Grant Morrison's great run on Action Comics finally came to a close with issue #18. In part 2 I left off after issue #13, so we'll start here with issue #14 - where the big finale finally begins to take shape. Click here for Part 1 and Part 2.
To say the ending became a little confusing is an understatement. I'm pretty sure some people will not have liked it, as it demands a lot of knowledge, across multiple issues, to wrap your entire head around it. It certainly lived up to the idea of a battle against a 5th Dimensional being, though. Writing this article, I hope in part to help understand the story better myself. If I get anything wrong, please point it out -- this is a very twisting and confusing tale to try and recap.
One of the big threads in Grant Morrison's run in Action Comics has been the idea that Earth is going to face the threat of annihilation, just like Krypton did. Turns out, that same threat, was repelled by Jor-El - and here Superman has to do the same impossible task his father once did: defeat the Multitude.
This issue takes us to Mars, where a colony expedition to the Red Planet is rocked by trouble, as the menacing A.I. Metalek is wrecking havoc, trying to terraform a new home for a race that no longer exists. Superman has dealt with them before - which Superman explains to the Mars colonists when he arrives. Superman helps save the lives of people, stuck in another Dome instillation, reuniting a family together.
A new pressing threat emerges, though -- sensors detect a massive invading force, coming in from everywhere at once. Superman again braves the barren wastes of Mars to stop this threat - but is surprised by what he finds; Angels. Glowing angelically, these supposed Angels are not heavenly -- as they bear sharp teeth and glowing blades. It all seems like it becomes too much for Superman, who is forced to re-enter the protective Dome with the colonists.
Superman might be flustered by the impossible task put before him, but he realizes what it is he's facing. Superman helps explain it to the young son of the family, showing him what the Multitude really is. Knowing what Jor-El once did, Superman explains that the Multitude can't be fought singly. This threat might be impossible to face; but only in three dimensions. Using a fork and a book, Superman illustrates his point -- that the three dimensional fork, pressed against the cover of a book, leaves four distinct points. A third dimensional object against a two dimensional object. The Multitude isn't a race of beings -- it's like the fork; it's a single thing, a single weapon with countless points aimed from a higher 5th dimension. All that needs to be done is to hit them all at the same time. Using the terraforming array, Superman proposes creating a Scalar Field - to extend into the 5th Dimension. It works - and the Multitude is swiftly defeated.
Superman's challenge isn't over yet - as the devious little man appears once again - on the surface of Mars, posing as a distressed astronaut at first. Superman realizes who this is: Vyndktvx, who now bears a burnt hand. He says Superman hurt his hand -- him and that "smart-aleck father". (He refers to Jor-El) Vyndktvx is here to conclude his business with Superman, mockingly telling him that he's been dipping into Superman's backyard for a long, long time. The little man begins attacking and melting the faces of the colonists. Superman tells him to leave them alone - upon which Vyndktvx transforms into a multi-faced devil! He declares "I've been waiting for this. Laying traps. Gathering servants. Setting you up for the fall of a lifetime, you smug little man-god!" He threateningly says "Guess what, Superman? You're the ultimate loser!"
The real battle against Vyndktvx begins here, scaling back and forth between the past, future, and present. It begins with Clark Kent, preparing to leave for the prom with Lana Lang, back in Smallville. As he leaves Pa Kent is busy helping a salesman with his engine. Unknown, at the time, the sales man is the little man.
Now Superman is on the roof of his apartment building with Mrs. Nyxly, continuing the conversation he began with her at the end of issue #12. Mrs. Nyxly explains how things that happened in the past, on that prom night, might have happened differently. Lots of things where messed up and changed because of Vyndktvx. (This might unofficially be Grant Morrison's way of explaining the changes from the old, to the current DC and the New 52) She tells Superman that things will become strange. Superman already feels it, like his memory of being on Mars... which he's never been to before...? "Not yet: the Mars Colony Project is two years from launch, Clark." Mrs. Nyxly explains. She tells him to think of Vyndktvx like a shark, displacing the water all around it. Vyndktvx disturbs time when he closes in for the kill. Busing herself with a cloths line and laundry, Mrs. Nyxly asks if she can keep one of Superman's shirts - a white shirt he wore on occasion. Vyndktvx can strike at any point in his life -- attacking Pa and Ma Kent being one of those early victims.
Time shifts, and suddenly Superman is running for his life - under a Red sun - as the Anti-Superman Army searches for him. Suzie is even with them, sensing Superman's thoughts. All of Superman's foes are there - the Kryptonite Man, Nimrod the Hunter, Metalek, Drekken the Evolver - they are all hunting down Superman.
Time shifts again, back to the roof. Where Mrs. Nyxly takes out a wine bottle, and suggests they have a toast. "Here's to the triumph of good over evil."
Mrs. Nyxly then explains her own origin to Clark, telling a tale - of the sad King-Thing Brpxz of Zrfff, the Fivefold Country. Ever since loosing his Queen, nothing could brighten the King's mood. Nothing could bring a simple to his face, even his own daughter Princess Gsptlnz (short for Nyxlygsptlnz, or Mrs. Nyxly) - and least of all the court magician, Lord Vyndktvx. Until, one day, a new trickster came to town, named Mxyzptlk. Promising he could put a smile on the King's face, Mxyzptlk put on a show - much to the chagrin of Vyndktvx. He preformed all kinds of tricks - even entertainingly pestering the heroes of 333 different worlds. They all tried a million ways to say his name backwards, but never could. "My Mister Mxyzptlk." Mrs. Nyxly remarked, and then apologized - saying that 5-D words sometimes come out like thunder. Superman wipes away blood coming out of his ear. "What about the other magician? Vyn-Dik-Tiv-Ix?" Superman enquired. She explains that when Mxy declared his love to her, he gave her three wishes to wear, which enraged Vyndktvx.
Shifting again, the Little Man stands before the Anti-Superman Army, telling them to keep up and follow Superman. To not let him get away, when he's confused, disoriented, and loosing his powers because of the Red Sun.
Again, back on the roof, Superman ask how he got involved in all of this. Superman, apparently, was Mxy's favorite trick, and a favorite of the King's. The one who tricked him back, and outsmarted Mxy every time. At this point Superman has yet to face any kind of 5-th Dimensional Imp, but is told that he will someday. Vyndktvx soon was plotting his revenge, stealing three sublime weapons from the armory. The Nothingcoat, the Imaginator, and the Million-Pointed Multispear. (That last item, of course, being the Multitude.) Using the Nothingcoat, Vyndktvx was able to creep through the palace unseen, planning to kill Mxy and Princess Nyxlygsptlnz. It did not go as planned.
Time shifted, back at the battle, Superman fights for his life against Drekken and the Anti-Superman Army. He finally is able to break free and flee to one of his early Fortresses of Solitudes, in the Yucatan. Sending out a call for help, with a device to send out his plea, Superman explains that his Arctic Fortress had been gutted; luckily the Yucatan Fortress still stood. He calls out in time to the Legion of Super-Heroes. He calls to Captain Comet and the Wanderers, and likewise whistles for Krypto to come.
Back to Mrs. Nyxly's story - taking the spear, and aiming it at a shadowed figure, a silhouette of Myx's trademark durby hat, Vyndktvx mistakenly found himself striking and killing the King! The king had laughingly been trying on Mxy's hat. Upon the King's death, 230 worlds died instantly! Only on two of those worlds did the spear (the Multitude) encounter unexpected resistance. The feedback nearly killed them all. The coat Vyndktvx wore was shattered - and his left arm was burnt. Superman makes the connection, which Mrs. Nyxly confirms - that Superman and Jor-El had both, at different times, found ways to hurt Vyndktvx. Ever since then Vyndktvx has been seeking revenge.
Back to Clark and Lana at the Prom, things are suddenly interrupted, as the police enter, and Clark realizes that it's about Ma and Pa.
Mrs. Nyxly continues, telling of how Myx had told her to run, shredding dimensions as she fled. The Princess had fled here, to Earth, almost 60 years ago. Flattened down, exiled, and completely vulnerable - the newly born Mrs. Nyxly could only wait for Mxy to get in touch. 25 years later into her life, Nyxly used her first wish, bringing her back together with Myx on Earth. Mrs. Nyxly's husband had been a stage magician, called Mr. Triple X. The second wish had been used to erase Clark Kent's death from history. Superman suggests the third wish could save them all, but Mrs. Nyxly merely replies that she won't get that chance, seeing as she dies. Revealing all of this was like setting off an alarm in the 5th dimension. "Before I get the chance to make my last wish, I die. Vyndktvx wins." A gun shot flies right into Mrs. Nyxly's head - killing her. Her blood is splattered all across the now stained white Superman T-Shirt on the cloths line. A block away the little man, with Nimrod the hunter having taken the shot, prepares for the grand finale (leading to the hunt, experienced at the beginning of the issue)
This issue dealt with a very prominent story, confirming that Superman's death, and subsequent return, did indeed happen. It's the second death of Superman, though, that is at issue. The result of Superman's 2ed (and supposedly final) death - is a horrible future for the Legion of Super-Heroes. The villain Universo rules the world, and it takes the bravery of Lightning Man, Cosmic Man and Saturn Woman to go back in time and reverse things -- essentially to save Superman! They steal a time bubble and are off into the past.
Back to the relative present, Lois and Jimmy have arrived where Clark Kent asked to meet them. Lois wonders why Clark would pick such a morbid place: the spot where Superman died against Doomsday. Superman died right here. A golden statue commemorates that heroic act. Jimmy then adds that Superman saved everybody - beat the bad guy, came back from the dead -- and, Lois recalls, even rebuilt the city. Its a symbol of rebirth; it just didn't feel like that to her at the time.
The wind starts to pick up; Lois calls Clark on his phone asking where he is. Superman comes crashing down to Earth like a meteor. Superman calls out to Lois and Jimmy, telling them he was on Mars -- but they have to help him with something very important. He tells them to go to Metropolis General Hospital, and find Mr. Triple X before it's too late! Xa-Du is right behind him, Superman remarks, just as the ghostly villain lands on the ground. The fight against Xa-Du is fierce. Shocking to Lois, she suddenly finds Suzie - floating in the air above the battle. She asks her niece what she'd doing here? She thought-projects that she's in Superman's mind. That she's joined his head to the every suffering thing in the whole world. Being confronted by Lois seems to bring Suzie back to reality, as Lois asks who made her want to hurt Superman. Suzie breaks down a little, saying she's sorry. That she didn't mean to, but the little man made a deal with her. With Suzie no longer hurting Superman's psyche, he turns and retaliates against Xa-Du like never before. Suzie confesses that the little man threatened her Mom and Dad if she didn't help. It's then, after Xa-Du's defeated, Suzie's eyes light up - realizing that "he's" here now! Before them the Devil-Multi-faceted form of Vyndktvx appears, asking if they are all ready for his GREATEST Trick? Vyndktvx isn't just appearing in Metropolis -- he's appearing on TVs all over the world. He promises them all life eternal in his Kingdom forever, and all anyone has to do - if Superman comes begging for help - to just say "No."
Time shifts again, back to the point where the epic hunt for Superman has come to a stand-still, with Superman in the clutches of the Anti-Superman Army. A wounded, but recovered Xa-Du, and the K-Irradiated villains threaten the weakened man of Steel. A supposedly spurned young woman, who wields Red Kryptonite in her body, says it will warp his perceptions. Green will slowly kill him. The Blue Kryptonite Man, though, kills your spirit. Luckily Superman's call for help, before being caught, bears fruit. Krypto arrives, angry as any wolf-dog can be, attacks the villains and rescues his master.
Lois Lane and Jimmy arrive at Metropolis General, intent on finding Mr. Triple X. Lois remarks that the sky - the rain - everything is almost like those years ago when Superman died. After entering the hospital, someone else of note enters as well: Nimrod the Hunter.
Vyndktvx appears before the injured Anti-Superman Army, licking their wounds after Krypto's attack. The little man is carrying huge kryptonite chains, to bound Superman -- which he drops, upon Kryptos assaulting return! The Little Man disappears before being bit - Xa-Du uses the leftover chains to bind the dog.
Back in the hospital, Nimrod storms into Mr. Triple X's room - aiming his rifle and ready to kill; that is, until Jimmy tackles him - while Lois hits him over the head with a fire extinguisher. After the assault Lois approaches the old man. The nurse says that this indeed was Mr. Triple X - but that he's been in a coma for years. Lois doesn't understand why Superman asked her to come here.
Shifting back a day, we find Lex Luthor busy working on an ingenious device that came to him in a dream. The little man walks in, telling Luthor that he's been searching for the ultimate anti-Superman weapon -but now it's found him. The idea for it came in a dream. A multicolored box, red and green, able to pierce harmonic frequencies. (We saw this same device in issue #9; it's worth noting this device is also known as the Imaginator, one of the weapons Vyndktvx stole from the 5th Dimension.) Luthor looks down at the little man, asking if he knows him. The little man coyly replies that everybody knows him. That they made a deal together. Suddenly something comes raging out of the device. The little man smirks "It's Super-Doomsday" (the same corporate-run Superman, from issue #9)
As dark rain pours over the red-lined sky of Metropolis, Jimmy and Lois wonder what they are suppose to do, finding this man in a coma. Suddenly he wakes up, asking for Gizzy, asking what happened to Gizzy! (Gizzy is his nick-name for Mrs. Nyxly) This awakening happens just as the Legion of Super-Heroes arrive in the room.
Meanwhile, out in the dark red rain, Super-Doomsday has arrived. Both Krypto and Superman have been subdued, bound in Kryptonite chains. He bellows "It's all over! Ready to die, Superman?" Superman coyly replies "Actually? I think I have other plans..."
This issue sort of acts like a road-map, showing all the scenes and events the Devious Little Man has popped up in, or effected, throughout the run of the series. It begins with Superman finding his parents in a car crash. Ma is already dead - and Pa, who knows he's dying, asks to be able to die in his own home. Clark carries him to the Kent farm, where his father gives him inspiration, to use his powers for good, and be a champion of the downtrodden. He passes away --
Time Shifts, and Super-Doomsday is unleashing his fury on Superman "Why not just die!". Vyndktvx is controlling the creature, seen through the eyes of the beast. Superman reiterates that he has other plans.
The Legion of Super Heroes are spanning across time and space, in the hopes of saving Superman's life. Their first stop is to Mrs. Nyxly (when she was alive), asking if she knows how Clark Kents parents died. When, exactly. Next stop in time is to directly after Ma and Pa's car wreck. The Legionaries arrived too late, but Saturn Woman is able to connect a dying Ma Kent's mind to that of her husband as she fades away.
We're next shown, in a bit of 4th wall breaking, the Little Man explaining certain things. We're shown his earlier discussion with Mr. Glenmorgan (as seen in issue #1) - where he tells us that Glenmorgan's downfall, which he helped engineer, was what paved the way for the rise of Lex Luthor; preoccupying Superman's cat and mouse game with "Icarus" (Lex's hidden contact with Clark Kent) for years - while the Little Man struck in a dozen different places. Vyndktvx explains that it's hard to maneuver with so few dimensions. Still - he managed to bring down Ma and Pa Kent, and used the rules of Isomorphic Magic to bring about the downfall - using objects to bring about a person's fall. Pa Kent's handkerchief (I missed that, but maybe it was in a previous issue), Mr. Glenmorgan's tie (that I do remember; its when Glenmorgan broke down at the end of the first story arch), and also Superman's cape. Flashing back, to events in issue #0, Superman uses his cape to protect himself from a missile launcher - to which he is blown off a building. Supposedly Superman is now at Vyndktvx's mercy, at this point. Guess who saved Superman that day? The young boy, who dared to steal Superman's cape!!! It is at this point that Vyndktvx realizes he needs more people, an army of Superman-Haters. Reaching out far and wide, to Suzie, Kryptonite Man, Metalek, Xa-Du, Nimrod, and Drekken - all who made a deal with the devil, and became part of his Anti-Superman Army. We're next shown the scene where Nimrod the Hunter fires a teleport rifle into Superman's brain (Issues #5 and 6), and the Legion of Super-Heroes arrival, to gain Superman's help in recovering the stolen Kryptonite Engine.
Back with Super-Doomsday, Superman is taking quite a beating. He tries to appeal for help - to Erik Drekken. He tells him he knows there is a decent man in there. Superman is again hurled against a car, but is helped up by some average citizens - who also take away the Kryptonite chains around him. This allows Superman to fight back - taking the door of the car, hurling it at Super-Doomsday's face, and simultaneously melting it onto his face. Super-Doomsday breaks off the mask he wears, underneath to an amalgam of Superman and Doomsday's face.
Superman is saved (again) by someone unexpected -- Lex Luthor! "Nobody kills Superman but Lex Luthor!"
The big finale, and end of Grant Morrison's epic Action Comics run, takes place here. The opening page champions it as "Nothing less than a New American Mythology" (Couldn't agree more!)
Lex Luthor, in an armored battle suit, strikes at Super-Doomsday. Hating Lex Luthor as well, Super-Doomsday attacks, ripping the suit open. Turns out no one is inside it. There's a short scene, showing Lex Luthor in prison, having apparently used an improvised radio-telepathy circuit from his cell. (I think this was an attempt to align this story, with the current Superman title, where Lex Luthor is in prison. It sort of contradicts the scene, before, of Lex building the Box, which Super-Doomsday came through. Maybe it was a really sophisticated radio-telepathy circuit, allowing him to appear outside is cell for long stretches. Minor point; whatever...)
This has all given Superman the reprieve he needs, finally landing a knock-out punch on Super-Doomsday!
The Anti-Superman Army comes in to help, again beating Superman down, with the Red Kryptonite lady using her delirium-effecting Kryptonite to cast a series of mind-bending illusions on Superman. First he's turned into a lion, then an ant - all while fighting against the Devilish Little Man.
Back at the hospital with Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and the newly arrived Legion of Super Heroes -- Mr. Triple X has awoken from his coma. Shockingly, a strange man comes running into the room. Mr. Triple X is telling them they are all here for the grand finale of Vyndktvx. This odd man, who rushed in, says he knew all along he was faking a coma! This, turns out, is Mr. Triple X, and Mrs. Nyxly's son. He brings out the white Superman T-Shirt, stained with Mrs. Nyxly's blood - angry as all heck at his old man. Saturn Woman probes the young man, who identifies himself as Ferlin Nyxly. Saturn Woman senses something else -- he's a damaged edge of Vyndktvx! Mr. Triple X hugs the bloodied T-Shirt, explaining that he had taught his wife how to use her blood as an escape pod to the 2nd dimension. Ferlin is mad, calling him an insane fraud. To which the old man quietly remarks that Ferlin was all part of the greatest trick. That Mrs. Nyxly hid in the red in Superman... The old man then suddenly goes into convulsions! Lightning Man uses his powers as a defibrillator. This allows the elderly man to explain one thing to them, to help prevent Superman's death. "That's... That's the trick, Shocko... ...you have to make sure.. Vyndktvx gets the... Trickkk..." Realizing that Ferlin is a limb of Vyndktvx, the Legionaries suddenly get the trick! Cosmic Man suggests, if they slam their time bubble into Vyndktvx's face at superluminal velocity, they might buy Superman the time he needs. Ferlin understand the subtext "Like a custard pie. The joke's on me again, isn't it? Mother, how could you?" (All of this is probably the most confusing aspect of the story. A bit of it, at least, is explained in a bit.)
Even while still in the grips of delirium, Superman manages to pick up a bus and hurl it against the now growing Super-Doomsday. To the side of the battle, Suzie is greeted by an old friend - Captain Comet, who also brought along a group of friends "The Wanderers" All of them are Neo-Sapiens from different worlds, who in Superman's stead defeat each of the Anti-Superman Army. Drekken, perhaps being cowardly, decides to turn sides - saying he can evolve into a higher life form. He turns into radiant energy and joins the Wanderers. Suzie tells everyone that even a 5-D consciousness is still a consciousness. So they join their mental powers to help Superman.
Vyndktvx rants on the TV again, saying he made a deal with everyone - for them not to help Superman. While using Super-Doomsday to crush Superman, Vyndktvx's plan of having Suzie connect Superman's mind to the suffering of everyone on Earth backfires.
With Suzie and the Wanderers' help - Superman calls out to everyone. 5-D words are like thunder, he tells everyone - if they all do the impossible all at once, they can banish the devil. All everyone needs to do is say their names backwards. Everyone seems to do just that (or at least enough people), ending with "Le Lak Tnek Kralc" (or, Clark Kent Kal El). Taking Ferlin into custody, the Legionaries say their names backwards as well, as they launch the time bubble. All of this hits Vyndktvx, forcing him to say his name backwards "Xvtkdnyv!" - sending him back to the 5th Dimension. What remains is the carcass of Super-Doomsday, which has turned to stone and begun a self-destruct sequence. It's enough to kill everyone -- but Superman isn't about to let that happen. Lifting up, possibly, the heaviest object he's ever lifted - he takes the statue up into space to explode harmlessly. In the 5th Dimension, Vyndktvx is arrested, after having just killed the King. Vyndktvx says he didn't do it. It was Mxyzptlk; no one else can see that. "He tricked all of us!" Now -- don't be mistaken (like I was, initially) thinking Vyndktvx is pointing the finger at Mxy; he's not saying Mxy killed the King (which is what I initially though) -- rather, the King WAS Mr. Mxyzptlk!!! With Vyndktvx taken away to prison, with the crying Princess at his side, Mxy takes the crown and becomes the New King. BUT - even more shocking, Vyndktvx was correct! Time seems to go in a circle, as Mr. Mxyzptlk marries the Princess, who bears him two sons and a daughter. She sadly dies in childbirth, which is what brought the King such sadness. So much so that he couldn't bear to see the two boys, Mxyzptlk and Vyndktvx, who where both aspects of himself. He only keeps his daughter by his side because she reminds him so much of his lost Nyxlygsptlnz.
Basically - to spell this out as clearly as I understand it. Mr. Mxyzptlk's life is circular! He's both the King, and the original Mxy! His Queen becomes his daughter - who eventually marries Mxy (who becomes king, repeating the cycle.) Confusing, no?
Superman saved everyone - but it's unsure wether he survived the explosion. Rocketing down to Earth once again, a vision of Mrs. Nyxly visits him. She tells him that she has one wish left, but the rules say it has to involve the color Red. Superman asks if a Red Planet counted? Sure enough - the Colonists on Mars are now alive and well - saved by that third wish. Superman eventually crash lands on Earth - just as Lois makes a call, wondering were Clark Kent is. Both she and Jimmy remember hearing Clark's voice in the shared-mind experience. Sure enough, just as he touches down on Earth, Clark replies on the phone that he's fine, but that he got into a brawl while chasing a story. As Krypto arrives, licking his master, he says he's fine, but adds "You should see the other guy."
It was a really, really wonderful ending. I actually do understand it more, now, having gone over it again. I hope I my re-cap of it all did a smidge of justice to the actual series. I strongly suggest you read the issues yourself, and in the upcoming TPBs.
Superman and the Men of Steel is volume 1, (containing issues #1 - 8)
Bulletproof is volume 2, (containing issues #0, 9 - 12, and Annual #1) and comes out May. I'm sure a third volume will be out before the end of the year!
In the meantime -- the question now becomes wether to read Action Comics further. Andy Diggle and Tony Daniel where suppose to take over the series - but Diggle has since walked out, leaving just Tony Daniel to both write and draw the series. What went so wrong, that Andy Diggle felt forced to leave? Daniel's art looks amazing - so I might try the next few issues; but this all does not sit well with me. After such a genius and well crafted run, I expected better from Action Comics and DC.
There is, though, the upcoming new title "Superman Unchained", by Jim Lee and Scott Snyder. Seeing Diggle leave, so unceremoniously (before he even started) has really disappointed me. Still - this was a wonderful run by Morrison, and I hope it remains a classic for years to come.