January 28, 2009

Review: Final Crisis #7

Category: Reviews — By @ 7:19 pm

Final Crisis #7

This is it. The conclusion to Grant Morrison’s tour-de-force exploration — and dismantling — of the DC Universe. Plagued by delays, DC finally brought in a committee of artists to finish the whole thing just one month after it was originally intended to wrap up.

So how was it?

The word I’d actually go for is bittersweet.

Final Crisis is more ambitious and, in a way, more epic than Crisis on Infinite Earths, Zero Hour, or Infinite Crisis. They destroyed alternate universes, revised the current universe, or went back in time to adjust the beginning of the universe, but despite the fade-out pages in the middle of Zero Hour, none of those ever gave the impression that it was all over for the good guys, and they were left picking up the pieces.

In this issue we learn just how hard it is to kill a god. We learn what super-heroes do when they can’t save the world by fighting. Multiple plots by multiple characters come together, and we learn just why some characters are in the book in the first place.

The narrative structure has fragmented even further, with some events only getting a panel or two and maybe a caption, much of it told in flashback from the end of all things. I’ve been saying for several months that it’s a 12-issue story chopped down to 7 books, but now I’m beginning to think to really do justice to all the ideas presented, and all the plot threads, you’d have to expand it to at least 24 issues, possibly more.

There’s also a heavy meta-textual emphasis on story, which I suppose I should have expected after reading Superman: Beyond. Thinking about it, this goes back at least as far as Morrison’s run on Animal Man, in which the title character learned that he literally was a comic book character, with writers artists and editors dictating his life. But it also made some parts of the issue feel like I was reading Sandman (more about that later).

It’s only in these last two issues that I really felt like pieces of the story from tie-ins were missing. I didn’t have a problem with the bits of Batman’s story that were told only in “Last Rites,” or the story with Black Lightning and the Tattooed Man from “Submit.” But then I didn’t read either of those, and just took things in stride. I did read “Superman: Beyond,” and while I felt that the yellow submarine and the multiversal Superman mission would have worked fine without that story, the introduction and nature of Mandrakk the Dark Monitor still felt out of place, even after having read the side story. (Interesting: I just realized I’ve actually provided supporting evidence for my Final Crisis Theory of Impenetrability.)

Anyway, at this point I don’t think I can say anymore without revealing too much, so spoilers after the cut.

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SPOILERS!

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Killing Darkseid is not easy. It took Batman with an unobtanium bullet just to give him a mortal wound, and two Flashes to bring Death to him…but it still took him long enough to die that he took the rest of the world — or possibly the universe — with him.

A significant chunk of the story takes place after the end of the world. That’s what I find so ambitious about this compared to the other Crises: We watch the world disappear until there’s nothing left but the Watchtower, then nothing left but a barren plain, Metron’s Chair, and Superman.

I’ve been trying to place what it reminds me of. It’s something like the scenes at the end of time in Neil Gaiman’s original Books of Magic miniseries, but it’s also like the destruction of the Dreaming in Sandman: The Kindly Ones, or the end of Elric’s world in Stormbringer. Or the final scene of End of Evangelion. There’s just this overwhelming sense that it’s all over, we’ve lost, the world is gone, and there’s nothing left but trying to salvage a few tattered survivors. Though I think the feel of it is more like the final sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey after Dave goes into the monolith.

That part works. The few surviving heroes on the Watchtower, trying to save Earth’s survivors. Superman alone in the void. The arrival of an army of Supermen from 50 universes, Green Lanterns from dozens of worlds, and other heroes gathered together by the rogue Monitor Nix Uotan.

The big villain, Mandrakk the Dark Monitor, being a cosmic vampire who literally sucked the life out of the universe?

Not so much.

I also found myself unclear on whether it was only Earth and surrounding space that had been destroyed, sucked into the singularity and transformed into Darkseid, or whether it was supposed to be the entire universe. I initially got the impression that it was the whole universe, but on second read, the Green Lanterns still seemed to be outside looking in (and still seeing an after-image of Earth) while everything inside was emptiness. It certainly makes more sense that way, because there’s no indication that they put the rest of the universe’s population in shrunken cold storage to keep them alive through the event. And what about animals? This concept falls apart pretty quickly once you start thinking about it.

I liked some of the nods to past stories, like seeing the Zoo Crew returned to their original state after the awful please-tell-me-this-is-setup-for-some-payoff ending of Captain Carrot and the Final Ark, or the Sunshine Superman from Morrison’s Animal Man run. (Now that I think of it, Final Ark actually fed into Final Crisis much more cleanly than Countdown or Death of the New Gods.)

I was also glad to see the Flash family reunion on-panel. I was beginning to worry that Iris and Jai wouldn’t make it out of this miniseries.

Also: it’s good that they didn’t hit the reset button such that the event never happened. I hope the next few months of stories show a world rebuilding, and deal with ramifications of ordinary people who did and did not fall victim to the Anti-Life Equation. It doesn’t have to be the focus of every story, just a background detail, like the way Keystone City is always repaving its streets.

As for wiping out the Monitors, I can see why Morrison wanted to end the story with them vanishing. But at the same time, I kind of hoped they’d stick around: they were far more interesting in a few pages of Final Crisis #1 than they were in 52 weeks of Countdown to Final Crisis, and it would have been nice to leave them available for other writers. (Though as has been pointed out with other characters, there’s really nothing stopping anyone from bringing them back anyway.)

Overall, I’d say that Final Crisis was similar to Seven Soldiers in that it was a bold narrative experiment that almost worked.