Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: J.G. Jones (#3 and 4), Carlos Pacheco & Jesus Merino (#4)
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Publisher: DC Comics
When Grant Morrison announced his intention to take a month off between Final Crisis issues three and four, he revealed that the time between the books would represent an actual gap in the story, in which the DC Universe has plunged directly into chaos and destruction. Being something of a fetishist for strange, fragmented and discontinuous ways of portraying time in narratives, I was immediately excited about the plan. The first two issues of Final Crisis, after all, were marked by an unorthodox sense of time, in which key events were only shown before and after they occurred, so this approach is certainly in line with the series’ aesthetic. The question is, is there a notable difference between the events of Final Crisis issues three and four, and is this difference shocking or meaningful enough to warrant this leap forward?
Let’s jump back for a minute and take a look at the events of Final Crisis #3. The buildup is much the same as it was in the first two issues, comprising an array of different events: SHADE agents come across the desiccant body of Darkseid’s former human host while the organization forcibly inducts the current Question, Renee Montoya; Libra shatters the Human Flame’s will with the Anti-Life Equation and then forces Lex Luthor to swear allegiance; Green Lantern Alan Scott drafts an army of superheroes to fight the evil gods, while Hal Jordan gets dragged away from earth by the Green Lantern Corps; and Wonder Woman takes on a corrupted Mary Marvel, only to find that it’s a trap administered to make her the carrier of a disease that mutates people into an animalistic form. The two most compelling events are the Super Young Team saving Sonny Sumo and Mr. Miracle, Shilo Norman, from Darkseid’s soldiers, presumably bringing these characters even closer to becoming the heroic gods of the Fifth World; and the month-ahead leap by the Flashes, Wally West and the resurrected Barry Allen. The Flashes receive the most poignant moments in a book short on remarkable character moments. Original Flash Jay Garrick informs Barry’s widow Iris of his return run, told in a flashback that contrasts extremely visceral motion with tight, intimate panels of Jay telling the story to his friends and relatives. Equally moving is Barry’s pained realization of the world to which he’s been forced to return, as his dismay at his own resurrection is the only true existential moment in a series full of didactic assertions about PURE EVIL.
J.G. Jones’ art is extremely powerful during these scenes, particularly the near-spiritual euphoria on Jay Garrick’s face when confirming Barry’s return, and Barry’s hunched, defeated pose upon witnessing what Darkseid has done to the world. Details of the speedsters’ motion, such as their blurred forms and the lightning trails that follow, are convincing and energizing. Alex Sinclair’s vivid coloring bolsters these scenes remarkably. The issue starts off with some nicely constrained panel layouts that still manage to bring some strangeness to the book’s structure (page two is marvelous), and the overlapping of panels and characters during the initial Flash sequence (echoed momentarily during the Wonder Woman/Mary Marvel fight and the Sonny Sumo/Mr. Miracle scene) is possibly the best visual moment in the series thus far.
It’s quality work, of course, but after three issues it can’t help but feel like more of the same, even with some new visual tricks. Issue four, theoretically, should provide something remarkably new stylistically to justify the jump forward in time and different status quo. Despite the addition of Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino on art, however, the book feels remarkably consistent in style and tone with the previous three issues, in ways that may undermine the series’ purpose and narrative.
The book starts off from the perspective of the Ray, who gets a few fist-pumping moments this issue that show the character’s potential, as he quickly guides us through the spread of Darkseid’s influence. Letting the reader see this immediately and clearly is probably a mistake – the book would have likely been more effective had its later montage of the bleak, somnambulist state of the earth been the opening. The book is marred by a conventionality that’s unprecedented for the story so far, as the main thrust of the plot is the massing together of the scattered and distraught superheroes to fight off the contagion spreading across the Earth. This was probably inevitable, but given the unusual, time-defying setup to the events, it’s a letdown to suggest that the climax is going to be industry standard. The book does sell the heroes’ desperation well, through a strong Alan Scott last-stand speech, as well as a fight scene between Green Arrow and Darkseid’s forces that manages to be funny, exhilarating, and moving.
Interwoven with the superheroics is Dan Turpin’s return to the narrative, as he’s captured in the Command-D bunker and his mind is slowly being consumed by Darkseid. The grotesque art and Turpin’s defeated narration make it effective, although it would’ve been bolstered by the character appearing during the previous issue, even if his absensce there was made conspicuous. However, these moments are the only parts of the book which come close to turning one’s stomach. The book contains two separate montages that show Darkseid’s evil either spreading or having taken hold of the Earth, and neither registers as anything particularly new. The first has the novelty of the Anti-Life Equation exploiting the internet and cell phones to spread, a pointed but somewhat easy commentary on our culture’s suckling dependence on its technology. The second is where the book seems to falter.
This second montage, which shows the world turning into a version of the New Gods’ Apokolips, is quite frankly uninspired. Its idea of despair is well-worn, less a compilation of fears for a new era than pop cultural shorthand for dystopia. Its bleak cityscape filled with Darkseid’s troops in police cars and tanks is meant to evoke Jack Kirby, but it feels closer to grindhouse fare like Escape from New York. The zombified residents of the world sitting absently in front of televisions blaring messages of Anti-Life is cribbed from movies like They Live and Repo Man, and the image of defeated factory workers toiling over robotic armor for Darkseid’s forces seems inspired by no more recent a source than Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. I don’t expect every creator to have the forward-thinking vision of John Carpenter or Alex Cox, to say nothing of the brilliance of Lang, but Morrison’s better than this, and so is the art team. This series promised an incarnation of evil that would help encapsulate and explain the modern and future threats facing humanity’s spirit and place in the world. This is evil? Scenes from twenty and thirty-year old midnight movies? Cormac McCarthy said more about the nature of evil in our culture with Blood Meridian, a novel set over a century ago, and he still managed to lend insight to the discussion when he remade that novel in diluted form with No Country for Old Men. After a thorough redefinition of the nature of the New Gods, the readership has every right to expect a modernization of Darkseid’s evil, because that’s the inherent power of the character.
I’m not asking for a nihilistic text, and I’m not asking for Kid Miracleman. Far from it. But if Final Crisis is going to mean anything aside from some fun literary tricks and a giant punch-out (or a huge marketing campaign and a chance to compete with Marvel), then the despair facing our heroes has to resonate. Reading Darkseid and his acolytes has to feel “like trying to beat the ocean unconscious” (as Turpin says when encountered by Darkseid’s will), or the series isn’t going to be able to fulfill its promise. Instead of potentially helping its readership understand the potentially catastrophic changes facing our world, Final Crisis seems in danger of becoming just another superhero crossover. When Barry Allen tells us it’s a “Flash Fact” that everything’s going to be okay, it’s not easy to believe him because he’s Barry Allen, but because these characters have seen much worse. So have we.
Ratings – Final Crisis #3: 7.0
Final Crisis #4: 6.0
Tags: DCU, Flash (Barry Allen)