Rereading Final Crisis this time around has been a strange experience; I liked it so much the first two times I read it through that I had a hard time seeing much bad in it. But now, as I’m thinking about it issue by issue, there are problems that make it sometimes unpalatable: issues four and five in particular may simply not be very good, and I’ve been long complaining about the pacing and the cryptic storytelling. I still think the book is extraordinary, and whatever you think about the other issues, I think the last two prove it.
By issue six everything is starting to make pretty good sense – even the fractured storytelling. Spacetime has been fracturing and collapsing all along, compressing into a singularity with Darkseid at its center.
This includes the heroes and their stories, and the difficult and fractured story is a symptom of this. We also find now that the oft-repeated phrase we keep hearing – “All is one in Darkseid” – is even more literal than we thought. It’s not merely that Darkseid and anti-life have forced humanity into conforming, effacing all personality, hope, and love, or even that the full range of imagination and stories are forfeited for a single, “real,” brutal anti-story that has no room for heroes. Reality itself is collapsing and compressing into the point, a singularity that is Darkseid; there is nothing outside of it. No “being,” no matter, nothing. That’s what Darkseid and anti-life cause.
In the end it turns out that Final Crisis is the story of our heroes’ greatest moments amidst this collapse of storytelling and reality. 6 and, in particular, 7 aim to show a wide spectrum of heroes at their finest as they fight against Darkseid, anti-life, and the anti-story.
In issue 6, the Marvel family in particular is highlighted. Tawky Tawny faces down his grotesque double, Kalibak, who has inhabited a bioengineered humanoid tiger body.
Kalibak is what Tawny could be: wild, bloodthirsty, and cruel, instead of a kindly and ridiculous anthropomorphic tiger in a green striped blazer and red bow-tie. A gritty reboot might have made Tawny very much like Kalibak, highlighting the predatory and animalistic side of the character that has become so sublimated in the standard portrayal. But Tawny rises to the occasion and stands against his dark twin in one of the coolest panels in the miniseries:
And, afterwards, he isn’t corrupted or debased by his violence; on the contrary, his humor is as good as ever:
Captain Marvel Jr. and, of all people, Black Adam also stand together against a perversion of the Marvel family – the corrupted and depraved Mary Marvel. The Captain Marvel story arc here has reminded me of Moore’s run on Miracle Man from when Captain Marvel Jr. first appeared in issue 3:
This is, of course, a conflict Miracle Man’s alter ego, Micky Moran, faces, especially in Miracle Man 2. Miracle Man, like Captain Marvel Jr., is smarter, better, even loves more fully – so why ever be Micky Moran?
Captain Marvel Jr.’s conflict with Mary Marvel seems to parallel Miracle Man’s conflict at the end of Moore’s run on Miracle Man, when Miracle Man tries to stop Kid Miracle Man, who, like Mary Marvel, has become savage, corrupt, and genocidal. They end in nearly the same way – with Mary Marvel and Kid Miracle Man transformed into their human alter egos, cowering in Captain Marvel Jr.’s and Miracle Man’s arms, knowing they can never say their magic word again.
But there is a key difference, of course. Miracle Man does the cold and realist thing to end Kid Miracle Man’s threat forever, whereas Captain Marvel Jr. holds and comforts Mary Marvel; presumably, they’ll work it out together.
Now, these allusions to Moore’s work may not have been meant as directly as I draw them, but I have a hard time believing that Morrison could write a Captain Marvel story and not have Miracle Man – the greatest and most important Captain Marvel story ever told – in mind. At any rate, it’s clear that in this issue Tawky Tawny and Captain Marvel Jr. overcome evil parodies of themselves and do not emerge cold and debased, as, I think, Miracle Man does from his ordeal. And, if the Moore references are intended, it may be that Morrison uses them to dismiss or banish them; as if to say that that hard and brutal story has been told and done with, and now the characters are redeemed and can move on.
Meanwhile, even certain villains are redeemed. Lex Luthor and Dr. Sivanna, Captain Marvel’s archenemy, turn against Libra, Darkseid, and anti-life.
They aren’t crazy or nihilistic villains; they, like the heroes they oppose, actually want something and care about something. They have no interest in killing for the sake of killing or collapsing reality. They, too, are opposed to anti-life and ending storytelling forever, and they join with the heroes in standing against Darkseid.
And during these stories and threads, it becomes even more clear in issue 7 that the whole series really is about storytelling. Issue 7 is told through several different narrators, each telling their stories and giving their take on what happened and how heroism prevailed. Most of the story is narrated off panel by Lois Lane in captions as she produces the last issue of the Daily Planet and helps load a rocket to shoot into space with the symbols of our greatest heroes:
But that’s just one of the several narratives. To a group of gathered children and her cat, Supergirl explains what’s been happening. But Wonder Woman cuts in and tells her part of it!
The Question narrates her a portion the story:
Nix Uotan narrates the final part of the issue, his narration in black captions:
Even Darkseid gives his take on what’s happened right before he dies for the second to last time:
At the culmination of all of this storytelling is the heroes’ stand against Mandrakk, the story vampire. He, like Darkseid and anti-life, will end all stories forever. The full range storytelling possibilities oppose him. Among those possibilities are fifty different imaginings of Superman, but Nix even conjures up Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew are there as well. Stories and imagination can even embrace those ridiculous anthropomorphic animal superheroes, and they make their stand against evil too.
The Pax Dei are there; the Super Young Gang is there; finally, the Green Lanterns show up, too, and drive a stake through the story vampire’s heart.
Stories overcome the end of story; possibilities overcome the singularity. After this, Nix Uotan and the other monitors know what they must do: they have been too controlling of the multiverse; as one monitor puts it, their story has become toxic and out of control. To save the multiverse – to save storytelling and fiction – they must surrender to it and become a part of it, instead of living off of it as vampires like Mandrakk. This anxiety about the relationship between the creator/reader and the fictional constructs he interacts with has appeared in Morrison’s work since Animal Man; it appeared in Superman Beyond; and here it appears, too. As in Animal Man, there seems to be the suggestion here that we ought to resist hobbling our imagination and our characters, to avoid the inclination to make them utterly and completely like us, to resist prioritizing our “reality” at the expense of our imagination.
But while Final Crisis contains the last story, told on the cusp of the multiverse’s destruction and restoration, it also contains the first story – Anthro, his meeting with Metron, and his paintings on cave walls. As the series ends, we return to where we began, in man’s prehistory with Anthro. Now, he’s dying as an old man; he’s painting on the cave wall, thinking of stories, and he lies down to die happy. Batman, transported back in time by the Omega Sanction, comes across him and also begins drawing on the wall; he draws a bat, of course. Outside, in the background – so easy to miss! – is the rocket Lois Lane and friends had loaded up with the symbols of Earth’s heroes and shot into space near the beginning of issue 7.
Somehow, the rocket wound up back in time as the multiverse crumbled and was remade.
There, in the beginning, are the symbols of mankind’s greatest stories, including Superman’s cape and the Bat-signal. Man made them, but they helped make man too, and they are with mankind in its prehistory, the weapons against anti-life. And there, too, in prehistory is Batman himself, ready to face down evil, standing with us, forever.