Firstly, dear reader, my apologies for the delay. This write up has been one of the toughest but also one of the most enjoyable thus far. The more I reread Mastermen the more I realize my prior reading and write up thereof was missing something. This isn’t a criticism of the comic. If anything, it’s a celebration of it. The core of the story is essentially tragic. The question is just how tragic and the more we read, the more pervasive a suffering is implied. No matter who we sympathize with, or view as a hero, the more we realize they are, essentially, a tragic pawn of some higher malevolence.
Morrison very cleverly takes the reader through a variety of points of view. I myself was completely sympathetic with Overman for a time, and, to some degree, still am. He is like an inversion of Goethe’s Mephistopheles, willing the good but doing the evil. As such, this Overman is far more complicated than the the Overman of Final Crisis. This may be why initial reactions to Splendour Falls seemed quite negative. Some disliked how it seemed derivative of Millar’s Red Son. Others obviously felt the use of Nazi Germany left an unpleasant taste no matter how satirical or ironic. I would argue that that is the point.
The actions and ideals of those that led a nation to sleepwalk into fascism, war, and mass murder are repugnant but should not be avoided, forgotten, or made so taboo as to be ignored. One could, viewing any of the many news channels, or our current political climate on a national and international level, argue that this amnesia has already happened and are sleepwalking through a new fascism or at the very least teetering on its brink. Morrison is on some level trying to explore Overman’s action in a place beyond good and evil; that is, showing him at the forefront of Nazi Germany’s troops, but keen to distance Overman from the actual acts of the Final Solution both physically and morally. However, in turn, this makes what we see much, much worse. Being mindful of the dating provided by the comic, and remembering Overman’s words in Final Crisis, we now realize that those troops are wielding retro engineered Kryptonian technology. What Overman witnesses on his return actually dwarves the horror of the Holocaust.
Overman spends the rest of his life carrying the sins of those who wielded him as a weapon whilst simultaneously perpetuating their worldview and empire. His eventual efforts at atonement sadly require more deception and bloodshed and, when realized, only further damn and vilify him in not only our eyes but the eyes of Splendour Fall‘s narrator the Jimmy Olsen analogue Jurgen. Though on first reading we may see the ultimate downfall of Overman, this is in fact the precursor for what is implied to be a rather epic tragedy.
After the teases of transdimensional villainy from a plethora of culprits in the Multiversity Guidebook, we return again to that mainstay of the series thus far, the Gentry. In particular Lord Broken, whose name works here on many levels. Overman nearly a hundred now, mourns his nearest peer, stuck in a loveless relationship while maintaining a society he ultimately doesn’t believe in. The Covenant of YHWH is broken through the genocide of His people. Finally, and most obviously, Overman’s description of a house parallels Lord Broken and matches his current and future predicament, the death of Overgirl and the bodies of the new Reichsman at his feet.
If, in his myriad of meaning and reading, Morrison meant for the Gentry to represent on some level the idea of gentrification, then no ethos embodied those ideas more negatively than the geopolitik of Hitler’s National Socialism, particularly when taken to the conclusions that define the world as illustrated in Mastermen. Are these conclusions Overman was party to? Despite his dismay at the horror upon on his return? His revulsion did not stop another sixty years of oppression and skewed ideals. Again our sympathy for Overman is questioned.
The scene with Earth X’s Justice League, the New Reichsmen, is a particularly interesting one. Morrison, blends DC’s pantheon with the extreme eccentricities of the Nazi worldview, Leatherwing, now Enemy Ace’s remorselessly entitled grandchild and J’onn Jonnz appearing like a thuggish brownshirt. Underwaterman reveals that the eccentric, esoteric notions of the S.S. were the only thing that averted his kingdom’s destruction, only for Leatherwing to admonish him for cowardice that cost German lives.
I realize that I am meant to be discussing Mastermen, but I’d like to briefly talk about Thunderworld. While its triumph of good over evil may not have altered the narrative of the Multiversity event by serving as a template, it certainly did, in retrospect, provide us with some rather insidious antagonists for the Multiversity Guidebook and now Mastermen. The Sivana’s of the Multiverse, appear now like a group of transdimensional arms dealers and their political cronies.
That is not to say that the comic is composed entirely of dry and humorless insight and commentary. From the outset, the book is seasoned with a slightly pompous camp laudingly typical of a British sitcom like ‘Allo ‘Allo. The composition of Jim Lee’s art, brought to the fore by an extensive team of inlets and colourists, perfectly encapsulates the fascinatingly flawless, yet dangerously alluring aesthetics of the Third Reich. Even the outcast and unfit who huddle around Uncle Sam appear with an almost otherworldly beauty.
Mastermen was undoubtedly one of the issues I was most looking forward to and, though it surprising and challenging, it did not disappoint. If anything, I found myself disappointed by the backlash of the fans initially. Morrison is not afraid to utilize the 20th Century’s most reviled villains, our strange obsession with them, to both challenge and entertain in equal measure. As I hope you have learnt through reading these words Splendour Falls is no exception.