The Multiversity: Mastermen #1
US: Apr 2015
Grant Morrison’s and Jim Lee’s The Multiversity: Mastermen #1 opens with Adolf Hitler straining on the toilet. It’s all downhill from there.
On this Earth, that fabled rocket ship from Krypton that carried the planet’s last son does not land in the cornfields of Kansas but in German-occupied Czechoslovakia. Young Kal-El does not grow up to be Superman, all “truth, justice and the American way,” but Overman, a Nietzschean demigod, a man of tomorrow beyond slave morality and beyond the brute concerns of the herd.
On this Earth, the Third Reich becomes a reality. Europe falls; America falls; another empire rises.
The Mastermen, demigods all, keep the peace and maintain order.
Leatherwing. Underwaterman. Brunhilde. Lightning. The Martian. And over them all, Overman.
The Mastermen battle the forces of terror that threaten all the good that the empire has wrought, that threaten the peace and stability that the empire sustains with blood and arms.
Overgirl has already died at the terrorists’ hands. And then, without thought for decorum or dignity, with no respect for her sacrifice or the grief of her kin, the terrorists strike again. The Human Bomb, suicide bomber without the suicide, explodes in the heart of her memorial. Buildings crumble; people fall. And without the Mastermen there would have certainly been greater destruction and greater death.
Leatherwing and the others do what they have to do. They torture their captive; they beat him and then beat him again. They have to make him talk, have to make him tell his secrets. The fate of civilization depends on it, the fate of empire.
But there is a traitor in their midst. Someone working on the inside. Someone who wants to help the terrorists win their dirty little war or who, at the very least, wants to enjoy the benefits of the chaos they create.
And Overman has a look in his eye, his telescopic, x-ray eye. He wonders if what they do is right.
“These enemies rise from the shame of our past,” he tells an incredulous Leatherwing. “They have grievances we have to confront.”
“You don’t give in to terrorists,” Leatherwing replies. “People like that never stop.”
And Overman broods. While Brunhilde worries that the enemies can smell his growing weakness, Overman speaks the unspeakable. “What if we deserve this?”
And the terrorists strike again. Of course they do. They always do. As long as empire stands. Their leader is smart, wily and strong. He dresses in the patriotic, jingoistic garb of the defeated. He speaks with clarity. With force. He is a relic of the day America fell. The day Uncle Sam died.
Only he didn’t die. He went underground, rebuilt his army of Freedom Fighters, planned the attacks necessary to bring the enemy, the empire to its knees.
“Who would dare?” Overman asks as the assault upon Overgirl’s memorial begins?
“We dare!” Uncle Sam shouts. “We the People!”
“Bring me your huddled masses!” he proclaims from Ellis Island in the shadow of liberty’s broken statue. “Bring me the poor and the lost. The crazy, the different, the strange.”
And the Human Bomb explodes again, the blows from his captors providing his energy and his power, their torture building to his strength. And the Mastermen’s satellite watchtower falls, plummets, hurdles to the ground, striking at Metropolis, striking at that great city. Laying waste; killing millions.
And all the while Overman has that look in his eye. The look of one who sees everything, who knows everything, who could have stopped it but didn’t.
There are no good guys here, no one who doesn’t have blood on their hands. The Mastermen fight to uphold the power of empire, a battle fought with the weapons of torture and deceit. Uncle Sam fights for freedom, fights to overthrow the deadly empire, but leaves in his wake both rubble and death.
And Overman, who sees more clearly than the rest, who sees both farther and wider, who sees through the walls of words and symbols, Overman is lost in the middle, lost in a muddle, acting and not acting until Metropolis is in ruins.
I am stunned at what Morrison and Lee have done, at how good and evil have been clouded and yet exposed, cast in shadow and brought wriggling into the light, at how themes so profound and so important have been told in the panels and words of a comicbook.
Mastermen is a masterwork. A perfect 10. The greatest issue yet in this stunningly good series. Bravo, Mr. Morrision! Bravo!