Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest: Superman Beyond #1 (a Final Crisis tie-in)

Posted: Sunday, August 31, 2008
By: Keith Dallas

Grant Morrison
Doug Mahnke w/various inkers, David Baron (colors), 3-D by Ray Zone
DC Comics
Luke Handley: 4 Bullets
Shawn Hill: 3.5 Bullets
Dave Wallace: 4 Bullets
Thom Young: 4.5 Bullets

Luke Handley:

Final Crisis has, thus far, been a breath of fresh air for what, in my opinion, was starting to feel like a rather stale DC Universe, with Grant Morrison demonstrating once more that he knows how to write ground-breaking epics whilst still somehow keeping the drama very personal and touching. A year ago I would never have contemplated picking up a book with Superman in its title; not that I don't like the character, but, like Spider-Man, I've simply never been interested in reading his solo adventures. That changed with the arrival of Gary Frank as regular penciller on Action Comics, which motivated me to give the book a chance and I'm glad I did. So, although this title passed me by in the solicitations a couple of months ago, when I noticed it on this week's new releases list, it was pretty much a guaranteed purchase.

The first thing to note is the 3-D aspect of the comic. This did sound a bit too gimmicky when I read the solicitation for the book and, in all honesty, it is more a gimmick than anything else. Having said that, the book is crafted in such a way that when the 3-D pages do occur, there is some level of justification provided. Thus, 3-D glasses are required when Superman switches to "4-D vision" (which DC have yet to perfect for their readers) or when Supes and Captain Marvel try to wrest the Infinite Book from its library in Limbo, causing whatever limited reality you get in Limbo to distort. I must admit that it is quite fun to sit there with a pair of old-school 3-D glasses perched on your nose looking at the superheroes pop out of the page, and it certainly adds fuel to the fire of your flatmate's argument that you are a complete and utter geek. But is it really necessary? I think not, especially considering the incredibly high standard of Doug Mahnke's art. And by the time I finished reading, I found myself with a bit of a headache. Partly due to the 3-D viewing, partly to Morrison's plot.

Like some of my fellow reviewers, I enjoy a plot that makes the reader think and doesn't just fill in all the details for you with misplaced and endless expository dialogue. If the characters figure something out from the plot, hopefully the reader can too. As is customary with Morrison, that is the approach he takes here, although it isn't overly taxing to figure out what's going on. The story--that starts off by reproducing the scene from Final Crisis #3 in which the Monitor Zillo Valla offers Superman a chance to save Lois' life--rushes along at break-neck speed as Supes and a choice selection of his multiversal doppelgangers race across the multiversal orrery pursued by "Echo of Midnight" before crash-landing in Limbo. Obviously, with only two issues, page count is limited for this series, but it's still refreshing to see how the writer doesn't waste time--like, for example, in the scene where Clark Kent makes his decision to follow the Monitor and take her word that Lois will be alright whilst he's away. There is no unnecessary angst, whining or self-pitying; Superman is a hero, and he'll do whatever he can for his dying wife. His traveling companions have also been promised the "ultimate reward" and one has to wonder why Zillo Valla thought it would be a good idea to bring Ultraman, the antimatter Superman, along for the ride.

How this tale ultimately ties into Final Crisis as a whole remains to be seen, although Superman does point out that all the universes of the Multiverse are currently facing worldwide crises. Mandrakk--the "Dark Monitor" who dispatched the destroyer, the entity pursuing the monitor and her motley Super-crew--appears to be that link. Indeed, Final Crisis is billed as "the day Evil won," and judging by the tale recounted by the Infinite Book, Mandrakk is about as primal as evil can get. Whether Mandrakk is in fact the cause, or at least partial driving force, behind the Final Crises is as yet unknown, but Ultraman's final words of "Evil wins in the end!" hint that it's a distinct possibility. Superman, or at least A Superman, has been prophesised by the Monitors as the saviour when the end times come, and Zillo Valla certainly thinks those times are nigh, hence her ragtag collection of Supermen, though by the end of the issue only Earth-0 (apparently the correct appellation for "New Earth" and one I much prefer) Supes is still in any condition to do anything to prevent the impending apocalypse.

As I mentioned above, Doug Mahnke does an outstanding job on pencils. Each of his Supermen are markedly different, and their facial expressions alone are sufficient to get an idea of their personalities. Ultraman's depiction in particular, with every vein and sinew of his neck and face constantly sticking out, instantly captures the insanity brewing beneath the surface. I also like his depiction of Limbo. There is a suitably tragic yet comic appearance to its inhabitants, and little details--such as the rat on the junk pile--add to the overall feeling of loss. Adapting his art for the 3-D aspect was no mean feat, I suppose, but Mahnke pulls it off brilliantly; it's not only the transition to 3-D but to a slightly more loose art style in general that perfectly marks the transitions from 2-D. The sequence in which the Book tells the tale of the Monitor race and especially the final page featuring a demented Ultraman against a shattered sky really use this technique to its fullest.

The first half of Superman Beyond is a well-crafted and incredibly intriguing diversion from the main plotline of Final Crisis, but one that I suspect will have serious implications for DC's current über-storyline. Morrison and Mahnke bring their best to this tie-in and anyone enjoying the main storyline should give this a try.

Shawn Hill

Plot: As Lois literally hovers between heartbeats of life and death, a female Monitor informs Clark of a more dire threat.

Comments: Grant Morrison is more than a one-trick pony. He has about five tricks. One of them is a free ticket to ride on the apocalypse. Though they're always tailored for the particular players involved, one is much like another. We've seen a lot of these story elements before. Morrison's final JLA story involved a hyper-JLA of the future; this one involves a myriad army of Supermen analogs. That super-ultra-over-team faced the dread of Megaddon; these uber-men apparently are having a tizzy over Mandrakk.

Other familiar elements filter in from other literature. One of the Supermen has a decidedly Dr. Manhattan tone (up to and including size-changing as a background element). A Hell full of ineffectual weirdoes where nothing ever happens, and what if it did? A last minute vampirish turn by a major character, just to give that added flavor of desperation and insanity.

If the writing seems a bit patchy, the art seems needlessly decorated. Mahnke is more than capable of rendering whatever sort of heroic/dystopic scene Morrison requires (as we learned in their Frankenstein pastiche, each chapter in their Seven Soldiers collaboration a different kind of pulp). Unlike in Superman's last foray into 3D (where I recall Andy Kubert's pencils were enhanced by using the effect to define the eeriness of the Phantom Zone in a Richard Donner story), this one hardly needs the embellishment. Meant to indicate a playing field beyond normal perception, it's used mostly to make things glow and to energize the 4D spaceship the Monitor of Nil uses to sail the Bleed between worlds.

It's a distracting gimmick, and the story, though fairly rote for Morrison, doesn't need it. We already care about Clark and Lois, and the variant Superman each have an interesting role to play. Ultraman's about as helpful and cheery as always, the Nazi Overman is wracked with guilt (as a Jewish antidote to Hitler in a world ruled by Fascists should be), Captain Marvel is a burst of boyish vigor, and the "Quantum Superman" is wonderfully enigmatic.

It works as another corner of Grant's Crisis-style take on the DC Trinity: Wonder Woman transformed into a monster, Batman near death, and now Superman having to cope with a bracing world of corruption. It's a different style of storytelling from the mini-series itself: there we're seeing a series of drive-by effects, whereas Superman here has gone beyond the surface results to at least one cause. Along the way we get a retelling/retooling of the Monitor origin myth, and the vampire moment is just one of many blood-chilling thrills to be had. However, the mix and match elements are the kind of Morrisonian patchwork we get sometimes when he's spread himself too thin; it's a good call this one is only two issues.

Dave Wallace:

I've heard some readers comment that Final Crisis is shaping up to be something of a "Greatest Hits" for Grant Morrison, and after reading this issue, I can see what they're talking about to an extent. Superman Beyond sees the writer revisit several ideas from his previous DC work here, whether it's the reappearance of the metafictional realm of Limbo that we first saw in his run on Animal Man (complete with Merryman acting as guide again), or the presence of Ultraman from his JLA: Earth 2 graphic novel with Frank Quitely. However, none of these ideas feels obscure or impenetrable for those not familiar with their earlier appearances, as everything is explained fairly clearly for new readers, and everything is tied together fairly neatly by the core plot strand of Superman's journey through the multiverse in order to save the life of Lois Lane.

Whilst the story starts well enough, reprising the scene from Final Crisis #3 in which Superman was visited by a Monitor who offered a possible cure for Lois' condition, it's in the second half of the book that things really start to get interesting. Morrison outlines the history of the Monitors in an epic tale that reads like a religious text, explaining how the group came to be and elaborating their relationship with the DC multiverse. It's a smartly written sequence that acknowledges the importance of storytelling and continuity to the fictional worlds of the multiverse, underlining Superman's significance as the original superhero that provided the model for all others, and showing the Monitors' reaction to the subsequent explosion of stories and to the shared continuity and narrative conventions that continue to shape them.

In terms of the story of Final Crisis, it also adds depth to the concept of the Monitors (who haven't received much attention since the first issue of the miniseries), suggesting that their influence might not be as benign as expected. It also hints at a social hierarchy and divisions within the group, which could become more significant as the Final Crisis event moves into its second phase (after the planned break between issues #3 and #4).

One of the major selling points of this issue has been its artwork -- notably the 3-D effects that have been applied to the artwork by Ray Zone (who also handled the 3-D sections in the recent League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier). Whilst some people might see the 3-D sections as gimmicky and unnecessary, I still appreciate the novelty of 3-D effects in comics, and I enjoyed their use here. It's not flawlessly executed -- there are places where the separations don't seem to align perfectly when you view the images with the 3-D glasses (leading to blurriness), and it would be nice to be given pointers as to when you should be wearing the glasses and when to take them off (rather than having to work it out for yourself each time you turn the page) -- but for the most part, the effect works well, and gives the multiverse-crossing Bleed a suitably otherworldy feel.

Even without the attraction of the 3-D effects, the artwork is more than serviceable, maintaining a certain continuity with Final Crisis in the opening pages before moving forwards with a more psychedelic vibe, with plenty of visual Easter Eggs and cameos for eagle-eyed readers to spot. I particularly enjoyed the visual allusion to Yellow Submarine, with the design of the inter-dimensional transport craft echoing that of the Beatles' mode of transportation (do you think that Ultraman counts as a Blue Meanie?). Mahnke's style isn't the most distinctive in the world, but it serves the story well and conveys Morrison's ideas clearly, so acquits itself well.

Superman Beyond is already shaping up to be one of the most important companion books to Final Crisis (which is no surprise, considering that it's the only one that's also being written by Morrison). It introduces plenty of new concepts that look as though they'll be important to the event, but also manages to provide some straightforward moments of superheroism that make the book enjoyable in its own right, too. I particularly enjoyed the feat of strength that sees Superman and Captain Marvel work together to lift a book of infinite pages (a scene that wouldn't feel out of place in the timeless world of Morrison's All-Star Superman).

It's looking like Final Crisis is going to form the culmination of much of Morrison's DC work up to this point, unifying many disparate ideas under a single banner (or, to borrow a concept from this issue, creating a single story that has "got all the others in it"). There's also a compelling cliffhanger that suggests a dire end for the multiverse by the time that Final Crisis is over (but actually implies the opposite, once you think through the reversed logic of Ultraman's opposite nature). Whilst it might seem like a mess of ideas for those who are put off by Morrison's unique and idiosyncratic take on the DC multiverse -- or for those who aren't following Final Crisis -- I'd recommend it to everyone else.

Thom Young:

I’ve not yet read any reviews or comments about Superman Beyond. I prefer reading books I’m interested in without the possibility of being influenced by how others have responded to the book (especially when I’m assigned to review that book). Only after I’ve read a book (and written my review) do I then see what others have said about it--often so I can have points on which to base an argument (not an “angry disagreement” but a “reason put forward in support of or in opposition to a point of view”).

I suspect there will be much to argue about in regard to Superman Beyond. This latest book from Grant Morrison is sure to frustrate readers who were hoping that it would help them better understand the story taking place in the main Final Crisis series. Nevertheless, Superman Beyond #1 actually does provide some pieces to the puzzle that might help to clarify things.

As is evident from the bullet rating I’ve given it, I thoroughly enjoyed this issue. However, I will say that after my first reading of it, I gave it only three and a half bullets. After my second reading, I raised the rating to four bullets. Finally, after a third reading, I settled on four and a half. I would have given it five bullets, but I have a few qualms with some of the panels illustrated by Doug Mahnke and his Host of Infinite Inkers.

Additionally, some of the 3-D effects didn’t print correctly (at least in my copy)--making the illustrations look more like they have shadows rather than three dimensions. I’m also not convinced there was any reason to print this issue as a 3-D comic. Even though Superman is supposed to upgrade his vision to 4-D (which is why we supposedly have ours upgraded from 2-D to 3-D), there is very little that is actually done with that notion. In fact, most of the 3-D effects take place before Superman’s vision is upgraded.

In a couple of ways, Morrison has set up a correlation between his work here and Alan Moore’s concepts in his recent The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier. One of those correlations is the notion here of the four spatial dimensions in the regions Superman visits (Nil, the Overvoid, and the Bleedstorm Space) and the four spatial dimensions that Moore conceived for the Blazing World in The Black Dossier. However, the 3-D effects were not as effective here due to printing errors, their minimal use, and their use prior to Superman’s vision upgrade.

If it weren’t for those problems with the use of the 3-D effects and a few of the illustrations, I would have given this book five bullets after my third reading. Now, before I begin an admittedly longwinded explication of what I consider the key elements of Superman Beyond #1, let me just say that the story here begins to tie together not only every story that Morrison has ever written for DC but also every story that has ever been published by DC (and that ever will be published by DC)--including any and all of the confusing ret-cons that DC has attempted in the last 23 years (i.e., since Crisis on Infinite Earths).

Morrison presents the concepts in a well-written script that might, however, be confusing after only one reading. I began to see the possibilities of the story after my second reading, but I didn’t start to fully realize what Morrison was doing (or at least what I think he’s doing) until I was engaged in my third reading. The remainder of this review is going to be devoted to an explication of what I consider the key elements of the story--so, if you want to bail out here, I understand.

Superman Beyond is exactly the type of book that I most enjoy reading. For one thing, it has a postmodern aesthetic--including metatextual elements that are actually the core cause of the crisis and that involve a “book with an infinite number of pages all occupying the same space” and that “contains every book possible” (page 21 panels 1-2).

This “Infinity Book” (as I’ll call it) is the ultimate example of metatextuality--a book that contains all books that have ever been written or that might ever be written. It seems to be Morrison’s more accurate attempt to convey another idea that is similar to a concept that Moore presented in The Black Dossier. In the joint review of The Black Dossier that Dave Wallace and I wrote, I referred to Moore’s attempt at incorporating the incongruous elements of Ian Fleming’s 1950s James Bond novels and George Orwell’s 1984 into his own story:
This, then, is a big problem that I have with Moore’s claim that every work of fiction that has ever been written (or will ever be written) takes place in the League’s universe (not multiverse, but universe). Obviously, there are works of fiction that work in their own universes but that will contradict each other and create “continuity problems” when incorporated together into a shared universe.
Morrison sidesteps the obvious problem of making all works of fiction occur in the same shared universe by merely having the Infinity Book operate as the ultimate metatext--a book that contains all written works (both fiction and nonfiction) that have been or will ever be. Yet, Morrison seems to also acknowledge the inherent problem in Moore’s attempt at incorporating all stories into his Extraordinary Gentlemen universe (more on that in a moment).

The Infinity Book in Superman Beyond is housed as the sole book in the Library of Limbo, and Merryman said that it was “written by a monkey” (page 21 panel 1). Merryman was the leader of the Inferior Five, a comedic superhero team created by E. Nelson Bridwell and Joe Orlando that starred in three issues of Showcase and ten issues of their own title in 1966-68. His reference to the Infinity Book being written by a monkey is probably an allusion to the notion that an infinite number of monkeys typing infinitely would eventually produce the works of Shakespeare (and, presumably, all other books that were ever written or that could ever be written).

As I mentioned earlier, while Morrison’s inclusion of “all books” within the Infinity Book sidesteps the problem of Moore’s notion of all stories occurring in a single shared universe, I believe it also points to the metatextual foundation of the “final crisis” itself. Unlike Moore’s attempt to incorporate all stories into a single universe, Morrison is implying that all stories could be contained in the idea of a shared multiverse--albeit, a multiverse that contains an infinite number of universes (such as the DC multiverse did prior to 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths).

However, if the borders separating those universes within a shared multiverse started to break down and bleed into one another, the result would be something like what Moore conceives for his Extraordinary Gentlemen universe). Continuity problems would begin to crop up and there would be a “metatextual crisis” as a single universe attempted to contain an infinite number of universes within it. The result is the logical paradox of a container of infinite space attempting to contain an infinite number of containers of infinite space.

Early on, there is an image contained within Clark Kent’s internal monolog that alludes to the notion of parallel universes within a multiverse, and to David Bohm’s notion of “wholeness and implicate order” (the macrocosm within the microcosm). It comes just after the Monitor Zillo Valla “paralyzes” time to suspend Lois Lane’s life between heartbeats:
Caught on a ragged inbreath, her life has hit pause. Outside . . . 400 million raindrops hang in perfect suspension. Each reflecting the other, and the city and everything beyond. (page 6 panel 2)
That description of 400 million raindrops is a beautiful image that perfectly captures the notion of parallel universes within a multiverse, and I only wish that it had been possible for an illustrator to capture it without resorting to a computer-generated graphic of one raindrop reproduced in a panel hundreds of times. The only comic book illustrator who might even dare to undertake the task is George Perez.

Anyway, the Infinity Book itself is also a microcosm of this concept (an infinite number of pages contained within one book), and a central story within the Infinity Book involves a primal entity known as Monitor that gave rise to the race of Monitors. As Superman and the Captain Marvel of Earth 10 attempt to carry the book back to Ultima Thule (a spaceship named after a mythical geographical location on Earth), the story of the primal Monitor either appears before them or is downloaded directly into their brains.

Physical contact with the book is obviously required in order to see the story since Merryman does not see it. He’s undoubtedly fortunate as it gives Captain Marvel a headache:
Graahh . . . Feedback’s making my skull ring, Superman! This Monitor . . . it’s too immense to imagine! How can something be bigger than universes? (page 23 panel 1)
Superman then calls the primal Monitor “A conscious living void! With our entire multiverse growing inside it” (sic), and he refers to the Infinity Book as “some kind of primal origin story of Zillo Valla’s kind, the race of Monitors” (page 23 panels 1-2). That origin story of the Monitors is also a metatextual creation myth:
Previously! There was Monitor only! And then! Then is a flaw found at the heart of Monitor Perfection! Monitor makes a concept to contain the flaw! Monitor Examination reveals within terrifying, unforeseen complexities and contradictions! Magnification reveals a structure of infinitesimal rippling manifolds upon whose surface intricate germ-like processes thrive and multiply! (sic, page 22)
This flaw found at the heart of “Monitor Perfection” was nothing more than a simple story being introduced into the void and giving rise to the creation of the first universe and the eventual multiverse:
With no precedent for the concept “story”! . . . No understanding of the damage “story” might do to an immense awareness without limits or definition! . . . Monitor has zero defenses! Blinded, split in two, the probe withdraws! The flaw is sealed, scabbed over. With divine metals! Made safe. Until all that remains of that ill-fated first contact is a vast, uncanny form! The mystery of the Silent Sentinel haunts Monitor, infects the Immaculate Intelligence with questions, speculations, pestilential, crawling narratives. Legend takes root . . . and story, like contagion, spreads unchecked! Becomes this history of a once-mighty race of hyper-gods, direct descendents of the first immense, unknowable Monitor! This epic elegy for a doomed civilization, declining from splendor to squalor. This Final Crisis.(sic, page 24 panel 1 to page 25 panel 1)
Rather than beginning with “In the beginning,” this creation myth begins with “Previously.” In other words (to combine this creation myth with the one in The Book of Genesis), “Previously, Monitor was without form, and void until the concept of story appeared and created a flaw in the perfect void.”

A story (any story) creates its own “world” or universe. Essentially, the Logos (or “the Word”) entered the void in the form of the Story, and from that story sprang the first world so that the Void had to contain the first universe. Subsequent stories then gave rise to subsequent universes until an infinite number of stories (all that have been and will ever be) gave rise to an infinite number of universes (that have been and will be)--all of which must still be contained within the Primal Void that is called “Monitor.”

Additionally, it shouldn’t be ignored that monitor may also refer to “a device that displays data generated by a machine.” In other words, the Monitor started displaying universes generated by the Orrery--which is what the Monitors call the multiverse.

Note: An orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system that shows the orbits of the planets around the sun at their correct relative velocities--so the “Orrery” here is the Monitors’ mechanical model of the multiverse that shows the interactions between the universes. It might also be a multiversal machine that has the various universes within it as its hardware and/or software.

The universes were kept separate from each other (“scabbed over with divine metals,” the metals of which the multiversal machine is constructed) and are held together as the Orrery that is the DC multiverse. However, when those barriers begin to break down so that the universes begin bleeding into each other (such as the appearance of Uberfrau on “Earth Zero” in Final Crisis #3), then a crisis that threatens all of existence is evident as the infinite universes from infinite stories crowd into a single story and create “unforeseen complexities and contradictions!” (again, like the continuity contradictions Moore created in his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen universe by trying to conflate conflicting stories into a single story).

As the Infinite becomes Finite, it also becomes “Final,” and a “Crisis” results.

Additionally, there is even an indication on page 25 of the only thing that can be used to fend off this “Final Crisis.” Here the Monitors gaze up at what first appears only as a towering statue that is later revealed to be a towering statue of Superman within the Monitors’ “Overvoid” home. They deduce that “It can only be a weapon. A Doomsday Machine engineered by Genius to defend us against some Ultimate Enemy” (panel 4). We’re also told that the towering statue of Superman is “the haunting relic of First Contact [which now] rusts, neglected!”

In other words, Superman was that “First Story” that created the first universe, and the “Genius” that created it would be better known to us as “Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.” Here Morrison is linking Final Crisis with the end of All-Star Superman #10--as I wrote in my review of that issue: “Joe Shuster in his Cleveland, Ohio apartment in 1934 putting the finishing touches on the costume of his and Jerry Siegel's third version of Superman (page 21, panels 2-3).”

Superman’s creation was the first story that brought about what would become the DC multiverse, and he is now the weapon that can defend the multiverse against the Ultimate Enemy--which is a being called “Mandrakk.”

Mandrakk may be a play on the name of Lee Falk’s character Mandrake (the Magician), who was arguably the first “comic strip” superhero to appear in print (as opposed to a pulp novel superhero). Mandrake debuted in 1934--two years before Falk’s other comic strip superhero, The Phantom, and four years before Superman debuted as the first comic book superhero in Action Comics #1. Thus, we have a possible confrontation between the first “comic strip superhero” (Mandrake/Mandrakk) and the first “comic book superhero” (Superman).

Metatextually, Mandrakk is threatening Superman for the title of the “first superhero story.” In a way, Mandrake/Mandrakk is Lilith to Superman’s Eve.

Additionally, Mandrakk seems to have some correlation with the Semitic deity known as “Moloch”--particularly through Morrison’s probable allusion to Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl.” Morrison seems to be evoking Ginsberg’s poem on page 26 (inserted notes in brackets):
Dax Novu, the Radiant One, the First Son of Monitor and bravest of the Science Gods.

[During his run on Jack Kirby’s Fourth World in the 1990s, John Byrne’s revealed that Infinity Man was once a New God named Dax who was born on Apokolips at the same time that Izaya (Highfather) was born on New Genesis. It’s possible that “Dax Novu” is not only a Messianic figure within the race of Monitors but is also a reference to Infinity Man’s primal identity. (In those same stories, Byrne also revealed that Darkseid was born with the name Uxas).]

Novu, whose brilliant, rebel intellect first probed the flaw and mapped its horrors.

Who wrestled the angel of contamination!

Who brought knowledge and the riches of the Bleed!

Who gave his life to chain the beast in darkness!

Who knew the day of the holocaust would come again!

Deep within the sepulcher of Mandrakk there is a restless stirring.

In the plague pit, the prime eater of life senses its freedom!
The anaphoric construction of these lines (an anaphora is the use of the same word or phrase at the beginning of several successive lines) is a key component in the poetic construction of the King James translation of the Christian Bible, and it has since been used in poetry as a device for conveying religious or mystical themes. In the case of Walt Whitman, it was used to catalog commonplace tasks and people in order to raise them to the level of divinity.

However, in the case of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” (which is what I believe Morrison is alluding to in Superman Beyond, the anaphoras are used to not only convey the Beatitude of Life but also as an introduction to the destructive spirit of Moloch (selected excerpts with inserted notes in brackets):

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,


angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,

[Morrison also like to employ this machinery motif in his work.]

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,

who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,

[The “El” in Ginsberg’s poem denotes the elevated railroad in New York at the time (1950s) but it also carries the connotation of the Semitic concept that means “of God.” Of course, it also happens to be Superman’s Kryptonian surname.]


who sank all night in submarine light of Bickford's floated out and sat through the stale beer after noon in desolate Fugazzi's, listening to the crack of doom on the hydrogen jukebox,

who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and bop kabbalah because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas,

who loned it through the streets of Idaho seeking visionary indian angels who were visionary indian angels,

who thought they were only mad when Baltimore gleamed in supernatural ecstasy,


who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houston seeking jazz or sex or soup, and followed the brilliant Spaniard to converse about America and Eternity . . .


who distributed Supercommunist pamphlets in Union Square weeping and undressing while the sirens of Los Alamos wailed them down, and wailed down Wall . . .

[The “Wall” in Ginsberg’s poem denotes Wall Street in New York but it also carries the connotation of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem--with the sirens of Los Alamos (where the first atomic bomb was created) having an effect on Wall Street but also imitating the wailing that occurs in Jerusalem at the Wailing Wall.” Of course, in Kirby’s Fourth World mythology, the Wall is also where the New God Izaya communicates with the Source and inherited his mantle of “Highfather.”]


who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot for Eternity outside of Time . . .


and who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessed with a sudden flash of the alchemy of the use of the ellipse the catalog the meter & the vibrating plane,

who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space through images juxtaposed, and trapped the archangel of the soul between 2 visual images and joined the elemental verbs and set the noun and dash of consciousness together jumping with sensation of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus

to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head,

the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting down here what might be left to say in time come after death,

and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in the goldhorn shadow of the band and blew the suffering of America's naked mind for love into an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio

with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their own bodies good to eat a thousand years.

[These last six lines have a metatextual element in them as Ginsberg indicates that art--specifically painting, poetry, and jazz, but all art in general--is a type of metaphysical or mystical “weapon” that has power over time and space and can be used to redeem people from their moments of personal crises and be used as a Eucharist that can elevate them to Millennial divinity.]


What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?

Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!

Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!

Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!

Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!

[In Ginsberg’s poem, Moloch is the bringer of chaos and crisis that takes the form of suffering, authority, capitalism, and mechanical existence (similar to Kirby’s concept of the Anti-Life Equation) and whose ear is a smoking tomb (a sepulcher)--similar to the Pits of Apokolips that Morrison seems to allude to with his vision of Mandrakk residing in a sepulcher in the form of a “plague pit.”]
Morrison’s Superman Beyond is an ambitious work that really does help clarify aspects of Final Crisis, but not in an easily accessible manner. With each subsequent piece of the puzzle, it’s evident that this is Morrison’s magnum opus when it comes to superhero comics. I’d even go so far as to say it is going to be the magnum opus all superhero comics--supplanting Alan Moore’s The Watchmen if Morrison can pull it off (and if his illustrators can meet the requirements of his story).

What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!