Thursday, 24 December 2015

Final Crisis Review (Grant Morrison, JG Jones)

Final Crisis is essentially a celebration of Jack Kirby’s contributions to the DCU couched in an end of the world “Crisis” event book between good (led by Superman) and evil, as Darkseid returns. His various minions are preparing Earth for his arrival in an attempt to curry his favour. A villain called Libra is trying to unite all the supervillains together against the superheroes, the Anti-Life equation is brainwashing everyone it comes across to Darkseid’s way of thinking, and the Green Lantern Corps has been infiltrated by a Darkseid spy. 

The summary above doesn’t really do justice to this book because so much more is going on and it involves practically everyone in the DCU. It also means that it’s kind of a mess and hard to understand completely! Final Crisis isn’t completely awful, there’s some good stuff in here too, but Grant Morrison’s book can be summed up as having big ideas and sub-par execution. 

Barry Allen’s back for no reason and he’s brought Death the Black Racer with him! I’m not much of a Flash fan so I’m not bothered with whether Barry’s the Flash or not - all those red guys seem interchangeable to me - but I love Death the Black Racer! When most people think of Death they think a skeleton in a black robe with a scythe and an hourglass; in the DCU, Death is a dude in black armour ON SKIS! Amazing. Jack Kirby was a mad genius. Other notable Kirby characters, besides the Black Racer and Darkseid, are Sonny Sumo, Kamandi, and Metron to name a few. 

The Flash storyline is ok – they’ve a clever plan to beat Darkseid that works – as is the Green Lantern’s. And while the various storylines can appear messy, they do hang together coherently – but just barely. Also, you don’t need to know every DC character or storyline to enjoy this – Final Crisis collects all the main issues and tie-ins for it to make sense as a single read. 

Grant Morrison rushes certain parts of the narrative because his imagination’s bigger than the allotted page count so we don’t find out how Mary Marvel and Wonder Woman turned evil or how Lois Lane was put in a coma. But rather than focus on these iconic female characters, Morrison chooses to write about the likes of Sonny Sumo and Tattoo Man instead! It’s not the right choice in my mind but then the focus seems to be on Kirby’s characters so Sonny Sumo it is. 

There’s a completely bonkers Superman story at the heart of Final Crisis. Switching to 4D perspective after being approached by an interdimensional being, Superman, along with various Multiversions of Superman, saves a few billion lives on a parallel world, goes to Limbo, discovers the Infinite Book (which contains every book ever and will ever be written), turns into a giant robot Superman, sees his grave and fights a giant evil space vampire called Mandrakk for the blood of the universe to save his wife – all in the space of a heartbeat. 

… - this is appropriate response to that storyline!

Yes, it is impossible to follow and I believe it’s meant to be that way. Hear me out: Morrison is maybe the only writer who understands Superman. People who don’t like Superman complain about how boring a character he is, punching the same baddies, rescuing cats from trees, uninteresting boy scout, etc. – and that is what Superman becomes in the hands of hack writers. We try to wrap our heads around the concept of Superman by making him a quicker, stronger version of ourselves as well as a generic vision of “good” – and he’s more than that; he’s a god. 

While some Superman stories will be understandable to us, shouldn’t some adventures he goes on be completely incomprehensible? Because his powers – the extent of them and as he’s written – are beyond our ken. How could a human understand A GOD? That’s why I really liked this storyline – it’s gibberish and, while I can summarise it, I can’t say I understood it, but I’m glad I didn’t because sometimes Superman SHOULD go on adventures nobody but him (and maybe not even him) could possibly get. Morrison is the ultimate Superman writer because he knows this and really pushes the character out there into unexplored realms. He’s the guy lifting up the surface of Superman and inviting the rest of us to see just what being Superman could be like – and the magnitude of potential there is staggering. That’s why Superman’s the greatest superhero. 

I also really enjoyed the two-issue Batman arc, The Butler Did It (which also appeared in Batman RIP). Morrison masterfully summarises Batman’s entire 75+ year history in two issues – absolutely stunning. On Batman though, his confrontation with Darkseid felt very shoe-horned in. There was no build-up and it feels like he and Darkseid just happen to face each other out of the blue. It definitely felt a little contrived to get to that scene on the cover. (For those interested in seeing what happens next to Bruce, read Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne.) 

The Monitor storyline is the only one that completely left me cold. I know they’re the key to all the Crisis events but I’ve never cared about any of that bunch. It’s pure psychedelic sci-fi weirdness and I couldn’t follow any of it. 

The final third of the book is where things descend into madness as hundreds of characters fight each other (including Tiger Men!), magic Rubik’s cubes that control the universe come into play, and there’s something with Metron’s chair and cavemen and, oh, I just didn’t care by the end, it all becomes far too much! Like many of Morrison’s stories, he botches the ending completely, falling back on the superhero trope of “big brainless fighting” as a substitute for any kind of satisfactory resolution. 

I definitely don’t think Final Crisis is unreadable crap but I don’t think it’s pure genius either. Nobody can fault Morrison for the epic scope of his stories, especially given the Kirby tribute angle – the guy was all about pure unbridled imagination in his comics - but this one unfortunately collapses under its own size. Morrison tries to cram it with too much stuff and it overwhelms the story. 

The villains especially are very underwritten and come off as one-dimensional when they needed to be more fleshed out as they play such a key role in the narrative. Also the underdevelopment of the characters means there’s no emotional weight to anything that’s happening. It’s easy to see why so many readers felt ambivalent about the whole thing as well as lost in trying to figure out what’s going on! 

The art is fine – clearly a lot of effort has gone into it – I’m just not much of a JG Jones or Doug Mahnke fan to say I loved the look of the comic. 

It’s certainly not the easiest read and it’s quite frustrating more often than not, but there’s enough good stuff in Final Crisis - the Batman material and one of the best Superman stories ever written - to make reading it worthwhile. Just remember to take regular breaks and keep the aspirin handy!

Final Crisis

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