Erik Norris: 4.5 Bullets
Christopher Power: 4 Bullets
Kevin Powers: 2 Bullets
Dave Wallace: 4 Bullets
Thom Young: 4 Bullets
Erik Norris: 4.5 Bullets
There is one thing that has divided the internet in two since the first issue of Final Crisis hit stands: the series' accessibility. The debate has raged on every month since launch, and I'm sure it continues on with this past week's issue #3. So I'm going to start my review there. Final Crisis is DC's latest summer "blockbuster" but for followers of the series, "blockbuster" is probably the least fitting word. The slow burn structure, coupled with the tight nit nature of Morrison's story nearly breaks every cliché of a comic event. That's right, folks, no matter how badly you want to complain about how "impenetrable" Final Crisis is or how it doesn't connect with DC's Countdown, everything that is needed to understand Final Crisis's narrative is found within its pages. It really baffles me that fans say the story is nonsensical. From my understanding, the story's groundwork is all there, and even though elements are still yet to be resolved, the series still has four more issues to go. It's just a matter of you actually investing the time into carefully reading every sentence and investigating every panel with the utmost attention to detail.
However, I think the big dividing line for the series is something completely different. It might not be the story's structure, but instead the characters involved that segregate readers. Don't come into Final Crisis thinking you're going to get defining character growth from the core DC characters. All you will get are "character moments" from these individuals. Instead, this story focuses on the New Gods, so if the mention of their very name doesn't make you squeal with joy, Final Crisis isn't for you. There I said it, and it's true. If you're not a fan of the New Gods, you might as well give up now, maybe wait for the completed story in trade form, and stop giving everyone headaches through your constant complaining about Final Crisis. This is their story, involving the entirety of the DC Universe to display the gravitas of their reintroduction. With the concept of the gods falling from heaven and body snatching human hosts, you really have to be invested in these individuals prior to Final Crisis to understand the nuances of their character beats, as well as even grasp who is whom. I understand this is a daunting task for casual DC readers, making the story seem incomplete, and that's why prior knowledge--or the open mind of being enthralled by these New Gods--is essential to appreciate the intricacies of Final Crisis.
This brings us to the actual contents of Final Crisis #3. The series' tagline, "The Day Evil Won," has finally happened, and it has left the series in a scary and interesting place heading into the month long publication gap. Flipping through the issue again, I'm realizing just how many cool moments the book packs in its pages. I loved Jay Garrick's retelling of his run with Barry Allen and Wally West to Barry's wife, Iris, Libra's true motives being revealed to Luthor, Superman's hospital bedside scene with Lois, and Mr. Miracle and Sunny Sumo's rescue at the hands of the Super Young Team. Even Freddie Freeman gets a moment to shine, and I've never been sold on him being Captain Marvel until now. To say I'm excited for where this series is headed is a gross understatement. I'm ecstatic at the possibilities quite frankly. This is the type of event comic I have been clamoring for, and Morrison has yet to disappoint, giving readers something to chew on each month and dig their analytical teeth into.
J.G. Jones' work on Final Crisis also continues to amaze. While it doesn't look as detailed as previous issues--which maybe to due to deadline approaching rushed--it still looks fantastic. Jones has a real knack for panel layouts and cinematic camera angles, and he never disappoints, no matter how detailed the actual pencils within each panel are. Probably the most memorable moment is the Question exiting from the Dark Side Club while the Nazi Supergirl from an alternate earth comes crashing down into the city streets. It's just really beautiful work that makes the overall package of Final Crisis a treasure to own.
Final Crisis #3 is another winner as far as I'm concerned. Plots and subplots are starting to converge, and the scope of the series couldn't come off as any more epic than it already does. It's going to suck waiting a month or more for the next installment, but I'm sure it will be worth it once the final product hits our hands and we actually get to see what Earth under the control of evil really looks like.
Christopher Power: 4 Bullets
I must admit, I considered giving this book a rating lower than 4 bullets. It took several readings and edits of this review for me to come up with the appropriate rating. As of Saturday, I still felt it deserved 2 bullets. Grant Morrison's previous successes required the reader to see the story's whole picture, and because of that, I am willing to take a leap of faith and say that this book is better than I understand at this time*. That being said, I think if a reader buys this book, he had better accept that he will not have any idea what is going on for at least another 3 issues.
For this review, I am going to try to break the book into sections and provide my opinions of the book's various storylines, successes and missteps.
- Cover: J.G. Jones' covers for this series rival the greatness of his work in 52. I wish that he was given a little more leeway to paint a scene, but the full-page presentation of DC heroes is fantastic. So far we have had Hal Jordan, Barry Allen and now Supergirl. My goodness Kara is gorgeous on the cover of this book. It makes me think that Kara Zor-El will be playing a large role in this Crisis that we have yet to see. This does raise the question: are all the covers meant to focus on things that will happen one issue hence? Hal was on the cover of issue #1, but his major story did not kick off until issue #2. Barry was featured on Final Crisis #2 but his first real appearance occurs in this issue. And now Kara only makes a brief appearance in this issue.
- Established characters: Apparently, Morrison will be using the old school All-Star Squadron as part of this book quite a bit. We had Jay re-introduce Barry Allen, and Alan Scott will be leading the superhero army. We are introduced to Shazam, Tawky Tawny, Black Canary** and Green Arrow, the new Aquaman (it is unclear if it is another new Aquaman; I suspect so) and Supergirl, all of whom respond to the draft notice. My guess is that these characters will be our key characters in the next issue. We can now count a second member of the Legion of Superpets being retintroduced to the DCU: Streaky the Supercat.
- Modern characters: The Question appears again, this time matching brains and brawn with members of the Seven Soldiers. She doesn't actually do anything, but it makes for an interesting opening scene. When I think back on the old Vic Sage Question comics, he would actually solve crimes, not just run around asking pointless questions. Aside from establishing that some guy was killed and has an Omega symbol on his tie, we get little from this scene.
- Alternate Supergirl: On the tail end of the Question scene is the introduction of an alternate Supergirl. When Renee speaks to the woman who falls from the sky she says (at least I think this is what she says, including the font mistakes in the lettering):
"Ich bin Überfraulein. Ist der … der Himmel Blutungen. Die Hölle ist … ist hier.roughly translating to:
"I am Supergirl. The sky is bleeding. Hell is here."Interestingly, the German is actually incorrect. It should read "Ist Himmel blutet" for "The sky is bleeding."
I do not believe that Morrison would make such a mistake without intention. Judging by the capitalization, "der Himmel Blutungen" is a proper noun, not an adjective. I would bet that this is a reference to the Bleed region between universes. Mark my words, the sky will turn red and we will have a proper Crisis before this is out.
It is also worth noting here that this is very similar to what Orion said in the first issue regarding heaven being "cracked and broken."
- Would you like fries with that: There is an obtuse scene with a young man who can detect increased graviton impacts. I have no idea who the kid is, but the comment itself, which passed me by the first two times I read the issue, is profound. In the extension of traditional Neutonian physics into quantum physics, it is proposed in a meta-model of matter that two different bodies of mass (say two planets, or two universes) protect each other from graviton impacts. This protection, which you can think of as the objects casting shadows on each other, allows gravity forces to pull the objects together. If there is an increase in graviton forces on one body, it means the other body has disappeared. We know that at least one universe, Kingdom Come, was destroyed. Another was potentially eradicated in Countdown by Superboy Prime. Are there other universes being consumed somehow that is increasing the gravitons that would hit the universe of New Earth?
- Flash in the pan: The Flashes run forward in time and try to outrun death. This is not actually new. There have been times that both Barry and Wally have outrun death in the form of the Black Flash. I strongly suspect that Morrison is about to unify the Speed Force and the Source into one region, with the Black Flash and the Black Racer being the same entity. This would be a nice way to unify some of the Flash history with the rest of the DCU, and indeed would not be a ret-con. The following is a comment from Max Mercury:
The [Native Americans] had a name for it. They called it "slow lightning," but Jay Garrick and I have referred to it over the years as "The Black Flash." Death has many faces.... This is just the shape it takes when it comes for speedsters. (Flash Vol. 2 #139, July 1998)Kudos to J.G. Jones for creating an amazing rendition of the Black Racer. It is unbelievably iconic, and very important to the story.
- Secret Society of Libra: Things are finally becoming clear regarding Libra. Whoever he is, he is powerful and scary as hell. He is engineering the downfall of humankind by spreading the Anti-Life equation across the Earth. We see the Human Flame born again as a killer. He moves from being a petty criminal mainly interested in making himself famous, to losing his free will to a helmet that looks suspiciously like the Black Racer's to become a cold killer. This is a recurring theme within this work, as we will see in the Bludhaven section.
Another very important aspect of this scene is that Libra demands that Luthor "renounce science." Why? Why should obedience come at the cost of science? The same reason that any religious sect decries science as blasphemous: it might provide answers to things that the religion cannot provide. Part of Libra's big plan is to spread a virus across the globe to infect people with Anti-Life. Science might provide an answer on how to stop this situation, and thus rob Libra of his power of compulsion. Also note that Luthor must "swear an oath on the Bible of Crime." Could this transmit a protection of some kind against the virus? Could it be that the "weapon" given to Anthro mentioned in issue #1 is the curiosity of discovery in science?
Also note that the two heroes who are left at the end of all of this are the two Flashes. Barry Allen is a scientist. This could be very important.
- Article X: I am very unsure why Grant Morrison would choose to impose a draft on the superhero community in the DCU. In the Marvel Universe, where loner vigilantes are common, and many hero teams are persecuted, this might make sense (see Avengers: Initiative). However, in the DCU super-heroes have always answered the call in the times of crisis. They have stood against alien invasions, a multiverse being destroyed, a multiverse being created and even against villains who can change time itself. It seems to me that if the call had been put up, just about everyone would have shown up for the party. Kudos to Morrison for showing Barbara Gordon in her role as Oracle, an essential character in the DCU. Her appearance is consistent with her use in his JLA books.
- Bloodhaven: The recurring failure of the heroes in the last Crisis. It is an example of what happens when good people do nothing. Despite the jarring transition to this scene, where Diana is in Bludhaven for no reason other than to be there, this scene echoes the same themes presented in the Society scene. Mary Marvel has been corrupted by a god. A one point, in what seems to be a corny line, she states, "In the end, I just could not stand being wholesome and plain and boring one second longer." Later she says, "I do what Darkseid tells me now!" With both of these declarations she looks directly at the reader. This is a powerful tool being used by Morrison and Jones to convey the main theme for Final Crisis.
Mary Marvel has given herself over to a god. She was not tortured into doing so, she was convinced in Countdown. She is blindly following the will of a god, and in doing so she has been corrupted to her very soul.
Final Crisis still has many problems, but after multiple readings and a lot of reading around the subject, I think there is really a ton of good stuff in this book. I think there is a danger that this story, like the last Crisis, has too many things going on. For example, we have no idea what is happening with Green Lantern. That entire storyline seems detached from the main plotline. There are also a lot of one shot scenes--such as the one with the human Mr. Miracle and Sonny Sumo and the Supergirl who fell from the sky--that seem to have no connection to the rest of the plot. These scenes are somewhat distracting, and make the reader wonder if they are missing something in another issue or series.
Again, read this book only if you are in for the long haul.
*Note: I was not willing to do the same for Ultimate Origins #3 as Bendis does not, in my opinion, have a good history of writing long story arcs.
**Whoever let J.G. Jones draw Black Canary getting dressed, thank-you; however, much like the famous Hawkgirl panel of the same ilk, does it really seem reasonable to have Black Canary wear red frilly undergarments while fighting crime?
***I had several more points that did not fit in this review regarding: the absence of the Guardian of Eternity, the Spectre, Superman's dilemma, the lack of progress in Hal Jordan's story and Diana's lack of lasso use on Marvel Marvel and the introduction of yet another set of young "heroes."
Kevin Powers: 2 Bullets
The first two issues of Final Crisis didn't impress me. According to interviews with artist J.G. Jones, issue #3 is where the action, the story and everything else was supposed to pick up. Now that the third issue has hit the stands, I was fully expecting for the story, the action and everything else to pick up. Unfortunately, this is very far from the case. In fact, Final Crisis #3 is even more of a mess than the first two issues, and it only makes the whole event much less coherent.
I am really confused as to how some people think this is the greatest book ever written. There's no cohesion; there's no central plot; quite honestly, Darkseid and Libra both do not feel all that threatening; there are far too many characters and far too many plot lines that jump all over the place and aren't given the chance to develop, save for one or two; I can't believe I'm going to say this, but there are no tie-ins to elaborate on certain aspects of the series and the entire thing is an Advil-coma enducing nightmare. The highlight of this issue is the Supergirl cover painted by Jones. I mean it's spectacular. I'm a big fan of Kara, and the way she is depicted on this cover is stunning. But beyond that, this book and this series are a mess. Will it stop me from reading it? You know what, probably not. But I also think the main Secret Invasion series is weak and the various tie-ins are where the real quality is hidden.
But Final Crisis is now in its third issue and it's still trying to figure out what kind of story it wants to be. Sure, you can point fingers and blame DiDio, you can blame Morrison, you can blame Countdown and you can blame Death of the New Gods, but the bottom line is that there is really no identity for this story. Sure, there are various elements pulled from different genres, but what is the core concept of the story? Is it simply "the day evil won"? Is it simply "Darkseid finally grows a brain"? Or is it "Why is Libra so powerful and who is he"? It's hard to pinpoint exactly what this story wants to accomplish. Of course it's a vehicle for the next year of DC story telling until the next Crisis--or whatever they plan to call it next--but when it comes down to an actual coherent and compelling story, Final Crisis flat-lines. The main question being explored in this series should be "What is Darkseid's motivation?" What is possessing Darkseid to finally make a home base on Earth and use the anti-life equation? How come Darkseid isn't killing Jimmy Olsen? And if you throw the argument that "Darkseid has a history with Earth," it doesn't fly because Darkseid has a history with Superman regarding Earth and the last time Darkseid threatened Earth, Superman kicked his ass and Darkseid promised never to go near Earth again. So what is possessing Darkseid to risk his honor and go after Earth once again, because one thing this issue makes clear to me is that Libra is merely an agent of Darkseid and more or less just a distraction. I mean, at least Amazons Attack had an idea of what it was trying to accomplish. And does anyone else think the Joker would have eaten Libra for dinner already?
In terms of the characters, there is really no central character or group of characters where the main plot stems from. With Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis there was Alexander Luthor, Superboy-Prime and Superman-2. With this series, there's Libra and his villains as well as the villains who are skeptical of Libra, there are the Japanese heroes, the main DC heroes, the Green Lanterns, Hal and Ollie, the New Gods, the Evil Gods, Mary Marvel, the three Flashes… and none of them are the focal point of this series making it move forward. Yes, the Evil Gods are the primary antagonists in this story, and that is the strongest element driving the plot. There is just far too much missing from it to make it feel like a real threat. I mean, honestly, how many times have we seen Lois Lane near death? It's one thing to start the rumor mill about Lana and then have a sniper nearly kill Lois, but we all know when push comes to shove, the core players and their mythologies are not going to be affected by any of this. This is especially the case when the individual series of each character in not following this series at all. Yes, many people wanted that, but you can now see how it is an utter failure. The big events cannot survive without specific tie-in issues that fill in the blanks of a condensed 30 page book that is trying to tell as much story and cover as much ground as Final Crisis.
Case and point: Aquaman. I'll be honest; I do not think Aquaman is totally lame when done right. I've always had a vision of Aquaman being the opposite of Namor: a compassionate king whose people are skeptical of the surface world. I even see Aquaman as a being whose people believe he was sent from a higher power, not because of his ability to speak to the animals, but because of his ability to manipulate water. That's my vision for Aquaman, yet it would appear--as evidenced by this issue--there's a new incarnation of Aquaman swimming in the sea. There's no mention of him anywhere else, there's no explanation for him, there's nothing. What happened to the Kurt Busiek Aquaman who has been around for the past few years, the one who was supposed to be Arthur reincarnate, he just didn't know it yet? Just that one small panel featuring Aquaman really threw me off and strengthened my belief that this series is in dire need of tie-ins.
And then there's this "Article X" business, a "superhero draft." I've got to be straight; it's kind of ridiculous, especially given the history of the DCU. When faced with a "Crisis," every hero in the DC Universe comes together. The whole "Article X" idea reminded me of the scene in Zero Hour when Kyle Rayner used his ring to broadcast Superman giving a message to every hero in the universe. Morrison is reaching a little too far with "Article X." It's not groundbreaking as many will think and how can the heroes form an army when they have no idea who they are fighting? That's yet another thing that really bothers me; the heroes are completely out of character. They are portrayed as wimps, kind of like powerless and panicky teenagers who destroyed their parent's house after a party. There are so many problems with the characterization and portrayal of these characters that it is impossible for me to really believe that this story takes place in the DCU proper when there are so many better stories elsewhere. I mean, how do the Guardians not know that one of their Alpha Lanterns is evil? Don't give me the Darkseid BS. They are the Guardians, and their Alpha Lanterns are directly connected to the power battery.
At least the artwork is well done in this issue. I think this is Jones' strongest issue thus far, and it is unfortunate that for whatever reasons, creative or editorially, that Jones will not be the lone artist finishing up this issue. The inking in this issue is much lighter than it has been. The depiction of each character is unique and distinct, and Jones' artwork is really the highlight of this entire series. And again, that cover is gorgeous.
Final Crisis is a mess. DC has lost the grip on the streamlined storytelling established with Brad Meltzer and Identity Crisis when the mind-wiping seemed like a catalyst for everything. Now that is all but forgotten as the DC team has shifted from the classic core villains of each hero to an almost out of nowhere operation by Darkseid. "The day that evil won" seems trite as this story doesn't really feel like it affects the DC Universe as a whole because there are no tie-ins or connections to what is taking place elsewhere, even in Morrison's own "Batman R.I.P." story. If you want an epic DC story, follow Action Comics, Green Lantern, The Rann/Thanagar Holy War and even Batman. Final Crisis is a cheap gimmick that hasn't come close to delivering the goods.
Dave Wallace: 4 Bullets
Final Crisis is getting better with every issue. Grant Morrison's decision to structure his story differently to most other "event" comics led to an initially lukewarm reaction from many readers, with some (myself included) feeling that the book was difficult to understand and occasionally relied too heavily on a comprehensive knowledge of DC continuity to fully appreciate. However, the last couple of issues have clarified many of the points that I found confusing in issue #1, and the latest installment sees more pieces of the overall story fall into place, with two major plot threads (the victory of the Evil Gods over the New Gods, and the breaking down of the divisions between the various different Earths of the multiverse) beginning to converge, and a cliffhanger that raises the stakes for the story dramatically.
Instead of giving us the broad overview of events that we might expect from a book with such a large cast of characters and epic scope, Morrison concentrates instead on smaller individual scenes that represent the larger story. This means that the narrative can sometimes feel fractured, but it also allows both writer and artist to add a certain amount of depth and detail to the individual scenes, eschewing the usual template of modern "event" comics that tend to provide a big, simple story with little room for nuanced plotting or characterisation. In some ways, reading Final Crisis is like reading a crossover book with many of the "big" moments cut out, as Morrison frequently chooses to show us the build-up to and aftermath of certain events without showing the event itself. Again, the writer is providing us with the story that's happening between the lines, and encouraging readers to fill in the rest for themselves.
Standout scenes this issue include the surprising appearance of a superhero from an alternate Earth (who, from what I can work out from my very basic command of German, seems to identify herself as Supergirl and talk about "bleeding skies" - a likely reference to the red skies of the original Crisis On Infinite Earths). There's also a darkly humourous scene involving Libra and the Human Flame, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the machinations of this "Prophet" fit into the wider story that Morrison is telling, as I can't help but feel that we're in for a twist regarding his identity. There are only one or two misfiring scene in this issue: the late "revelation" that the Evil Gods have been hiding in human bodies falls flat, as it's a plot point that has been quite clear ever since issue #1; and the introduction of a new (?) Aquaman is given too little time to make any impact at all, making me wonder whether he was simply included to set up a new solo ongoing or limited series.
Considering the pervading sense of inevitable doom that has characterised Final Crisis so far, it's nice to see Morrison make room for some lighter, fan-pleasing moments, too. The superhero draft is a rousing montage that feels surprisingly bright and traditional given the dour tone of the rest of the book, and the chase sequence involving Mr. Miracle, Sonny Sumo and the Super Young Team injects a real verve and energy into a book that could easily come off as morose and depressing without any moments of relief. In fact, there are already several glimmers of hope, with Superman being offered a mysterious task by one of the Monitors, the appearance of Metron's sigil in various places all over the world, and the alternate-Supergirl's reference to the brightness that is coming. I can't say that I can predict how Morrison is going to have his heroes turn the tide against the Evil Gods, but he's dropping enough hints that good will triumph for me to be confident that they will.
Another element of Final Crisis that I've appreciated more and more with each issue is the artwork of JG Jones. I've recently been reading some of Jones' older work, from a 1999 issue of Webspinners through his more recent Marvel Boy and Wanted miniseries, and I've enjoyed seeing how his work has evolved over the last decade. It's possible to see echoes of his earlier work here, such as the slick scenes of urban violence that evoke Wanted, or the Dominatrix-esque design for Mary Marvel (that feels reminiscent of Oubliette from Marvel Boy), but his style feels as though it's becoming more and more refined and precise - particularly when it comes to the fine inking.
I was fully expecting the quality of the art to have deteriorated over the last couple of issues, based on the recent reports that Jones is falling behind schedule - but in fact, I noticed very few weaknesses. The colouring occasionally seems a little flat and two-dimensional, but that could well be an intentional choice, given that the scenes where I noticed it centred on characters that originated in the Golden Age of comics. The extent of Carlos Pacheco's contribution to future issues doesn't seem clear yet, but I hope that Jones is still able to handle the lion's share of the art, if only to maintain a sense of visual consistency and continuity.
The book's only major weakness is that it's occasionally a little too reliant on readers to fill in the gaps in the story, when greater clarity would sometimes be desirable - especially for readers like me who aren't well-versed in DC continuity. That said, I'm finding the book increasingly easy to follow as I'm seeing how all of the pieces connect to one another, and I don't doubt that it will hang together very well by the time the story is complete. Final Crisis is shaping up to be a dense, innovative, and atypical "event" comic - and this issue's cliffhanger is going to make the extended wait for issue #4 feel like it can't pass quickly enough.
Thom Young: 4 Bullets
I've been contemplating why some readers are less than thrilled with Grant Morrison's Final Crisis. As my bullet rating will attest, I don't consider this series to be the best comic book story that I've ever read (at least not yet). In fact, I haven't given any of the first three issues a perfect score of five bullets.
Nevertheless, this series is certainly working for me on all three levels that art affects us-- intellectual (logos), emotional (pathos), and spiritual/ethical (ethos).
Note: I am using logos, pathos, and ethos in their Hellenic sense to refer to logic, emotion, and ethics (spirit), respectively.
The series is working for me on all three levels because I understand Morrison's aesthetics (logos), I have a nostalgic appreciation for how Morrison is using the DC universe and Jack Kirby's concepts (pathos), and I am enjoying Morrison's contemplations on the intersection of the divine and mundane in the history of the DC universe and the interplay between good and evil (ethos).
Of course, there are a lot of readers who are fond of the DC universe and of Kirby's concepts but who are not enjoying this series at all. This lack of enjoyment is undoubtedly the result of one of two possibilities (or possibly both):
- They reject what Morrison is doing with the DC universe and/or Kirby's concepts (which is a possibility since I also have a few concerns along this line), or
- They don't understand or appreciate the aesthetics that are informing Morrison's work and so they aren't able to enjoy what Morrison is doing in this series.
- Don't have an emotional investment in the DC Universe and/or Kirby's concepts,
- Don't like what Morrison is doing with the DC Universe and/or Kirby's concepts,
- Disagree with the work for some reason at the ethical or spiritual level, or
- For any number of other reasons that are possible.
Addressing why someone should like Kirby's concepts, or why someone should appreciate Morrison's exploration of the divine and the mundane in the DC Universe is an entirely different essay . . . er . . . I mean "review" . . . an entirely different review. Perhaps I'll write that one for Final Crisis #4.
Why anyone who doesn’t like this series would still be reading the fourth issue (or even this third issue) is beyond my comprehension, but I know those readers are out there--buying a work they don’t like for whatever reason they have to justify doing so.
Anyway, Morrison is a writer who mostly adheres to a Postmodern aesthetic. For some people, that’s the problem. They can’t get past the aesthetics of his works to a point where they can enjoy his stories on an emotional and/or spiritual level.
However, much to my slight disappointment, Final Crisis has not been informed by Postmodernism (at least not yet). It has, though, been adhering to a sort of “Late Modern” aesthetic that Postmodernism has continued. That “Late Modern” aesthetic is evident in the pace at which Morrison’s story is preceding--and I think it may be turning some people off.
I’ll admit there are times when I wish this story would slow down to remain a while with some of the characters. On my first reading of it, this third issue left me feeling that Morrison is some times squeezing into a half page something that I would like to have expanded--or that he is rushing us through three pages of fast-paced action that seems difficult to follow if we allow the words and pictures to dictate the pace at which we read.
That feeling decreased when I gave the issue a second reading, and it disappeared completely during my third reading. As I was reading this issue for the second time, it struck me that Morrison seems to be following that Late Modern literary aesthetic of getting everything in one volume and not bothering to provide exposition--similar to how William Faulkner described the aesthetic that Thomas Wolfe and he were using in their novels in the first half of the 20th century:
Tom Wolfe was trying to say everything, get everything, the world plus “I” or filtered through “I” or the effort of “I” to embrace the world in which he was born and walked a little while and then lay down again, into one volume. I am trying to go a step further. This I think accounts for what people call the obscurity, the involved formless “style,” endless sentences. I’m trying to say it all in one sentence, between one Cap and one period. I’m [. . .] trying, to put it all, if possible, on one pinhead.Morrison may not be trying to squeeze everything into one sentence, but he is attempting to squeeze everything into one volume (of seven issues). As with Faulkner, Morrison’s aesthetic undoubtedly “accounts for what people call the obscurity, the involved formless ‘style’” of Morrison’s stories--not just Final Crisis but all of his canon.
Like the Late Modern novelists and poets (as well as the Postmodern writers), Morrison isn’t going to slow down the story to have a character explain things through some awkward exposition that serves no purpose other than to make sure the readers are following along.
As in real life, readers have to figure out what’s going on the same way they would if they suddenly found themselves in new situations at work or in new relationships with people. It’s rare that someone is going to come along and provide you with the expository information that’s going to make you feel comfortable in a new environment. In literature, the lack of exposition is just another layer of verisimilitude.
If you don’t realize that Frankenstein was watching a digital computer image of a hand cursor write a prophetic message on a wall in the Dark Side Club in three non-consecutive panels on the third page, then that’s your tough luck. Morrison isn’t going to bother to explain it to you with a third-person narrative caption or by having one of the character’s speak some awkward expository dialog.
However, I will . . . explain it that is, not give you some awkward expository dialog.
The computer cursor / digital hand that Frankenstein is watching on the third page appears to be an updated version of the fiery hand that wrote messages on the “Wall of Prophecy” (as I’ll call it) in Kirby’s Fourth World saga. The Fiery Hand and the Wall of Prophecy were introduced in New Gods #1 way back on December 22, 1970 (the on-sale date).
It was through the Wall of Prophecy that Izaya the Inheritor (aka Highfather of New Genesis) was able to receive guidance from the Source, which is also known as the “Life Equation” in Kirby’s original series. Since Kirby had the Source either prophesize or advise Orion to go “to war” (on Earth against the forces of Apokolips), it’s clear that Kirby’s view of the Life Equation did not imply absolute pacifism.
For Kirby, the Life Equation and the Source were the same concept. When it comes to understanding Kirby’s intentions, forget everything that Jim Starlin did in the unfortunate Death of the New Gods that was supposed to have led up to Morrison’s Final Crisis.
Forget, too, anything that might have been in the even more unfortunate Countdown to Final Crisis. Morrison is not following how other writers have mishandled Kirby’s concepts and characters.
The Source is the Essential Equation for Life. It’s associated with freewill--with freedom of choice and freedom from tyranny. Within the Manichean Dichotomy of Kirby’s Fourth World mythology, the Life Equation was contrasted by the Anti-Life Equation--which meant the control of all living thought by an outside force (such as by Darkseid should he ever succeed in obtaining the Anti-Life Equation).
Anti-Life is that which restricts freedom--not only freedom of action but, perhaps most importantly, freedom of thought. The Anti-Life Equation overrides independent thought and makes slaves of anyone who hears it (or, presumably, reads it).
For Kirby, Adolph Hitler was essentially using the Anti-Life Equation at the Nuremberg Rallies when he was able to incite the crowds into a frenzy with his charisma and rhetoric. The Anti-Life Equation made millions of Germans view Jews, gays, and the mentally and physically handicapped as “sub-humans” who were a disease that brought down the health of the Fatherland--and the Anti-Life Equation also made thousands of Germans place those so-considered “undesirables” into death camps to be exterminated.
At it’s heart, that’s what Kirby’s Fourth World was about--a Jewish artist (Kirby) contemplating the Holocaust in contrast to the concept of American democracy and the bohemian movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s (the hippies and yippies). It’s why Kirby gave many of the evil gods of Apokolips names and titles associated with the Axis powers in World War II--such as Darkseid (Dark Side with a Germanic spelling), Virman Vundabar (a playful spelling for “wonderful vermin” in German), and Kanto the Assassin (a play on “canto,” the Italian word for song).
In contrast, Kirby gave the good gods of New Genesis names and titles associated with Judaism or Hellenism (the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Ancient Greek)--such as Izaya (an alteration of Isaiah, the Judean prophet who declared all the world to be under God's control), Himon (an alteration of Hymen, the Greek god of marriage), Orion (the great hunter in Homer’s Odyssey whose spirit Odysseus saw in the underworld, which is what Apokolips essentially is), and Metron (Greek for measure or meter).
Of course, not all of Kirby’s names for his Fourth World characters have such connotations, but even when they deviate from the Axis and Old Testament pattern they play into the same ideology--such as Desaad (whose name alludes to the Marquis de Sade), Doctor Bedlam (whose name alludes to the chaos and deplorable medical conditions of London’s Bethlehem Hospital after it was converted into the world’s first psychiatric hospital in the 16th century), and Lightray (a character analogous to Apollo, the Greek god of light, logic, and order).
Morrison obviously understands the ideological underpinnings of Kirby’s Fourth World mythology, as he renamed Doctor Bedlam “Baron Bedlam” in his Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle series to merge “lunatic chaos” with a title of the German aristocracy--and he’s presenting his continuation and evolution of Kirby’s concepts through his Late Modern (and perhaps Postmodern) aesthetic in Final Crisis.
In this third issue, the Anti-Life Equation is transmitted to humanity as a computer virus through an e-mail sent to everyone in the world (or at least to everyone who has an e-mail account). It’s also broadcast as an audio message through the helmets that Darkseid’s human slaves wear on their heads--such as the one that Libra forced onto the head of Michael “the Human Flame” Miller.
As I considered Kirby’s original Fourth World concepts--the Axis vs. Old Testament dichotomy, the chaos vs. order dichotomy, the Equations for Anti-Life vs. Life, and the Wall of Prophesy that linked Izaya to the Source--I wondered about the computer cursor hand that was writing “Know Evil” on a wall at the Dark Side Club.
("Know Evil" may be a sort of "portmanteau allusion" that brings together the notion in the Green Lantern oath of "No evil shall escape my sight" with the prophetic words on the Temple of Delphi of "Know Yourself.")
Is it Darkseid’s version of Izaya’s Fiery Hand and Wall of Prophecy, or is it an attempt by Highfather to send a message to humanity now that Orion is dead and the other gods of New Genesis seem to be cut off from Earth? The only hint is that as the hand is writing, the ultraviolet light emissions are “off the dial”--which could implicate Lightray. I guess we’ll eventually find out.
Other things to consider and enjoy in this third issue include:
- The character called Father Time--who is running the government agency called S.H.A.D.E. and who appeared in Morrison’s Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein series--looks identical to the British superhero Big Ben (the man who had “no time for crime”), who was created by Dez Skinn and appeared in Alan Moore’s Marvelman feature that ran in Warrior magazine in the 1980s before being spun off into his own feature;
- Freddy Freeman considering a permanent transformation into Captain Marvel (or whatever he calls himself in the DC Universe these days), just as Johnny Bates did in transforming permanently into Kid Marvelman in Alan Moore’s Marvelman feature in Warrior magazine;
- Mary Marvel’s sudden appearance in the costume of Oubliette--a character in the Marvel Boy series that Morrison and J.G. Jones did at Marvel Comics eight years ago;
- The falling to Earth of “Uberfraulein” (which is German for “Overgirl” or “Supergirl”) in a scene that is nearly identical to Power Girl’s fall to Earth-2 in the current Justice Society of America Annual #2--with both characters being versions of Kara Zor-El, and with Uberfraulein apparently coming from Earth-10 (the post-52 universe in which Germany won World War II and the Justice League are Nazis);
- The reference to Renee “The Question” Montoya’s role in “Global Law Enforcement”--especially when considering that the agents of the “Global Peace Agency” in Kirby’s 1974-75 OMAC series wore masks almost identical to the Pseudoderm mask that The Question wears (as with Death of the New Gods we need to forget what Jim Starlin did with the Global Peace Agents in his OMAC feature that ran in the back of Kamandi and Warlord in 1980);
- The allusion to Emily Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” as Jay Garrick explains that the Black Racer was “going too fast to stop for me”;
- That Wally West and Barry Allen were going too fast to be caught by the Black Racer because “It’s a little known fact that Death can’t travel faster than the speed of light” (but Wally and Barry can);
- That Cave Carson’s discovery of Metron’s symbol--which Anthro used as a sigil in the first issue--was found in a cave in New York during an expansion of the subway system.
All of these mysterious pieces to the story and to Morrison’s cosmology for the DC Universe / Multiverse is why I am enjoying this series. If it all comes together well, and Morrison is able to “get it all on the head of a pin,” I might have to eventually give Final Crisis a five-bullet rating.
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