First of all, let’s talk 3-D. The 3-D sections of this comic, which occupy about a third of the total pages, have an in-story reason for their existence. They’re part of the “4-D” world as Superman (and his companions) travel through the Bleed, outside the multiverse. But they’re still a failure. I get that the 3-D sections are supposed to provide an alternate vision of reality, and I get that the 3-D sections are an homage to the wacky sci-fi comics of old. But other than the first two pages (which aren’t even part of the story being told in this issue), the 3-D effects aren’t very impressive, and they make the comic physically difficult to read. They are a major distraction instead of an enhancement. So the 3-D aspect of this comic knocks it down in my estimation. If you’re a fan of 3-D effects, they might not bother you, but if you’ve always found 3-D a bit annoying, this comic won’t change your opinion.
Once you get past the 3-D distraction, there’s certainly a lot to like about “Final Crisis: Superman Beyond” #1. In many ways, it’s like “Final Crisis” issue #3.5 or something. It’s part of Morrison’s overall vision of the series, certainly, and it provides a link (a historical link, not just a thematic one) between “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and what Morrison’s doing with his event this year. It’s also a big part of Morrison’s self-proclaimed “farewell” to DC Universe. It reads a bit like a final episode of some television series from a few years back, where the old favorites would be trotted out one last time before the final curtain. If you’re a Morrison fan, you’ll see some of his classic bits here: the Ultraman from the “Earth 2” graphic novel, the notion of living fiction, and the existence of Limbo, complete with the Inferior Five’s own Merryman. His version of Limbo, in particular, is a favorite of mine, filled with long-forgotten, ridiculous characters who haven’t been able to find a place in the post-“Crisis” comic book universe. And Merryman’s pathetic plea, “I could hitch a ride back with you. I have a real talent for gritty drama no one’s ever thought to exploit,” pokes fun at the grim n’ gritty superheroes of the modern era and gives us an insight into his pathos. But mostly, it’s just a metafictional joke, which is fine with me. I like that stuff.
The plot of this story is pretty simple, at its core: a female monitor promises to heal Lois Lane — promises to offer Superman a boon — if he will join her in a quest to save all existence. How could Superman refuse? And he joins a team of Supermen she’s assembled from throughout the multiverse: Ultraman, Nazi Superman, Captain Marvel, Captain Atom (called Captain Adam here, a refuge from Earth-4, who bears more than a superficial resemblance to that other Captain Atom analogue: Dr. Manhattan). The Superteam supreme journeys into the Library of Limbo, which contains only one book: the story of the universe, with an infinite number of pages.
We find out a bit of what’s inside that book, and learn of the Ur-Monitor who gave birth to all creation, and we learn of the stories within that creation that led to the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and beyond. But it’s all fragmentary, as if we’re seeing bits of a story to vast for even our 4-D comprehension. One thing is for sure, the Ur-Monitor established a Platonic form of the superhuman as a defense against the encroaching darkness, and that Platonic form, that Superman, is represented by the imperfect duplicates from throughout the multiverse.
It’s an ambitious, heady exploration into the history of the DC Universe and Superman’s place within it, but for a comic that’s about the power of stories, there’s probably not enough of a comprehensible story here for anyone who isn’t a regular reader of Morrison’s other work. It’s a densely-packed meta-text, and I enjoy it on that level, but I think a lot of readers will be baffled. And, once again, the 3-D doesn’t help to make this comic any easier to read.
If you’ve been enjoying “Final Crisis,” this will illuminate new facets of the struggle between light and darkness. If you’ve found “Final Crisis” difficult to comprehend, I don’t think you’ll have a clue what’s going on by the end of this issue.