Extravagant Dissolve

Final Crisis #5 (of 7)

My god, Final Crisis is falling apart right before our eyes!

What? No, I mean the cover. The logo breaking apart and drifting away - I like that. Sure, I like it a lot better on the painted cover, where the Crisis seems especially fragile against Wonder Woman's heroic pose (and that's pretty much all her heroic action for this issue), even though issue #4 seemed more like Darkseid shaking the comic itself with his fists. I suspect it's really supposed to convey a general sense of 'things falling apart,' which it does quite succinctly, even as the rest of this issue does it over and over again, neatly facilitated by no less than four credited artists - curiously, despite his full-blown 'artist' credit, Marco Rudy is omitted from the cover credits. Oh my god, maybe the creators themselves are going to pieces!!

You'd be forgiven for having thoughts like that about a lot of DC these days. Just to stay on the Grant Morrison beat, I'm sure by this late in the day you've read that the R.I.P. storyline in Batman has not only failed to 'end' in R.I.P. itself, but now appears liable to venture outside the Batman series itself to conclude in... Final Crisis #6! Which obviously doesn't have enough to do already! We're assured that this was the plan the whole time -- and, truth be told, it's supported by Morrison's oft-asserted concept of his own shared-universe superhero comics as a semi-private continuity of their own -- though it also does come off a bit like the time Rob Liefeld wrapped up that one Youngblood storyline in a nearby issue of Brigade, since he'd otherwise run out of options.

But you know, I kind of like guts behind this. It's like Morrison's backed himself deeper and deeper into a corner, and now suddenly -- in the friendly form of Dan Didio -- he's brushing off his jacket sleeves and facing his pursuers to declare that he, in fact, has trapped them. Woah, looks like Caped Crusader won't ever die! And sure, that doesn't make me like those recent Batman issues any more, but it's got a way of keeping the spark of hope alive, you know?

It helps that I enjoyed this issue of Final Crisis, maybe as much as I've enjoyed any issue of Final Crisis. I ought to mention that.

Certainly it's not perfect. The visuals are problematic, although not in the most obvious-seeming way; considering we've got a four-man job going on the drawings, there's actually a surprising cohesion to the basic look, maybe as a result of colorist Alex Sinclair layering on the painterly effects. But that kind of feeds into the real trouble - these pages are so dense with panels and words and info-stuffs, there's virtually no energy to the straight-on action parts. Everyone stands and poses like freshly-polished figurines, while the various narrative elements slow the eye to a crawl.

This issue's opening 'stop the trial!' rescue of Hal Jordan sequence has to be the most stately near-catastrophe of fisticuffs and cosmic gamesmanship I've ever seen in a comic, enough so that I wonder if everyone onboard is counting on such hyper-compression to force the Event into a contemplative mode. But then, why the action comics declarations like "You have 24 hours to save te universe, Hal Jordan"? It's mostly Morrison's tight coil of information that's doing it, I expect, and it's probably to the expanding art fleet's credit that coherency is preserved, if not energy.

And yet: a certain energy still erupts.

I know exactly when it happens too - over halfway through the issue, with Evil Mary Marvel literally thrusting her leather-clad crotch into Freddy Freeman's face, then Talky Tawny descending from the sky in a steam-powered jetpack, dressed in slacks and a checkered jacket while declaring things like "This is the quantum blunderbuss we confiscated from Professor Sivana's son," while an evil tiger-person in a Thundercats-style leotard waves a metal club and rides in on a giant mutant dog. This follows a ground war in the middle of a ruined city with human and animal superheroes and their capes and hoods and horns and tails and quivers of arrows riding motorcycles and jeeps while the sky fills with Supergirl and a Green Lantern and robots and things.

It's so goddamned po-faced, packed with miscellany and proudly clashing tones. At that moment, Talky Tawny's descent -- not keyed as a commentary on superhero decadence or the past saving the present or anything, but just existing as something that is -- the comic seemed to adopt a peculiar dream logic, or maybe a free-associative arrangement of otherwise discordant DCU elements, past and present, that tapped something surreal behind the histories and continuities involved. I think that's as good a way to go with an Event like this as any - hit hard on how the DCU shouldn't work, but must, and couple a dispassionately 'realistic' visual approach with catastrophic subject matter. Mix and serve.

From there on out, Morrison's rapidly intensifying crunch of information and characters starts making the book exciting in its rush forward. Ex-Monitor Nix Uotan is tossed in a room for being immune to Anti-Life, but his drawings of superhero characters remind us that even the worst revisions can be undone, and hope is possible! Two pages later a man solves a puzzle cube and villains' skin vaporizes!

Wait - now Libra is killing people and commenting on sexual violence toward superheroines. Lex Luthor is pissed! Ok, now we're in an evil throne room and dudes are spoiling the next issue of Batman and keeling over stone dead! That's what you get! Shit! Now Darkseid is God! Oh fuck! Frankenstein's quoting Milton! Wait! Now time is falling apart! The President of the United States has a gun! A hole in the sky at the hanging! Eyes in the night! Everyone on Earth is pumping their fists! Comics are suddenly flying at us and it's like an evil version of JLA: World War III transforming into Flex Mentallo and a man has a liquid television cloud for a helmet and LIGHTNING FASTENING HIS JACKET!!

Whew! That's the stuff right there! I mean, I'm probably setting myself up for a fall here, but now I hope this series continues to spasm inward and issue #6 is like some berserk DCU version of Poison River with scene transitions every panel, like random background characters from Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #136 bursting in screaming "THE METABONDS HAVE UNTETHERED" followed by Guy Gardner in a time vortex going "hhn" then a close-up of Batman's groin halfway across the globe followed by supervillain heads burning; it'll be so compressed there won't even be room for dialogue, just selected alphabetic characters, whisking us back to the primal force of phoneme like a word balloon Lettrism, at which point Kamandi initiates the chiselling phase of Darkseid's face.

Or it could just shudder and fall over. But if we're gonna have an overstuffed dark before the dawn, I appreciate it finally hitting a ridiculous superhero-level velocity with its clattering all-in-one-world mass, and I tip my hat toward Morrison's in-story distortion of space-time -- the logo losing its tangibility -- facilitating what has to be a necessary blast status of plot by now. Maybe there's even room for Batman to die (again)! It might not be clear, and it sure won't be smooth, but at least something will shake besides 2009's release schedule. And if it's desperation, it's a charming kind.