Review: Final Night trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Coming one year after Underworld Unleashed, the Final Night crossover takes a different tack in that for the most part there's no real villain here, only a natural disaster that threatens the imminent destruction of Earth. Final Night becomes two books: one, a pensive line-wide crossover where the DC characters fight battles more emotional than superheroic; and the other, a somewhat incongruous attempt at redeeming the much maligned Green Lantern Hal Jordan character. The latter, in our heyday of Green Lantern mania, ought be justification for the Final Night collection to still be print, but it's not.

Much like the way in which Final Night's Sun-Eater sucks the life from the sun only to cause it to explode, so too do these two threads of Final Night rather devour one another; there's an interesting impetus in Final Night, but I'm not sure it plays out to its potential.

Final Night -- by the then-Adventures of Superman team of Karl Kesel, Stuart Immonen, and Jose Marzan Jr. -- effectively carries the disaster movie milieu. A startling amount of the action takes place inside a STAR Labs conference room, but the effects of the sun having been eaten by (what else?) a Sun-Eater are described as so devastatingly bad (crops dying, all water freezing, and then, counter-intuitively, the sun blowing up), that the reader can't help but be gripped. Final Night is heavy on the tech-speak, and scientists Lex Luthor, Brainiac 5, Starman Theodore Knight, and others make an entertaining, thought-provoking team.

What really makes Final Night stand out for me, however, is the way in which it's actually a Legion of Super-Heroes story set in current continuity, unheard of at the time (but becoming more common now). There's a general suggestion in the book that the Sun-Eater's attack was in fact the "Great Disaster," which I found fascinating even if it's never resolved one way or the other. (Whereas "The Great Disaster" mainly relates to Jack Kirby's apocalyptic Kamandi series and its offshoots, it was sometimes trotted out back then to explain away why the Legion's recall of [often retconned] DC Comics continuity didn't always jibe.) While the Legion also crossed over with Underworld Unleashed (a post-Zero Hour attempt to make the Legion more relevant to the rest of the DC Universe), Final Night was a rare occasion to see the Legion on the very same page as the current crop of DC superheroes. Kesel takes a stab (given the involvement of a Sun-Eater) at retelling the classic "The Death of Ferro Lad," though given that of that action happens in the tie-in titles than in Final Night itself, I'd guess most Legion fans will find it pales in comparison to the original.

Unfortunately, even despite the Legion's involvement, and as pleased as I am to read a comic that's not just about white hats versus black hats, the lack of a villain in Final Night often causes the story to drag immensely. To wit, the entire second chapter basically shows the DC heroes battling minor weather effects and fighting street toughs, small page-filling battles that don't have much consequence. Kesel offers a subplot where the Ray and some other heroes bring heat to a village, but it's never clear what would happen to the village otherwise (as opposed to the rapidly freezing rest of the world); the story is a nice parallel to the Ray selling his soul to Neron in Underworld, but it's nowhere near as moving as, say, Power Girl discovering her Multiversal heritage in Infinite Crisis.

It's toward the very end that Final Night does an about-face and becomes a Green Lantern story, and it's for this reason that it's surprising that Final Night, maybe even more than Underworld Unleashed, isn't any longer in print (or maybe the idea is to sweep as much of Hal Jordan's time as Parallax under the rug as possible). Inasmuch as Jordan, as Green Lantern, failed to hold the 1990s DC Comics readers' attention, obviously he was enough of a draw as Parallax to warrant inclusion in both Zero Hour and Final Night; but it's quickly obvious in the story why that Hal Jordan gained a reputation as a "whiner" -- in comportment, he's nearly unrecognizable as the Hal Jordan that stars in Green Lantern today. The Final Night: Parallax special included (written by then-Green Lantern scribe Ron Marz) is a mixed bag of somewhat thoughtful conversations between Hal and former Lanterns Guy Gardner and John Stewart, and a rather generic good-bye scene with Carol Ferris; Hal's been offscreen so long here, and his role comes so much at the very end, that there isn't the emotion one finds later in Green Lantern: Rebirth. Hal's rather unspectacular defeat of the Sun-Eater (basically just sucking the thing into his fingers) only adds to the anti-climax.

Aside from Hal's death in this volume (he'd be back two years later in a time-travelling Green Lantern story, and then again in the Day of Judgement crossover) the overall impact of Final Night is considerably less than what we expect from modern crossovers. Notably, the crossover that followed Final Night, Genesis, also lacked a main villain (at least in the tie-in titles), with the heroes battling depressive moods and power loss; Genesis, however, lacked (to the extreme) the generally favorable critical reception that Final Night received -- that is, it's much harder to understand why Final Night isn't in print than why Genesis was never collected. DC crossovers would get better with DC One Million, but worse with Day of Judgment and Joker's Last Laugh before DC crossovers would cease altogether until Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis resurrected the genre. Final Night, in this view, represents some of the best of the DC crossovers of this era (but very far from the best crossover by current standards), and also in a way the beginning of the end of that era of crossovers as a whole.

[Contains covers, previously uncolored preview book]

If we think of the history of the DC Universe as indeed a history, and a reader might want to experience that history from beginning to end, it's frustrating that key parts -- crossovers, I think, more so than individual titles -- shouldn't be readily available. Especially since DC recently released collections of Millennium and Invasion, both of which pre-date Final Night, it seems even more counter-intuitive that Final Night and Underworld Unleashed shouldn't be available. In the end, there's something about Final Night that feels almost experimental, and it's an interesting experiment; ultimately I think most would hunt down the trade paperback more for the story's place in history than for the story itself, and it's puzzling that that's not possible. We'll talk about this more coming up.
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18 comments:

  1. I was out of comics by the time Final Night came out, but after getting back into them and reading GL: Rebirth, I had to go back and read Emerald Twilight where Hal becomes Parallax and Final Night where he "redeems" himself.

    So I agree 100% that something like Final Night should remain in print, if only because it's an important part of Hal's history.

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  2. Final Night is one of my favorite crossovers. It has its flaws, sure--most books do--but unlike most other crossovers, Final Night offered other books a chance to really examine their characters, without forcing them to fight a specific villain. They were thrown into major disasters, sure--and in some cases that did derail the ongoing plots--but it gave them a chance to shake things up. With the end of the world looming, startling confessions would come out, major alliances would change, and more.

    Ultimately, this sort of thing wouldn't work in today's books, with the always-traded environment-as a young reader, I was very confused as to why, in Superboy (the only book I read regularly at the time) the world was ending, and then next issue everything was solved. I had no idea about event minis. Despite that, I have yet to read a Final Night tie-in that didn't impress me. It's really the only DC crossover where I don't hesitate to buy a tie-in if I see it in the back-issue bins.

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  3. My recall on the individual Final Night tie-ins is shaky (though I do remember the issue of Superboy, with rather shaky art in my opinion by Ramon Bernado, shortly before Superboy would dissolve into a puddle of goo) -- what are some other highlight issues for you?

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  4. I wonder when DC will decide to retire the crossover again for a while. I think it's about time for it. Sure, War of the Supermen isn't really a huge linewide crossover, but the coming Flashpoint sounds like it might be. I think it just needs to be retired for a spell.

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  5. Except right now it's selling. Blackest Night sold gangbusters; DC's absolutely going to follow it up with another crossover. It's when you've got Genesis, Day of Judgment, and Joker's Last Laugh all in a row (with only DC One Million as a minor bright point) that crossovers fall away for a while.

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  6. I was pretty fond of that Superboy crossover, although the art on that run is definitely an acquired taste, yeah. Aquaman was a big one for me, and Supergirl. The Legion issue was a nice throwback to the Death of Ferro Lad, but it didn't have the emotional impact of the others.

    I'm having trouble remembering some of the others right now. I remember an issue in a Superman title where he suffered through his waning powers, risking his life and nearly even dying to save people, even with the world ending around him. It was a split narrative between that and the last days of Krypton. I thought that was a pretty solid tie-in, but I can't remember which of the Superman books it was in.

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  7. Really provocative post here. I'd heard of Final Night, but I didn't really know anything about it until I read the tie-in issue of The Power of Shazam! (which I hope is included in this TPB), and it really struck me as a kind of background for a lot of the DC heroes to really be heroic.

    Does that make sense?

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  8. Final Night is a fairly decent crossover, although as noted, hampered by the lack of a big bad at the end. But it is an important way-station in the life of Hal Jordan, so it's worth a read (I reread tonight).

    I don't think that Day of Judgment is collected in a TPB (I have the original issues, and prompted by this review, am in the middle of rereading them). I think it should be, even though its not a very good story.

    Interestingly, the writer of the Day of Judgment crossover was one Geoff Johns, in the early part of his career. You can see where some more of the hostile relationship between Hal and Bruce - both Final Night and Day Judgment have nice vignettes of Bruce being skeptical whenever Hal offers to help.

    DC One Million, by the way, is a favorite of mine, and worthy of a review, possibly in the context of a series of reviews of the early JLA trades by Grant Morrison. At some point I had every single tie-in issue of the series - if I remember correctly, some of them are worthy of a look.

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  9. I read Day of Judgment during my GL-catching-upping (and no, it hasn't been collected) and thought it was pretty terrible. I was surprised considering it was written by Geoff Johns, but, as mentioned, it was when he was just starting out.

    Regarding DC One Million, it seems to be getting a fair bit of love on here, but I didn't think much of it when I read it (again, just in the last few years). I read all the tie-ins "in order" and I think that really dragged the story out, as some of them were a big waste of time! It might read better if you stick to the "core" issues, but unfortunately I didn't find anything that said which issues were core and which were just fluff.

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  10. Yeah, the core issues for DC one million probably included anything written by Grant Morrison (especially including JLA One Million), and issues 1 million of Resurrection Man, Starman, and maybe Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter. I think the batman and superman stuff was very peripheral.

    I actually sold all my tie-in issues, and then later picked up the trade, which I think reads better since a lot of the peripheral stuff is out. I'll check and see what's in there - I know that JLA 1 Million is collected there, and think that all of Resurrection Man and parts of Starman got collected as well.

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  11. @Collected Editions: Yeah, it is indeed selling right now. I'm just worried about this basically burning the concept out. A crossover is not a bad thing - especially if it's quality - but DC's had a lot of events since Identity. Personally I think it's time to push back on the linewide ones.

    I don't kid myself for a second into thinking Marvel is doing it for the fans - if Seige was more of a blockbuster I highly doubt this would be happening - but I like the idea they have of doing small scale "crossovers" within families of titles. DC's done this in the past too, as I recall, and I think it would be something of a happy medium. I'm also glad that Marvels retiring the linewide for a while because most of their events this past decade (let's not even get into the 90's) have been rather terrible (Civil War) and/or hampered by shoddy execution (House of M, Secret Invasion).

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  12. I remember that issue of Superman, too, Shane -- maybe it was a Man of Steel? I'm glad you chimed in with some of your Final Night memories; it's true indeed that every comic is someone's favorite, and that different books have relevance for each of us.

    @Anonymous - Nope, no Power of Shazam in the TPB, just the main Final Night miniseries and a preview issue that DC gave away as a freebie.

    In light of Final Crisis, I'm long overdue to re-read DC One Million, which also, among other things, included a metallic Superman status. I don't necessarily remember being wowed by it -- except for the buried treasure/time travel bit at the end, which I loved. Hmm, maybe I can borrow that trade ...

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  13. The thing about DC One Million is that Grant Morrison alledgedly wrote plot outlines for every single tie-in, although he wasn't credited for it. That's why many key parts of the storyline happened outside of the core mini series, which led DC to include a lot of recap pages in the TPB.

    However, even with all of those recaps, there's still some key information missing in the TPB, like the conversation between Kyle Rayner and future J'onn J'onzz from Martian Manhunter #1,000,000. I hope someday DC will release a more comprehensive collection, like an omnibus or an absolute edition.

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  14. Here's a fun bit of trivia, if I remember it correctly: the original title of Final Night was Blackest Night. I don't know for sure, but I suspect it was changed so as not to tip people off to Hal/Parallax's role in the story.

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  15. Actually, it was originally called "Darkest Night". I think I still have the Wizard Magazine issue where it was first announced. You're probably right about the reason why DC changed the title, though.

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  16. Well, I remember the Batman tie in...it was called DARKEST NIGHT OF THE MAN BAT or something,written by DOUG MOENCH,art by KELLEY JONES.A 3 parter where Man Bat flees to the North Pole or something.nice one...made me feel that the Bat titles of that time always reflected a lot of what was going on in the DCU in general.Another crossover I remember was GREEN LANTERN...with Dr Light on the cover & the Superboy you mention.
    Even I needed this as I was a big fan of DAN JURGENS'ZERO HOUR,and somehow this worked it's way through a number of titles which I'd call GREEN LANTERN:PARALLAX.It started with EMERALD TWILIGHT/NEW DAWN (out of print,I don't have it either but have all in singles except 1 or 2),continued into ZERO HOUR(I have it in singles as well as TPB,tho the TPB contains 2 issues of SHOWCASE 94),then GREEN LANTERN #S 0,63,64(The Resurrection of Parallax),FINAL NIGHT(I don't have it in any format,desperately seeking a copy),GREEN LANTERN 81,& DAY OF JUDGEMENT(uncollected,unpossessed) finally ending with REBIRTH.All would make good material for a series of Parallax omnibuses.

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  17. Final Night could've been named Darkest Night or Blackest Night? Groovy; thanks Tom. Sounds like good fodder for Comic Book Legends Revealed.

    Indeed Aalok is thinking of Batman #536-538, "Darkest Night of the Man-Bat," which is a three-part Batman story where the first part is a Final Night tie-in. I imagine that's rare (a multi-part story that starts with a crossover tie-in).

    Showcase Presents Parallax ... granted I still believe they'd like to sweep the "gray hair Hal Jordan" era under the rug, but that's so nutty as to be kind of interesting ...

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