Script: Grant Morrison
Art: JG Jones
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Published By: DC Comics
“Ticket to Blüdhaven”
The first issue of Grant Morrison and JG Jones’ Final Crisis was received by comics fans with perhaps the most mixed reviews of any book of the past few years. Most of Morrison’s work tends to be polarizing, however well-respected, but the extremely disorienting, abstract nature of Final Crisis seemed amplified for many readers when combined with a story about the primary DC pantheon. A strong segment of the readership seemed to expect a repeat of Morrison’s much more conventional JLA work, and instead they were confronted with a sprawling book whose shape still seemed to be in flux. Given that issue #2 retains this structure and increases the focus on the Justice League, it’s likely that the reaction will only become more divided.
The second issue retains the same breathless pace and dissonance of the first; there’s an abundance of things happening here, and the book’s sense of time continues to be uncertain. The narrative jumps abruptly from one emergency or plot point to the next, which gives everything a sense of simultaneity and surrealism that sits somewhere between nightmare and news report. In Final Crisis, events don’t lead inexorably into each other or move towards some predetermined catastrophe (in the manner of the other two Crisis books) – they’re merely symptoms of something that’s already happened, and in certain situations, something that’s happened and is still going to happen. Shilo Norman, the Mr. Miracle of Morrison’s Seven Soldiers, asserts that “there was a cosmic war…and the powers of evil won,” which is a strange enough starting point for a crossover miniseries, but the sense of time becomes even more complicated as the story moves on. In one of the big plot points of the issue, it turns out that, as luck would have it, one of Batman’s theories is right, and Orion was killed in the first issue by a bullet that traveled backwards in time. It’s a fantastic, wonderfully imaginative idea, and the fact that this issue ends with Flashes Wally West and Jay Garrick discovering the bullet’s path through time is like a subversion of the typical comic book cliffhanger ending.
Of course, given that this is Morrison, there are plenty of other plot points: Green Lantern John Stewart is viciously attacked and fellow Lantern Hal Jordan is blamed both for the ambush and the murder of Orion, a situation which also highlights the creepiness of the Alpha Lanterns, the investigative branch of the Lantern Corps; dissent grows between the supervillains as Lex Luthor attempts to organize a faction opposed to Libra’s ascent to power; Dan Turpin beats the holy hell out of Mad Hatter, stumbles across the new Apokolips breeding pits built in the wreckage of Blüdhaven, and is slowly consumed by a force taking over his mind that is likely Darkseid; Batman is captured by the Apokoliptians; and the Daily Planet is bombed. Probably the best of the subplots is the one that begins the book, as Morrison explores the superhero culture of Japan, and the growing gap between its dignified, responsible older heroes (represented by Rising Sun and full of oblique references to icons like Godzilla and Astro Boy), and the younger generation’s pop culture idols, who are enamored of Western heroes and have evocative, hilarious names like Most Excellent Superbat and Atomic Lantern Boy. This section also features the revival of an obscure Jack Kirby creation, Sonny Sumo, and his scenes in the book comprise one of the best character reintroductions in recent memory. Sumo is portrayed as a legendary fighter who even the young, irreverent heroes of Japan stand in awe of, and when Mr. Miracle approaches him to form a team in opposition to Darkseid’s forces, it becomes clear that what we’re really witnessing is the elevation of the character to Orion’s status as DC’s war god.
Any review of Final Crisis would be remiss in not mentioning the excellent artwork by JG Jones, which is not only superb on its own, but always works in perfect tandem with Morrison’s script. Witness moments like Turpin’s brutal beatdown of the Mad Hatter, in which Jones never shows the entirety of Turpin’s face – it’s always obscured by shadow, shown in profile, blocked by a hand, or even shown in a fractured mirror, and it’s a great way to depict the onset of Darkseid’s evil in Turpin’s mind. His work shines in the Japanese sequence, with an intricate sense of detail in his crowd shots and some really stunning costume design on even background partyers, who sport trendy clubwear based on the outfits of Western superheroes. There’s an appealing flamboyance and superficiality to these scenes, thanks in part to Alex Sinclair’s beautifully gaudy color work here, a heavy contrast to the extremely muted, somber tones he uses in Turpin’s segments. This whole sequence is, of course, immediately offset by the monolithic image of Sonny Sumo, whose stoic, quietly tense appearance is announced by a subtle use of the famous Kirby dots, denoting the presence of the New Gods. The same use of off-kilter and rapidly varying angles of perception is still present, much like the first issue, and it still gives off a compelling sense of disorientation. Panels are densely packed, and compressed together just as tightly within each page – the effect is one of overwhelming movement and activity, and it’s not so much overbearing or fascistic as it’s tightly controlled chaos.
This may be a spoiler for some, but if you’ve seen the cover to the book, you already know the issue’s big event: Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash, is back, for some indeterminate amount of time. His appearance at the end of book, chasing the bullet that killed Orion and running from the Black Racer, the New Gods’ personification of Death, is a monumental image that’s probably too weird to be iconic for many readers. However, it connects nicely to Orion’s last moments – while Orion’s last cautionary line was “FIGHT,” Barry’s immediate warning is “RUN,” and the parallel between the two is a good clue into what Morrison is doing. In the midst of all the strangeness and dissonance of the book’s plot and structure, he’s still reaching towards the elemental underpinnings of the DC characters. Darkseid is absolute despair and evil; Orion is man’s will to resist corruption (a powerful connection to the Green Lanterns’ basis in willpower, underscored by Hal and John’s investigation of his death); Metron is pure knowledge, in all its neutrality, rebellion, and consequence; The Flash, particularly Barry Allen in his final race through the timestream, is an expression of man’s urgency in the face of his own mortality; and, as he was portrayed in Seven Soldiers, Mr. Miracle is freedom from tyranny and bondage. We’ve often seen writers interpret the trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, but Morrison is defining the archetypal concepts of DC’s supporting cast.
In an interview a few years ago, Alan Moore rejected the comic world’s praise of his famous Batman story The Killing Joke, essentially saying that, while the parallels brought up between Batman and The Joker are intriguing, it ultimately didn’t matter because no one on the planet knew anyone that was even slightly similar to Batman or The Joker. It’s an interesting self-criticism, and it probably holds more weight for a psychological tale like The Killing Joke than a grandiose epic like Final Crisis, but it still seemed disingenuous to me. Moore seemed to be dismissing the idea that his characters could be representative of larger concepts, especially when the main conceit of the book, the joke of the title, was an allegory in itself. Final Crisis is light on the kind of intricate characterization that Moore was reaching towards in that work, but it’s useful to be reminded of why these characters matter to us on a fundamental level. Morrison’s ambition to create the great DC epic is an attempt to draw these characters together into a coherent and complete mythology that resonates on a universal and subconscious level, and while his mindset might truthfully be too strange or abstract for Final Crisis to do that for all readers, it’s still a work full of profoundly interesting ideas and a better sense of what makes these characters meaningful than any book in recent memory.