I mentioned last time in discussing the first issue that I found the constant changes of scene, the barrage of characters, and the obvious, but incomprehensible, movements of pieces on the board obnoxious. It’s hard to get excited by or invested in so many disconnected plots. Final Crisis 2 suffers from some of the same problems – it is largely mysterious setup, a preparation that we know will matter and make sense someday, but for the moment, is hard to make much of. But this is less the case than it was in the first issue, and there’s even more to like here. The book is starting to become something good – something that I think by the end of the series is really good.
One of the best things about Morrison is that he is endlessly inventive. In some books, like this one, he manages to throw so many fascinating and titillating things at the reader that any one of them would be enough. But he is constantly turning from one thing to the next, always leaving me, at least, wanting more. This feature of his writing begins to be apparent here with the introduction of the Super Young Team, a troop of rich young adults with too much time on their hands, whose appearance and character is inspired both by heroes from manga and the JLA and who are desperate to collect “real” superheroes’ autographs. It’s high praise that in a book predicated on a series of mysteries – who shot Orion? How has Evil won? What is the gift that man has had from his prehistory that will conquer it? – I would be happy reading a full issue about the Super Young Team, so goofy but so charming.
At the same time, the other plots do begin to thicken: Batman, off panel, hypothesizes that the bullet that killed Orion might have been shot from the future. Here’s Jon Stewart excavating it:
I can’t tell you how much I love Morrison for not having him dig it up with a giant fist.
At the same time, we get hints that New Gods are coalescing on Earth – that evil, having destroyed the fourth world, is now settling on the fifth. Danny Turpin, while he has always been a hardass, becomes so violent with the Mad Hatter that he gets scared.
He’s becoming violent, deviant, and estranged – he’s becoming a vessel for Darkseid. The case he’s working, the evil he’s chasing, is himself. I like Morrison’s take on the New Gods, however strange it may be. The idea, and this is stated most clearly in Batman 702, of all places, is that they are something like platonic forms – we only see images and projections of them. Here, they are somehow projecting on to Danny Turpin and Kraken; elsewhere, like in Kirby’s books, or even in Seven Soldiers, Death of the New Gods, and Countdown, there were different projections, different understandings of them. There is no canonical, unmediated representation of them. They can only be accessed as image. Sometimes they seem to do or experience strange or contradictory things, and that’s because we’re seeing different projections or interpretations of them (sound familiar?).
And then, at the same time, we see the troubles of Nix Uoatan. I didn’t mention Nix last time. He was one of those pieces of back story to Final Crisis that I didn’t understand the significance of when I read it the first time. From what I gather, in Countdown the world he was trusted with monitoring was destroyed, and in the first issue, we see his punishment: to be deprived of his status as Monitor and instead to live the life of a lowly human with no memory of the multiverse or his former life. Instead, he lives as a lowly fast food worker, mocked by his coworkers, and in his spare time drawing pictures, trying to remember:
He has become estranged from Story and imagination, and he is reduced to reading the dictionary and searching for a magic word, a word he just knows will help him remember and overcome his alienation. This sequence may be funny but it is also sad, because if he could remember and knew anything about superheroes, he’d know that you’ll never find a magic word in the dictionary. They are usually nonsensical or coded words, words that only have significance to their speaker: Shazam! Kimota! Or, in the case of Nix, as we discover later on, his magic word is the name of his lover from that other life among the monitors, Weeja Dell. That’s the name that will let him reconnect to imagination and actually make sense of the world, that’s the name that will let him overcome his alienation. That’s the name that will let him overcome this blight that is his life, a blight that is actually pretty close to anti-life. But more on anti-life later.
One last thing I really like about this issue: two small panels that, believe it or not, are relevant to the story but are also charming as hell:
Now, they are relevant to the story because that’s the reason why, in the midst of this cosmic crisis, Clark still shows up to the office and is there to save Lois when one of Libra’s goons detonates a bomb in the Daily Planet’s building. But it also harkens back to those Silver Age stories, in which Superman is so anxious about preserving his job and secret identity that he goes to crazy lengths. It also recalls something Grant Morrison once said about Batman and Superman: Superman, by choice, is a blue collar worker who has a job he has to get to on time, a boss who will yell at him if he doesn’t, and a wife who expects him home for dinner. Batman is an aristocrat overlord and has no regard for the law, or convention, or petty things like jobs or wives; he is constantly at war, constantly trying to make the world a better place, constantly exposing himself to horror and trauma, and constantly overcoming it. That’s his superpower. But Batman’s tsking about Clark is so funny, so patronizing.
So everything in this book isn’t aces, but there is a lot that is very good. And while I’d have been happy if this whole issue was about the Super Young Team, I would loath to lost the last page, one of the coolest pages I’ve seen in a comic in a long time: the stunning re-appearance of Barry Allen, who is chasing through time the bullet that shot Orion, himself chased by Death. How did he wind up here? Could he have been running from Death for the last twenty-five years? We don’t know, and it doesn’t matter, his warning effaces all of that – “Run!”