Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Jim Lee
Release Date: February 18, 2015
At the onset of The Multiversity, I scribbled a review that frets over how easily the whole thing could crumble in on itself if writer Grant Morrison lets his semi-fetish for “meta”-ish-ness override coherency and relatability. Well, he hasn’t ended up doing that. As of Mastermen: Splendour Falls, the seventh entry into the mini-series, it appears I misplaced my erstwhile concerns. Whoops.
In Mastermen, Lord Broken makes its first appearance — in a Superman analogue’s dreams — since the cackling living tower, crowded with giant disembodied eyeballs, first debuted to help its Gentry brethren unmake reality all the way back in August’s The Multiversity #1. If any of that sounds confusing, just disregard it, because knowledge, or even interest in previous Multiversity books — much less the decades of DC continuity that inspired them — isn’t needed to understand or appreciate the perverted brilliance of Mastermen.
If you sort of know about Superman, and you sort of know about Hitler, you can basically follow the story.
Or, if you’re just a self-reflective sort of person, that should do the trick, too. I’ve read various musicians with no apparent relation or connection quoted saying such shit paraphrasable as, “With this album, I’m asking, ‘Am I a fundamentally good person with evil tendencies, or a bad person occasionally capable of being nice?” Musicians say that type of thing in interviews because it sounds profound, but it’s only a slightly sexier version of the timeless — and probably unanswerable — conundrum of nurture versus nature included in each of our respective built-in, complimentary software packages.
So Superman fights for wholesome values and equality and truth and justice and so on, because Ma and Pa Kent raised him to think that was the thing to do, yeah? What if Adolf Hitler — a real world figure so ghastly he replaced The Devil as human civilization’s de-facto embodiment of all things reprehensible — raised him instead? Obviously, he’d call himself “Overman” instead, but would any semblance of the Supes we know and love remain?
Is Superman a fundamentally good person?
Morrison poses this question, and answers himself: “Well, kind of. Sort of! In a way! Maybe more-or-less?!” And despite its ambiguity, his resolution to the nurture/nature yin-yang scans as oddly satisfactory.
Morrison also ponders what the popular 2015 attitude toward the holocaust would look like in a world where Germany — with Kal-El on its side to nullify the atom bomb — conquered Europe, America and Atlantis in an extended director’s cut of World War II. Y’know how nobody who remotely values their reputation will publicly condone or defend slavery, and yet tons of us get uncomfortable whenever the word “reparations” gets bantered about? Y’know how plenty of people in 2015 America will say shit paraphrasable as, “I’m not racist, some of my best friends are black, but Michael Brown and Eric Garner both had it coming”? It’s basically that.
By the end of Mastermen, Overman and the rest of the New Reichsmen — Earth-10’s Justice League unequivalent — aren’t doing so hot in the wake of repeated strategic strikes from The Freedom Fighters, a hero team led by Uncle Sam that functions as Guy Fawkes-style sympathetic terrorists. Morrison skews away from black and white morality; the presence of the diabolicalDoctor Sivana in the Freedom Fighters’ corner indicates a sinister agenda unknown to the well-intended Sam co., while Overman may have had unexpected motives of his own. Oh, and Jim Lee drew the whole thing, so of course everyone in Mastermen has too many lines on their faces, and otherwise it looks like a movie.