Final Crisis was a controversial book when it came out. It was DC’s big event that year, published to run against Marvel’s Secret Invasion. It sold worse than Secret Invasion, and it met much criticism: Morrison had lost it; no, DC had screwed him over; Morrison was playing with and breaking Jack Kirby’s toys; the book was hard to understand; no, if you don’t get it or don’t like it, you’re an idiot. I think the book suffers from a problem Morrison’s books often do, namely that it is hyper-compressed and indeed hard to follow. This may be the first time this problem surfaces for one of his traditional superhero books, which normally are enjoyable but rarely very ambitious (I’m thinking of his runs on Flash or JLA run here – but DC 1,000,000 is a notable exception). Final Crisis, though, is a Morrison superhero book that is extremely ambitious, and that makes it worth reading, despite everything.
I’m still finishing my Animal Man retrospective – the third part is nearly done, and the second is ongoing – but as I wrote and thought about that book, my mind kept turning to Final Crisis for reasons that will become clear. This book is dense enough and short enough that we’ll talk about it issue by issue.
I don’t compulsively follow the DC universe, and I’m not always sure what’s going on with the stray threads a new book must deal with: in Final Crisis 1, for example, Rene Montoya is the new Question. How? Why? I don’t really care, and I’m happy to take that in stride. More problematic is the background I did know coming into Final Crisis: I had heard that all of the New Gods were recently all killed off in a ridiculous book with a ridiculous twist written by Jim Starlin, and that some of the same ones had also recently been killed off in Countdown to Final Crisis. But then, some of the New Gods, including the ones who have died, reappear here in a different form – a form that is like their appearance in, of all things, Seven Soldiers.
What I’m saying is that many wires were crossed; there are several confusing points, and some of them seem strange or even sloppy. As it turns out, Morrison has since said that while Final Crisis had long been scripted before either book, Death of the New Gods and Countdown still managed to contradict or corrupt some plot points, and he did his best to deal with some problems and ignored others.
For my part, I would have been happy if he had ignored them all – especially given that so much of Morrison’s work, including Final Crisis itself, is about the dangers of sacrificing our heroes and stories on the altar of continuity. But certainly I can see why readers were confused by this book. It certainly doesn’t do a very good job in the beginning of defining itself and its pieces.
This first issue is a jumble of scenes, characters, and moves whose importance will only become clear much later (if at all?). Within the middle twenty pages of the first issue, we see the murder scene of the New God Orion; the guardians on Oa; a trash heap where Metron’s chair is found; a meeting of Libra’s team of supervillains; and a supervillains’ rights rally. Presumably all of these scenes and characters will eventually intersect, but, as is, all of this is irritating and difficult to follow.
No theme or thread binds it all together, and it all feels like preparation for what really matters. Certainly it isn’t affecting as a single issue, but even as the first story in a trade, it’s easy to skim through it until one gets to something that makes sense and explains these scattered pieces. Even now, having read the full story a few times, I still find this first issue a little opaque and obnoxious.
Beyond the problems with pacing and intelligibility, a few things are true duds, I think: this new master villain, Libra, is sort of a dud. The banter between Mirrormaster (surely a recurring favorite of Morrison’s – he appears in Flash, Animal Man, and probably in other Morrison books) and Dr. Light about getting pharmaceuticals is a little inane, but the allusions to Dr. Light’s past as a rapist are irritating. Surely we would be better off forgetting about that nadir in the history of comics.
But there is some good in here, and while I think this issue is kind of a jumble, book’s hook is an irresistible mystery: someone shot and killed Orion. How is that possible, and who dun it? (The mystery would be even better if, as Morrison mentions was his intent, this was the first time we had ever seen a dead New God.)
But that’s not the only mystery, and, really, it’s not even the most important. Later in the issue, Libra explains the basic premise for Final Crisis. He explains to the assembled supervillains, “Your enemies fight and win again and again because they truly believe their actions are in accordance with a higher moral order. But what happens in a world where good has lost its perpetual struggle against evil?” Somehow, evil has already won, and nobody realizes it yet.
In a connected mystery, the issue opens with Metron giving Anthro, a caveman, the gift of fire, and, with this gift, Anthro is able to drive away an evil, violent tribe led by Vandal Savage. This intersection between superheroes and mankind’s prehistory is interesting, and we’ll see more of it at the end of Final Crisis. The issue closes with Anthro having a vision while drawing symbols in the dirt: he sees Kamandi, a boy from the future, running at him, a ruined statue of liberty at Kamandi’s back – the future racing at the past, and Kamandi says: “Metron gave you a weapon against the gods! We need it now!”
As it turns out, Metron gave Anthro, and mankind, a gift beyond fire. We have had the weapons we need against the gods from our prehistory, but what are they, and why do we need them? What does it mean that the gods of evil have won? Much bigger mysteries than “who shot Orion?”
To close this discussion of the first issue, it’s hard not to note the obvious reference to Alan Moore’s famous and aborted idea for a big cross-over book that dealt with the gritty future of the DC universe, Twilight of the Superheroes.
The actual proposal, which includes a full synopsis of what the plot would have been, can be found on the internet pretty easily, though DC persistently tries to get the proposal removed from wherever it’s posted. The storyline is intriguing. It, too, relies in part on a who-dun-it, with the Question investigating a murder (the Question appears here, of course, but in a different capacity). It, too, told a story that connected a dark, future DC universe with the present. It, too, broaches an idea like Hypertime, which, while it is not mentioned by name in Final Crisis, seems to find expression in the Superman Beyond tie-in.
But these are superficial trivial connections called to mind largely because of Morrison’s reference, and I think that Morrison is inviting us to compare them. The two stories are nothing alike fundamentally. Twilight was about a future where some of our greatest heroes – Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel (!) – have become corrupted and debased and now threaten to end history. Final Crisis is about how those heroes are the best in us, how they help us resist the anti-life, how they preserve and perpetuate history and story. Alan Moore wanted to write an end point for the DC Universe. It would have been a great story, probably better plotted and more intelligible than this one. But for all of the flaws I see in Final Crisis, I doubt it ever would have been “better” and I suspect I wouldn’t have enjoyed it more. I just can’t resist the conclusion to Final Crisis, the lesson it tries to teach about comics and life – the ultimate wish for “to be continued” and a happy ending.