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Sunday Slugfest: Final Crisis #2 (of 7)

Posted: Sunday, June 29, 2008
By: Keith Dallas

Grant Morrison
J.G. Jones, Alex Sinclair (colors)
DC Comics
"Ticket to Bludhaven"

Shawn Hill: 4.5 Bullets
Kevin Powers: 2.5 Bullets
Dave Wallace: 3.5 Bullets
Thom Young: 4 Bullets




Shawn Hill 4.5 Bullets

Plot: starting to come together in startling ways.

Comments: I'll admit it; I found the first issue rather confusing. I shouldn't have. I've been reading Grant Morrison since Animal Man. Certainly the shifts in time, tone and setting from panel to panel, page to page, would be no shock to an Invisibles reader. But we're not so used to seeing that style applied to DC's big guns, and that's what this story is about.

"The powers of evil won." And by evil Grant means the infernal powers behind the Seven Soldiers of Victory experiment, or at least aspects of those dark forces. It doesn't matter to him that the New Gods have died. It doesn't matter that DC wants a reboot of their Kirby properties, or a way to capture our attention again after Crisis Exhaustion Overload has set in. Grant will find a way to write the story he wants to tell, using the latest bits of continuity (Alpha Lanterns, the current Justice League, J'onn J'onzz's really ugly new suit) in a wild mix with the oldest bits, and everything in between. He doesn't actually contradict so much as allude to, and that's okay because that sleight of hand is often so clever and elegant you don't see the real trick taking place elsewhere, until its impact hits with maximum surprise.

This issue sings, as various players get a sense of the horrible game that has begun. We meet Super Young Team in Japan, that polyglot culture that so expertly recombines world influences into new syntheses understandable only to locals, as old fogey Rising Sun chides the youngsters for their shallowness. But that's just the embellishment: the story concerns Super Sumo-San, who's the only hero in the place that might live up to Rising Sun's standards. He's the only hero in the bar worthy of the attentions of a certain escape artist with a working Motherboxxx.

Another sleeping hero searches for the one word that will unlock his dreamt-of world of wonder, while J'onn is buried on Mars and the Green Lanterns investigate the deicide crime scenes. They uncover (of course) a time traveling conspiracy, which leads to a chilling battle sequence between Alpha Lantern Kraken and Batman. Her arrogance in the face of primitive Earth heroes is beyond insulting, but Batman senses a deeper narrative at play.

This fight is horrifying, both in its desperate, elaborate verbiage and in the eerie glow of green that illuminates the afflicted Lantern and flashes off Batman's black leather. J.G. Jones has always had a singular ability to merge realism with expressive special effects, and here with colorist Alex Sinclair he achieves storytelling that is cinematic not in the sense of trying to look like a movie, but in the sense of being dramatic, crystal clear, well-edited and visually surprising. His sequence of images creates a seamless montage. When a certain character returns chasing a bullet through time, you realize that this short mini-series may just be the epic we were promised, for once.




Kevin Powers: 2.5 Bullets

Final Crisis #2 is not as bad as the first issue. However, it's not great and after the mess of the first issue, and the lack of a major plot thread outside of "the day evil won," I'm beginning to not even care about this series. I think a lot of this comes from the fact that both DC and Marvel have conditioned us over the past 10 years or so to have one core event, and then other books related to that event and how it affects other characters. I know the comic community complains about "so many tie-ins," but they are necessary sometimes to tell a full story. For example, I don't think Secret Invasion would be anywhere near as good without the tie-ins. The problem I see in relation to Final Crisis is that I can read every other DC book, and they have zero connection to Final Crisis. Yes, there are connections to the "Dark Side Club" but I feel like non-readers of Flash and Teen Titans may have missed the connection because those two titles aren't billed as Final Crisis tie-ins. I see this as a major problem since Final Crisis is supposedly changing the landscape of the DC Universe. There should be tie-ins, whether in the form of mini-series or part of an ongoing series like Action Comics. Without this, Final Crisis feels weak. It feels like it is not that important, and if it changes the entire landscape of the DCU without hitting all the books first, I think it's going to create even more continuity problems.

Once again, this issue is all over the place and it moves way too fast for its own good. This style of storytelling also adds to the lack of importance this event should have. By jumping around and moving through plot points so fast the story feels unfocused, there's a real lack of direction. J.G. Jones is on record by saying to the effect that the story really doesn't kick off until issue #3. That's a great marketing strategy but the fact that Carlos Pacheco is coming on board with issue #4 to help Jones out makes me believe that there really is no sense of direction to this story. Jones is a good artist, and I believe he could have cranked this series out on time. However, based on what I've heard on the internet and from friends, Morrison and DiDio are pointing fingers at each other. On one hand, Morrison is blaming DiDio for Final Crisis, claiming that DiDio is continually making Morrison re-write and change the scripts. On the other hand, I've also heard DiDio claims that Morrison is turning in a completely different story than the one he originally pitched. In a nutshell, this entire series is a crisis in its own right. Clearly, something is not right at DC, and it has become a very public matter that ultimately is affecting this series.

There's a positive and a negative to the way Morrison tells this story. Yes, he's moving very fast and everything is somehow connected, and there's a greater mystery at hand that may turn out to be rather interesting as it slowly unravels. However, there's way too much going on to really find a major threat that can bring everything together. As I'm writing this review, I'm growing frustrated trying to figure out what scenes to focus on and how what they connect to and how they work in the grand scheme of things. However, there's just way too much happening with no common ground that re-reading this issue is becoming frustrating. It's unfortunate too because Morrison does indeed have some decent material here. I thought his opening scene with the Japanese heroes was fairly strong, and I thought the re-emergence of Mr. Miracle was well done. I also like the mystery surrounding the Alpha Lantern and the assault on John Stewart, even though I don't really buy the fact that the Alpha Lanterns can be manipulated without the Guardians knowing about it. However, while this is some decent material, it just feels lost. I don't feel connected to the story at all, and even Martian Manhunter's "death" feels like a massive afterthought. I'm sick of what DC and Morrison are doing to Batman, quite frankly. It's not all that great, and with a Batman movie coming out soon, I would love to see more classic Batman stories where he's fighting crime, not having a nervous breakdown or being transformed by Granny Goodness. A new villain could have been introduced. I would have even gone for Morrison reviving an old Batman villain, but instead we get the "R.I.P." mess and whatever the hell in happening in Final Crisis.

Then there's Barry Allen's return. This is completely different than what we saw in DC Universe Zero. In DC Universe Zero, there was a confidence in Barry's voice; there was a feeling that Barry was going to save everyone. But at the end of this issue he is running from a re-vamped Black Racer. Barry falls from confident, enlightened hero to coward. These are just two completely different ideas presented in relation to the two books.

J.G. Jones' artwork has its ups and downs throughout this issue. There are moments that look excellent and other moments look kind of fuzzy. Maybe it's an issue with the printer, but I hope DC wouldn't have approved such a thing from the printers. I think Jones is being rushed. Not that he can't handle it, but that he's being utterly rushed to get this issue out on time because someone keeps changing the direction, be it Morrison or DiDio. This is the reason for Pacheco coming on board, which I feel may just add to the negative vibes and hype surrounding this series. For the most part Jones' artwork is decent, but again it feels rushed.

There's no telling where this story is going to end up anymore. Maybe that's part of the intrigue. I have my own theories that this series is more tied to Zero Hour than anything else (i.e. Libra is Extant, and that would be kind of lame). Everyone has their ideas and theories, but after the sales reports on Final Crisis, Chuck Dixon leaving DC and unleashing his discontent, and Morrison's finger pointing, the true crisis is not even be happening inside this book. Whether it was the failed build-up, the lack of tie-ins, the infighting or rumored constant changing of stories, Final Crisis is tripping over its own feet. Morrison has so much material here, a lot of it would be very strong if fleshed out, and there should be tie-ins. But there aren't, and this is leading to a mess of a book with plot points all over the place and no central threat for the heroes to battle. We'll see if this series really "gets going" with issue #3, and I guess from there the true judgment can be handed down.




Dave Wallace: 3.5 Bullets

The opening chapter of Final Crisis seemed to receive quite a mixed reaction from readers. Although some enjoyed it, many people reacted negatively to its sprawling scope, feeling that the book was a little jumbled and choppy due to Grant Morrison's attempt to cover as much ground as possible in the short space that is afforded by a single comic. Thankfully, the second instalment takes the time to give us some slightly longer and more coherent scenes, effectively creating a sense of impending doom on a Biblical scale for the DC Universe.

The parts of the issue that I enjoyed most were the clever, more minor touches that are never overplayed or made too obvious. Morrison and Jones effectively convey the idea of superheroes as a fashion movement in the opening pages set in Japan, as well as providing a sly commentary on the decline of the superhero genre via Rising Sun's rant about how lazy and pampered the superheroes of today seem. I also enjoyed the acknowledgement of the fact that the Martian Manhunter's death may well be followed by a resurrection at some point. It shows that Morrison isn't trying to use the character's death as a cheap shock tactic, and in having Superman "pray for a resurrection," the writer addresses the notion that life and death are fairly fluid concepts in comics (which may prove to be important later). Indeed, the funeral of J'onn J'onzz is one of the more restrained funeral scenes that I've seen, creating a suitably sombre mood without wallowing in it extensively. Morrison even ties the book into some of the segments of DC Universe 0 here, explaining the significance of the strip club on the final page of that issue, and linking up with that book's closing development on the final page of this one.

However, there's still a slight sense that things are still not completely coming together to form a compelling and coherent story. Whilst I've come to appreciate some of the ideas that Morrison is playing with in greater depth since discussing the first issue with fellow readers, a strong idea doesn't automatically equate to a good story. I sometimes feel that Morrison doesn't quite provide enough information for readers to be able to put his ideas together in the same way that he is visualising them, and it makes me feel disconnected from the story in places. Of course, there's a fine line between not spoonfeeding the audience (in order that they engage with a story fully, rather than enjoying it passively) and making things difficult to comprehend, but I do occasionally feel that a little more clarity would be useful. I occasionally get the sense that pieces of the story are missing, and it's not the first time that I've had this complaint with one of Morrison's books.

J.G. Jones again provides solid artwork, experimenting with some unusual layouts that keep things interesting on a visual level. He shows a confident control of pacing and panel framing throughout, with scenes such as the one in which Megayakuza foolishly challenges Sonny Sumo to a bar-fight benefiting immensely from his craft. With a limited amount of space to establish important story beats, Jones' artwork is also called upon to convey a large amount of information to the reader, which he does effectively. A good example of this is the brief scene that shows the exiled Monitor from issue #1 coming to terms with his humanity: Jones' artwork shows him to be detached and still haunted by memories of the multiverse (including a tantalising tease of an alternate version of Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan that he sketches on a notepad). I also enjoyed the way that Jones depicts the deterioration of the increasingly aggressive Detective Turpin, seeming possessed by Darkseid after the events of last issue. Plot points like these wouldn’t come across nearly as strongly without such a strong visual reinforcement of them.

One thing that I particularly like about the book so far is the concentration on secondary characters, whilst the events that would normally be the focus of a big crossover event occur in the background. Yes, we spend some time with the big hitters of the JLA, but we don't see extended scenes of their reactions to the Martian Manhunter's death (other than on TV, and during the single-page funeral scene) and numerous pages aren't wasted on big, empty fight sequences between heroes and villains. Instead, Morrison spends as much time with the other players in his global story (such as Turpin, and the Japanese heroes in the prologue), making it feel as though we're seeing much more of the story that's happening between the lines in the DCU than we would in a more conventional superhero crossover event.

I enjoyed Final Crisis #2 a little more than I did the first issue. I still don't think that it's perfect - the story is still a little too fractured for me to really be gripped by it at this point, and despite a strong final few pages and a great cliffhanger, it feels like the series has only just got going by the time this issue ends. Still, whilst I still don't feel that the book has completely come together yet, there's a greater sense of impending doom here than in the first issue, and if Morrison can deliver on the promise of his epic story then this could still turn out to be a highly enjoyable book.




Thom Young: 4 Bullets

With DC billing this series as the "third and final crisis" following Crisis on Infinite Earths and its twenty-years-later sequel Infinite Crisis, readers of the first two "multiverse shattering" crises have undoubtedly become accustomed to bombastic narratives filled with super-powered characters flying about and slugging it out like they're participating in a professional wrestling tag-team match.

We get a bit of that type of action in Final Crisis #2, but not much. One of the brief scenes of super-powered violence occurs on page five when Sonny Sumo is fire blasted at a Tokyo nightclub by some sort of Japanese version of Iron Man who calls himself "Megayakuza" (the name roughly translates as "one million mafia").

In response, Sonny Sumo plunges his fist through Megayakuza's armor and rips out the man's heart--depositing it into his (Sumo's) glass of water before heading off to the men's room to clean up and treat his burns. That "all-out super-powered action" occurs in merely three (or perhaps four) panels.

Similarly, on page 18, John "Green Lantern" Stewart is attacked by another Green Lantern whose identity is not revealed. The unidentified Green Lantern shoots several green energy railroad spikes into Stewart's body (particularly his arms). That super-powered attack occurs in only four panels. Oddly, one of the panels seems to show the green energy spikes coming from behind the unidentified Green Lantern--that's either significant or a mistake by the illustrator, J.G. Jones (I suppose we'll eventually find out which).

The only other super-powered fighting that occurs in this issue is when Batman discovers that Alpha Lantern Kraken is possessed by one of the gods of Apokolips (either Granny Goodness or one of her Female Furies, it appears). Again, the battle lasts about only four panels before Batman is subdued.

There are, of course, two other scenes of violence, but they're not instances of super-powered violence--police detective Dan Turpin beats the snot out of the Mad Hatter in three panels, and the Daily Planet Building explodes in one panel. The Daily Planet panel is followed by a shot of Superman after his Clark Kent clothes have been ripped away by the blast. He is looking at the hand of his wife, Lois Lane, sticking out from beneath a pile of rubble.

While not making up the majority of this issue, these brief scenes of violence are very effective in revealing the depth of the danger to the story's heroes and the significance of the plot being launched by the villains. Aside from those brief bits of violence, which comprise about one-sixth of the issue, the rest of the pages in Final Crisis #2 merely show people talking. Well . . . except for the final page that shows Barry Allen running while yelling to Jay Garrick and Wally West to "Run!"

This is hardly the pace that readers have come to expect in DC's cosmic crises events. Usually, the exact nature of the threat is identified in the first issue, the troops are rallied in the second issue (and assignments are given), and the remainder of each crisis involves all-out super-powered action as the heroes attempt to overcome the villainous scheme, fail, re-attempt to overcome the scheme, and succeed.

It's essentially the formula that Gardner Fox created when he wrote Justice Society of America stories in the 1940s and Justice League of America stories in the 1960s (including the original summer crises stories that teamed the JLA with the JSA each year). More or less, it's the formula that has continued to be used at DC whenever multiple groups (and/or teams) of heroes get together to battle a world-shattering, universe-shattering, or multiverse-shattering challenge.

Well, Morrison's not following the formula.

Morrison's story has the development and pace that is more akin to what is found in literary novels (or even television shows like The Sopranos and The Wire), which is not to say the story won't have action in it, but it's not going to be formulaic stuff that we've seen megatimes before.

This story is building slowly as the threads of Morrison's mystery are revealed scene by scene while we watch them start to intertwine. Unfortunately, the fast-paced nature of contemporary society (and of most comic book major event series) probably makes it difficult for some readers to enjoy a slower paced story that holds its revelations in suspense.

So far, I am not disappointed in the least with Morrison's story.

Not only isn't Morrison following the formula, he also isn't writing stilted dialog that calls attention to itself. Moreover, the various threads are weaving together nicely to reveal a cosmic tapestry that brings together the divine (the New Gods) with the mundane (the supposedly street level crime being investigated by the hard-nosed Detective Turpin).

In terms of theme (the conflation of the divine with the mundane), Final Crisis is exactly the type of story that Jack Kirby was telling in his original Fourth World series more than 35 years ago when he had Victor Lanza, Claudia Shane, Dave Lincoln, and Harvey Lockman meet Orion in New Gods #1, or when Turpin fought Darkseid's son Kalibak in New Gods #8, or when the world heavyweight boxing champion confessed to Clark Kent in Forever People #1 that his title means next to nothing in a world in which Superman exists.

Kirby was fascinated by the interaction between the mundane lives of regular people in contrast to such divine characters as the New Gods and Superman, and Morrison is continuing the exploration of that theme in this series--beginning with the beautifully conceived, written, and illustrated scene between Anthro and Metron that opened the first issue of Final Crisis.

At one point, Batman walks in on Alpha Lantern Kraken while she is examining Orion's body--the corpse is beginning to "decompose" into light, which is being absorbed into the Source. I almost immediately thought of the theme of the divine and the mundane--as well as section 125 of Friedrich Nietzsche's Die Fröliche Wissenschaft (The Gay Science) in which a madman lighting a lantern exclaims:
Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?
(Translation by Walter Kaufman)
Perhaps it's only coincidence that Morrison has one of the Alpha Lanterns (who has been driven "mad" after being possessed by Granny Goodness or one of her cronies) explain how a New God's body decomposes, but there seems to be some thematic resonance in Morrison's story to the transcendent claim in the passage by Nietzsche--particularly in relation to a New God telling a Cro-Magnon lad, "Man, I am the Measure" at the beginning of this series.

With its thoughtful themes and slowly developing plot threads and mysteries, Final Crisis is shaping up to be a great story. It's easily the best summertime comic book event I've read since Jim Starlin's conclusion to his Warlock saga ran in Avengers Annual #7 and Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2 thirty-one years ago.



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