New Heaven, New Earth - Larry Clow Reviews FINAL CRISIS
by Larry Clow
After countless delays, artist changes, irrelevant spin-off titles and every other conceivable obstacle that could plague a much-hyped comic mini-series, Final Crisis is finally over. And despite the delays, and some questionable choices in storytelling and structure from writer Grant Morrison, it really lives up to its title. The stakes are high and nothing less than the fate of superhero fiction as a whole is on the line. Final Crisis works perfectly as a whole, and the fractured, non-linear storytelling that was so glaring when the book arrived in stores each month mostly disappears when Final Crisis is read in one sitting. The action feels bigger, the small moments between characters are more poignant, and the various call backs and meta-commentary that Morrison sprinkles throughout his story are easier to spot and become more vital to the narrative. (And, of course, lots of spoilers follow. Watch out!)
Final Crisis follows Morrison’s previous DC universe work, particularly his Seven Soldiers of Victory series, his work on 52 and bits of his work on JLA and Batman. You don’t need to read all the other stuff to get what’s going on in Final Crisis, but it helps. Really, if we’re being honest here, you should probably read most of DC’s output from the last 70 years, though you could probably stick to everything from the Silver Age and beyond, which is the area Morrison’s most familiar with. Since that’s impossible, though, the Internet, and some diligent readers, have saved us the trouble by providing some thorough annotations here and here. (With any big crossover, readers must take caution: to get the full “Final Crisis” story, you’ll need to read not only Final Crisis issues 1-7, but also Superman Beyond #1-2, Final Crisis: Submit and Batman #682-683. Most everything else can safely be ignored.)
Because of this, Final Crisis is the sort of comic book epic that defies easy summary, unless you’re talking in the most abstract terms. Essentially, absolute good and absolute evil battle across space and time for control over the ultimate narrative in the very book you’re reading. That makes about as much sense as dissecting the plot points involving Darkseid, the New Gods, a bullet fired backwards in time, the Anti-Life Equation, Mandrakk the Dark Monitor, Superman’s adventures in Limbo and the “death” of Batman. As Morrison described Final Crisis, it’s “the day evil won,” and from the series’ outset, the bad guys score more victories than the good guys, and those triumphs, big and small, are so utterly demoralizing and crushing that the forces of good can barely fight back.
But of course, they do. And their ultimate triumph—with Superman, as he always does in Morrison’s superhero work, leading the charge—is the triumph over the last 20 years worth of DC comics stories. From Superman’s death, the breaking of Batman’s back, the fall of Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Wonder Woman’s murder of a defenseless (albeit evil) human, and a number of other smaller, yet no less bleak, plot points, DC’s characters have been put through the ringer in the last two decades, usually in an attempt to boost sales and compete with the more street-level superhero shenanigans going on in Marvel’s comics. 2005’s Infinite Crisis, initially billed as a remedy to this, only made matters worse—by the end of Infinite Crisis, one Superboy was dead, a second Superboy (from a parallel Earth similar to our own) had become a psychotic maniac, and the (supposedly heroic) Lex Luthor from another parallel earth got his face melted and then shot off by the Joker. And, oh yeah—Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman all decided to take a year off for some personal reflection. Inspirational? Eh, not so much.
That sort of darkness is embodied in Final Crisis in the Anti-Life Equation, a mathematical proof that eradicates free will and forces all who hear it to worship Darkseid, the alpha villain of the DC universe. At the end of issue three of Final Crisis, Anti-Life is unleashed and overtakes almost everyone, turning them into mindless, murderous zombies ready to obey Darkseid’s every command. Life is a question, Darkseid’s soldiers (called Justifiers) tell us—Anti-Life is the answer. This sort of crisis is usually a job for Superman—but he’s literally plucked out of the story and thrust into a larger, overarching story, where the struggles of DC’s heroes are paralleled with the struggles of the Monitors, a race of ultra-beings charged with keeping watch over all the parallel earths in the DC universe. Superman must set things right in the macro-story before he can come back and save everyone in the micro-story.
Morrison’s superhero comics have always been about the idea of a story itself and, more to the point, the power of stories to inspire. This was his central argument in All-Star Superman, and he brings it back for Final Crisis. “This is the story of all our stories,” Lois Lane narrates in the final issue, and in a way, Final Crisis is the summation of not just all of Morrison’s DC universe stories, but a fairly on-point summation of the last 71 years worth of DC comics. When the cavalry arrives at the end of Final Crisis to confront Mandrakk the Dark Monitor, it’s composed of the length and breadth of DC heroes, from the Supermen of the Multiverse on down to Captain Carrot and his Zoo Crew. Funny animals have a place even in grand, epic stories, Morrison seems to be saying, and no matter how goofy Yankee Poodle and the like might be, their stories are still inspiring to someone (the merits and level of that inspiration are debatable, of course—but if they weren’t the least bit inspiring, we wouldn’t have had a Captain Carrot mini-series back in 2007, would we?).
Final Crisis isn’t Morrison’s ultimate statement on fiction itself—that honor is reserved All-Star Superman, which is less contingent upon the minutiae of the DC universe and works better as a universal narrative. But Crisis is Morrison’s final statement on DC comics and the state of the comic industry in general. With the universe on the brink of the abyss and all of time and space about to collapse, Superman—the “first” superhero (not technically, but for all intents and purposes, who was there before Superman?) and the source of inspiration for all the other members of the capes ‘n tights crowd to come—is able to reach outside the narrative and wish for his own ending.
It’s not hard to guess what sort of ending Superman would like best. It’s the sort of ending that Morrison tends to favor, as well—full of hope and optimism, with a clearer sense of purpose and a greater understanding of not just the self but the whole as well. It’s no accident that Morrison puts a Barack Obama/Superman analogue into the thick of the action on the first page of the final issue of Final Crisis. With a single wish, Superman banishes the darkness that’s encroached on mainstream superhero comics since the 1980s (and, in the process, manages to resurrect and rehabilitate Jack Kirby’s New Gods characters, who have mostly languished since Kirby last wrote them almost three decades ago). The final chapter’s title, “New Heaven, New Earth,” doubles as a comment on the new status quo—a DC universe where, at least for the moment, icons like Superman and Wonder Woman are once again shining examples. That’s the sort of change readers can believe in—at least until the editorial gods at DC decide to scrap Morrison’s work in favor of boosting sales one more time.