By Jarrod Jones. I suppose one of the drawbacks to being aware that fifty-two parallel universes exist is that you know at least one of them is going to suck.
Sit back and marinate with this for a moment: Imagine a world where the hurtling rocket that survived the devastation of Krypton landed on Earth in 1939 only to be intercepted by the Schutzstaffel. That’s right – instead of the loving guidance from Jonathan and Martha Kent propelling his way, Kal-El (or rather, Kal-L) was brought up by Adolf Hitler. So World War II worked out pretty much as you’d expect.
With Mastermen, Grant Morrison and DC Co-Publisher Jim Lee explore that world (Earth-10, for those of you keeping score) with a modicum of the appropriate gallows humor that ought to come with a story concerning the horrifying notion of Nazi success. Had the latest installment of The Multiversity fully embraced its black satire, that would have made a damn entertaining comic book. Instead we’re provided with a lampooning sequence of a defecating Adolf Hitler and the emotional plight of an overlord who deeply regrets his entire life, all while the ominous pall of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung thunders in the background. It’s about as tonally lopsided as you’d imagine.
So, no. This is not a pleasant tale to read, but it’s one that Morrison probably feels artistically compelled to tell: Earth-10’s Superman, known throughout the cosmos as Overman, made his first appearance in Morrison’s collaborative 52 #52 in 2007. (For the purists, he actually first popped up in Morrison’s Animal Man #23, way back in 1990.) Because Mastermen‘s narrative all but confirms that DC’s continuity is something of an antiquated formality (and let’s be real, it totally is) it allows Overman’s story – which has weaved in and out of Morrison yarns like Superman Beyond and Final Crisis for over eight years – finally reach a critical apex. For the small, creepy subsect of us that need to know if a Nazi Superman can actually feel, Mastermen provides answers.
It’s just a shame that Mastermen doesn’t offer much enjoyment. The story of a jackbooted Superman is certainly a bleak one, and even with a couple of, er, creative jabs at der Führer himself (the opening splash page features Hitler dropping a deuce in a battle with constipation, more revolting than hilarious), the book later finds a grim and gritty tone that would feel more at home in an Image comic circa 1994. Which might be the reason why former Image founder Jim Lee took a crack at interpreting Morrison’s latest multiversal endeavor: That marriage of artist and concept ought to reap gorgeous results, but the truth of the matter is… Mastermen is a downright ugly book.
With not one, not two, not three, but four separate inkers to streamline Lee’s frenetic etchings – Lee’s usual back-up Scott Williams is joined by Sandra Hope, Mark Irwin, and Jonathan Glapion – Mastermen is a hastily assembled comic book. And no matter how much iconic imagery Morrison tosses Lee’s way, the artist fumbles every approach. (The cover to Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 is aptly echoed here, but Lee’s slap-dash rendering makes the moment fall tremendously short.) Everything from Leatherwing’s laughably huge thunderthighs (maybe he was wearing jodhpurs? Lee’s art doesn’t make it clear) to the absolutely hideous throbbing vein on Overman’s forehead (featured on the book’s swiftly re-edited cover) sell Mastermen woefully short. It’s a career low for Jim Lee.
As for Morrison, Mastermen is a gloss-over of an issue, one where the notoriously innovative writer alarmingly goes through the usual channels to propagate The Multiversity‘s overarching narrative. (Doctor Sivana – er, Herr Doktor Sivana – pops in for an appearance, as does Lord Broken, the dilapidated house of eyes from the malevolent Gentry, but neither serve a monumental purpose.) As a singular entertainment, Morrison’s Earth-X excursion doesn’t have the gravity of Pax Americana or even the biting satire of The Just. (Mastermen‘s closest cousin in The Multiversity is The Society of Super-Heroes: Conquerors from the Counter-World, at least in terms of how easy it is to forget about it.) It’s a story with such an intriguing premise that its execution was probably always meant to fail. It’s a story beneath Morrison’s skill.
So what exactly is the point of Mastermen? It provides stakes to a Superman of another Earth, one that doesn’t – or at least, shouldn’t – curry our favor. (Uncle Sam sure isn’t having any of it: “WE WANT YOU! TO PAY FOR YOUR CRIMES!“) The people who live under the heel of Overman are neither wanting nor inconveniently oppressed (Jürgen, Jimmy Olsen’s Earth-10 analog: “I mean, we live in a virtual paradise“). The horrors perpetrated by the Nazis (which are apparently ten-fold in this story) are compliantly forgotten in the name of Overman’s sternly implemented peace. Such a world shouldn’t be. A story of its eventual downfall ought to be more satisfying than this.
Written by Grant Morrison.
Art by Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Mark Irwin, Sandra Hope, and Jonathan Glapion.
Colored by Alex Sinclair and Jeromy Cox.
3.5 out of 10