Monday, February 19, 2018

Final Crisis Retro Review Part III: The Monitor Plot

We Don't Get It

A major fraction of Final Crisis is devoted to the subplot I'll call the Monitor plot. Based on Marv Wolfman's characters who are central to Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Monitors are beings who monitor activity in the 52 Earths of the Multiverse. The Monitors go through a great deal of drama on their own plane, interacting with beings in the Multiverse on a few occasions. The Monitor plot consists of a few scenes in Final Crisis proper, plus the entire two issues of Superman Beyond. In this third and final installment of my FC review that begins here, I'll focus on the mysterious Monitor plot.

It's easy enough to understand the Monitor plot on the surface level: Who says and does what, when. It is much harder to understand what the point of it all is: Why are these things happening? How does it relate to the Darkseid plot? What rules are at work? What is Morrison trying to say with this story?

At the risk of overgeneralizing, I don't think readers, overall, "got" the Monitor plot, at least not in detail. I think for some readers, the portions of the Monitor plot in FC proper were a path to nowhere: A lot of things happening, some of them apparently very important, but with no clarity as to what was happening or why, or what it meant. Reading online reviews, I find some readers regretting FC's complexity and indecipherability. Some readers seem overall pleased with FC, but discuss only the Darkseid plot, as though the Monitor plot just didn't happen. And though many very astute readers pierce the veil of allegory and get a general read on Morrison's overall intentions, they still seem, as I did, doubtful about the details, such as who, exactly, does Mandrakk represent? We had no explanation as to the Whys of this story: Why does this stuff happen? Even the cause-and-effect relationship between the Darkseid plot and the Monitor plot seems like a riddle: Did Darkseid's attack somehow prompt Mandrakk's attack on Superman? Or did Mandrakk's desire to attack somehow use Darkseid as his pawn? And Morrison once said that when we read Final Crisis we will realize why this is the final crisis: Did anyone come away with that understanding in concrete terms?

Between 2009 and 2017, I re-read Final Crisis many times. I enjoyed many portions, particularly, the Big Five superheroes' victories in the Darkseid plot, and I grasped, in general terms, how the Monitor plot illustrated Superman's victory on some high cosmic level, but the pieces didn't fit together very well, and I felt that something remained unexplained. Then, something clicked. I saw a pattern on one page that seemed to fit, and when I considered wider portions of the story, those seemed to fit as well. I believe there's a key to Final Crisis' Monitor plot, and once one sees it, the whole story becomes more explicable: One can see Morrison's intended message, and the logic of the Monitor plot goes from murky and arbitrary to exceedingly clear. Ultimately, one can see not only why Mandrakk appears after Darkseid's defeat, but understand that the choice of page and even the exact panel where he appears are not arbitrary. I hope that those who read this post will find Final Crisis much clearer than they found it before, and that they see the final showdown with Mandrakk to be a remarkable climax in its own right, one of the most thrilling victories of Superman and his allies.

Just The Facts

There is a surface level to the Monitor plot, in which the Monitors are powerful beings in the DC Multiverse. As the surface level is fairly clear and the basis of the deeper level, I'll begin by laying out its facts.

In the distant past, a group of Monitors, initially one and then more, began to oversee the Multiverse. Long ago, the best of them, Dax Novu, became corrupt and, as the hideous evil Monitor, Mandrakk, was exiled to a crypt where he must wait for a Doomsday Clock to reach zero.

A surreptitiously evil Monitor named Rox Ogama frames a good, young Monitor named Nix Uotan for the destruction of his world, Earth-51. Disguising his own guilt, Ogama pretends to defend Uotan. Uotan, to the chagrin of his lover, Weeja Dell, is punished by being exiled to the "germ world" of Earth-0. A Monitrix named Zillo Valla consoles Weeja Dell, offering a brief summary of how contact with the germ worlds have introduced time and story, beginnings and endings, amongst the Monitors themselves. Uotan lives as an ordinary young man on Earth-0, trying to regain his previous status.

Zillo Valla summons several of the Multiverse's Supermen to help her and her world escape the wrath of Mandrakk. After a chase through Multiversal space, leading to Limbo, the Supermen find an infinite book that contains all stories, including the history of the Monitors mentioned above. Ultraman, who celebrates evil, triumphantly announces that the book ends with destruction: Evil wins in the end. Superman, joins his opposite, Ultraman, in inhabiting a Thought Robot in the Overvoid. In this form, Superman defeats Mandrakk, who recklessly destroys Zillo Valla during the battle.

Captain Marvel voyages the Multiverse, eventually joining up with the Question, Renee Montoya, to form a cavalry of all the Supermen. Rox Ogama transforms into a new incarnation of Mandrakk and recruits Ultraman, transforming him into a Vampire Superman.

Rounded up during Darkseid's occupation of Earth, Uotan is transformed into a new kind of Monitor/hero dubbed the "Judge of All Evil." When Darkseid is defeated, Mandrakk and Ultraman arrive to confront Superman, having just dispatched Supergirl, the Radiant, and the Spectre. Superman activates the Miracle Machine and fixes all the damage done by Darkseid's forces. The Supermen of the Multiverse arrive along with Hal Jordan's force of Green Lanterns. Nix Uotan takes over, summoning an army of angels, the animal heroes led by Captain Carrot, and the Forever People of the Fifth World. With heat vision, the Supermen lay waste to Mandrakk and Ultraman, with the Green Lanterns delivering the final blow.

Back in the Monitor's plane, Nix Uotan is vindicated and acquitted, and he commands the Monitor to stop interfering with the characters on their worlds. He is reborn, again, as the young man back on Earth-0.

Index of Prominent Monitors

Earth-6: Marvel Universe. Monitor: Weeja Dell. (In Multiversity, this Earth's number changed to 8, while Earth-6 became Stan Lee's Just Imagine universe.)

Earth-31: Dark Knight Returns Universe. Monitor: Rox Ogama (or Zillo Valla; the syntax is ambiguous). (Before Multiversity, Grant Morrison removed the entire Dark Knight world from the Multiverse at Frank Miller's request.)

Earth-43: Blood League universe of vampire superheroes, based on the Batman-vs-Dracula story, Batman: Red Rain. Monitor: Zillo Valla (or Rox Ogama).

Earth-51: According to Countdown, originally like Earth-0 until Batman killed the Joker; the whole universe was ultimately destroyed. Remade as a Kamandi / Kirby world. Monitor: Nix Uotan.

Earlier, unspecified Earth, perhaps pre-Crisis Earth One: Monitor: Dax Novu.


It's clear that Morrison did not create the Monitors as just another group of DC characters. As readers noticed, the story hints, and Morrison confirmed, they represent storytellers; their names, in fact, are all derived from the gods of writing in different mythologies. To understand the story, then, we have to understand which real people the Monitors represent, and how their interactions in the story convey a message.

Some readers have suggested a very tight interpretation of the Monitors, where each Monitor stands for one particular writer, and wherein the Monitor plot, then, tells the story of specific comic book writers. Moreover, some readers have suggested that Mandrakk stands for Alan Moore, and that Nix Uotan stands for Grant Morrison himself. Meanwhile, it would be logical to suggest that a few of the remaining Monitors who represent specific Earths of the Multiverse represent the writers who created those worlds; e.g., Rox Ogama is Frank Miller, and Doug Moench would be Zillo Valla, and Weeja Dell is some writer associated with Marvel Comics. I'll say in the early going that there are excellent reasons to make those associations. I will offer, however, that it is difficult to map the entire Monitor plot according to those precise identities. For one, there are far too few named Monitors with sufficient screen time to tell a very rich story about writers. And if Morrison wanted to tell a story about writers, would he really make Doug Moench one of the principal figures and leave no space for, say, Jerry Siegel, Gardner Fox, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Len Wein, Dennis O'Neil, Cary Bates, Elliot Maggin, Marv Wolfman, John Byrne, and Geoff Johns, to name just a few? I also find it extremely unlikely that Grant Morrison would assert that Frank Miller is a bad guy who is framing good writers for crimes they didn't commit. To play it on the safe side, I will suggest that each Monitor be seen as a school of thought, a movement among writers, editors, and/or fans, a style of approaching the stories, and in cases where a movement can be reduced to only one writer, so be it: There are certainly scenes where we can seem to pin a Monitor's identity down to one writer, but I will suggest that, even then, the message is intended to be broad.

So what is that message? Clearly, there are bad Monitors whom we root against: the two incarnations of Mandrakk corresponding to Dax Novu and Rox Ogama. There are good Monitors whom we root for: Nix Uotan and Weeja Dell. Zillo Valla is perhaps between the two or plays different roles at different times. Reader analysts and Morrison offer many tidbits about what is good and what is bad here, but we have to be careful not to overgeneralize and call the bad side all instances of dark, grim and gritty storytelling. Recall that Final Crisis itself has a lot of dark stuff in it, ranging from J'onn J'onzz catching a flaming spear through the chest to supervillains discussing the rape of female superheroes. And no matter how we interpret what is "bad" storytelling according to this parable, what bearing does that have on Morrison's promise that this is the truly final crisis?

There is a key that will make the Monitor plot instantly comprehensible, but before explaining what that is, I will need to include a couple of interludes that provide necessary background.

Interlude: Alan Moore's Superman Stories

In a short span of time, Alan Moore gave us two of the most highly regarded Superman stories of all time. "For The Man Who Has Everything," in 1985's Superman Annual #11 and "Whatever Happened To the Man of Tomorrow?" published in two issues in 1986 had a tremendous impact on the publication history of Superman. These stories, like many of Moore's works were good – very good. If you consult various best-of lists, you'll find both of those high on the list of best Superman stories ever. Moreover, the unpublished Moore concept Twilight of the Superheroes would have been another monumental Superman story, and a story, Kingdom Come, arguably inspired by Twilight of the Superheroes, is also on many such best-of lists.

FTMWHE and WHTTMOT have a surprising amount in common, and an obvious precedent that seems to have gone unmentioned. First, both result in the destruction, or deconstruction, of Superman, though neither shows his biological death. In each, Superman is shown alive, but not as Superman, and in both cases, he is an ordinary man with a wife and children. In the one case, Superman chooses to end his own superhero career, and in the other, he reveals his fondest wish to be an alternate reality in which he never began it. They both have further similarities: They show Superman hurting someone with his heat vision. They discuss, but do not depict, Superman's death. They both have main action set in the exact same place, Superman's Fortress of Solitude, as Superman faces off against enemies he cannot physically beat. WHTTMOT also shows Superman abandon his oath never to kill; not only does he deliberately kill Mxyzptlk (with the admittedly excellent excuse of needing to save the world), but he is willing to kill the Legion of Supervillains, as the mind-reading ability of Saturn Woman reveals. Moreover, in WHTTMOT, Superman not only decides that he needs to retire; in the identity of Jordan Elliot, he looks back on his time as Superman, and denounces the entire idea of his ever having been Superman: "He was over-rated and too wrapped up in himself." Fans should take this line like a sock to the jaw; why would a Superman book portray Superman calling himself over-rated?

As a sidebar, and a check regarding Moore's originality, both of them owe a debt of gratitude to 1980's then-recent Superman II, which also shows Superman facing an enemy he cannot physically beat, and also shows a principal showdown in the Fortress of Solitude, and also shows Superman renouncing his powers so that he can settle down as an ordinary man with Lois Lane. However, Moore's story reverses the chronology: In Superman II, Superman realizes that he is needed by his world. In Moore's stories, Superman decides, consciously or emotionally, that he is not. To a considerable extent, if you rearranged the order of Superman II so that he defeated Zod, then gave up his powers to be with Lois Lane, you'd have an Alan Moore story.

The destruction of Superman is not a plot trajectory that Moore happens upon by happenstance. Notice that FTMWHE also shows us Batman receiving his heart's desire, and Batman also wishes that he had never been Batman. And as seen in Watchmen, the Green Lantern story "Tygers", The Killing Joke and elsewhere, Moore shows superheroes self-destructing – morally, tactically, and fatally – because that is the end that Moore desired.

Twilight of the Superheroes is a story that was proposed by Moore in 1987 but never written. I discuss it here, but suffice it to say, it also destroys Superman and DC's other superheroes. Not only does Superman abandon his role as a superhero, to make himself one of many factions ruling Earth like a superpowered Game of Thrones, but he ultimately chooses to kill his rivals, in a battle to the death with J'onn J'onzz and then is himself killed, by Green Lantern Sodam Yat.

It was very soon after those monumental Moore-Superman stories that Time Magazine, in a 1988 cover story, had Superman say that while he's beaten every villain in his stories, turning fifty years old may be his greatest challenge yet. Note that it is the in-story Superman who has beaten his villains, and it is the Superman who exists as a fictional entity in our world who was turning fifty and facing the challenge of maintaining his legend while also retaining relevance. The Time article notes that Superman's current challenge was "a deplorable element that might be called adultification, in which a figure created for children is subjected to adult concerns." Moore took adultification to the extreme, in which Superman could no longer be Superman, morally or otherwise. For Moore, Superman had to forego his principles. For Moore, Superman had to stop being Superman and die. And in the immediate wake of Moore's stories, the world saw that Superman might eventually face an existential challenge. It was on the cover of Time magazine.

Lest there be any doubt, Final Crisis is in part a response to Moore's Superman stories, and to Moore in general. The three aforementioned stories are each quoted by Final Crisis, verbally or visually, whether through direct intent by Morrison or by the freshness of Moore's work in Morrison's memory as he crafted a response to it. Some of the shout-outs include:

• In FTMWHE, Mongul says that the Black Mercy gives its victims their "heart's desire." In FC, Libra uses that same phrase, and Luthor later repeats it twice.
• The title of Twilight of the Superheroes is remixed by Libra on the very same page: He promises "An end to the age of superheroes. A full-on, no bull&@%& twilight of the gods." And note very carefully: We do not see Libra's "heart's desire" emerge from a drawing of Libra but from the image on the screen of a cellphone brand-named DAMRUNG, which is a pun on "Samsung" but also an abbreviation of the German (via Richard Wagner) word "Götterdämmerung" which means "Twilight of the Gods." It is the author of Twilight of the Superheroes who tells us that the destruction of the superheroes is one's "heart's desire." Note that this makes two references to Moore's Superman stories in the same panel. I will also add that Libra was created by Len Wein, who brought Moore onboard at DC. And, though I saw several reviewers note the significance of the phrase, "twilight of the god," I haven't seen anyone link it to Moore's title.

• In WHTTMOT, Superman witnesses the violent death of one of his friends and is attacked by deadly force in the Daily Planet newsroom, an attack that leaves him physically unharmed but standing in the newsroom in his Superman costume after his Clark Kent clothes have been blasted off of him. This also happens in Final Crisis #2, and the art is quite parallel. (In WHTTMOT, Superman's Clark Kent identity is thereby destroyed forever. In FC, nobody is left conscious to see Clark revealed as Superman.)
• In FTMWHE, Jor-El is a broken, bitter old man who is disgraced by his failed prediction of Krypton's destruction. When Mandrakk confronts Superman, he opens with the taunt, "Your father failed to save his world."

Further references to Moore works include Morrison's take on Dr. Manhattan in Superman Beyond, a particular reference to Swamp Thing, the Superman derivative hero named Supreme, and a possible reference to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen that I'll mention later.

However, the similarities and shout-outs go still deeper yet. And this brings us to one more interlude that turns into an explanation of exactly how these works are related.

Interlude 2: Substory S

Imagine, if you will, the following plot elements occurring within a comic book story. The events jump around a bit in their relatedness, so it is more of a sub-sequence of a story than a subplot. I'll call this Substory S.

1) Brainiac 5 knows that Superman is going to fight a battle for his and the world's survival.
2) Brainiac 5 shows Superman a machine that can win the battle for Superman. Brainiac 5 does not give Superman the machine; he simply has him look at it.
3) Superman must face off against a being of pure evil at the command of godlike power.
4) A shield is placed around the scene of Superman and his enemy's upcoming battle. Other superheroes, even very powerful ones including Captain Marvel, cannot break the shield open.
5) Other characters present in immediate proximity to this battle include Batman, Wonder Woman, Luthor, and Supergirl; it is made clear that Supergirl has recently been vanquished.
6) We are reminded of Superman's oath not to kill.
7) Superman and Lois Lane have a conversation immediately before the ultimate showdown.
8) As Superman prepares to use the machine that Brainiac 5 mentioned, the evil godlike opponent announces that he will destroy Superman.
9) Superman responds to the threat with "That's right" / "You're right about that" but it is an ironic response; Superman does not believe that the villain is right, but that he himself will vanquish the villain definitively rather than vice versa.
10) Superman delivers the fatal blow to the villain, and the villain is destroyed.
11) Even though the godlike evil villain is destroyed, Superman now faces a threat to his continued existence.

That's a very specific list of events and situations. Do you know in which story those events occur? Trick question. Substory S – every one those details – occurs during the end of Final Crisis and Substory S – every one those details – also occurs during the end of Alan Moore's "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" This is not a coincidence. At the final showdown, even the page layout matches, closely. Click to zoom in on how the climactic scenes align.

That illustrates how points 8, 9, and 10 line up on a single page, but alignments between the two stories go back to the first scene of FC #6, when Brainiac 5 shows Superman the Miracle Machine, mirroring the way in WHTTMOT, Brainiac 5 gave Superman a statuette with the Phantom Zone projector. The alignment between the two stories is so detailed that in neither one does Brainiac 5 give Superman the machine, and this is highlighted with the dialogue in FC when Brainiac 5 says, "Look at it, Superman! Just look!" In WHTTMOT, Lois Lane similarly tells Superman, regarding Brainiac 5's gift, "Take another look at it, Superman! Look at what it's holding!"

The stories align in far more ways than could possibly be coincidental, taking us from Brainiac 5 showing Superman a machine, "Look at it, Superman!", to a conversation with Lois Lane, Captain Marvel trying to help, Superman's "That's right," and then the final zap of the colorfully glowing god-villain. Morrison obviously wrote many details into FC with Moore's story in mind.

The end of Final Crisis, with the Darkseid plot concluding and the Monitor plot coming to a head, is a response to, sequel to, and a rewrite of Alan Moore's "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" Morrison's handling of Substory S is key to understanding his intentions with the Monitor plot. By putting Superman in the same situation that Alan Moore put Superman in to end him, Grant Morrison shows us how the story should go – how Superman's story really goes.

Compare and Contrast

Given the great degree of similarity between Moore's and Morrison's versions of Substory S, we should pay attention to the differences between them, because therein is the heart of Morrison's message.

In Moore's story, Superman is isolated from his allies by a barrier. In Morrison's story, Superman bashes his way through the barrier with one punch at the end of FC #6. In Morrison's story, therefore, Superman has assistance from his allies, most notably Batman (who, inside the compound, had already shot Darkseid with Radion), the Flashes, Wonder Woman and even Luthor and Sivana.

In Moore's story, if Superman kills, he must renounce his superpowers and give up being Superman forever. FC has Darkseid articulate this, taunting Superman: "Kill me, Superman. Kill the frail old man [Turpin] upon whose soul Darkseid fed and fattened! How can you hurt a foe made of people? … Kill him. Kill me and you kill everything!" This is the predicament. Superman can physically kill Turpin's body, but then – because this is a remake of Moore's story – Superman would actually lose. But that's not how it goes, because Batman already fired a gunshot that specifically doomed Darkseid while leaving Turpin alive. And then the Flashes show up, bringing Death personified to take Darkseid out of Turpin. In Morrison's story, Superman is not alone, and the importance of alliance and loyalty is spelled out in Wally West's dialogue, "Think I'd leave you to do this on your own? Together, Barry! We're going in together and we're coming back together!" And so Batman, the Flashes, and then Wonder Woman all do their parts to reduce Darkseid to nothing more than a disembodied presence glowing like a neon sign that, as it happens, looks a bit like glowing Mxyzptlk in WHTTMOT.

In Moore's story, once Superman has beaten Mxyzptlk, he faces an even greater threat: Moore writing Superman into a self-defeating renunciation of himself and his powers. In Morrison's story, Mandrakk, representing Moore, shows up and demands that Superman give up and be devoured.

At this point, we can explain a few events in FC that happen so quickly that they seem incongruous with the narration. First, we see Supergirl slung over Ultraman's shoulder, though we never saw them fighting. Second, we see the Spectre and the Radiant (who excused themselves to go handle other business at the end of FC: Revelations) on the ground.  These jarringly abrupt appearances of Supergirl and the Spectre, both already defeated, translate directly onto the previous use of those characters by Moore. The almost bizarrely abrupt appearance of the vanquished Supergirl represents her bleak cameo in WHTTMOT, in which her then-recent death in Crisis on Infinite Earths was on Superman's mind when a much younger version of Supergirl visited him along with the Legion of Super-Heroes. It was to make these stories parallel that Morrison showed us Supergirl and not, say, Hourman or Alan Scott on Ultraman's shoulder, and why we didn't see Mandrakk and Ultraman defeat Supergirl in battle; Mandrakk was showing Superman his defeated cousin, but he didn't defeat her.

And, when Mandrakk arrives, he throws the Spectre and Radiant to the floor, and says that he "fed on these 'servants of God,' defenders of this universe. Drained now. Meaningless." That last word highlights that Mandrakk is not just some big, bad supervillain of the DCU; he's a writer who can make characters weak or meaningless. And why the Spectre? In ordinary terms, the Spectre is the most powerful character among DC heroes, almost impossible to defeat. But Alan Moore defeated the Spectre. He did this in Swamp Thing #50, when his Great Evil Beast drains the Spectre and leaves him lying limp on the ground. Compare the artwork. But for the addition of Final Crisis: Revelations' The Radiant, the art showing the Spectre prostate is similar in the two stories. As with Supergirl, the introduction of powerful characters already beaten comes across as jarring and unforgivably brief to a reader expecting conventional superhero storytelling. We see Supergirl and the Spectre already beaten because they were already beaten when Moore tried to kill off Superman.

But Final Crisis and the Monitor plot are not simply responses to one specific story. There are suggestive connections to other Moore stories. Captain Marvel, J'onn J'onzz, Green Lanterns, and Batman all have key roles in Twilight of the Superheroes. In that story, Superman thinks he can trust Captain Marvel, but near the end, he finds out that who he thought was Captain Marvel had actually been J'onn J'onzz the entire time; Superman and the Martian Manhunter fight until Superman kills the Martian, then a Green Lantern, Sodam Yat, kills Superman. Finally, it's revealed that Batman has been a key player in staging all of this bloodshed. In Final Crisis, Superman tells Mandrakk, "I counted on Captain Marvel of Earth-5 to come through." Earlier, Superman delivers the eulogy on Mars, beginning, "J'onn J'onzz was my friend. Always there, always strong, always reliable… He was someone I could confide in." Superman holds what seemed to have been Batman's body in body language recalling the Pietà. And finally, Green Lanterns are part of the cavalry who finally slay Mandrakk. Are these points all intended to address, very specifically, the beats in Moore's unpublished story? Maybe they're intended. On the other hand, if accidental, they highlight the striking difference between how Morrison writes the characters and how Moore does. In Morrison's version, the heroes trust one another, fight for one another, and believe in one another. In Moore's version, a physical barrier keeps them apart in one case, and their animosities lead them to a bloody massacre in the other. That sweeping difference is not accidental.

But the main characters in this final showdown are Superman and Mandrakk. Hearing Mandrakk's demand that he die, Superman says no. Then, using a power we've never known him to have before (shining light from his hands), Superman powers the Miracle Machine and wishes for "the best for everyone." Superman's allies, the Green Lanterns led by Hal Jordan and the Supermen of the Multiverse led by Captain Marvel of Earth-5 show up. Then, having heard Superman's wish, Nix Uotan arrives and – note the narration boxes – becomes the narrator of the rest of the story. Nix Uotan, the Monitor, represents the writer of this story, Grant Morrison, and declares, "This is between Monitors now," meaning that the fight is between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. Uotan says, "Mandrakk! At my right hand stands Superman himself." "Right hand" is a possible pun on "write hand" and an indication that Superman and the writer stand allied against the threat.

The writer is infinitely powerful, so he summons an unbeatable team of heroes, including the vengeful angels of God, the Green Lanterns, the Supermen, the Zoo Crew of Captain Carrot (speaking of lighthearted storytelling), and the Forever People. Mandrakk recognizes Uotan and says, "My son?" which is a probable pun on "Morrison" being "Moore's son." Declaring "There is no limit to what I can do" (because he is, after all, the writer), Nix Uotan has his unbeatable team burn Ultraman and Mandrakk with heat vision and the Green Lanterns spike the vampire Mandrakk through the heart. Uotan tells Mandrakk and the now-skeletal Ultraman that the Multiverse has natural defenses that he cannot imagine: Superman's and his allies' goodness will not allow Alan Moore or any other writer to kill them off. End of story.

In summary, the climax of FC #6 and #7 shows events that closely parallel Moore's previous stories, particularly "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" Regarded in 1986 as one of the greatest stories of all time, it did not, as Moore intended of that story, Watchmen, and Twilight of the Superheroes, spell the end of inspirational happy-ending superhero stories. The Monitor plot in Final Crisis was written, in large part, to rebut Moore's message and Moore's intentions, and the close parallels between Moore's and Morrison's scenes show us a large part of the meaning of Final Crisis in considerable detail, not as vague and open-ended as readers' analyses in the past saw it. However, the climax of the Monitor plot is only one part of the whole story, and with that in hand as a kind of Rosetta Stone, let's look at the whole Monitor plot to decipher all of Morrison's points.

The Monitor plot, Decoded

As the Alpha Lanterns seal off "New Earth" (which is Earth-0), looking down on it, the Monitors are on a still higher plane, looking down on them. Concerned about the loss of Earth-51 (off-screen, supposedly in Countdown, but we don't know what form of disaster Morrison actually had in mind), the Monitors repair the orrery of worlds (an orrery is, in its main sense, a moving model of the solar system). The loss of Earth-51 is really Rox Ogama's fault, but Ogama pretends to speak in Nix Uotan's defense. This scene is, first of all, a close parallel to Hal Jordan's trial by the Guardians. When Zillo Valla, via Rox Ogama, says that the Monitors have been contaminated by the life forms on the germ worlds, it may be that they got the idea of framing an innocent Monitor from the Alpha Monitors, whom they were just watching, and who were in the process of framing Jordan. However, Uotan lacks Jordan's grace, and actually gets punished, exiled to Earth-0.

Given what we learned about writers above, what does this mean? If we cram that storyline into the existing framework to fit the facts, we have Rox Ogama (Frank Miller and/or Doug Moench and others writing stories where our heroes become antiheroes and some heroes get ruined) bring us to a state where Nix Uotan (DC writers who celebrate the heroic nature of heroes) have trouble thriving, but Weeja Dell (Marvel writers like him) support him from afar. Clearly, Morrison chose the worlds of the Monitors with care, and in an interview, he found those choices "somehow appropriate." I think something like the above is Morrison's statement, but we don't get a lot of elaboration. In FC #2-4 all we see of the Monitor plot is a few panels that show Nix Uotan failing in his fast food job while he draws comics (Final Crisis itself; this is, for now, Grant Morrison) seeking a purpose. The good writer is out in the world, trying to learn from it, but not making clear progress.

We can also interpret Zillo Valla's comment that "Time has entered [their] timeless world. Beginnings and endings." Is it plausible that comic book writers once had no time in their lives, no secrets or lovers? No, I'm sure they had those in the Thirties. But what didn't have time, beginnings, or endings were the old-time stories. As I have discussed here, DC stories in the early days largely operated on cyclical time, with nothing much ever changing. It was a gradual process from about 1959 to 1969 in which the narrative shifted from cyclical to linear, culminating with marriages (first: Barry Allen), deaths (first: Ferro Lad) and growing up (first: Dick Grayson leaving for college). The stories suddenly had beginnings and endings. And with that, the world of DC stories became a place where heroes could die, introducing mature storytelling, perhaps, but also creating a place among writers for would-be Mandrakks.

Then, in FC #5, Nix Uotan is thrown in a cell with a few fellow outcasts, people who aren't susceptible to the Anti-Life Equation. Somehow, by seeing things differently, by believing in a better world (inspired by Weeja Dell = Marvel?), Uotan and his fellow outcasts (one of whom is Metron in disguise) are capable of extraordinary things, like beating the record at Rubik's Cube, and their imagination seems to have great power. This begins the Fifth World and makes Nix Uotan a super-capable writer, the Judge of All Evil, who sees comic book panels all around him in 360° vision. This seems to show that some writers, Morrison included, just get it in a way that the people caught up in the storytelling of Moore don't. Comic books aren't about trampled rights, torture, and degradation. The real world has plenty of that for its outcasts. Comic books are about the way out for the dreamers and believers in heroes.

Within the pages of FC, this paves the way for Substory S, in which Moore's temporary victory over heroism eventually fails. And when it's over, the leaders of the Monitors who sought to exile Uotan (writers preferring heroism) now take direction from them and decide to let the heroes be heroes, without writers trampling them as Moore and Miller both did to Superman, in order to make their own fame.

Now if this is the story of writers, it covers an era from Moore's heyday around 1987 to 2008, by which time Morrison and Johns had brought back Silver Age greatness, with the JLA and Batman each getting Morrison's treatment, and Green Lantern getting Johns', with the Barry Allen Flash returning in FC itself.

Back at the beginning, Libra explained that the superheroes win "because they truly believe their actions are in accordance with a higher moral order." Moore's and Miller's brand of storytelling took away the higher moral order, and this not only meant that the superheroes could lose (literally die, as Moore wished) but the whole superhero comics industry could lose. The Final Crisis is about the superheroes facing this threat, from writers (and editors and fans). But in Final Crisis itself, we only see a single instance of the threat, with the heroes prevailing between 1986 to 2008. What about the far future? That was the topic of Superman Beyond, which in Superman perception took place during FC, is actually set logically long past it, in an indefinite future yet to come.

In Brightest Day: Green Lantern(s) in Final Crisis

As I mentioned in my earlier post, the Darkseid plot implicitly breaks the heroes (superheroes, detectives, and government agents alike) into different groups, with the Big Five standing out as the only superheroes to strike effective blows against the big villain(s). There's an asymmetry, though, in that Green Lantern and his allies ultimately play no role in Darkseid's defeat, but show up to deliver the final blow to Mandrakk. This violation of the pattern, I think, reflects the particular publication history of Hal Jordan.

Hal Jordan, as noted earlier, has a history of getting into trouble with the Guardians. This cycle repeated over time and escalated, with Hal being punished at reduced powers on Earth (in the acclaimed 1970s run of Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams), sent into exile in space (in the early 1980s, making him absent from Crisis on Infinite Earths), and later a murderous villain in the guise of Parallax, ultimately killed off and removed from the DC lineup. Hal got the full Alan Moore treatment, deconstructed and eliminated.

But it didn't last. Hal returned to life and the DC lineup a few years before Final Crisis, and in the hands of Geoff Johns, rapidly became a top seller, with the Green Lantern title and its related events contending, at least temporarily, with Batman and Superman for the most popular DC character. And this, I would offer, is why Hal earned a special role in facing off against Mandrakk. Hal's story, as well as any character's, showed that Alan Moore's thesis that optimistic superheroes had run their course was wrong. Ultimately, Hal makes a better hero than he does a villain. And the character who had lost his solo title a few times and was completely killed off came back to show that his story as a hero is one that people want to read. When the Green Lanterns are almost back to Earth, they see Monitor ships representing the higher plane of writers. Hal tells Guy, "Whatever they are, they're our way in!" Ultimately, writers put Hal back into the story, and that was his victory.

Another possible tidbit: In Superman Beyond, there is a panel that summarizes, with one picture, the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths. The superheroes we see include Superman, Dawnstar, and Hal Jordan. Hal didn't actually appear in COIE, a fact made more striking when one considers the huge number of obscure characters who did appear. The panel in Superman Beyond may be a glitch; then again, it may be a pointed retcon. We could take that panel as an indication that the early, 1980s, phase of Hal's fall from grace didn't happen, and that from here on out, we can consider him to have taken part in that huge adventure after all.

Story about Story

As an overarching observation about the style of Final Crisis, note the rather intense nestedness of the storytelling. Dan Turpin is telling a story. Libra tells a story. Investigating the Orion crime scene, we have about a half a dozen characters trying to tell a story. And so on. In the climax of FC #7, Wonder Woman and Supergirl tell the story of FC itself to children waiting to be shrunk and saved. Speaking through the fourth wall, the incredibly miscellaneous quartet of Cassie Sandsmark, Red Devil, John Stewart, and a Morrison invention named Iman ("magnet") talk to us about Superman. In a world where superheroes inspire us, Superman inspires them. He's the superheroes' superhero.

And Lois Lane tells a story that appears in narration boxes on twelve different pages of FC #7. After that, Nix Uotan takes over. And do you know what story first had Lois Lane telling a story? Action Comics #1. That's the beginning. Nix Uotan, an avatar for Morrison, finished Final Crisis #7. This is the story of all our stories. And what it said along the way was that the best heroes come out on top. In fact, we see that Lois Lane's last story ends up following Batman into the past, so that he can bring the superhero symbols, his own included, into the future. This is yet another time loop, and a time loop is a story that has no ending. So the heroes live on forever and ever, in this case and many, many others. But a sideplot features a more universal story, one that goes beyond, and focuses on Superman. It's Superman Beyond.

Superman Beyond

As things are going almost literally to hell on Earth, Superman is called away by Zillo Valla who, if we interpret correctly, represents "dark" stories that mean well, like Batman: Red Rain, but that turn our heroes into monsters. See, there's a threat from Mandrakk that might destroy everything, Lois Lane included. And the threat in the real world is, nobody's going to like the comic books anymore if you kill all the good heroes, who brought them to the comic books in the first place.

And Superman Beyond leaves the comic book world of Earth-0. It's about something else, the higher level where the stories are stories. And there's not just one Superman; there are the Superman of one comic book company (Fawcett's Captain Marvel), and the Superman of another (Charlton's Captain Atom, here looking more like Dr. Manhattan in yet another Alan Moore nod), A Nazi Earth-10 (AKA, Earth X, the Roman numeral for 10) Superman who speaks German, and the evil anti-Superman Ultraman from Earth-3. These represent many instances of the Platonic idea of Superman.

The problem is, the echo of the harm that Alan Moore has done to the comics is threatening them all. This destroyer, Echo of Midnight, may destroy many pitifully vulnerable worlds like Earth-13 and Earth-20, later shown in Multiversity. The Supermen dump Mandrakk's echo on the destroyed Earth-51 and then go off-path to Limbo.

Limbo, as we can tell by the cast of characters, is where the characters who aren't being written about anymore end up. For Superman to end up here suggests that Superman is facing, eventually, the threat of being killed off by the ruin of heroic superhero comics.

Eventually, Captain Adam realizes that Limbo not being a place, the rules that would destroy Superman and Ultraman if they touched don't apply because nothing can happen. Merging them, we get for the first time the Platonic Superman, an invention of Dax Novu, and if Novu was the early Alan Moore, then I'm not sure how that fits into the comic history timeline; Moore's work on Supreme came later. Perhaps Dax Novu stands for all good, pre-Crisis writers, and then Dax Novu's creation of the Thought Robot Superman could be anyone's from Jerry Siegel onward.

Though Final Crisis #7 gets the last word, the battle between Superman and Mandrakk here is the real climax, because it's not Superman surviving one writer or another, it's the idea of Superman defeating the idea of killing him. If ever anyone wants to eliminate Superman, they're going to lose, because, as Zillo Valla (clearly not simply Doug Moench or Frank Miller) tells us, "the story of a child rocketed to Earth from a doomed planet" is "a better story, one created to be unstoppable, indestructible!" Being reminded of this, Mandrakk destroys Zillo Valla. In the real world, this means that in trying to destroy heroic superheroes, Moore and his ilk would destroy the darker, horror kind of comics that he likes, to his own chagrin, yet Superman, a better idea, and his target, will survive! This battle isn't taking place in 1986, 2008, or even 2017. It's taking place in an indefinite future. Always, Superman will be threatened by people who don't like the idea of him. Always, he will prevail and continue to be a story that inspires people. This is his ultimate, infinite, "beyond" victory, but it was published before, and sets the stage for, the victory over Moore and WHTTMOT's Substory S, that is the climax of Final Crisis.

At the end of Superman Beyond, Superman gets what he was looking for. It turns out that he can save Lois Lane just by being Superman, because that's what Superman does. He answers Mandrakk and Alan Moore that the story of Superman doesn't end (see below): It is to be continued.

He ends the story with a wink, which readers recall from the end of "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" In fact, the wink is an older Superman story motif, primarily from animated/live media including the George Reeves TV series, the 1966 Filmation animated series, and originating, apparently, with 1940s Fleischer animation.

The Infinite Book!

In Limbo, the Supermen encounter an infinite book, one with every story in it. This is a wonderful cosmic idea, although, alas, one that the theory of computer science shows to be impossible. This is the subject of one additional likely reference to Alan Moore. Moore's cosmology of League of Extraordinary Gentleman is a world in which every story ever told is true. The connection between these two is suggested most strongly when Mandrakk, near the end of Superman Beyond #2, says, in the first panel of his last appearance, "The whole of existence in a single book." This is a strange point for Mandrakk to emphasize as he speaks to the camera. Time and time again, when a Morrison story presents a character uttering a nonsequitur, or an unexpected cameo, this is a clue of significance that deserves careful attention. In this case, it seems odd that Mandrakk would find the book to be a powerful weapon, though we may ponder if it is; I suspect that the significance here is likely yet another Mandrakk-Moore connection.

At the end of Superman Beyond #1, Ultraman reveals that the infinite book has an ending, and in the end, evil wins! I have to say, I found that pretty chilling as a reader. This book seems to carry the weight of authority, like the book of Destiny in older comics, and if it ends with evil, wow, our story is headed somewhere bad, isn't it? Ultraman sure thinks so. Superman says it merely sounds like a challenge to him.

As I finished my first and second and tenth readings of Superman Beyond, I never found a resolution to my concern. Obviously, we don't see evil win, so it seems as though the matter is simply ignored. It isn't. It's addressed on the last page, impossible to miss, in huge letters. Superman's answer to Mandrakk, and Grant Morrison's answer on Superman's behalf to Alan Moore, is "To Be Continued." Superman stories don't end. In Superman's universe, it is always to be continued, and we never get to the end of the book. But if we did, sure, evil would win in the end. That's how that book must end. But Superman's book loops on forever. And this is why, in interviews, Morrison can say that when you understand Final Crisis, you'll see why it is the final one. This is about how the heroes and their end interrelate. And the way they interrelate is that the big ones, at least Superman if not the entire Big Five, are all "to be continued."

In fact, the first word we read from the infinite book is "Previously!" That's not how a story starts; it's how a story continues. Put that and Superman's epitaph together, and you get a serial format, beginning each issue with "Previously" and ending each with "To be continued." Superman's story goes on. They never end. And, as Morrison defines Mandrakk in an interview:

"Mandrakk is actually the ultimate evil where there's no hope. The grave. He's entropy, I suppose. No matter how hard you try, this entity will consume the universe and you'll be sucked into the gaping, bulging Black Hole of Mandrakk."

By maintaining hope, by never entering the grave, by never being consumed, Superman thereby beats Mandrakk, not just the Alan Moore of 1986 but whatever other Mandrakks arise in the future. He emerges triumphant from every crisis, and that is the story of the Final Crisis.

To Be Continued

Since 2009, DC's continuity has been reconfigured twice. Final Crisis is well in the rearview mirror and its yearlong tour as DC's most talked about event has long since past. It stuck in my mind the whole time. And it felt like I didn't get it, and I didn't read anything suggesting that anyone else really got it. I hope this analysis, years after the fact, revives the story in at least some readers' minds, and enters the scattered trail of blog posts and sub-reddits to transform it into a story that people get, and that people enjoy to its fullest.

I believe that people who have seen the alignment of "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow" and Final Crisis will not be able to think of this story the same way afterwards. I invite people to read Moore's story again, then read Final Crisis again, and see if it isn't a new experience. I hope that people who shrugged off Mandrakk's bizarre appearance the first time around will see it now as an essential part of the story, the main part of the story, and see how Superman and his allies defeat Mandrakk as a wonderful victory. And if a story that ended nine years ago can enter readers' minds again, that would really prove the main thesis of the Monitor plot, that superhero stories don't really end, and that they are always To Be Continued.