DC’s Infinite Crises — Part Three!
My rollicking journey through several years-old DC Comics events continues! I’ve already written about Identity Crisis here and Infinite Crisis here, so now my attention turns to Grant Morrison’s 2008 mini-series Final Crisis.
Final Crisis — Vastly superior to 2005’s Infinite Crisis, Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis is a complex, layered, stupendously entertaining tale that also, sadly, collapses at the very end into an utter mess.
The first three issues are pretty much perfect. Nobody does mounting dread better than Grant Morrison, and the sense of real menace and danger for our heroes practically drips off of every page. It’s quite a feat to make the reader fear for any long-running comic book character (who you pretty much know will eventually be OK and return to the status quo), but somehow in much of Grant Morrison’s work I find an engaging edge of “I don’t know quite WHAT this crazy writer is going to do to any of these poor characters next!” Mr. Morrison also loves to incorporate Big Ideas into his super-hero work. I love that issue #1 opens in prehistoric times, as we see Anthro (the DC Universe’s “First Boy”) meeting Metron (of Jack Kirby’s New Gods, here serving as a Prometheus figure). It’s an indication that Mr. Morrison is setting out a more epic, universe-spanning tale than one might expect.
I love the use of Darkseid as the villain, and the terrible corruption and crumbling of tough-cop Dan Turpin is heartbreaking. (This is classic Grant Morrison — it’s difficult not to emotionally invest in the story when we see such horrible things happening to this good-guy character. Turpin’s fall is much more traumatic for me, as a reader, than the one-panel death of the Martian Manhunter, an event which I expected would be reversed before too long, as indeed it was.)
But what I particularly like about the early issues of Final Crisis is that, while they certainly encompass many characters in many locations and of many types: gods, super-heroes, and mortal men, the story is very focused (FAR more so than the rambling, wobbly Infinite Crisis). It’s a big story, but we follow the storie’s events through the eyes of a relatively small group of characters, and even when we cut away to new characters (like, say, the Flashes at the end of issue 2), it’s clear how those scenes are moving the main story forward. While the comic crosses over into other stories (I’m certain the Green Lantern issues published at the time give far more depth to the Hal Jordan-accused-of-murder storyline), we get enough in the Final Crisis issues themselves to be able to follow the story without feeling that we need to read lots of other cross-over issues.
Boy does that change, though, as Final Crisis progresses. Most notably, Superman completely drops out of the story — you have to read the two-issue Superman Beyond mini-series, as well as the five-issue Legion of 3 Worlds mini-series, to know what he gets up to. And the often-referred-to “war of the gods” that sets up the whole Final Crisis story, in which apparently Darkseid finally defeated all of the heroic New Gods of New Genesis, is never detailed. (After re-reading Final Crisis I went on-line, because I felt like I had missed a whole story setting up all of Darkseid’s actions in Final Crisis — but apparently the pre-Final Crisis New Gods stories in Countdown, Jim Starlin’s The Death of the New Gods, and Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers mini-series don’t really connect with the events referred to in Final Crisis. If that’s actually the case, that is really weird and a big disappointment.)
The early issues of Final Crisis are gorgeously illustrated by J. G. Jones. His artwork is extraordinary: rich with detail and characterization, Mr. Jones is able to illustrate hundreds of different characters and scores of different locales, brining equal conviction to everything. The man can apparently draw absolutely anything. It’s astounding. And his covers! Gorgeous portraits of the big DC heroes. Phenomenal stuff. Unfortunate, as with Infinite Crisis, the main artist was unable to keep up with the pace of the series’ publication. Starting with issue four, Mr. Jones had to be assisted by Carlos Pacheco (another wonderful artist), and the final issue was completely illustrated by Doug Mahnke. (Mr. Mahnke is also a terrific artist, but I hate the artistic shifts in tone, and wish somehow DC had been able to schedule the series in a way that J. G. Jones could have completed it.)
Things get shakier as the series progresses, but even reading issue six I was still engaged. (I LOVED, for instance, the two-page spread at the end of Superman’s return and his furious race across the city towards Darkseid and Batman.)
But that last issue. Man. I’ve read it through many times over, each time hoping for some sort of revelation that will make me think “Wow! I was wrong! All of these big ideas come together to make sense! This is genius!” But no. It’s just an anticlimactic mess.
I love the ambition of the issue. I love Mr. Morrison’s attempt to mirror the slide of the DCU into a singularity, pulled down by Darkseid, in the story-telling style of the comic itself. I love all of the meta-textual references to the nature of comics and of story-telling. I love scenes like the one in which Lois Lane and co. launch the surviving memorabilia of the DC universe in a rocket like the one that carried baby Kal-El to Earth. I love all that stuff.
BUT. The main villain Darkseid is pushed aside in favor of an apparently even BIGGER villain who only appeared previously in another mini-series (Superman Beyond), who only appears in this series for a few pages, and who, frankly, I don’t understand and don’t find to be at all menacing. How is that an exciting climax to this universe-scale saga? And, after watching the DC Universe slowly get destroyed over the course of six issues of the Final Crisis series, in the final pages of the last issue everything is magically back to normal? Because Superman found a magic machine?
So much of the events of that last issue don’t make sense to me. What exactly happens to Darkseid when the Flashes run through him? What happened to the Green Lantern corps who had been trying to reach Earth for the past two issues? How did Wonder Woman return to normal? What happened to the DCU survivors who were miniaturized and put into a freezer?
And are we really supposed to care about a couple of near-omniscient Monitors who we only previously saw for a few pages in issue one? Am I supposed to believe that Final Crisis was really THEIR story?
Sigh. It’s a big let-down.
Still, I love the ambition of the series, and there’s so much that I loved about the earlier issues of the saga that I still feel the mini-series has a lot of merit. It’s a great story about the near-destruction of the DCU, “the day the bad guys won.” I just wish Mr. Morrison and his team had been able to stick the landing.
I did also read some of the spin-offs:
Final Crisis: Superman Beyond — Like Final Crisis itself, this two-issue Grant Morrison-written mini-series throws around a LOT of big ideas. It doesn’t really make a lick of sense, but I enjoy the ride. Doug Mahnke’s art is fantastic and the 3-D effects are fun.
Final Crisis: Submit — This one-shot was written by Grant Morrison and is set between issues 3 and 4 of the series. It proves very important to the denouement of the main Final Crisis story, which is a shame since this one-shot is so weak. The story is decent but the art is dreadful.
Batman: Last Rites — This two issue story-line was published in Batman #682 and 683, writen by Grant Morrison, and is apparently meant by Mr. Morrison to be read between issues 5 and 6 of Final Crisis. Poor art drags down a rather complex, fascinating tale that spans Batman’s entire crime-fighting career and that glides smoothly between Batman’s “real” history and a series of false memories implanted in his mind by Darkseid’s minions. It’s an engaging story but, like all of Mr. Morrison’s run on Batman, quite confusing. (I am weighing the idea of doing a big re-read of Mr. Morrison’s Batman run. If I do so, rest assured I’ll write about it here.)
Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds — I know very little about the complex history of the Legion of Super-Heroes, but I still loved this five-issue series. Written by Geoff Johns, the series picks up on his relaunching of the Legion during his run with Gary Frank on Action Comics. The series is also a sort-of sequel to Infinite Crisis, as it brings back Superboy: Prime as the main villain. The story is engaging, rich in DC history but accessible to a relative DC neophyte like myself. But the real draw is the gorgeous, stunning artwork by George Perez. The master has plenty of opportunities here to draw a BOAT-LOAD of different characters and he doesn’t disappoint. Each page is more beautiful than the next. Dynamite.
This DC re-reading project has been fun. I hope I haven’t bored you writing about five-year-old comics!