The world as we know is in shambles, and Darkseid has seemingly won. But in between the beats of a dying heart, Superman must stop a multiversal threat that is even greater than the evil New God. Ultimately unveiling the true villain of Final Crisis, this two-part story unites Supermen from across DC’s Multiverse and history while commenting on the nature of comics industry itself.
Final Crisis: Superman Beyond
(w) Grant Morrison (a) Doug Mahnke (c) David Baron
Jason Jeffords Jr (JJR): I’ll be nice and start this one off with a statement, explaining my feelings of this tie-in: when I first read Final Crisis: Superman Beyond I had absolutely no idea what the fuck was going on, now a few years later my “absolutely no idea” leveled up to a somewhat of an idea. That may be one of the reasons I enjoy this tie-in though, as I feel each time I reread it, I gain a little more insight on the happenings. Also If I’m remembering correct this had a pair of 3D glasses?
Dan Gehen (DG): Yes, there were 3D glasses to go alongside the story, which is pretty great in the Absolute Edition. I will say that this is where Final Crisis really goes off the rails in terms of narrative structure. Up to this point, the story is pretty dense, but fairly straightforward. Superman Beyond though is just bonkers. There’s the Supermen of the Multiverse, the characters of limbo, vampiric Monitors, mysterious pieces of paper, the Bleed, and… my head is spinning now.
I was thinking about how we should approach this, whether to break out each issue or to combine them. I think with the core Final Crisis stories it works best on an issue-by-issue basis because of how much is packed into each installment. While the story structure of Superman Beyond is messier, the story itself is decompressed just enough that you need to take both issues as a whole.
There’s a lot of meta commentary to be found here, starting with the Limbo characters – especially the Merryman. First, that’s a great, deep-cut pull by Morrison. Merryman’s a character that was created by Nelson Bridwell and Joe Orlando in the 1960s as a part of the “superhero” team The Inferior Five. Aside from appearing in Morrison’s own Animal Man, he was largely forgotten by both the publisher and readers.
JJR: Sadly the omnibus doesn’t come with the 3D Glasses, but now I want to check out the Absolute Edition just for that! Morrison grabbing characters from years, and years back has always been one of my favorite things about him. In his Batman run he grabbed themes, stories, and characters from the dozens of years of history.
I love the art for Superman Beyond as it’s done by Doug Mahnke, who is an amazing artist, which is showcased throughout the two-issue story. The emotions he can show on a characters face can look beautiful at times, then in others look fucking terrifying. But that bodes well with this series, as there are some weird creatures, namely the vampire Monitors. Now that I’m thinking more about it, Superman Beyond may be the most important tie-in as it introduces one of the main villains, and how Superman got the Supermen of the Multiverse to help later.
I’ll have you start with the plot, as it still confuses the hell out of me to a degree.
DG: The plot is something that certainly exists in that a sequence of events take us from the first page to the last, but to give a rundown of the events is a fool’s errand. However, it is fully essential reading, because if you just read Final Crisis #1-7, there’s some stuff that occurs late in the series that seems to be out of nowhere, unless you read this.
To bring people up to speed, Lois Lane was mortally wounded in a bombing attack on the Daily Planet, and Superman has been by her bedside ever since, using his heat vision to keep her heart active. As far as evil plans go, it’s a rather ingenious way to keep the Man of Steel sidelined. That is, until one of the DC Monitors offers him a miracle elixir to save Lois in exchange for saving the Multiverse from a threat even bigger than Darkseid. Because Monitors exist outside the Multiverse, they can manipulate things such as time, and thus Superman embarks on an epic adventure that will take place between beats of a heart.
Supermen from across the Multiverse are assembled in Limbo, a place where forgotten creations exist. Their assemblage is chock full of Easter eggs and nods to DC’s history. Probably my favorite inclusion is Captain Marvel, the Superman from Earth-S. This is supposed to be the original C.C. Beck incarnation of the character from the 1940s that was in direct competition with (and outselling) Superman. And it shouldn’t be lost on readers that a number of these Multiversal Supermen later appear in Morrison’s The Multiversity, such as Overman, Captain Marvel, and Captain Adam.
JJR: I feel like a fair amount of the themes/ideas that pop up in The Multiversity came from Final Crisis and this tie-in. Hell, maybe we should do that title for one of the next Full Runs?
I also loved Captain Marvel in here because how pure and good hearted he is. As you said, he is based on the C.C Beck incarnation. Especially whenever you compare him to Ultraman, who is a straight dick the whole time, while being constantly pissed off.
Wanting to learn who Morrison had in limbo I looked them up. Damn, he really did do some deep, deep fucking dives. Going back to one of your points, “The plot is something that certainly exists in that a sequence of events take us from the first page to the last, but to give a rundown of the events is a fool’s errand.”
Yeah, I totally agree with this point. Strongly. The whole of Final Crisis: Superman Beyond feels like one huge moment followed by another. Each page you turn some new bombastic idea comes to fruition, making each page feel high energy. Next thing you know you finished the story. But you feel like you don’t really comprehend every single thing that transpired.
DG: Things are actually comprehensible if you boil things down to their most basic elements. Superman and the other Supermen are trapped in limbo. The Supermen awaken a robotic Superman Colossus, which takes on the vampiric Monitors, and wins. In truth, it’s a very linear story, much like the core Final Crisis book itself. But it’s so packed with content and imagery that it’s a very dense read.
My favorite interpretation of the Monitors in this story is that they are a stand in for comic editors. They sit outside the active Multiverse (or, the creative process) and make changes to reality based on what they feel is best for themselves, and not necessarily for what’s best for the Multiverse (or, the story). Zillo Valla, the monitor that brought Superman on this journey, turns out to be a vampire. It’s a big reveal, leading to the even bigger reveal that the vampiric monitors are the ones that banish Nix Uotan because he would’ve stood against them. These monitors are ultimately led by the Dark Monitor Mandrakk, and they feed on the multiversal bleed, sucking the life out of reality itself. This will eventually rear its head again towards the end of Final Crisis.
But how nuts is that? Morrison is essentially saying that the reason comics have become dark, gritty, and lifeless is because of editorial. He’s not particularly wrong, and he gets away with it because he’s Grant Morrison and doesn’t get edited. And so it is up to creators to stand up editors and fight back in order to save comics. Shockingly, it actually played out that way, as DC editorial would continue to push bland, lifeless stories with an aim on darker, edgier characters through the New 52 era. Eventually, creator and fan pushback resulted in the Rebirth era, an era of classic, more heroic and uplifting storytelling that was marked by the return of this Superman.
JJR: Not going to lie, I like how neatly you unpacked it! But, I never thought of the Monitors in this fashion before hand in Superman Beyond, which now looking at it it is pretty fucking crazy. Now Superman Beyond deserves another re-read from me!
I agree with how everything was bland, lifeless, darker, and edgier around that time. But it still feels that way, because sadly it sells. I believe (it’s been awhile) Morrsion had a moment in his Animal Man run where he laid it out to Buddy. How comic characters suffering, death, and pain are entertainment for “us”. Even after we had the return of the happy go lucky comics/characters, tragedy sells. But alas, I have strayed from Superman Beyond.
To add and finish my section I’ll leave with this: I need to read over Superman Beyond again, but this time with 3D glasses. Short, simple, to the point.
DG: Looks like we’ve taken this as far as we can without jumping ahead to the end of the series. With that, I’ll simply say “To Be Continued…”
Previously on “The Full Run: Final Crisis”