Review: Final Crisis collected hardcover/paperback (DC Comic)

Monday, August 03, 2009

[Contains spoilers for Final Crisis.]

You almost destroyed the universe. Yes, you.

Well, maybe not you, and maybe not the universe. But Grant Morrison argues in Final Crisis that collectively, we all came pretty close to doing DC Comics irreparable harm.

Whether dense or confusing, repetitious or ground-breaking, one thing I'm sure about Morrison's Final Crisis (the seven issues of which are collected here along with Final Crisis: Superman Beyond and Final Crisis: Submit) is that it earns its place as the conclusion of DC Comics's "Crisis" trilogy. The 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths removed from continuity DC's Multiverse concept of multiple Earths, deemed too confusing by fans and creators, and introduced an era where comic book stories had to clearly fit into established continuity or bust. 2005's Infinite Crisis resurrected the Multiverse after twenty years, offering fifty-two worlds where nearly every DC Comics concept could peacefully coexist. As a coda, Final Crisis sends one clear (well, mostly clear) message: Don't mess with the Multiverse again.

Through the omnipresent Monitors of DC Comics mythology, Morrision directly implicates the reader in a failure of imagination. Morrison describes in Superman Beyond that the Monitors had no concept of story or imagination until they encountered the DC Universe (in the artwork, we see specifically Crisis on Infinite Earths). The power that imagination might have, Morrison writes, on the Monitors' "immense awareness without limits or definition" is so great that they built a statue of impenetrable metal around the concept such that story-telling ought not spread unchecked "like contagion." Morrison, who himself proceeded to ignore the 1985 "no more Multiverse" edict in his run on Animal Man, points his finger at the reader just as his fourth wall-breaking characters often do -- so afraid were we of the power of infinite possibility that we allowed a twenty-year walling off of DC Comics' Multiverse concept rather than let our imaginations run wild.

In Final Crisis this fear of imagination manifests itself in the vampire Monitor Mandrakk, and Mandrakk's defeat only comes when the characters allow themselves to imagine again. Captain Adam -- similar to Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan -- realizes the nature of the Multiverse isn't pejorative "dualities" but rather "symmetries" only once he "let[s] go of limits [and] expectations." The Monitor Nix Uotan forgets his Monitor powers, and Morrison delivers Uoton's reminder in the form of a mysterious hairy-armed creature (a monkey with a typewriter, possibly), who intones, "If your superheroes can't save you, maybe it's time to think of something that can. If it don't exist, think it up. Then make it real." That Morrison resurrects here the Flash Barry Allen, long considered a symbol of the wildly imaginative Silver Age of comics, personifies the statement.

Indeed Final Crisis presents what it preaches -- a miniseries with no lack of wild ideas, from vampire gods to tunnels through universes, miracle machines run on song and humanity protected from destruction in ice trays. That the term "Kirby-esque" (for legendary wild-idea-ed comics creator Jack Kirby) is applied to Final Crisis is no coincidence, since Morrison's story centers on and then builds from Kirby's creation of Darkseid and the Fourth World New Gods, OMAC, Kamandi, and others.

So omnipresent are Kirby's creations in DC Comics that they may very well (at no fault to Kirby) limit new writers' ability to conceive of new concepts -- that Morrison hides the entropic Darkseid within police officer Dan Turpin, long considered a stand-in for Kirby himself, is no coincidence. Morrison's Final Crisis not only challenges the limits of imagination, but also ends Kirby's Fourth World in favor of a new, modern Fifth, clearing the cobwebs both within and without. Unlike Crises before, Final Crisis does not retroactively fix DC Comics continuity; rather, it seems to celebrate that continuity as fine just the way it is, in all its limitlessness (witness the Multiuniversal gathering of Supermen in the end, and Morrison's ode to previously-erased Batman stories in his parallel tale, Batman RIP).

Though the storytelling within Final Crisis is perhaps at times unnecessarily complex, it is at its heart an ode to comic books. At the end of the story, a few Monitors still fear the Multiverse unchecked, but Uotan reminds them, "We almost destroyed this beautiful living thing in our midst. This Multiverse of life deserves its freedom from our interference." This is not nearly the first time Morrison has argued that the DC Comics universe has a life of its own, if nowhere else than in the collective minds of those who read it. Just before Superman faints from exhaustion after fighting the vampire Monitor, he scrawls on his tombstone "To Be Continued," the veritable life-blood of long-form sequential comic book storytelling (and the opposite, to be sure, of "The End").

We find that Darkseid's first weapon in subjugating humanity is the Internet, cell phones, and GPS systems. In the end, humanity can only communicate through newspapers. Lois Lane dispatches to the stars papers which tell of Batman's heroic battle against Darkseid -- in essence, a comic book. In Final Crisis, Morrison tells us, when all else fails, it's the comic books that survive.

[Contains full covers and variant covers, introduction by Jay Babcock, brief sketchbook section]

Join us Thursday for some additional thoughts on Final Crisis, including the trade dress, package presentation, and a broader perspective on the series.
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8 comments:

  1. Brilliant review. I wish there was more of such insightful criticism of Final Crisis by the time the individual issues were still coming out, but I guess most people can only enjoy stories on one level (the basic plot) and don't care about reflecting on the themes Morrison explores. Even some critics I respect were quick to dismiss it as gibberish.

    The fact that you got to read it all in one sitting (including the indispensable Superman Beyond), in the order it was meant to be read, must have made a big difference, too.

    I don't know if you'll write about it in your next column, but I wonder what you thought about the artwork. I think JG Jones did some excellent work, especailly in the layouts, although some of his action scenes were a bit confusing. Mahnke was great as usual, but the inking by committee really hurt his work on the final chapter. While I thought Pacheco's art was pretty good, I don't think his style really fit with what Jones and Mahnke were doing, and Rudy and Clark were merely adequate.

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  2. Honestly, that's the best critique of Final Crisis I've read.

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  3. Great review.

    I think Morrison is great, but sometimes what he does is way too crazy.

    I don´t question Morrison´s inteligence or talent. But Marvel has done a better work with Brubaker in Captain America, Millar in Civil War or Bendis in Secret Invasion.

    And I´m a DC guy...

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  4. Great review.
    I wish I had read Final Crisis the first time in trade. It would've stopped me from worrying about rewrites (seriously, check the original issue solicitations - very different) and other stories about Morrison and Mahnke and Jones floating around at the time.

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  5. CE might touch on this in his follow-up review, but I can't imagine reading FC and its associated tie-ins on the schedule it came out in. Plus FC #7 would make ZERO sense if you never read Superman Beyond; DC made the right call in including those bits.

    Also, am I the only one who got a genuine sense of dread out of Final Crisis? I mean, usually you're thinking, "No way X or Y dies", or "Of course the good guys are gonna win." But there's a good chunk of the book that's pretty bleak, at least by mainstream comics standards.

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  6. I watched the iFanboy video podcast about Final Crisis, and I was struck when they talked about how haphazardly the issues were released as opposed to their reading order. It's no wonder that no one could understand this book when Superman Beyond #2 came out after Final Crisis #7. Indeed there's no way DC could have released this trade without Superman Beyond and Submit sandwiched in the middle -- it was hardly an easy reading experience with those books, but it would have been impossible without them.

    I didn't mind the chances in artwork so much (though I did find some of the action confusing). As compared to the Infinite Crisis collection, where extra pages in the same scene were drawn by artists whose styles looked nothing alike, it didn't bother me that Final Crisis changed artists because different artists drew different scenes -- the art changes were delineated, if you will. And I found that Mahnke's pick-up seemed natural after his Superman Beyond pages. My two cents.

    (Now I have the iFanboy theme song stuck in my head.)

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  7. Superman Beyond 3D #2 came out on January 21, one week before Final Crisis #7's January 28 publication. It would have been better for SB3D to finish up sooner, but it wasn't as bad as all that.

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  8. Very interesting review - I'll be keeping a lot of these ideas and thoughts in mind when I read FC. I hope my lack of awareness of The Fourth World won't hinder my enjoyment too much, though I do know the main characters, I haven't read the original Kirby works. Glad to hear the issues included are in an intended reading order and fill in necessary plot missing from the main series.

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