Friday, February 6, 2009

The Hooplah Reviews "Final Crisis"

Right off the bat (not "write off the Bat"), this series succeeds beyond it's immediate "crisis" predecessor, Infinite Crisis, and in the fullness of time will stand as one of the most articulate and well-realized comic book stories about stories.

Don't believe me? Let's look at this a bit closer.

Grant Morrison has been chomping at the bit to write Jack Kirby's myths-made-flesh, the New Gods, since he started in on mainstream DC heroes. His JLA run heavily featured their involvement, not only as members but as threats to humanity, the cosmos, reality, etc. Theirs was a story of never-ending battle, cyclically ending in calamity. First World becomes Second becomes Third cracks into Fourth and dies to give birth to glorious Fifth.

But what's important is the story. It changes over time from that of gods clashing to man deciding its destiny. The Fifth Age, ushered in over the trying times of Final Crisis, is the age of Man. Self-determination, to borrow from Woodrow Wilson.

So does FC do all that? Does it move past the normal Event tag into some grander space?

On the whole, yes.

Without talking down to us, Morrison has used the medium of the comic to pull back the layers of our heroes and their narratives. Their tales and myths, if you will. Deconstruction in comics isn't new, and has been a trend for the last two decades, but at the core of Morrison's heroes isn't self-loathing, doubt or regret. It's hope, optimism, the relentless pursuit of Good against all odds.

In the back-and-forth Buck and I had on this, he told me, "I guess my only beef is that it almost reads like an Elseworlds, because it didn't seem to change a whole lot in the grand scheme of things."

To a large degree, he is right. These heroes and villains were there before and they will be after. The city of Bludhaven (destroyed in Infinite Crisis) is still a war zone, of sorts. The teams still exist, though they might have a different roster. The Daily Planet globe still stands. No major heroes died, though it looks like the Hawks are back on the cosmic wheel, waiting to spin back off, reincarnated into new bodies. Batman was zapped millennia into the past where he's leaving clues to his whereabouts (I see a mini coming up next year!). Superman lives. Wonder Woman is back to being a hero. Mary Marvel was forcibly changed back to normal, and therefore has the potential not to be evil. Mr. Tawny is still sipping tea.

I think the reason it didn't change anything - well, aside from the world now acknowledging the Multiverse - was that it was meant to reinforce what we already knew. These heroes never give up. It doesn't matter if they die - death won't keep them from at least trying. They are amazing forces for good, as I've said. Their "story" supersedes all others, all negative strains, all doomsday plots and schemes and devices.

That's what the two-issue tie-in Superman Beyond was about, to a large degree - the "good will always triumph" story dominating whatever evil is thrown at it. Likewise, the same with Final Crisis.

But there is change at the end of it.

Batman picked up a gun...and used it. Shouldn't that be some banner event? His demise was a sacrifice, but not an end. Still, he shot the Darkseid-possessed Dan Turpin. He didn't shoot to kill Turpin, but fatally wounded the essence of Darkseid.

The New Gods are back, as is the pre-Crisis Multiverse. In this, Morrison is (perhaps) saying there shouldn't be limits on these stories. Why say "one Earth," "52 parallel Earths," "x-dimensions of the Snowflake," etc.? The Power of Story (and the wild potential of comics) bursts from such constraints.

To be critical for a moment, Morrison did play this a little close to the crazy vest. Plotting it linearly for six issues (there's nothing awry with any of that structure; if you can't grasp it, go back to Archie), he diverges into the scattershot narratives upon narratives form that confused many in #7. Time has no meaning until it's all hashed out, the heroes have won and the rebuilding started. Unless you accept the conceit he laid out previously - time is collapsing in itself as result of Darkseid's fall/higher-dimensional death and has no meaning on Earth in the classic sense - the last issue is a confusing mix that cannot be followed, much less understood. Were I him, and aware as he is that not all comic book readers want to put in a great deal of effort for the big Event comics, I'd've made this slightly more coherent for the casual reader.

As it stands, that hurt the read-through only slightly. This is a story about ideas (and ideas about story); what impact does time really have on such things?

In a recent IGN interview, Morrison said, "This isn't arbitrary. This is the result of a lot of thought. You know I love to talk and theorize about comics and the creative process but I feel I'm close to over-explaining and justifying something that was really simple. It's about trying to create a feeling."

I agree with Morrison. We aren't dumb. He knows that. His talking about every little thing - satisfying the instant gratification desire that forces us in only a week to demand all answers after one quick reading - will ruin not only his creativity and faith in readers, but our faith in ourselves as creative participants in the vivid and continuous dream that is story.

Whether or not Final Crisis is a rewarding read depends on how you go into it. Scott McCloud talks about the iconic in comic books, how we see ourselves and larger ideas in the stories and line work. Morrison grasps this concept, and maybe overreached a little here and there. But taken as a whole, we've been given an amazing sequential art experience. It challenges us to keep up, promising all the knowledge we'll need. How many comics do that?

As an "Event" comic, it only partly succeeds. The casual reader can have a hard time, tie-ins were mismanaged (or mismarketed), the art and schedule proved problematic. The grander DC Universe is impacted, but in ways far more subtle than, say, giant crashed alien spaceships in NYC, heroes uncovered as alien invaders, "no more mutants" or even the disappearance of infinite earths.

But as a comic, as a story, it raises the bar and the imagination. I'll take that over splash-page battles and soap opera melodrama that masquerade as good writing.


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