Wednesday, March 20, 2013
For anyone looking to be deeply invested in a linear plot, this multidimensional story about a 5-dimensional villain left them hanging, although the past several issues should have made that clear. The 18-issue run gradually turned more and more into a fractured, postmodernist experience that used science fiction to explain the twisted structure which was about the science fiction it was describing, a self-writing meta story which has been Morrison's vision in his previous Superman works. In that regard, there was nothing new here, and the greatest difference from Action #14-17 and Action #18 is that the cliffhangers all convert into victories, as we knew they must.
To the extent there is a story, it is this: Vyndktvx, being a 5-dimensional being, attacks Superman not just in space but in time; Superman wins when he realizes that from Vyndktvx's perspective, there is only one attack he will ever make against Superman, and by beating him once, Superman beats him many times, and every time. So of the many fronts on which Superman and his allies are fighting Vyndktvx, which of them is crucial? One, all, or none, but Superman's victory is preordained, and as he starts doing stuff to one-up Vyndktvx, it all works at once, ending in a definitive defeat of Vyndktvx, and saving every life that was jeopardized along the way, including those which earlier seemed to have been lost. Does the Legion of Super Heroes' plan succeed? Yes. Did Mrs. Nyxly really die? No, and we see her live happily ever after with Mxyzptlk. Did the little boy and other colonists on Mars die? No, because the one wish Mrs. Nyxly had left was used on something red (Mars) to set them all right again. And of course, Superman and Krypto survived, and there the story ended, like a final panel from the Sixties, with the man and his dog in a definitive happy ending.
And in many ways, it was from the Sixties, and the happy ending was definitive. As with Morrison's Final Crisis, Superman Beyond, and All Star Superman, the story has too many references to serial storytelling structure for us to miss the larger message. The story of Superman isn't a lot of stories. It's basically one story, where the strong and just man defeats evil. From 1938 until the Sixties or so, Superman most stories happened in circular time, time out of time, where everything was always put right back where it started at the end of the story. As a Superman mythology grew, Superman began to live in linear time, with some stories changing his world in significant new ways, with new Kryptonians and other major changes coming along, gradually writing a larger narrative with a beginning and middle... and at last, in 1986, an end. Which led to a new beginning, and recently, another end. Because Superman is still in circular time, and if the circles take 25 years to come around where they started, that's still a circle. Superman Beyond reminded us that Superman's epitaph is "To Be Continued." Action #18 observes that all of Superman's victories are just one victory, and if he has to do the impossible to accomplish them, then the impossible is what has to happen.
The last point repeats a meta observation made in 1987's "The Greatest Hero of Them All", in which that story's Superboy performs a feat that's seemingly impossible, and notes in his death scene that maybe he always could do anything he needed to. Perhaps the most meaningful reference to earlier stories is that the villain here was styled after Doomsday, the villain who killed Superman in 1992, but this time, despite the title of Action #16's story, "The Second Death of Superman", cannot finish the hero off. In an alternate timeline seen in Joe Kelly's 2005 story "This Is Your Life", Superman simply refuses to die in the Doomsday battle, and reflects that for Superman to die points his universe in the wrong direction. Morrison's epic emphatically agrees, and this Superman never dies. Perhaps the choice of Doomsday here is to inoculate the post-Flashpoint Superman from ever having that death story re-told by future writers. As with Morrison's desire to liberate Superman from a commercial, faceless shell (as Vyndktvx says here, with "$" in place of "S"), his power to control the future is limited, but he does make a heroic bid to do right by the Man of Steel with these creative moves in a run that will inevitably be remembered.
In Morrison's Batman run, it was asserted that all of Batman's past eras, as diverse as they were, existed as part of one timeline, and he created a belabored explanation within the story for the many sharp changes in tone between those different eras. In Action, he has an easier time of accomplishing much the same result because Superman's science fiction underpinning makes alternate timelines a straightforward consequence of fifth-dimensional villainy. Morrison has included characters and scenes from 1938, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, the Byrne era, and a plunge from the sky oddly reminiscent of 2006's Superman Returns. Mrs. Nyxly, speaking with a Red-and-Blue Superman from the Nineties (which was itself an echo of an earlier era's "imaginary story") tells this timeline's Superman that he'll never know what he was giving up. Being fifth-dimensional, she knew as we do that the adult Kents have been virtually killed by this reboot. This and other nods to other Superman continuities make it appropriate that fifth-dimensional character were in the forefront in this run, because, as Morrison's Bat-Mite told us, "Imagination is the fifth dimension." Morrison has essentially written a 32-story Superman epic that began in the All Star Superman continuity, continued in the post-Byrne/post-Infinite Crisis continuity, and ended in this post-Flashpoint continuity, but folds all of them together in a way that we, and fifth dimensional characters can see as one. And now we shall see where the next generation of writers take the rebuilt Man of Steel.