Action Comics #15, by Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessy, and Mark Propst
As we near the end of Grant Morrison’s Action Comics, the shape– or should I say, color– of things is finally becoming clear. We’ve known about the 5th-Dimensional interference in Superman’s affairs for a few issues now, and I was guessing at it long before that. But with this issue, we get the whole story, and everything falls into place. Not to get all SPOILERY on you, but essentially, it all comes down to this guy…
If you haven’t already, take some time and read that page. As usual with Morrison’s Action Comics, there’s a lot to unpack there. And I’ll still be here when you’re done…
Okay, so at first, I thought Morrison had just said that Mister Mxyzptlk is God. Or at least, the god of Superman’s fictional universe. But on further reflection, I don’t think that’s right. He doesn’t say that Mxyzptlk created the universe, after all. Just that he kept it rolled up in his hat, like a kid with a funnybook. Which I think is probably a far better analogy, especially considering the number of worlds he visited: 333.
That’s half the Number of the Beast, of course, but it’s also the number of Choronzon, a demon of chaos invoked by occult worthies such as John Dee and Aleister Crowley. But where Crowley saw Choronzon as a destructive force (albeit a necessary and useful one), modern chaos magicians embrace him as a symbol of the joyous, chaotic power of creation. And who’s the leading chaos magician in funnybooks? Why, it’s Grant Morrison, of course!
So… The 5th-Dimensional imp in the orange suit and purple derby hat is the bringer of joyous chaos into the world. But if that’s the case… Who’s this asshole?
I’ve thought for a long time now that he was Mxyzptlk, but here’s my mistake: his colors are all wrong. He wears brown, you see, a grounded color if ever there was one. And “grounded” is not a term you’d ever apply to Mister Mxyzptlk. So who is he? He’s Vyndktvx, a rival imp whose magic (like Crowley’s) involves a lot of boring restrictions and formulae (the “numbers and winged consonants” of the above page).
So if Mxyzptlk is a colorful force for bizarre and joyous chaos in Superman’s life, Vyndktvx is a dull force of repressive mundanity. The Anti-Mxyzptlk, if you will. Or, to go back to my initial “God” idea… The Devil. So of course he’s the guy behind that grim and gritty ™ market-tested monster Superman we saw a few issues back (you know, when Morrison called his own publishers the devil), while Mxyzptlk is all about guys like Super Turtle…
(I’m sure all those “puffed-up champions” that Mrs. Nyxly names are taken from old Superman comics, but I’m especially pleased to see Vartox pop up here. A product of the 1970s, I’ve always thought of him as “Porn Star Superman” because I couldn’t remember his real name. But holy crap is he ever hysterical to look at.)
We also learn that these 5th-Dimensional interlopers have intersected with Superman’s life on all sorts of different time trajectories. So Mxyzptlk’s trickster fun hasn’t even happened yet as far as Superman is concerned. But Mrs. Nyxly (who used to be a 5th-Dimensional princess) came to Earth after Mxyzptlk apparently died, but before Superman was even born. And Vyndktvx, after being thwarted by Mxyzptlk in the 5th Dimension, has launched multiple simultaneous attacks on Superman’s entire pre-Mxyzptlk timeline, just because Supes was Mxy’s favorite.
So it’s been Vyndktvx’s influence that’s made the young Superman’s life as grounded as it is, while our glimpses of the Mxyzptlk-influenced future have been far wilder and more imaginative. They’ve even been rendered in brighter colors, and generally drawn by flashier artists. We’ve also seen Supes unconsciously trying to break free of Vyndktvx’s brown world with his multi-colored t-shirts and on-again off-again flirtations with wearing the Kryptonian
pervert suit armor.
It’s all a thinly-veiled commentary on super hero fiction, of course, with Morrison coming down solidly on the side of the wild creativity over grim mundanity. As he would. He takes it a step beyond mere aesthetic choices, however, with Mrs. Nyxly calling the coming Orange Years a triumph of good over evil. Which may be a bit much. It may also turn out to be a bit ironic, considering the directions that DC editorial seems determined to take the Superman books in after Morrison’s time with the character is done. So enjoy that glimpse of Super Turtle while you can. I doubt we’ll see his like again anytime soon.
Of course, I long ago decided that good comics were the only ones that counted as far as I’m concerned. So for me, Superman’s adventures go on hold after next month’s resolution to the Grant Morrison era of Action Comics, only to be resumed when something comes along that might live up to the glories promised by the magical imp princess. The rest of it might as well have happened to Vartox.