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Sunday Slugfest: Final Crisis #5

Posted: Sunday, December 14, 2008
By: Thom Young

Grant Morrison
JG Jones & Carlos Pacheco (p), Marco Rudy & Jesus Merino (i), & Alex Sinclair (c)
DC Comics
“Into Oblivion”

Humanity enslaved! Time shattered and bleeding! Anti-Life triumphant! Can Earth's demoralized, beaten heroes rally their scattered forces for the ultimate super-battle against the nightmare armies of Apokolips when the forces of good meet the forces of evil on the bridge to Blüdhaven?

Shawn Hill:

Paul Brian McCoy:

Dave Wallace:




Shawn Hill

Many movies with apocalyptic stories have tried for the tone of this issue. It's a world of gray, broken buildings and survivors with broken spirits. The air has a stench. Travesties have occurred, are still occurring, and everyone is powerless--even the best among us. The fight is hopeless. The enemies are numerous, and growing.

Many more bad movies than good have tried for this feeling and failed or have taken this mood as a given and didn’t try to convey it, but Morrison delivers.

We've seen Apokolips before, we've seen Darkseid murder and maim, but we haven't seen Apokolips rise on Earth in full (though it threatened to in 52). This issue shows how Apokolips on Earth occurs.

The issue opens with an alluring (and, of course, alien) look at the odd codes of the Green Lantern Corps. Corruption has come to Oa as well, but an army of peacekeepers is a match for a humor-free Granny Goodness, who has possessed Kraken and seems mostly to have wanted to taint whatever she could.

Back on Earth, characters from Morrison's Seven Soldiers maxi-series fight alongside the JSA and JLA remnants: Bulleteer, Frankenstein, and Mister Miracle have allied themselves with the Japanese pop heroes along with other pieces Morrison has been putting into place since before this series began.

For example, he's taken the already corrupted Mary Marvel and made her his paragon of cruelty, the opposite number to his two Supergirls-- the teenage powerhouse we're used to and the Nazi from a parallel universe that Renee Montoya (the Question) still finds attractive. The errant Monitor youth (who dreams of Weeja Dell, a woman he's never seen, but whom Superman has) finds himself locked up with other misfits who are immune to the Anti-Life Equation--this, too, is a cache of potential resistance (if of a nature we can't quite yet discern).

Libra and Lex Luthor still play their parts as well, and Lex smarts under the yoke of a far from Lex-centric agenda. Darkseid's rise has corrupted time and space around Earth (IE, it's another Crisis for real by now), and the Green Lanterns rushing to aid decide to let themselves fall into the newly insane gravity well. Supergirl forgets not everyone has super-hearing. Wonder Woman's back is covered with whip scars as she rides her dog of death.

It's the details that sell this issue--from the eerie Green opening to the vision of the blasted Earth cities. Jones, Pacheco, and colorist Alex Sinclair make sure that we see the heroes getting bloodied, defeated, injured, and betrayed in the battle. For instance, we see costumes become tattered.

Morrison repeats over and over how the human resistance must move past the heroes' failure, but the art lets us see that failure blow by painful blow. This is a great issue, full of mystery, awe and dread.

And, yes, glimmers of hope, too. Because Darkseid always forgets one thing; in a pantheon, the darkest god always has a counterpart.




Paul Brian McCoy:

One of the benefits of getting these reviews out on Sunday is that we get extra time to re-read books and actually give some thought to our responses. Of course, some reviewers squeeze in as many re-readings as possible no matter when the review is posted, but sometimes there just isn’t any time.

Final Crisis is a series that demands multiple readings.

Nothing is given easily. The narrative is built to move quickly from scene to scene, and Grant Morrison assumes the readers are smart enough to keep up.

The art tells as much story as the dialogue--sometimes more. For example, I don’t know who all of the characters are in the two-page spread set in Blüdhaven, but it’s an exciting scene--particularly if one is a fan of Morrison’s Frankenstein (which I am).

Seeing Frankenstein on his motorcycle with a sword strapped to his back is just about ten sorts of cool. It wasn’t until a few more readings that I realized the other means of transport on that page are the Metal Men--Lead and Mercury as motorcycles, Iron as a Humvee, and Gold as some sort of gun-encrusted tank-car. (Red Arrow’s motorcyle might also be either Tin or Platinum, but it’s difficult to say for certain.)

Awesome.

There are no caption boxes explaining who they are. They’re just there. If you recognize them, then good on you. If you don’t, no big deal. The scene works either way, but this use of the Metal Men explains why a couple of the motorcycles seem a little out of control (and oddly colored).

Similarly, when the story switches from scene to scene, rather than providing a text box telling us where we’re at, we are given establishing shots that serve the purpose. If we’ve been reading and paying attention, then we should have some idea of where we are on each page. If you haven’t been paying attention, then it takes no more than a panel or two to become situated with the scene change.

It’s not sloppy writing. It’s solid and cleanly orchestrated. Morrison tells the story without holding your hand. If you read carefully and think about what you’re seeing and hearing, then you won’t be lost. If you’re still lost, then I have to assume it’s just you, because this story is making perfect sense to me.

I’ve also found that when I am confused about what was going on--as in the scene this issue with Libra, Luthor, and The Calculator--the dialogue actually gives me all the information I need to piece together the situation, and the art provides unspoken information. I didn’t know why Libra was preparing to hang Calculator as a traitor, but that’s because I forgot that last issue’s use of the Ünternet to “coordinate an attack strategy” was aided by a “highly placed informer in Libra’s Secret Society.” Is it Calculator? Doubtful--if the expression on Luthor’s face is any indication as he stands by and prepares to allow Calculator to be executed. And I think Libra knows it was Luthor, too.

And then, when it comes to the purely linear and traditional narrative of the opening scene with Hal Jordan’s trial, we see Morrison flexing a different set of storytelling muscles to craft my favorite kick-ass Green Lantern moment in recent memory. Hal’s simple plan of going in after John Stewart and kicking Darkseid’s ass made me like him for maybe the first time ever (Stewart is my preferred GL).

Earlier, when the Guardian said, “Cleared of all charges. You have 24 hours to save the universe, Lantern Jordan,” I actually got that feeling you get when the hero steps up and you know from here on out It Is On. While still a cliché, it’s one that works much better for me than any of the piles of clichés that I waded through at the end of Sinestro Corps War (particularly that horrifying “lets all put a green light in the window to show our support for the troops” bullshit).

And did I mention how brilliant all of the combat involving Mary Marvel is?

From the simple orchestration of her takedown by Black Adam when she’s manically obsessing over going after Supergirl, to her subsequent taking down of Black Adam and Captain Marvel together, to her finally catching up with Supergirl, each scene is not only staged to emphasize the immensity of the impacts (in both cases, the initial confrontation is seen from a long shot--emphasizing the reactions of others as though bombs are going off in the distance), but we also get a ridiculously creepy explanation for Mary’s conversion to the dark side.

“I saw a leering old man in her eyes!” All bets are on Darkseid’s henchman Desaad hiding inside Mary’s head the same way Granny Goodness is in Alpha Lantern Kraken’s.

There are so many great moments in this comic that I can’t go into detail about them all, but here’s a quick rundown of the other moments that made this book work so well for me:
  • “Spacetime around the Earth just crumpled, like it was crushed in a fist. Weeks smashed into days.” Followed shortly by, “The Earth is at Ground Zero of a Doomsday Singularity. The impact of Darkseid’s fall is causing cracks to spread through all space sectors.” And there you have it, an in-narrative justification for the fragmented narrative style that so many readers have been complaining about. Again, awesome.
  • The Kit Super Soldiers with Seven Day Lifespans at Checkmate headquarters. If you haven’t read Kirby’s Omac collection, you really should. It’s classic stuff that Morrison is making relevant again.
  • The reactions of The Super Young Team to the apparent gunning down of Mister Miracle. Every line is gold.
  • “Radar says the Swiss border just . . . just got further away. . . .” Brilliant.
  • “The war broke time and space. A fallen Devil-God is dragging us down with him into a deep, dark hole in time, with no light, no hope, and no escape,” says the Master Escape Artist. Echoes of the Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle series, anyone?
  • Not only are the Tiger Men from Kirby’s Kamandi involved here, but the human soldiers of Darkseid are wearing uniforms with a pattern that is very similar to the pattern on the Meta-Vest worn by the original Shade, The Changing Man. It probably means nothing, but any possible reference to Shade makes anything better.
  • Anti-Life sloganeering vs. Frankenstein’s Milton monologues. “Anti-Life makes it easy!” “Anti-Life: The choice that’s made for you!” “Farewell happy fields where joy forever dwells. Hail horrors!” “Dropp’d from the zenith like a falling star. . . .”
  • The arrival of Tawny with the “Quantum Blunderbuss” to save Captain Marvel from Mary Marvel’s leather-clad crotch.
  • Is that Metron working the Rubik Cube? Could be. But who’s the talking chimp?
  • Green Lanterns freefalling into the Doomsday Singularity.
  • Darkseid speaking with three billion voices, making fists with three billion hands, staring at us with six billion eyes. The New God made Incarnate. “They only ever faced the idea of a god before.” How many times can I just say, Awesome? At least one more, apparently.
  • The design of “The Judge of All Evil” Monitor on the final page made me a little giddy. I love, love, love this variation so much more than the twenty-odd year old Monitor costume design that we’ve been handcuffed to for so long.
There’s really just so much going on that that’s just going to have to do. Any more explanation of just why I found each of these moments and scenes to be brilliant beyond what I think is simply self-evident brilliance would take up way too much bandwidth.

However, there are a couple of missteps.

When Nix Uotan is tossed into the cell with the others who are immune to the Anti-Life Equation, the initial dialogue is misattributed. The word balloon indicates that the fellow (Metron?) in the wheelchair with the Rubik Cube is talking (or else the wall behind him is), when actually the word balloon should be emanating from the hooded monkey man. I’m also not sure why the head scientist who enters the cell later in the story looks just like Mokkari, only with hair. This may be something that I’m just missing, but it was confusing.

We also apparently have Batman #683 spoiled for us, since, Mokkari reveals that “The Batman psycho-merge killed the clone army” that they were building. That’s a bummer. I’m not sure how they could have scheduled it any better though, since it seems that the next issue of Final Crisis is set to follow Batman 683 and conclude “R.I.P.” It’s an annoyance, but ultimately not really of any consequence.

However, the few glitches in the story are enough to keep me from giving Final Crisis #5 a perfect score. That’s probably too harsh, but I’d prefer to err on the side of caution with my bullet scores. Although I’m sure 4.5 is so ridiculous to many readers out there that the idea that I’m actually tempering my score is already absurd.

No worries, gang. I calls ‘em like I see’s ‘em. And this is one great story. Could it be better? Maybe if editorial stopped messing with it and just let Morrison tell the story he originally wanted to tell. Maybe. But it’s still the best event series I’ve read from both a content standard and a stylistic approach. So there.




Dave Wallace:

As with most issues of this series (and most Morrison comics in general), I enjoyed Final Crisis #5 more on a second reading than I did the first time. Whilst it’s a story that works well at face value--providing plenty of enjoyable character moments and action sequences--it’s the deeper ideas behind the story that really resonate and keep the book in your mind long after the final page has been read.

All of which is not to say that the story doesn’t make for a satisfying read when taken as a straightforward superhero epic.

This issue opens with a strong sequence that shows the trial of Hal Jordan on Oa, a scene that’s efficient and to-the-point--recapping the central premise of the series for any latecomers and moving the Green Lanterns’ story strand forward (ending with the punchy declaration, “You have 24 hours to save the universe, Lantern Jordan”).

It’s also a scene that allows Morrison to casually toss out a sci-fi concept that helps to eradicate all sorts of potential continuity errors--both within this series and for other tie-ins--as he has the earth-based Lanterns explain how spacetime has been compressed by a gravity sink that was caused by Darkseid’s fall.

The book contains plenty of pleasing smaller moments, whether it’s Morrison’s dusting-off of more Jack Kirby concepts (such as the original OMAC design, recycled here as a “Generation Zero Biomac”), his encapsulation of big, cosmic ideas with concise, grounded language that makes them more accessible (such as Sonny Sumo’s description of Motherboxxx: “If Gods made i-pods that were alive? Way beyond that.”), or spooky character beats like a scarred Wonder Woman donning a mask to ride into battle for Darkseid, and Lex Luthor’s apparent regret at the fate of the planet.

There are moments of humour, too (“You have thoughtlessly gunned down a global megastar! How will you explain yourself to this man’s fans?”), that inject a little levity into the story without undermining the seriousness of the threat posed by Darkseid.

As the book begins to draw to a close, Morrison and his artists produce a well-staged and coherent crowd-pleasing fight sequence involving (among others) Captain Marvel, a possessed Mary Marvel, and Frankenstein of Seven Soldiers (a character that I’d love to see given a dedicated solo series). Finally, the writer kicks things up a notch with an exciting crescendo in which Darkseid manifests himself in all his glory to usher in the “Fifth World,” and we see the debut of a new New God.

All of these moments combine to form an issue that is compelling to read, epic in scale and scope, and which moves the series forwards towards its climax.

However, it’s with the deeper themes and subtext on which the strength of Final Crisis really lies. Unlike other “event” comics I could mention, Final Crisis explicitly addresses its deeper ideas within the story itself, rather than choosing to concentrate on the surface story alone and leave discussion of the deeper meanings of the story to be explored in creator interviews and secondary tie-in stories.

In particular, the power of words and symbols is a constant theme of this issue, and one that underpins almost every scene:
  • The Guardians informing the Green Lanterns that the New Gods under Darkseid “have word-weapons capable of enslaving souls
  • The adoption of Metron-inspired facepaint by Mr. Miracle and the Super Young Team
  • Mary Marvel’s claim that she has “learned a new word that makes her what she is. A blasphemous name of power!”
  • The scene in which Nix Uotan is inspired to remember a word (the name of his lover) that empowers him and reminds him of his true nature and purpose
Morrison constantly reinforces the notion that ideas and concepts as expressed through language and symbols have the power to transform reality and shape the world.

The writer further develops these ideas with indications that the dividing line between fiction and reality isn’t as clear as it may seem, tapping into the metafictional ideas that were explored in Morrison’s Superman Beyond tie-in issue. Nix Uotan is told, “If your superheroes can’t save you, maybe it’s time to think of something that can. If it don’t exist, think it up. Then make it real.”

In response, Uotan apparently transforms himself into a New God (with “monitoring” powers) through the sheer force of imagination and the recollection of his lover’s name. It’s thought-provoking stuff, and I can’t wait to see whether Morrison brings these elements to the forefront of the book with the second issue of Superman Beyond and the final issue of Final Crisis (which are apparently closely connected).

The art for the series remains strong, despite the presence of multiple artists. The transition between the work of JG Jones and Carlos Pacheco is so smooth as to be almost seamless, and both artists prove adept at handling both the large-scale action sequences and the smaller, more subtle moments. I’m not sure how the book will cope with the transition to a third artist in its final issue. For the moment, though, the story is in good hands.

I struggled to decide whether to give this issue 4 or 4.5 bullets, but opted for the lower rating in the end because, while this is a very strong issue, it does contain a few flaws:
  • Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner’s discovery of the truth about Kraken seems a little sudden and convenient for such a major development, and hasn’t been foreshadowed as well as it might have been
  • There’s a throwaway line of dialogue that spoils the outcome of Morrison’s tie-in story that’s currently running in the pages of Batman, which might disappoint followers of that book
  • Finally, there’s a sequence involving a Rubik’s cube that seems clever at first, but doesn’t work logically when you stop to think about it (there is no “minimum number of moves” in which a Rubik’s cube can be solved, it depends on the starting configuration). This problem saps some of the power of a later moment in which a wheelchair-bound character (possibly Metron) manifests his godly power.
However, these are minor flaws in an otherwise enjoyable issue that cements the status of Final Crisis as one of the best crossover comics in recent memory. Regardless of the delays to the shipping schedule, I’m still enjoying this book when it appears, and I look forward to seeing how it all wraps up over the course of the next two issues.



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