WE'RE NOW COMING IN FOR LANDING; PLEASE PUT YOUR HEAD FIRMLY BETWEEN YOUR LEGS AND KISS YOUR ASS GOODBYE
Oh well, ok, I liked this one.
In fact, here's three things I really liked, right off the top:
1. Aaaaaaaah, Batman came back to life in one issue! Haw haw haw!
2. I dunno if it was just sheer ridiculous luck or a product of working seriously down to the wire, but oh my gosh did that opening bit with America's Black President as Alternate Universe Superman come off as a nastly little riposte to the cynical Obama finale to Secret Invasion, particularly in that the beatific Wonder Horn seems awfully similar to a crucial item from writer Grant Morrison's prior extended Jack Kirby riff, Vimanarama: the Horn of Jabreel, a proudly heroic Christian-Islamic fusion instrument that bellows against the, shall we say, different religiopolitical subtext of the Marvel series. And instead of merely summoning the lightning of the angels, the Wonder Horn summons Captain Marvel & friends! Which is better!
3. At one point, toward the end of the issue, an elderly Monitor remarks that the story's gone out of control and ought to be stopped, only for another Monitor to bark: "Forgive Monitor Tahoteh his encroaching senility."
You know what? Shine on, Morrison. Don't ever change.
Also: yes, that's a climactic scene of Darkseid's grand defeat (the first of two, actually) being cut in half by a one-panel study of Aquaman and a dolphin saving our oceans. No, it never comes up again. That's just how we're gonna roll in this concluding issue, and I really do have to admit that's exactly what I was hoping for back in issue #5. Shouting, running, panels crashing into each other, jarring spandex juxtapositions, anti-chronology, plotting densified to the brink of opacity, multiple narrators positioned not only at different points on the timeline but in different universes altogether - hey, I asked for it!
Now, lest anybody take the wrong idea from this, let me make something fairly clear. Final Crisis is a deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply flawed work. This final issue's closest aesthetic relative is (fittingly) Morrison's similarly tense and conclusive Seven Soldiers #1, to which it cannot hold a candle, least of all because the Seven Soldiers project, uneven as it was, devoted good attention to building up some sharply detailed characters and a digressive but ultimately effective story, conductive to Morrison's oft-repeated themes.
Final Crisis, in contrast, has functioned primarily as oscillating series of thematic prompts that sort of look like a story when you stand back and watch them all swinging in a web of trails, but don't particularly connect as one when examined closer. Oh, there's beginnings and endings most of the time, sure -- I always understood what was going on, at least -- but remarkably little particular build. No, the build of the series has been mainly a product of holistic pacing and roiling mood, with the bleak infusion of Anti-Life (issues #1-3) giving way to the mad activity of the worsening collapse of reality under Darkseid (issues #4-7).
And even that has been considerably problematic, since the latter half of the series developed a habit of starting and stopping and diffusing its own pressure by lingering on the aforementioned insubstantial plot points, few of which provided much substance beyond typical Event comic action or thin affirmations of superheroic idealism succeeding in the face of wickedness; it was pointedly simplistic in the face of Morrison's seemingly rich concept of Anti-Life as kaleidoscopic despair. The visual element might have helped to convey some silent depth or shading, except production fell so wildly off schedule that it became quite enough for however many artists to keep things looking semi-consistent while maybe putting together the occasionally nice action page.
Granted, it's not that Seven Soldiers was bereft of those problems or anything - it had its share of fill-in artists and delays too, not to mention a publisher-mandated whittling-down of the plot at the end. But the earlier series was a suppler thing, bigger in scope and thicker in stuff and more ready to adapt. In the end, Final Crisis was more delicate, reliant on carefully-placed signals and the niceties of tone, despite being a much more 'important' project to the DCU (with much less space). Perhaps it just had more chances to go wrong, and took them.
(and another thing: why was Supergirl's cat peeing in the laundry? GOD these dangling plot threads!)
But this issue? Oh, it just struggles to roar through it all, and that's pretty good. Thank heavens Doug Mahnke has arrived as sole penciller, and one with a forceful enough style that he can withstand the attentions of seven inkers (including himself) and three colorists; there's a consistant wrinkled humanity to his characters, a unifying force that gels with Morrison's concerns (life, Anti-Life, human living) while adapting to whatever crazy shit happens to wander into any given panel. As such, he can express the schizophrenic variety of the DCU while loaning it a sense of shared space, like it's all somehow meant to be that way.
Plot? It's in there, but no longer in the manner of simple scene to scene progression; instead, the structure hones in on the returned Superman as its gaseous center, everything else orbiting around like glittering scraps of space garbage loosed in a void. It's no exaggeration to say that the story all but goes to pieces at the end -- in that the panels start breaking apart and drifting away, at one point -- or that the renewed status quo of the DCU is barely even touched upon. It's all right. It's better this way - only now does an entire issue truly feel like something grand is happening, something powerful enough that the comic can no longer adhere to simple chronology or unbroken scenes.
As a result, Morrison's most booming themes seem to register more clearly. Nearly all of the action is suddenly recontextualized as stories being told by various characters to other characters - and as we know, creativity is the stuff of Life! It's no longer so much 'will Hawkman survive' or 'can the Flashes divert the Omega Sanction' as some evidence of idealism or heroism defeating Anti-Life, but the act of reporting and preserving those events as the true stuff of enduring Life, rocketing stories out into the unknown so that they might land somewhere else (like the next-to-last page) and inspire anew through narratives. That's what Morrison's been doing, after all - if Final Crisis is a reversal of Seven Soldiers' telling of the renewal of superhero concepts, then it makes sense that the ultimate degrading of superheroes could be overcome by the nicest bits escaping for later inspiration.
Suddenly, all of the DCU seems made of creativity. Fire has been a big motif throughout the series -- symbol of development and heroism, charged with the mythic significance of mortals communicating with gods -- and here it becomes frankly supernatural as Superman powers his Big Wishing Machine with flame from Metron himself; it's the spark of inspiration, and allows for the total recreation of the universe (no bad concepts; just bad creators)! Song also emerges as especially vital; the Multiverse hums with the music of so many odd, diverse concepts, and it's no random happening that Superman finally vanquishes Darkseid by grasping the melody and singing the perfect little number and blowing him to shreds with the force of diversity; so much for the uniformity of Anti-Life!
Sure, I imagine this could have worked better if it'd all been built up with greater care. And let's be frank: judging from the distinctly off-panel nature of certain bits of action and the wholesale reversal of plot points that've otherwise been (clumsily) given some space earlier (the Black Gambit, I'm thinking), it's probably not out of line to suggest that this issue's state is inequal parts inspiration and desperation. I pity the poor souls who plan to pick this thing up in collected form - huge chunks of this issue will make little to no sense if you haven't read the Superman Beyond 3D tie-in, ringing themes or not. I thought Morrison was setting up a future storyline there (hell, maybe he was at some point), but it looks like another occasion for this one to get more overstuffed.
Yet even then, there's something.
Accident or frantic effort or whatever, the cacaphonic style of this issue does a disarming job of touching something deep and strange inside the Event comic. Stripped of detailed motivations, rammed together, the hundreds of superhero properties of the DCU -- armors and leotards and monsters and angels -- form a surreal picture of what a Crisis should mean in tossing all this clashy shit together. It's barking insanity, but the power of its odd being resonates strangely with Morrison's insistence on the joys of diversity of stories.
I wouldn't say it's something only an Event comic can do; Morrison has done DCU Big before, going back to JLA. But it seems... nice that he's taken the chance with such a hyped project to toss things together as superhero noise while affirming the delight of every last aspect. Poor framed Hal Jordan (once such an important plot point!) may spend much of the issue waving his arms around and screaming the Green Lantern Oath, but crashing into the action to accompany master storytellers Superman (having just wielded divine fire to revamp the universe) and Nix Uotan (whipping up new Ideas as the Multiverse's natural defense) while the Supermen of many worlds, a crack team of funny animals, a flock of angels, and The Forever People of the Fifth World crowd around in an effort to drive a stake through the heart of an extra-universal space vampire that's been possed by the incarnation of the corporeal capacity for corruption - damn it, that's something.
Is it fussy? Well, yeah - fuss is maybe all Final Crisis has going for it. But the fuss itself finally feels like something worthwhile, here at the end (beginning) of all things.
"But the fire burns forever."
Ha ha, it sure did consume this series, didn't it?
Man, it looked kinda lovely eating up the last of it.