the Mote in Rock of Ages part 3 (JLA #12), he met a giant Superman analogue, that was one of the defenders of reality on some much higher plane.  Even then, strangely enough, that Superman figure – Adam One, which is another call forward to a character in Final Crisis – had discernible rivets around his face and was apparently encased in some kind of suit of armor.  Strange no?  Somehow Morrison was thinking forward to a monolithic statue animated by some form of being with Superman’s character even then.  Or he retro-fitted this Superman monolith to match that of Adam One in that Wonderworld sequence?  Crazy stuff.

 

Not that Morrison is expecting all his readers to have read JLA #12 and join the dots.  He tells us everything we need to know right here.  We overheard Captain Adam’s musings earlier: “A thought robot activated by the tremendous energies unleashed during  collisions of fundamental opposing qualities.”

 

It looks like the Monitors are huge in their own world compared to our world, (and the Superman ‘thought robot’ monolith is even bigger than the Monitors).  They refer to the 52 worlds within the Orrory as ‘Germworlds’ and us as ‘germs’, so they are gigantic. 

 

Just as the 3D first kicked in when Superman started traveling with Weeja Dell on the Ultima Thule, it kicks in again when Superman ascends to this higher plane.   Perhaps the 3D effect comes into its own when Superman first starts perceiving things from the vantage of this higher plane.  I loved how the 3D effect is used to make it look as if Superman is reaching out of the comic toward the reader (through a letter-box shaped frame).  Indeed, we are meant to suppose that Superman is almost able to perceive us reading the comic:

 

“From a direction that has no name comes a sound like breathing.  The whole continuum trembles as if cradled.  And there’s a presence.  As if I could reach out and touch something immense beyond understanding”

 

This scene is dramatizing one of the central conceits of Final Crisis and Superman Beyond.  That there are levels of reality in which the DCU is nestled. 

Actually, Morrison has released a wonderful schematic of how these levels of reality might work.

So now Superman is near the highest level and only a short distance away from perceiving our world!  In-continuity, the DCU has been building up this cosmology for a long time.  It already has layers of reality that the main Final Crisis series has shown us.  The New Gods are above the everyday Earth level, and the Monitors are above them.  So Morrison using it here is only a continuation of how it has been used before.  (I still have to get around to reading those issues of Justice League of America where the 70s writers break into the DCU!)  Except here he is trying to use his skills as a writer and calling on the artist to use his skills to give the experience more wonder and gravitas and grandeur than it has had before.  Like much else in superhero comics, it only works if the reader is prepared to invest a little in it, and suspend disbelief to some extent. 

 

This sense of wonder he is trying to evoke goes completely against the grain of much of the comics that have become the norm in the last decade or so.  In those comics, we aren’t expected to take anything seriously.  People die and come back.  Characters only speak in such a way that makes them seem tough and badass, no matter how much it detracts from how real they seem.  There is a cynicism to the stories that we are told. 

 

Morrison is here trying to make us sincerely feel that our old friend Kal-El is actually reaching out to us, and that this is actually a miraculous event.

 

So it is all building on what has already been done in DC comics, but the other thing to keep in mind is that Morrison is trying to sincerely convey a mystical experience he had whilst in Kathmandu, where he is convinced that beings from a higher dimension took him for a tour of the universe, and explained to him the nature of reality! 

 

The meta elements in Grant’s writings are an attempt to explain this, and to convey the lessons they imparted to him.

 

You don’t have to believe it yourself, but I think we have to take Morrison’s belief in what he experienced as sincere.  This is the other level that these stories are working on.  Some attempt to understand and convey how reality might be ordered on different planes.

 

For now I’ll leave you with Grant’s own account of his mystical, life-changing encounter with higher beings.  Do give this a listen.  The Kathmandu bit starts around 1 hour 15 mins into it.  It’s from his interview with Kevin Smith on the latter’s Fatman on Batman series of Batman podcasts.  I can really recommend these if you haven’t listened to them before. (Smith is contributing some marvelous stuff to Batman scholarship with this series.)

 

This account of Grant's Kathmandu experience throws much light on what he is trying to do in his books.  You don’t have to have listened to this to understand what Morrison is trying to convey in much of his work, but it does affirm that his work is a very sincere attempt to get across some very difficult and out of the ordinary concepts and ways of looking at reality.

 

So that’s another 4 pages knocked off part 2…

Believe it or not, with all the talk about Multiplicity, I was rereading Superman Beyond #2 hoping to continue but, due to several vacations at work, I've been doing a lot of weird hours. In fact, I got home this morning at 7 AM after doing the overnight shift and I have to go back today till 11 PM.

Planning to add something Thursday!

Forgive me for dropping in late, but I'm reading this analysis at the beginning of 2017 and it's some great stuff. Forgive me if you guys have already dawned on this revelation I just had, as I'm only up to your discussion on FC #2, but I figured out the main theme of FC, and the reason for its initially disjointed structure.

I noticed that Figs spent a large amount of space defending the short scenes and quick, almost sudden cuts in the early issues, the abbreviated action, some of which is relegated entirely off-panel. But although we can justify the stylistic effect it had on the storytelling, it doesn't quite explain WHY it was written that way. Here's the explanation:

Because evil had won. The disjointed storytelling itself is a direct result of Darkseid's victory.

Consider chapter 7, which is told almost entirely through narration, and not merely one narrator, but all the characters taking turns telling the story. Not only do the characters reclaim life/the world/the multiverse, but they take back the reins of the story and storytelling itself, and very directly. They explain how evil was defeated. We see the battles. They don't take place off-panel this time.

The entire struggle in Final Crisis is one of language and knowledge. When Metron gifts Anthro light/fire/knowledge/symbol/language in the very beginning, he gives him the tool with which to defeat evil. The Tattooed Man stops Anti-Life with art in the form of LANGUAGE. The Green Lanterns stop Mandrakk with fire in the form of LIGHT. Superman stops Darkseid with poetry in the form of SONG. All are metaphors for knowledge.

What does Darkseid use? The Anti-Life Equation, a mathematical reduction of language and knowledge. 

Also notice how he twists fire for his own gain. How is Martian Manhunter taken down? With a flaming spear. With the presence of the Human Flame, Dr. Light, and Effigy (and let's not forget Mirror Master early, who also refracts light). 

By breaking down language, Darkseid literally breaks down the way the story is told. We don't see the scenes in which Martian Manhunter is subdued or how Batman is made prisoner. In fact, it could be argued that the very omission of these fights is what has caused them to lose their battles.

Welcome aboard, Michael. We're glad you're here!

Those are some great insights, Michael! I love the idea that when good triumphs, we're in control of our own story again.

And Welcome...we're glad you're here!

I was slightly mistaken - we see Batman get taken down by Kraken, but not quite subdued.

We see narration by Jay Garrick to describe the return of Barry Allen, one of the early heroic triumphs in the story.

Mandrakk appears in the final issue, "here at the end of all stories." He makes further mention of this during Superman Beyond.

Why are certain heroes trapped in limbo? Because they lack narratives. They lack stories.

How does Superman survive at the end of Superman Beyond, and perhaps forever? By inscribing those three words on his tombstone ensuring a neverending battle.

Not to step on the toes of the great work done by Figs and Phillip, but if no one objects, I might continue their FC analysis. I don't know how many people actually read these threads, but I came upon it after searching for analyses of Morrison series. I've read other sites. Some do a good job, but many inexplicably end midway through various runs. Given that Morrison's themes often don't become apparent until he reaches his conclusions, this is a shame.

So given my own desire to see completed analyses of his works, I'm gonna try picking up the baton. 

Sounds good.

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