Further thoughts on Final Crisis from the Collected Editions blog

Thursday, August 06, 2009

[Contains spoilers for Final Crisis]

Being in addition to my official review of Final Crisis, some looser, free-floating thoughts on the book:

It took me about a week to read Final Crisis. Lately I've been annoyed at how quickly I can read some trade paperbacks, often an evening, which I chalk up not to the speed of my reading but the thinness of the trades. I blanched at the cost of this hardcover, higher than most, but I feel I received my money's worth in time spent reading.

That Final Crisis took me longer to read I credit both to the amount collected, ten issues, but also to the complexity of the story. Ultimately I enjoyed the story, and managed to glean some meaning from it beyond the superheroic plot, but certainly this was one of the most complicated comics books I've read in a while. Grant Morrison mentioned in a Newsarama interview that he wanted to "leave our boring ... connective tissue" in the story, but it often seemed the story became the most sparse at the complex moments it needed most detail -- the end of Superman Beyond, for instance, or the last chapter of the book.

I debated (and ultimately omitted) a paragraph in my formal review of Final Crisis that considered whether the comic was subjectively "appropriately complex," or too complicated. Oftentimes a comic book's complexity is considered commensurate with its value -- comics have been for so long considered the playthings of children that for a comic book to "talk up," even over the head of its audience, is a sign of worthiness. In Final Crisis, I vacillated between admiring Morrison's genius and suspecting the book was a collection of overblown nonsense. Are we so desperate to say "look how smart comics are" that we'll trumpet anything that uses big words, even if the joke's actually on us?

I've read Morrison's work long enough to know he's got something here, of course. But I wouldn't hand Final Crisis to a new comics reader. Though not as steeped in DC Comics lore as its immediate predecessor, Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis demands so much of the reader's understanding (rightly or wrongly) of the interaction between comic book words and pictures that a new reader would be lost. When a comic isn't accessible to new readers, I feel it's not "supporting the cause," if you will -- but don't comics readers deserve once in awhile a book that rewards dedication? There's "hard novels" and "easy novels"; why not the same for comics, even DC comics?

It's this uncertain space that Final Crisis occupies. I want to recommend it wholeheartedly, even feel that I should, but a part of me wasn't completely sold. (I feel guilty even as I write this.)

The packaging of Final Crisis certainly presents itself as not quite superheroics as usual. Compared to the wildly colorful Infinite Crisis hardcover jacket and the equally colorful Infinite Crisis printed case, Final Crisis is very stately -- a moody JG Jones image on the front jacket, a couple small faces on the back, and a paper case with bright red stamping. I'll be curious to see the inevitable Blackest Night hardcover collection -- will its case, too, suggest "I'm a book, not just a comics crossover," or back to business as usual?

DC's made a controversial decision to put a great big spoiler on the front cover of this book. In my opinion, it's to tie the book that much closer to Morrison's Batman RIP without actually saying so, but certainly it greatly separates the reading experience of those who read this in monthlies from those who read this in the trade. In the Internet age, I knew what was coming, but I wonder if anyone avoided spoilers all along just to get to the front jacket and groan. As it is, Batman's unfortunate incident isn't really the penultimate rising action of the book anyway; that comes in a rather unlikely fight between Supergirl and Mary Marvel, and Kalibak and Tawky Tawny (which works, amazingly enough).

Indeed the whole of the Final Crisis collection has a sort of uneven tempo -- Final Crisis #1-3 are sort of traditional superheroics, then WHAM! Superman Beyond blasts cosmic hyper-realism all over the page, then WHAM AGAIN! Final Crisis: Submit is a gritty tale of social politics, before rejoining a more natural flow from superheroics to cosmic action. Morrison writes each of these genres well, but there's a scattershot feel to the first six issues that, again, I'm not sure a new comics reader would know how to handle.

Infinite Crisis had ground-breaking moments, as did Green Lantern: Rebirth, but I believe I can point to them on my shelf and say "there, comics." Not entirely so with Final Crisis; I find myself looking slightly askance at the book, not unlike with Identity Crisis (though even that I'm more sure where it fits in the canon than Final Crisis). "I liked Final Crisis," I say, with a pause ... but then again?
Get the Collected Editions scoop before anyone else -- on Facebook!


  1. Apart from my many mixed feelings about FC -- I really liked it, although I think that it has a number of quite significant failings -- I think the decision not to include "Last Rites" aka "What the Butler Did"/"What the Butler Saw" here and instead in the Batman RIP collection is the dumbest move DC's collections department has made recently. It obliterates the emotional core of FC -- watching Batman relive his entire continuity, musing "Why do I feel like a book that's being read?" and having Alfred eulogize his late master is one of the most heart-rending things I've ever read. And it removed the emotional punch of Batman's death here. There was a nice symmetry to there being 2 Batman issues and 2 Superman issues in the main story.

    Also, Grant Morrison has wisely set up his Batman run so that you can only read his trades and just assume that Batman died in the helicopter crash. Nowhere in his run has or will Darkseid ever be mentioned, so that readers wouldn't have to read Final Crisis if they didn't want to. Except now that's ruined because of the FC tie-ins' inclusion in the RIP trade. Boo.

  2. I was baffled about how it connected to the rest of RIP and the helicopter crash when I read the HC. Of course, it wasn't at all, though I could assume Last Rites took place afterwards (at least I figured out that it was a Final Crisis story) but it's a bit jarring, especially considering it's the end of that long run that began with Batman & Son.

    I'm a little clearer on it now, and honestly Last Rites is such a great story that I'm glad it was in the RIP trade rather than not. But the marketing and connection between these books was pretty inconsistent and unclear, compared to what DC did with Infinite Crisis and its various minis (as well as the Marvel's blockbuster events of the past few years).

  3. It may have been better to include Last Rites in the Final Crisis hardcover, though I'm not sure if there isn't already an emotional punch regarding Batman's death, what with a high-profile movie and all. (Ten, twenty years down the line, on the other hand...) But remember that the decision to include Superman Beyond was made at pretty much the last minute. The hardcover of RIP may have already been out, or close to being out when they changed their minds about the FC book.

    Ditto with the hesitance to recommend Final Crisis. I mean, I love, LOVE this book, but at the same time a part of me is aware that the book just isn't for everyone.

    How do you feel about the decision not to include 3D glasses? I'm told that they add a hell of a lot to the reading experience and even the plot. (Especially when an upgraded Superman reaches out to the reader, something that can be overlooked without the 3D effects.)

  4. Batman: Last Rites in the Final Crisis hardcover itself -- I'll have to think about that. As it is, the collection reads rather crookedly with the Superman Beyond and Submit digressions -- necessary, but Final Crisis itself seems to go "on pause." Maybe this should have been a ten issue, twice monthly miniseries with the various offshoots blended better into the main story.

    Which is to say, I totally see where/why/how Batman: Last Rites would fit in the hardcover, but I'd worry it would make the hardcover clunkier than it already is. At the same time, I totally see Nhexima's point that the Batman RIP collection ought have ended with the helicopter, so a casual fan could pick up right after with Batman & Robin.

    *** SPOILER ALERT ***

    Of course, self-same fan who only read Batman RIP and not Final Crisis will be completely lost in terms of what being a caveman has to do with Batman's eventual return, and including Last Rites or removing it makes no difference, they have to have read Final Crisis. Ultimately, I'm not sure you can fully enjoy Morrison's Batman run without Final Crisis.

    As to the 3-D glasses, I'm glad they weren't included; the insert makes the pages of my Superman: Last Son open funny. I'd rather see DC shrink-wrap the glasses in with the collection than have a cardboard insert. And Superman Beyond was, in my opinion, tough enough to read as it was, without 3-D effects, but I grant it likely looked cool.

    (... Though, I have to say I hope Final Crisis is Grant Morrison's last foray into this particular type of meta-fiction. Superman reached out to the audience in Superman Beyond, Zatanna reached out to the audience in Seven Soldiers; we had a metal- plated Superman in Superman Beyond, we had a metal-plated Superman in DC One Million. I feel there's a certain message I've come to expect at this point from Grant Morrison's work, and I'd be interested to hear what else he might have to say.)

  5. Hi guys, this may not be directly related to Final Crisis, but more to Batman and the issues since. I collect trades/HCs, but noticed that after RIP (which ended on #683), the next collection is whatever happpened to the caped crusader which is #686.. so are DC going to collect #684 and #685?! Seems they did the same with detective comics, e.g. #851 and #852 are missed out of any collection. Seeing as both sets are actually linked, i hope they collect them, but DC sure make reading difficult for those who wait for trades of their comics... its a bit of a mess and means you either miss issues or have to wait years if you want to read things in order!!

  6. I didn't enjoy Final Crisis at all. While I am a comic reader, I am not one that follows DC closely and usually only read the TPBs that the library has available for them. Final Crisis was complicated for the sake of being complicated. I didn't like it. My review is here: SciFi Media-Final Crisis