There are so many things going on in Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D 2 that I don’t know where to start talking about it. Even more than the main Final Crisis this is a thematic sequel to Seven Soldiers, and may be the ultimate ‘prismatic age’ comic, as well as being essentially an extra issue of All Star Superman.
Every line in here is packed with meaning upon meaning. Captain Atom, a character created by Steve Ditko, a follower of the crackpot ‘philosopher’ Ayn Rand, is here an embodiment of the thoughts of the German philosophers that Rand dismissed as ‘irrational’ (something she would know a lot about). He’s Nietzsche’s Superman – beyond the duality of good and evil, but he’s also talking like a pulp sci-fi Hegel – “A thought robot activated by the tremendous energies unleashed by collisions of fundamental opposing qualities. A new fission process powered by… dualities?”
We’ll leave aside the fact that he doesn’t understand what fission actually means (matter-antimatter collision is something rather different from nuclear fission, which is caused by small bits of matter colliding with slightly bigger bits) and notice that this is also a rather apt description of the vast majority of superhero comics – the ‘tights and fights’ base of the genre. New ideas being generated almost as an accidental byproduct of opposites clashing with tremendous energy…
His next line “Dualities? No, there are no dualities, only symmetries.” Again, this is a Ditko creation talking!
Except it isn’t, really, because this ‘Captain Allen Adam’ is of course ‘really’ Doctor Manhattan, from a world where the Charlton characters more closely parallel their Watchmen analogues. “I am the endgame of the idea that spawned the likes of you, Ultraman. I am above conflict.”
Here Morrison is taking Moore’s own interpretation of Watchmen – that it was meant to be the capstone of a particular approach to superhero comics, rather than a new way of doing them that everyone should follow. And while Captain Atom destroys both Ultraman and Superman, he uses that energy to move Superman (and not Ultraman) up to a higher plane. Superman takes on a ‘fiction suit’ to move to a ‘higher’ rather than a lower level of reality.
(Doesn’t a lot of the Bleed look like the astral plane in The Invisibles where Jim Crow goes? Been too long since I reread that…)
Superman Beyond 3D is in many ways the anti-Batman RIP. While Batman RIP was the ground-level story taking the place of American Gothic to Final Crisis‘ Crisis On Infinite Earths (except of course that here both stories were written by the same person – and the American Gothic/Crisis relationship is one that Morrison keeps coming back to in his recent superhero work), Superman Beyond 3D is the really big story to Final Crisis‘ merely gargantuan one, a reminder of the even bigger picture in much the same way as Mister Miracle was for Seven Soldiers. And this of course suggests that there are more layers yet – an infinite number of ever grander stories, with ever greater stakes, playing out all at the same time, with pawns in one story moving up the ranks and ending up in the story on the next level.
And it suggests, thankfully, that Final Crisis won’t be Morrison’s last work in the DCU – that, as Didio has been hinting, he’s got some big plans for the Multiverse following this. For all that I love Morrison’s creator-owned stuff, I wouldn’t want to be without his superhero work either. All of these comics have had a grand, Wagnerian feel to them (hardly surprising since this is Morrison’s Götterdämmerung) and so it’s only fitting that Superman’s story here should owe so much to Nietzsche while still repudiating the hatred so associated with his ideas.
And that last page. What a wonderful, inspiring, perfect page that is.
My brain is a little burned out on writing about Final Crisis after the recent comment thread of death, so I won’t go on any more. Suffice to say there’s a ton of stuff in here that relates both to the main story and to the very idea of stories – this is about optimism, and about pessimism, and about fighting the good fight. Those who disliked the last issue of FC as being just one big fight scene should love this, as it’s all idea and metaphor and symbolism – it takes several readings to really get all the subtleties Morrison is putting in here.
To be continued…
My definition of ‘week’ is getting quite elastic, isn’t it? Oh well, this is a series about a time traveller, after all…
One of the things Big Finish have always done well that the TV series never did much of after William Hartnell is the pure ‘historical’ story. Stories like The Marian Conspiracy or Son Of The Dragon, which put the Doctor and his companions into Earth’s past without any alien invaders or mad scientists or monsters, have actually provided many of the best moments in the audios, and much of the identity of the series. Big Finish has been at its best when exploring genres that 80s Doctor Who never had time for, and at its worst when trying to do ‘Doctor Who stories’.
With that in mind it’s rather odd that their stories with the Seventh Doctor, where they have the most room to manoeuvre and do different stories, have almost all been pastiches of the New Adventures books and/or of the last series, and have been generally the worst of their stories by a long way (the McGann stories have often been dull, but there’s not been a McGann as fanwanky as Master or outright repellent as Flip Flop).
However, rather oddly, the stories featuring the Seventh Doctor and Mel, which one would imagine to be the worst of the bunch (having seen the truly awful TV episodes in which the two team up, easily the worst period of the show’s history by a very long way) break this tendency and are actually often enjoyable (except the repulsive Flip Flop…)
Fires Of Vulcan, by Steve Lyons, is easily one of the better Seventh Doctor audios for these reasons, and because unlike so many of them it’s *about* something. Actually, it’s about many things – all of them Doctor Who perennials. By dropping the Doctor into Pompeii on the day of the eruption of Vesuvius, a day when the Doctor already knows his TARDIS will get buried in the ash for the next 2000 years, Lyons gets to rub two of the oldest morals in Doctor Who – “You can’t change history, not one line” and “Where there’s life there’s hope” – together and see what sparks fly off. A little ‘you must take responsibility for your own actions and not stand around waiting for a god to save you” is also thrown in for good measure.
What’s impressive about this is that there are no truly unsympathetic characters here – the characters who do things we would think of as ‘evil’ are usually behaving correctly according to the morality of the time. The gladiator who tries to kill the Doctor because the Doctor has dishonoured him does so because the ‘dishonour’ could have very real consequences for someone who relies on the goodwill of the public to stay alive after losing a fight – consequences the Doctor completely overlooks in his willingness to trick and humiliate him publicly (although of course the Doctor knows that there are no long-term consequences to interference in Pompeii).
The story is a genuinely good one, with the companion for once taking the lead while the Doctor mopes about going ‘we’re all doomed! Doomed!’ and persuading the Doctor eventually that it is possible to save themselves. Interestingly, the Doctor asks Mel if they should stay as soon as he realises where they are, saying it must be her choice but not giving her the information he has (that the TARDIS will be discovered buried there in 1980) and it’s her decision to stay that convinces him everything has gone wrong. This suggests that in the Doctor Who ‘universe’ ‘free will’ and possession of information are antithetical – predestination exists for anyone who has information about the future, but not for anyone else. This would fit with a lot of my own fanwanky ideas about the TARDIS and time travel (as well as the ideas in the About Time books, which I’ve been reading obsessively for the last few weeks) and provides for many story possibilities (ones which have unfortunately not been followed up).
Apparently the ‘canonicity’ of this story is in doubt now because of an episode from the last series of nuWho, which featured nuDoctor going to Pompeii himself. While this was apparently the best episode of the series (according to Alex) and was also the only episode I considered watching from the last series (purely because it was a crossover with the Cambridge Latin Course), if it means people are less likely to bother with this story because it’s no longer ‘canon’ (and that sort of thing does bother people – see the endless comment thread of doom here ) then I think it’s a real shame, as this is far and away my favourite piece of work featuring McCoy’s Doctor.
Off delivering Focuses now, Superman Beyond 3D review when I get back. In the meantime, I’ve joined that Twitter thing that all the cool kids are doing. For I am down with the kids and their hippity hoppity music and their emu haircuts and their hula hoops. If you are interesting in following me as I twoot, then my username is stealthmunchkin. Not sure how much (if at all) I’ll use the thing though…