On DC One Million, by Grant Morrison and Val Semeiks (Part 3)

In which we continue our discussion of DC One Million, begun here and continued here.

Above Earth, Green Lantern has joined the heroes fighting a losing battle against Solaris. Solaris isn’t prepared for Green Lantern’s ring, and the hero is able to survive a blast from Solaris, then get inside it and head for Solaris’s core.

Now that Martian Manhunter has revived, he’s able to communicate with the League. He informs them that Green Lantern needs to retrieve “a micro-tesseract containing… a D.N.A. sample” from Solaris’s core. Green Lantern does so, but Flash, using the strategy engine, realizes that Solaris has defenses against their planned “black hole attack.” Solaris is analyzing Green Lantern’s ring and, using its own computational abilities, will soon figure out a way to eliminate the hero. Flash’s analysis suggests that, without Green Lantern’s power ring in play, Solaris will have the upper hand. The only solution is to surprise Solaris immediately.

Batman thus relays to Green Lantern: “He won’t expect us to dare attempt this in a populated system: you have to increase his mass, destabilize his core[,] and create a supernova.” Not only this, but Green Lantern will also have to contain the explosion. It’s a brilliant twist – of course, if your story has the wonderful absurdity of an evil living sun, the way to destroy it is to make it go supernova! (Morrison even realizes that a sun the size of Solaris wouldn’t have enough mass for a supernova, hence the demand that Green Lantern increase it.)

But this wild idea is rooted in character, because Kyle Rayner, who was Green Lantern at the time, was the most recent and inexperienced hero of Morrison’s seven Leaguers. Because of this, Kyle often served as a kind of audience identification figure in Morrison’s JLA. And in a story about DC super-heroes continuing across thousands of generations, it’s poetic that Kyle’s placed in this key position, in which he must go further with his powers than ever before. For this reason, he hesitates, uncertain whether he can do this.

The future Superman then succeeds in punching his way back to the 853rd century, arriving with his teammates on the moon (since they left the 20th century at the Watchtower). He recovers quickly and flies off to join the fight.

Green Lantern triggers the supernova, but strains to contain it (“What do I do with this exploding star?! It’s bending my head, Batman!” – emphasis in the original). The future Superman arrives and, using one of his previously-established (in issue #1) additional powers, psychically projects a forcefield to buttress the green safe that Green Lantern’s made to contain the exploding star.

page from DC One Million #4As it explodes, Solaris – in halted speech, interrupted by ones and zeros – promises to “reorganize,” echoing how defeated super-villains often promise to return. But he also fires the Knight fragment, which makes it through just before Green Lantern’s containment pops into being.

Our present-day Superman chases the Kryptonite shard on its course to the sun, but he stops, as if realizing something. The shard impacts the sun, contaminating and tinting an area of its surface. Rumor circulates that Superman Prime is dead, but on Mars, Martian Manhunter explains to a dying Mitchell Shelley that, in the 20th century, the Knight fragment was destroyed and replaced. Instead of killing the Superman Prime, Solaris has “unwittingly handed him… the most powerful weapon in the universe.”

The green area on the surface of the sun has evolved into a Green Lantern sigil. From it, a green-energy hand reaches out and crushes the sputtering remnant of Solaris. And Superman Prime emerges, wearing the Green Lantern ring that the future lacked because it was buried on Mars. He’s glowing yellow from absorbing solar radiation – the source of his power – for 15,000 years, and it’s hard not to think he looks like a god. Certainly, the assembled crowds treat him as one.

page from DC One Million #4It’s a stunning, epic climax to the mini-series, one that pays off all the plot threads Morrison has so carefully laid.

In the first epilogue, we see what happened during the ceremonies that followed. The DNA that Kyle Rayner retrieved from Solaris was apparently placed there in the 20th century, during Solaris’s construction. It belongs to Lois Lane, and from it she’s returned to life as some sort of silver-skinned goddess. She and Superman Prime embrace, in the words of Kyle Rayner, “like he’d waited a billion years for her. Like nothing had meant anything in all that time.” The future Hourman, meanwhile, has taken a fragment of Krypton, perhaps moments prior to its destruction. From it, he’s built a new Krypton, in Earth’s solar system, including Kryptonians. Superman’s father, Jor-El, welcomes his son home. Kyle narrates, his mind struggling to take it all in, “It felt like the whole universe was being put right somehow.”

page from DC One Million #4Kyle recalls that, as the golden Superman Prime walks off with his silver Lois, he turned and winked at him. It’s a powerful endorsement of the next generation, coming from the original super-hero. In this respect, it may be worth pointing out that the colors chosen for Superman Prime and Lois Lane reflect what’s known as comics’ Golden and Silver Ages – appropriate to this story about the longevity of DC’s super-heroes.

If this is Superman’s swan song, it’s a happy ending of dizzying scale. It’s also wonderfully reconstructionist (and the opposite of Alan Moore’s revisionist swan song for Superman, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”).

After the League goes back to work, which Morrison uses to drop a few hints about subsequent JLA storylines, the final page gives us a second epilogue – and one more clever twist. We last saw the future Vandal Savage using the Resurrection Man’s gauntlets to teleport away from the moon in the 853rd century. He intended to go to Earth, where he planned to watch Solaris’s victory. But the time-traveling Walker Gabriel, star of DC’s then-running Chronos, had altered Vandal Savage’s destination. He materializes in Montevideo, just in time to see a Rocket Red suit explode. The immortal villain thus finally dies, in tandem with his immortal foe’s death on the future Mars. It took 833 centuries, but justice still won out; Vandal Savage finally paid for his crimes.

Here as elsewhere, Morrison’s poetic captions accentuate his inspiredly wild plot: “Vandal Savage, the last caveman, experiences an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.”

Universe-wide crossovers often begin with dramatic, satisfying stakes. They almost have to, in order to sell readers on the concept and excite readers into purchasing tie-in issues. The conclusion of these crossovers, however, doesn’t always live up to their initial premises. With DC One Million, however, the conclusion is its strongest part. The requisite high drama combines with a satisfying sense of everything coming together. Even after the conflict is over, the series’s epilogues are among the most memorable moments in the series. All of this only works because the conclusion’s been carefully set up in advance, in fairly intricate detail.

That’s not to say that DC One Million is without fault.

Morrison’s writing here and on JLA is filled with brilliant ideas, but it sometimes struggles to clearly convey information necessary to understand the plot – almost as if the ideas are themselves enough.

In a story about time travel, beginning with a prologue that takes place in the present’s near future is a risky idea, involving as it does three different periods of time. That the first issue doesn’t meet up with this prologue can make it even more confusing. In the second issue, it takes several pages before the reader understands how Montevideo has been destroyed or how this connects to anything else we’ve seen.

Precisely why the Justice Legion A needs to construct Solaris takes a while to trickle out. It’s not entirely clear how the future Batman figures out his teammate Starman is a traitor. If Starman uses his power rod to start Solaris, why does Solaris already seen to be functioning? How did the Justice Legion A plan on using Steel’s time machine to start Solaris, given that Starman dies doing so with his power rod, which operates at a distance? That the Justice Legion has abandoned the idea of using Steel’s time machine isn’t mentioned until after the fact, causing readers to wonder if what it was supposed to accomplish isn’t separate from whatever Starman’s doing. We may also presume Solaris, once created, quietly leaves Earth’s space, but we’re neither told this nor shown it.

The present-day Vandal Savage plot, a major emphasis of the first and second issue, is doubtlessly the story’s weakest element. It’s odd that we’re not shown the Rocket Red fired with Tempest inside, nor its impact in Montevideo (except on the final page), nor Tempest’s escape from that suit, nor the rescue of the other three heroes fired in Rocket Red suits too (especially since their launch is the issue #2 cliffhanger), nor how Vandal Savage came to be rolling tanks along (as he is when he’s beaten, all too quickly, in issue #3). The Solaris plot seems to take over the present-day narrative – but fortunately, it’s a lot more interesting.

Finally, since the final issue is by far the best, it’s a shame that it’s not extra-long, like the first. It holds up on its own, but it feels rushed compared to the pace of the previous issues.

Still, if Morrison’s failing (at least in this stage of his development as a super-hero writer) is placing ideas over clear and careful communication of plot, those ideas are staggering. A previously unseen time period with new characters and situations was only the beginning of a torrent of ideas. Furthermore, the plot’s essentials are clear enough that even a reader who’s skimming will be stunned by its mind-bending twists, especially in its ending. This helps the whole feel greater than the sum of its parts, including any flaws.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In 1996, while still an undergraduate, Dr. Julian Darius founded what would become Sequart Organization. After graduating magna cum laude from Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), he obtained his M.A. in English, authoring a thesis on John Milton and utopianism. In 2002, he moved to Waikiki, teaching college while obtaining an M.A. in French (high honors) and a Ph.D. in English. In 2011, he founded Martian Lit, which publishes creative work, including his comic book Martian Comics. He currently lives in Illinois.

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2 Comments

  1. Great blog. Your concept of the stories symbolism was superb! My question is this. Since it involves a future that goes beyond any story arc that could happen from when it was written, do you consider the story to be canon? I’d like to think so, because the one thing we learn about comics is that the future of these characters are never set. I mean look at the recent Flashpoint and New 52 rebooting everything. Be that as it may, prior to FP and 52, can we say this story arc was part of the main DC universe continuity? DC never indicated that, but I don’t see why it can’t. After all The Amazing Spider-Man, and Ultimate Spider-Man eventual crossed over. Your thoughts…..

    -Adam

    • The story was canonical, when it was written. It was the far future of the then-DC Universe, and it wasn’t invalidated at the end of the story. In fact, it was seen again subsequently.

      It’s arguable whether it remained so, after Infinite Crisis. It’s certainly not in canon now, in the wake of Flashpoint. Sadly!

      Thanks for your comment, Adam!

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