Multiversity: Mastermen is set on a world that was created in stages. The Quality Comics characters that appeared as separate features during the Forties were put together on a team for the first time in JLA #107 in 1973. This story re-imagined the Freedom Fighters as the Resistance to a Nazi regime that had won World War Two on Earth X thanks to a mind-control machine. The next stop on the path to Mastermen is a panel in 52 #52 that shows the Freedom Fighters battling Nazi superheroes on Earth-10 (perhaps a conversion from the Roman numeral X). Since then, Grant Morrison has shown us more of Overman in Superman Beyond and Final Crisis, establishing his origin, the loss of his cousin, Overgirl, and that the man has a moral sense despite his use as the wonder weapon that gave Adolf Hitler control over the world.
Mastermen begins, unforgettably, with Adolf Hitler committing a necessary biological function. He is reading a comic book that appears to be akin to "What If Superman Ended the War?” which appeared in Look magazine in early 1940. A fictional version of World War Two entered Superman stories a couple of months later in Action Comics and soon, well before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Nazi threat became a staple of American comic books, including Captain America (homaged in Mastermen) and in Quality Comics, whose characters are here, as in JLA #107, the resistance to Nazi rule.
In Mastermen, Overman's troubled conscience drives him, at last, to action. He is converted to the rebel side and watches from afar as a tiny flash of light that we see on the Moon indicates that the Freedom Fighters are destroying a lunar base, with Overman's aid and approval.
The Multiversal aspect of the story that begins with Hitler's comic books continues with a Nazi Sivana (who is therefore good? evil?), in league with the resistance, helps Uncle Sam form the Freedom Fighters, whose members are survivors of groups that the Nazis had almost exterminated. From their base, adorned with symbols of things the Nazis hated, from a 48-star American flag, to jazz music, and Rosie the Riveter, they launched the attack that failed, tactically, but converted Overman to their side. The other Multiversal intrusion is Lord Broken, of the Gentry, infesting Overman's dreams. Here, as with Sivana, the inversion of good and evil makes a double negative into a positive, as Lord Broken's malevolence helps awaken Overman's goodness.
This issue is memorable for its gut-punch ending. The typical superhero comic shows a threat, and once it manifests, the heroes battle back to their inevitable victory. The violation of this pattern in Mastermen calls attention to how much we readers expect it. Here, the future of the story is told with exceeding brevity in narration from the Nazi Jimmy Olsen, with selections from a memoir that he wrote after the fact. In the story's main action, we see Overman permit the Freedom Fighters to launch a massive blow, devastating Earth-10's Metropolis. We know from the spare excerpts of Jürgen's memoir that what happens next is the end of the Nazi regime, with Overman's assistance, and that in time, Jürgen helps destroy Overman. But we see only the first part of this drama, with Overman kneeling, overcome with emotion, in the ruins of a devastated Metropolis. The war obviously follows, Overman and the Freedom Fighters end the Nazi rule, and Overman is somehow, eventually, destroyed.
For how little is shown, there is a complex and brilliant blend of influences and themes in those few pages. The flash of light seen on the Moon to indicate rebels overthrowing an evil regime was used by Morrison at the end of his Justice League story Rock of Ages, as Batman then tells Darkseid to look up so as to see the same thing. The one and only act that we see of the rebellion begins and ends with Overman at the opera, where Wagner's Götterdämmerung is being performed. This opera depicts the "Twilight of the Gods," and ends with the hall of the gods on fire. That parallels the way the Nazi Justice League, the New Reichsmen, is destroyed by the Human Bomb's attack, with superheroes standing in for gods, a theme important in Morrison's work. It also hearkens back to Alan Moore's unpublished, "Twilight of the Superheroes," which would have ended the timeline of DC's superheroes while making the same parallel. A possible cinematic inspiration for Uncle Sam's gigantic, looming apparition at the opera is Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, which begins the destruction of the Nazi leaders during the screening of a film in a theatre with all top Nazis in attendance. Then, as Overman brings the exploding Justice League satellite to Metropolis, the scene resembles the September 11 attacks, with a vehicle coming by surprise from clear skies to topple towers in America's preeminent city. After this, we don't need to see more.
The title, "Splendour Falls," describes the revolution that follows, but it also acknowledges that the aftermath of Nazi victory is splendour, a painful moral conundrum that Overman faces: When the victims have long since been killed, what form can justice take? However much Overman publicly regrets the Holocaust, what is to be done after it is utterly complete? Jürgen notes that the postwar Earth-10 is a virtual paradise. Even if the "Hitler era" was full of sin, is there anything just for the Aryan survivors to do but enjoy the results? The Freedom Fighters think so, and Overman, unhappy with his marriage to Earth-10's Lana Lang, unhappy with his victory, and at heart, deep down, always a good man, begins to atone for his sins. In some way that we don't see, this destroys him, and in our judgment, it profits the man that he loses the world but gains his soul.
This is the last of five "middle" issues of Multiversity that is dedicated to showing one alternate world full of superheroes facing the Gentry's attack. The Guidebook was something more intricate, and the upcoming Ultra Comics promises to be something different, leading into the finale. Multiversity has been a showcase of Morrison's wonderful ability to synthesize original concepts into wonderful new variants, from Earth-40's brain-transplanted version of Blockbuster to the intricate translation of Watchmen into a new story to all the many alternate Sivanas and superhero names translated into German-language equivalents like Underwaterman. Multiversity has been a wonderful success in terms of style. Even with two issues remaining, it begins to appear that when Multiversity ends, many readers will be left wishing it could continue.