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.