Reviewer’s note: Final Crisis is DC Comic’s latest attempt at narrating a universe shaking, Ragnarok style, End of Days superhero tale, which is supposed to have major repercussions throughout its titles and universe. For those of you unfamiliar with DC, I have prepared a short, history of the DC Crises which have brought us to this point. This concise primer is to help give context to those who may be interested in the event, but are not familiar with the DCU’s history as a whole.
In 1985, the 60th anniversary of DC Comics, the company did something that was unprecedented and brand new at the time: as a company, it wiped the slate clean and started over with the Maxi-Series Crisis on Infinite Earths. This move wiped away over half a century of continuity, and simplified the cosmology of the universe from a multiverse of infinite possibilities and worlds, (one of which was supposedly our own) to one single universe. This opportunity was also used to bring many of its most powerful characters, most notoriously Superman, down to a more relatively realistic level.
Nine years later, in 1994, DC Published the now rarely mentioned Zero Hour: A Crisis in Time in response to continuity errors on part of the writers and editors errors since the previous event. This event was aimed mainly at fixing the timeline and the previously mentioned problems. The result was a sliding scale timeline for the appearance of the heroes so that it can always be noted that Superman, for example, first appeared in public ten years before hand and so on.
The third entry into the series is Infinite Crisis, published in 2005-2006, was an attempt by DC editorial to undo some of the limitations that had been placed on it and its writers by the first crisis. The net effect of this series was a return of the multiverse, albeit a decidedly abbreviated version limited to just 52 worlds, all with an Earth as the unifying factor.
Which brings us to Final Crisis, the latest chapter in the Crisis saga; it was advertised as ‘The Day Evil Won’ and alternately as “Heroes Die. Legends Live Forever.” This coming off the buzz of the phenomenal success of the year long weekly series Infinite Crisis spin-off 52 got fans buzzing. Lead writer of the series, Grant Morrison promised that his upcoming series would be a Lord of the Rings for the DCU; a statement that seemed to carry much hyperbole at the time as DC was back in its stride post-Infinite Crisis, DC with Morrison seemingly at the multiverses’ helm was in good hands, and his next entry in the Crisis series seemed to be the lighthouse after the long voyage on rough seas.
Final Crisis finally came. Its contents delivered gorgeous art, but very little in the way of story. This should have been a portent of things to come for this series, or the more truthful description of it: a series of series. Morrison has done this type of storytelling before, in his Seven Soldiers metaseries, this time he had help and it shows in a very unfortunate way.
To get the whole story of Final Crisis you cannot just read the main book proper, you have to read several other miniseries and one shots which are tied to the book. Almost all carry the Final Crisis branding on their covers, although there are two issues of Batman that tie in which do not. There is no official read order that I could find, but there are various clues strung throughout the main title that let the reader know where certain events take place and should be read. The titles branded as Final Crisis are listed below, and in no particular order:
• Final Crisis 1-7
• Final Crisis: Revelations 1-5
• Final Crisis: Requiem
• Final Crisis: Submit
• Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns
• Final Crisis: Resist
• Final Crisis: Rouges’ Revenge 1-3
• Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3-D 1-2
• Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds 1-5 (unfinished at the time of this review)
• Final Crisis: Secret Files
For those keeping score, that’s 27 issues of comic books to keep up with to have the entire story and some of these only have a tenuous connection to the main story at best or not even acknowledged by it at all! But wait! There’s more! There are two issues of Batman that happen in between issues of the main title that don’t carry Final Crisis branding. Confused yet? We haven’t even gotten to the storytelling yet.
Confusion abounds when you try to read all these series as a whole. The one thing that does seem to tie the majority of these series together is the villain Libra who is building an army of supervillians to spread the gospel of evil as he describes it. It’s Libra who’s the MacGuffin of all these separate series, small appearances just to let you know that, yes, this is a Final Crisis series. Therein lies the problem, at least half of these series have no business being part of Final Crisis; they’re tying up loose ends from other series and the addition Libra to these stories is transparent. I still can’t figure out where exactly Final Crisis: Revelations fits in, but I’m told that it’s really, really important despite that there is no evidence for this claim in the main title. The absolute worst of this is Rage of the Red Lanterns which justifies its branding by a ‘wink and a quick kiss’ blurb on the first page of it’s place in the continuity.
As a critic, I realize that there is a fine line between editorializing and reviewing, but it seems that Grant Morrison and the DC editorial staff are intentionally trying to make this tough to review as a whole series. They want we, the readers, to view this as a large story, a tapestry that we have to stand far back from to get the bigger picture, but they forget that the modern reader believes that the devil is in the details, which brings me to the flagship title of the series.
Final Crisis starts out as a coherent straight out superhero story: the investigation of a god’s death. From there it begins to devolve into something that is less than the sum of its parts. It is self referential, but it gives little or no context for those references. Readers from month to month have deal with characters dropping in and out of the series with little coherence. Even when a character does come back from a previous issues appearance, there is no traditional editor’s note to reference this. Readers also have to deal with the daunting task of trying to keep track of the events of the story, as they are not told in a linear fashion. The linear storyline has a 5000 year tradition, reading comics should be a joy, building a puzzle should be a joy; Morrison took those two ideas, melded them together and then burned a quarter of the puzzle pieces, asking the reader to put it all together. I have learned to hate Morrison in seven moths or less.
The unifying theme of all of DC Comic’s Crises is that of change. The first crisis changed everything that we had known for sixty years, Zero Hour altered and organized our perception of time in the DCU, Identity Crisis (which is part of the Crisis family in name only) changed the lives of the DC heroes, and Infinite Crisis brought back a version of the multiverse. A crisis in the DC universe means change. It’s been nearly a month since the final issue (Legion of Three Worlds is still behind with two issues left at the time of this writing) and nothing has changed in the DCU. The calamity that was shown and described in its pages mean so little to its heroes that they don’t even bother to mention it in their main titles, so little that it could have been any given Tuesday to them. This is THE major problem of the series.
Here is the second major problem, but it may be its saving grace: Morrison is quoted as saying that this was going to be his Lord of the Rings before this was even published. I would put an even loftier label it on with stronger literary credit to it and I will do it reluctantly: this is Morrison’s Ulysses. Just like James Joyce, this work is almost impenetrable to anyone other than Morrison himself. It’s hard to read, it’s even harder to comprehend. I hate it and I have to admit that it may be a masterpiece of the medium. Art is measured by the emotional response that the viewer gives to it; it disgusted me in it’s storytelling, it made me hate the fact that some of the references go back to the early days of his run on JLA nearly ten years ago, it disgusted me that it spit in the face of over one hundred years of sequential art storytelling, it made me feel like a latecomer for dropping comics in the early 90s and coming back in time for Infinite Crisis. It made me hate it in a special way that most comic book readers never experience. I felt like the guy moving into a clean apartment with a new roommate, who experienced him slip slowly from a good friend into incoherent substance abuse and eventually had to intervene, kicking him out. The point is, it made me feel, and there aren’t many superhero comics out there that do that anymore, and that is its saving grace.
[tags]comic books, literature, review[/tags]