My mind has been drifting back to Final Crisis lately, and, in turn, Superman Beyond. In many ways, Superman Beyond is a simpler, bolder, better book that encapsulates the most important part about Final Crisis. Superman and a team of Superman analogs travel to limbo; then, Superman transcends into the reality of the Monitors. He discovers that they are a race of story vampires that feed on fiction – the realities that our superheroes inhabit – and he confronts the worst and most dangerous of them, Mandrakk (the villain on the right), who’s trying to suck fiction dry and end it forever. Superman thinks, “I’m inside a self-assembling Hyper Story! And it’s trying its best to destroy me.” It’s Superman versus a dark, vampire god, a celestial parasite that’s ruining story telling – it’s Superman versus the darker impulses of DC editorial, comic authors, and comic readers who want to pare down the realities, maintain a single continuity, and hobble the imagination; it’s Superman versus us. And he defeats Mandrakk and redeems us.
There’s a lot to like in this book otherwise: Morrison’s audacity in making Captain Adam (clearly Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen) into one of the Superman analogs, and, for that matter, making Captain Marvel into a Superman analog, too. His portrayal of Billy Batson in particular is one of the best I’ve ever seen, and, like Morrison’s Jimmy Olsen, Billy is a brave young man full of gumption and an interesting character in his own right.
The stand the denizens of limbo – who were last seen in Morrison’s closing issues of Animal Man – take against the destructive forces of the Monitors in their attempt to erase fiction is wonderful too, and, by the very act of rising up and being interesting characters, they make a case for their continued existence. Finally, the last page has long stuck with me; maybe it should have been the panel of the week instead. During his fight with Mandrakk in the world above, Mandrakk asks him what he wants written on his tombstone. After Superman triumphs and is about to leave that world, he leaves an inscription on a tombstone as a parting message to the Monitors. He tells them, “There’s something about stories. . .that you should know. . .”