[Editor’s Note: DC Comics is scheduled to release the collected edition of Final Crisis on June 10, 2008. This review/critique of the entire series of seven issues, plus Superman Beyond #1-2 and Batman #682-83, is an early review of that eventual collected edition.]
I’m sure it comes as no surprise to anyone that Final Crisis has elicited a wide variety of responses. Many readers have enjoyed it (such as my colleagues Dave Wallace, Paul Brian McCoy, and Kyle Garret). Conversely, many readers have commented extensively in reviews and message board forums on how much they have hated it.
Of course, such a wide range of opinion isn’t exclusive to Grant Morrison’s high-profile projects. In fact, the same variety of views exist about DC’s previous two “cosmic crises”: Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985-86) and Infinite Crisis (2005-06).
I don’t recall critiquing the quality of the writing on the first “Crisis” project to a great degree. I certainly knew it wasn’t as good as the work Alan Moore was concurrently presenting in Saga of the Swamp Thing (Watchmen came a year after Crisis on Infinite Earths), but I don’t recall cringing at Marv Wolfman’s dialog at the time.
Still, those were the days when little attention was paid to the quality of comic book dialog. Moore’s work was only becoming noticed as being of a much higher quality than superhero comics had seen before. The only things I recall being bothered by was that Wolfman killed off Barry Allen, Kara Zor-El, and Helena Wayne as well as compressing five Earths into one while effectively wiping out nearly 70 years of DC continuity.
Fortunately, I enjoyed George Pérez’s illustrations, and I was mostly okay with Crisis on Infinite Earths--at the time. However, since then I have come to dislike Crisis on Infinite Earths a great deal--not due to its negative effect on DC continuity but due to Wolfman’s poor ear for dialog (which became noticeable to me in subsequent readings) plus his inability to incorporate either accurate science or plausible pseudo-science into his story.
Wolfman seemed to have ignored the work of other DC writers who were his contemporaries and who had effectively corrected the bad science or pseudo-science of the Golden and Silver Ages of DC’s history. The quality of writing had become significantly important to me over the years--perhaps because of my own career path--and Wolfman’s work was found wanting.
I was even more critical three years ago when Infinite Crisis was published. Like Wolfman, Geoff Johns displayed a bad ear for dialog and an inability to incorporate accurate science or plausible pseudo-science into his story. Of course, to a large extent all Johns did was continue the errors that Wolfman had committed in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Johns’s work was a sequel not only in content but also in form.
Additionally, Johns’s Infinite Crisis was filled with errors in internal logic, making it far worse than Wolfman’s efforts from 20 years earlier--particularly since Wolfman was writing for a younger demographic (in general) than Johns was writing for. Fortunately, I can direct none of those complaints toward Morrison’s Final Crisis:
- Morrison has a keen ear for dialog.
- He has enough knowledge about contemporary scientific theories to either incorporate them outright or create from them plausible pseudo-science for his stories.
- Unless an apparent contradiction is actually a preconceived plot point in the story, he seldom has errors in internal logic in any of his stories.
Yet, as I mentioned earlier, many readers have commented extensively how much they have hated Final Crisis. Conversely, in contrast to my own views of the two earlier “Crisis” events, a great many readers absolutely love Wolfman’s and Johns’s respective work. It’s perplexing, isn’t it?
Obviously, the easiest answer to this puzzling predicament is to simply say, “De gustibus non est disputandum.” However, that maxim can easily be used by both sides in reference to the other, and such a self-righteous claim doesn’t actually address the opposing side’s view in any meaningful way.
Until someone can write an in-depth critique that reveals how Wolfman and Johns actually have a good ear for dialog, believable science, and sound internal logic (specifically in the two “Crisis Events,” not necessarily in their other works), I will continue to have a negative view of Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis. I would expect the same to be true of the people who don’t care for Morrison’s Final Crisis.
In fact, the few negative critiques I’ve read about Final Crisis (I only read the message board comments at Comics Bulletin as well as the reviews I edit for Wednesdays and Sundays, so I don’t read a lot of the negativity that’s out there on the Web) are actually valid from a certain aesthetic perspective. Indeed, after my initial reading of the final chapter, they are criticisms that I actually flirted with leveling at Final Crisis as well.
For me, part of the problem is that Morrison did not make this story as overtly Postmodern as he did Seven Soldiers three years ago. I sincerely feel that Morrison tried to make Final Crisis a bit more palatable to a general audience by making it less esoteric. The only overtly unconventional narrative technique that he used is his short scenes with abrupt shifts to new scenes minus transitional devices (which is unconventional for superhero comics, but not for music videos from 20 years ago that introduced the “quick cut” techniques that have since become a convention in television and film).
Granted (no pun intended), Final Crisis is a bit more esoteric than Wolfman’s and Johns’s respective “Crisis” stories, but it’s not immediately as obfuscatory as Morrison’s own work on Seven Soldiers . . . or The Filth . . . or The Invisibles.
At times, that lack of overt Postmodern aesthetic lulled me into thinking that Morrison was attempting to write a story with a Modern aesthetic--one in which the narrative would adhere to an Aristotelian structure (that is an architectonic sense of order and balance that is one of the conventions of Modern literature). Of course, two of Morrison’s tangential Final Crisis projects are obviously Postmodern in their aesthetics: Batman #682-83 and the two issues of Superman Beyond.
However, in chapters 1-6, the main Final Crisis series had been fairly straightforward in it’s narrative approach--and the tangential chapter Submit adhered unquestionably to a Modern aesthetic and Aristotelian structure. Thus, it was a bit jarring when I read Final Crisis #7 for the first time and it didn’t tie up all the plot points that I had expected it to tie up.
After all, that’s what stories that follow a Modern aesthetic and an Aristotelian structure are supposed to do: Tie everything up in a tightly plotted conclusion. (Unless, of course, the story follows a Romantic aesthetic, in which case it might conclude with a sense of ambiguity that is open to a variety of interpretations about what the ambiguous elements might portend).
Because Morrison seemed to be taking a more conventional approach to the main Final Crisis chapters, I was somewhat surprised that the seventh issue didn’t tie everything up in a rational, Aristotelian conclusion. (It did, though, contain a couple of ambiguous elements that may be signifying either a deeper meaning or the possibility of subsequent stories that remain to be told--but then, that’s not too surprising since superhero comics are well rooted in the Romantic tradition).
To be exact, after re-reading the entire series (along with all of Morrison’s own tangential chapters), here are some plot points for which I did not find a resolution:
- If “Evil won the war between Heaven and Hell (New Genesis and Apokolips), which Barry Allen claimed as he fell to Earth in DC Universe 0, then why did Darkseid fall?
There is a vague reference in Final Crisis #6 in which Darkseid tells Batman that Orion “splintered like light through a prism in an infinite number of deaths” (which is actually the reverse of how Barry Allen describes his own progress in DC Universe 0 in which he claims he is a “shaft of light split through a prism” as he “falls” into his resurrection).
Then, in response to Darkseid’s statement about Orion, Batman says, “And on the way he wounded you, beyond repair, didn’t he?” (page 26, panel 3).
However, if the forces of Apokolips won the war with New Genesis, then Batman’s guess (?) doesn’t exactly explain why Darkseid fell through the branes of the multiverse. Presumably, this plot point might have been covered in Morrison’s story of Darkseid’s fall that was to have been published in Final Crisis Secret Files--but that story never appeared.
- What exactly was Anthro’s role in all of this supposed to have been after receiving the knowledge (the sigil) that Metron imparted to him in issue #1? Was it simply that Anthro then painted it on a cave and that the design was later discovered by Cave Carson?
And how did it go from Cave Carson’s discovery of Upper Paleolithic art to Black Lightning knowing its significance in Final Crisis: Submit?
And/or how did Shilo “Mister Miracle” Norman, get the sigil and know that it needed to be painted on people’s faces?
Perhaps the answer to that last question lies in the Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle series that Morrison wrote three years ago. I vaguely recall a number of scenes that seemed hallucinatory, but that might actually make sense now. However, I haven’t read that series since it’s initial publication three years ago.
Given that Anthro either had a vision or opened a time portal (and/or parallel universe gate) to Kamandi after drawing Metron’s sigil in the dirt in the first issue, it also seems likely that Morrison meant for Kamandi to have more of a role in recovering the sigil from Anthro for use against the Anti-Life Equation. As it is, the entire plot point of Anthro and the sigil is very ambiguous.
- Initially, Vandal Savage seemed like he was going to have a much larger role in the story than he ended up having--though he was shipped off to the barely related series Final Crisis: Revelations where he was possessed by the spirit of the Biblical Cain. After seeing Vandal Savage fighting Anthro in the first issue, and then at the Secret Society meeting in issue #2, I thought he might play a role in the conclusion--but that was not the case.
- If the radion bullet that killed Orion “entered time” in a derelict strip club in Central City, how did it then fly all the way to the Metropolis shipping docks where it hit Orion while traveling backwards through time?
Did it just get pulled along in the wake of the three Flashes who were attempting to outrun the Black Racer? If so, then why did the three Flashes travel backwards through time all the way to Metropolis where the bullet would then hit Orion before being buried in the cement 50 years earlier?
I’ll admit, though, there might be an answer to these questions about the “magic bullet” in the series that I have just not been able to fathom thus far. It does sort of make you dizzy thinking about it, though, doesn’t it?
- How did Libra know that Clark Kent is Superman?
He sent Clayface to the Daily Planet to plant a bomb under Lois Lane’s desk--knowing, apparently, that Lois’s death or critical injury would take Superman out of the picture. So . . . did Darkseid tell Libra that Clark Kent is Superman?
- While we’re on the subject, who was Libra really supposed to be?
I don’t for a second believe that the story in Final Crisis Secret Files, which replaced the story about the Fall of Darkseid, was Morrison’s original plan for Libra’s secret identity--a heretofore unknown astronomy student who took some classes from Ted “Starman” Knight and who later stole the plans for Starman’s rod.
It was rather an anti-climactic reveal to the Mystery of Libra, wasn’t it?
- In issue #4, Barry Allen says that an “unknown force reversed engineered” him back to life “out of a blizzard of faster-than-light particles.” Who or what was that unknown force? Whatever it was, it seems to have been related to Darkseid’s Fall and/or Orion’s death.
Additionally, I think Morrison might have said in an interview early on that Barry Allen’s resurrection was related to Libra’s resurrection, but (according to Final Crisis Secret Files) Libra’s resurrection was orchestrated by Glorious Godfrey at some point before the “War between New Genesis and Apokolips” that Darkseid’s forces won.
Yet, as I mentioned before, that Secret Files story does not seem to be in agreement with Morrison’s original plans, and it seemed to have been inserted as a last-minute replacement for Morrison’s story about the Fall of Darkseid. Nevertheless, both Libra and Barry Allen had been “one with the universe/multiverse” before condensing down to human form at or near the beginning of Final Crisis.
Additionally, in issue #7, Lex Luthor says, “Libra was the Anti-Life Equation.”
Did Luthor mean it literally?
Was Morrison’s original idea for Libra to have been the Anti-Life Equation Incarnate, and that the Source (the Life Equation, according to Kirby’s original work) was the force that resurrected Barry Allen?
Furthermore, was Libra supposed to be Scott Free--who was depicted in recent New Gods stories as also being the Anti-Life Equation Incarnate? Is that why Libra was able to “escape death” when Luthor fired an energy blast at him in issue #6?
- Speaking of Barry (up there somewhere in the previous, meandering bullet point), he was also able to revive his wife, Iris, from Anti-Life enslavement by giving her a kiss--a scene that parallels Superman’s revival of Lois Lane in Superman Beyond #2 in which Superman passed the Bleed Elixir into his wife’s mouth while kissing her.
Given those two strong kissing images that seemed to indicate that love (and a “magical kiss”) could overcome the Anti-Life Equation, why wasn’t this angle played up more in the conclusion of the story? The Power of Love to Overcome Anti-Life would have played nicely into Jack Kirby’s communal New Gods of New Genesis and their Romantic hippy philosophy in which they were able to overcome the forces of Apokolips through personal and communal love.
- Who was the cloaked ape-like creature in the holding cell with Uotan and the wheelchair-bound Metron?
Furthermore, why did the denizen of Darkseid who came into that prison cell look like Mokkari but with hair? Was it a young clone of Mokkari? Was the cloaked ape-like creature a clone of Mokkari’s colleague Simyan? If so, why was Simyan’s clone a prisoner, and why was his identity never revealed to us?
- How did the parallel universe Sonny Sumo who teamed up with Shilo “Mister Miracle” Norman know that the Sonny Sumo of Earth 0 had been sent back to feudal Japan (by Darkseid’s Omega Beams) where he lived out his life?
- Finally, how did the “time capsule” rocket with all of the mementos stored aboard it end up in Anthro’s camp at the end of the story?
Was there some sort of temporal homing device on it that targeted Bruce Wayne after Darkseid sent him back to Anthro’s time with the Omega Beams?
Of course that’s not actually the case, there are a great many details in the story that Morrison presented. It’s easy, though, to focus on the details that appear to have been either forgotten or intentionally left out.
Another example that I noticed while I was re-reading the series is that Dan Turpin is attacked in the Dark Side Club near the end of the first issue--after being led to the club by the Tattooed Man. It looks like Turpin is likely to die at the hands of the children he had been searching for because they had already succumb to Darkseid.
Yet, we then see Turpin at the beginning of the second issue beating up the Mad Hatter and demanding to know where the children are being held. Wait a minute! Did Morrison forget that Turpin was facing his death at the hands of the children at the end of the previous chapter?
No, Morrison didn’t forget; Turpin forgot. Something happened to Turpin off panel between the two chapters, and our first hint of what it might be is Turpin’s narrative that implied he got an erection from beating up the Mad Hatter and then immediately wondering “What’s wrong with me?” (pages 10-11). We later learn that Turpin had been possessed by Darkseid in that off-panel incident, and that his reaction to beating up the Mad Hatter was actually Darkseid’s consciousness beginning to emerge.
Anyway, as I read the seventh issue for the first time, I was one of those readers (sort of) who thought we might get answers to most of the questions in my list as well. I was anticipating such an architectonic sense of order and balance because Morrison had lulled me into believing that he was interested in writing a straightforward story in accordance with an Aristotelian structure and Modern aesthetics.
However, he really wasn’t--and, of course, it turns out he didn’t.
Aside from Superman Beyond (and the two-part Batman story to some extent), Final Crisis was not as overtly Postmodern in its aesthetics as other Morrison works have been. Nevertheless, the seventh issue ends up working “perfectly” as the conclusion of a Postmodern story--though Postmodern aesthetics actually appears imperfect, or “flawed,” from a Modern or Aristotelian perspective, which is actually the point of much of Final Crisis (more on that later in this long-winded review/critique).
A Postmodern aesthetic doesn't mean that "anything goes" or that "everything is art." It does, however, mean that an alternative type of order and an alternative type of "coherence" exists within works of Postmodern art--and that is how Final Crisis must actually be viewed.
Works of art do not need to adhere to architectonic structures in the way they're composed or organized--but they do need to follow some sort of non-Aristotelian logic that can be discerned through close examination of the work. So what was the organizational structure here?
Viewed in its entirety (including Morrison’s tangential chapters), Final Crisis is an improvisational jazz narrative. There, I said it! Heaaah! [Inside joke for long-time Comics Bulletin message board members.]
I don’t make the claim of Final Crisis as an improvisational jazz narrative lightly. Would it matter to me if Morrison came out in an interview and stated that he was not thinking of a jazz narrative structure at all while composing the story, and that he doesn’t really like jazz (I don’t know whether he does or doesn’t like jazz, this is just an example)?
No, it wouldn’t matter because there is enough textual evidence to support a jazz narrative interpretation even if Morrison was not consciously considering jazz structure while composing his story. He was, however, thinking of music, that much is certain--as evident in the various references to music in the seventh issue.
Anyway, jazz has a three-part structure that it borrowed from its precursor, blues music--and those three parts are: theme phrase, paraphrase, and chorus phrase variation. Not surprisingly, the theme phrase is introduced at the beginning of a jazz composition. It is also the first four-bar phrase in a 12-bar blues sequence.
The theme phrase is a straightforward statement that establishes the primary subject of the composition. In the case of Final Crisis, the theme phrase is introduced in the first four pages of the first issue (the first four “bars,” as it were). Thus, the DC Universe 0 material that Dan Didio asked Morrison and Johns to co-write is not actually part of Final Crisis, which is why it is not mentioned by Morrison in his canonical list of chapters in his exit interview at Newsarama.
The theme phrase for Final Crisis is Metron’s four-word statement to Anthro and his subsequent imparting of the knowledge of the sigil (knowledge of the empowerment of linguistic structures). The following is from my review of Final Crisis #1:
Morrison was very careful in the words he chose to have on the three opening pages (comprised of two pictures). I also believe Morrison was very precise with which New God he used--though as the god of knowledge, Metron is an obvious choice and one to whom Jack Kirby gave a very providential name for Morrison’s purpose here.Thus, the theme phrase of Final Crisis is established in the first four pages of the first issue--namely, that mankind must eventually measure up to the status and power of gods.
For instance, in Hebrew, the Tetragrammaton YHWH (or Yahweh, the name of the Hebrew god in the Old Testament ) translates as “I am.” Thus, Metron is essentially saying to Anthro, “Yahweh Metron”--similar to the way that God replied to Moses in Exodus 3:13-14:And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?The Hebrew text actually has God saying, “YHWH ASR YHWH”--or “Yahweh asher Yahweh” (“I am that I am”).
And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.
In essence, then, Morrison has Metron saying unto Anthro, “Yahweh Metron”--which would translate out of the Hebrew and Greek as “I am the measure” since metron is the Greek word for measure or meter.
However, the fact that it’s Metron saying this to Anthro also calls to mind the motto of the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Protagoras (about 490- 420 BC), “Anthrōpos metron--which translates as “Man is the measure (of all things).”
Of all the writers working in comics today, only Morrison or Alan Moore might play with these meanings within a rich mythological scene in which a Cro-Magnon youth has a literal epiphany by meeting a god who essentially says, “Anthro (Adam), Yahweh Metron” or “Man, I am the Measure”--as in God is what Man must measure up to, or aspire to be like.
Then, on the fourth page, Metron imparts knowledge to Anthro--just as the Serpent and/or Eve imparted knowledge to Adam (after all, “Adam” translates as “man”) or as Yahweh imparted knowledge to Moses (et cetera).
Such empowerment of humanity will be achieved through the knowledge that was imparted to Anthro on the side of that hill where Metron’s eventual departure left a burning bush: The power of symbols (or linguistic structure)--from which, of course, stories and music are composed.
If humans are to measure up to the status of gods, they must achieve it through the power of creating worlds of their own within works of art.
Okay, so that’s the theme phrase of Morrison’s jazz-based structure for Final Crisis: The magical power of symbols to structure our perceptions of reality.
The paraphrase (the second four bars in a blues composition) retains “melodic affinities” with the theme phrase. Essentially, it’s the theme but phrased differently. Musically, it may present chord changes that differ from those of the theme. Lyrically, it may omit, insert, or exchange some words in its paraphrasing of the theme--as is evident in one of the theme phrase and paraphrase sequences in “Traveling Riverside Blues” in which Robert Johnson inserted spoken lines at the end of the melodic lines of the first two four-bar phrases:
Now, you can squeeze my lemon ‘til the juice runs down my . . . [spoken:] ‘til the juice runs down my leg, baby, you know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout.Johnson’s first spoken insertion disrupts the melodic line of the first section so that he doesn’t complete the lyric of the first line. His second spoken insertion is clearly a response to the first line’s insertion--rather than a recapitulation of it--making the second section a paraphrase of the first rather than an exact restatement.
Now, you can squeeze my lemon ‘til the juice runs downs my leg . . . [spoken:] that’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout now.
In his review of Final Crisis #5, my colleague Dave Wallace identified several instances of the paraphrase of Morrison’s theme:
In particular, the power of words and symbols is a constant theme of this issue, and one that underpins almost every scene:I would argue with Dave that its not “ideas and concepts expressed through language and symbols” that have this power. Rather, it’s the reverse: Language and symbols have the power to transform reality (or our perception of it, actually), which leads us to being able to conceive of ideas and concepts. It’s a significant distinction because it’s the essential difference between a Modern view of language and a Postmodern view of language (and the primacy of language is the foundation of Postmodernism).
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 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
The Modern and Aristotelian view is that ideas and concepts come first and are then expressed through language (which is what Dave stated). The Postmodern view is that language (or symbol system) comes first, which then allows us to organize our perceptions of the world around us--leading to concepts or ideas that otherwise could not exist before the introduction of linguistic structure.
Aside from our difference of opinion regarding the emphasis on words, names, and other symbols in Final Crisis, I agree with Dave’s emphasis on the importance of those aspects of the fifth issue. They are the various paraphrases in that chapter that have branched off from Morrison’s initial theme phrase: The magical power of symbols to structure our perceptions of reality.
Additionally, these paraphrases of the theme are not limited to the fifth issue (that’s just the issue Dave was reviewing when he noted all of those instances); they appear throughout the series:
- In the first issue, when Nix Uotan is being sentenced by the other Monitors for his failure in preventing the destruction of Earth 51, he is not only made human, he is also stripped of his “word of attention” (page 27, panel 2).
- Two pages later, before being sent to Earth as a human, Uotan tells his lover, Weeja Dell, “We Monitors who were faceless once . . . we all now have names and stories” (pages 28-29, panel 2).
- In the second issue, Uotan, now on Earth in human form and working at Big Belly Burger says that he feels like he will one day “find the magic word” that will take him home.
- In issue #3, Freddie Freeman says, “I was thinking maybe I should just say my magic word and change to somebody stronger than me . . . and never come back (page 16, panel 4). He then says his magic word in the next panel, “Shazam.”
Of course, this act that Freddie is contemplating is what Kid Marvelman did in Alan Moore’s Marvelman (Miracleman) series in the 1980s, and he became corrupted due to the absolute power he possessed and his separation from his humanity. Freddie doesn’t end up following that path, but Mary Marvel does--and it is Freddie who must save her from her corruption (as my colleague Paul Brian McCoy pointed out in his review/critique in the most recent Sunday Slugfest).
- In Superman Beyond #1, feedback from the Infinite Book (more on this book later) causes the Captain Marvel of a parallel Earth to change back to his human form, Billy Batson. Why would it cause that to happen? Obviously, it’s because in containing all of the stories that have ever been written in the multiverse (along with all that ever will be written), it also contains all of the magic words that have ever been used in all of those stories--including stories about Captain Marvel and his magic word, “Shazam!”
Then, after Billy has become human after the feedback, Superman implores him to say his magic word to change back to Captain Marvel. However, like Nix Uotan before him, Billy can no longer remember his magic word (page 27, panels 1-4).
- In Final Crisis: Submit and in issues #4 and #6 of the main series, the Tattooed Man takes a prominent role in the story. He is, of course, a man whose body is filled with various sigils (signs or images that are believed to have magical powers). The Tattooed Man’s tattoos (his sigils) have the power to come to life when he activates them, and he adds Metron’s sigil to his tattoos in order to carry the magic power symbol to the resistance (never mind, for now, how Black Lightning came to possess the sigil that he then passed along to the Tattooed Man in Submit).
- In issue #4, the Tattooed Man tells Green Arrow that he has come to the Hall of Justice to bring “the word from Black Lightning” (page 4, panel 4). Of course, he isn’t actually referring to Metron’s sigil here. Rather, he is referring to bringing “news” from Black Lightning. Nonetheless, the line acts as a paraphrase of the theme phrase.
- Also in issue #4 we are given the “text” of the Anti-Life Equation. An equation is a statement made within the language known as mathematics. It is the mathematical equivalent of a sentence. Equations and sentences are both comprised of a string of symbols that work together to make an extended statement. In this case, the Anti-Life Equation mixes mathematical symbols with linguistic symbols, and their collective effect is to become a sigil that empowers Darkseid to enslave humanity.
- In addition to the instances that Dave Wallace identified in the fifth issue, the cloaked simian figure in the holding cell with the wheelchair-bound Metron and the human-bound Uotan is holding a sheet of paper on which is drawn Metron’s sigil. Who that cloaked figure is and how he got Metron’s sigil is not revealed, but don’t worry about that for now.
- Also, the wheelchair-bound Metron solves the Rubik’s Cube puzzle with the “magic minimal number of moves” in which it can be solved (the “Number of God,” which, becomes another example of a sigil or “symbol of transformation").
Upon solving the puzzle with the God Number, Metron is transformed into his divine persona and Nix Uotan is awakened to his true self (though not yet empowered as a Monitor).
- Also in the fifth issue, Darkseid assumes full possession of Dan Turpin’s body and says:
They have only ever faced the idea of a god before. Now is a god incarnate come among them.His statement alludes to the Christian conception of Jesus as “the Incarnate Word”--with “the Word” being synonymous with God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). If Darkseid considers himself an Incarnate Word (not Jesus, but a different Incarnate Word), then his statement about the world only ever facing “the idea of a god before” would be in agreement with the Postmodern view of language or symbol (the Logos) being the primary element with ideas or concepts coming after the fact as an expression of the power of the symbol (rather than the converse view of Modernism in which the language is an expression of the idea).
- In issue #7, in what the history of the Corps clearly reveals is a symbolic gesture, the Green Lanterns arrive on Earth and recite their oath collectively (page 25, panel 2). The oath (“In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my/our sight . . .) does not empower their rings in any way. Charging the rings at a Battery of Power is what empowers them for 24 hours. The oath acts as a timing mechanism that assures that a ring is held to the Battery long enough to receive a full charge.
Thus, there is no reason for the Green Lanterns to recite their oath since they are not holding their rings to a Power Battery. It is purely a symbolic gesture--but that is actually part of the point of the theme phrase, that a symbol/language has power in itself.
The Green Lanterns may have not needed to recite their oath in conjunction with empowering their rings at that moment, but it is their own statement or “equation” or “words of attention” that empowers their will and their spirit on a purely symbolic level--which is the primary level that Morrison is using as his theme anyway.
- Later in the final issue, Nix Uotan (who was awakened to his true self in issue #5) speaks the word Taaru to summon “the Forever People of the 5th World” (page 29, panel 1). At this point, Uotan bears a resemblance to "Vykin the Black"--the member of Jack Kirby’s Forever People who was the keeper of their communal Mother Box through which they could summon the Infinity Man by speaking the word Taaru while being in collective contact with their Mother Box.
While Uotan was able to use the name of his lover, Weeja Dell, as a sigil that empowered him to some extent, Taaru is the actual “word of attention” of which he was stripped when he was sentenced and punished by the Monitors in the first issue.
- Finally, the story ends with Bruce Wayne living with Anthro in the Upper Paleolithic period. Anthro, whose name is symbolic of all humanity, is old and frail (possibly dying) but his legacy will continue and he has Metron’s sigil painted on his face. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne is painting his own sigil (the Emblem of the Batman) on the cave wall.
Thus, we finally get to the third part of the ternary structure of jazz and blues: The chorus phrase, which is a free variation that is tangentially related to the theme phrase and paraphrase but which deviates from them through a spontaneous exploration of the possibilities that can arise. The best way to hear what the spontaneous exploration of a theme and its paraphrases sounds like is to listen to jazz--particularly bebop, hard bop, modal, or free jazz since those are more improvisational than earlier jazz forms. Unfortunately, I can’t embed an audio file in this text, so I’ll have to refer to blues lyrics again.
For instance, in the passage of Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” that I quoted earlier, the full 12-bar sequence of theme phrase, paraphrase, and chorus phrase is:
Now, you can squeeze my lemon ‘til the juice runs down my . . . [spoken:] ‘til the juice runs down my leg, baby, you know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout.The third four-bar phrase, the chorus phrase, seems to be a complete variation from the theme phrase and paraphrase. Of course, it’s actually a tangential continuation of the topic of the theme phrase and paraphrase.
Now, you can squeeze my lemon ‘til the juice runs downs my leg . . . [spoken:] that’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout now.
But I’m goin’ back to Friar’s Point, if I be rockin’ to my head.
The first two phrases are references to a woman who pleases the speaker sexually. However, despite the pleasure he receives from her, he will not stay with her. If he’s in his right mind (or, perhaps, if he knows what’s good for him), he will be going back to Friar’s Point. Why? Because earlier in the song he mentioned that he has another woman, or a “rider,” whom he said had a “mortgage” on his body and a “lien” on his soul).
He enjoys having his lemon squeezed (until the juice runs down his leg) by the woman he refers to in this section. However, it’s the other woman who owns him “body and soul,” and so he can’t remain with his enjoyable lemon squeezer. The musical statement isn’t complete, the story isn’t told, until a chorus phrase branches off a paraphrase.
In Morrison’s Final Crisis the chorus phrase variation was partly addressed by Paul Brian McCoy in his review from the Sunday Slugfest:
The central thematic conflict of Final Crisis involves the corruption of Idealized, Mythic Narrative by Cynicism masked as Realism. This corruption is tied thematically back to two works: Crisis on Infinite Earths and Alan Moore’s tenure on Miracleman.I would argue that what Paul calls “central thematic conflict of Final Crisis” is actually just one chorus phrase variation that branches off from the paraphrases in which Freddie Freeman contemplated saying his magic word and forever living as Captain Marvel and the paraphrase of Mary Marvel having “learned a new word that makes her what she is. A blasphemous name of power!”
When Morrison chose to reference Moore’s Miracleman plot with regards to Mary Marvel’s rampaging destruction of Blüdhaven, culminating in her forced transformation back to human, he reworked the scene in two fundamental ways that comment on the original source. Most importantly, when Mary changes back and is horrified by what she’s done, instead of being killed, she is comforted and supported.
Rather than being executed by Captain Marvel (Miracleman), this forgiveness signals one of Morrison’s main issues with contemporary comics, and it ultimately ties into his underlying subjects of redemption and heroic triumph. It is a rejection of the cynicism that masquerades as realism in mainstream comics--from the mass murders that populate each new Johns “epic” to the oversimplified political corruption that is consuming Marvel’s Universe at the moment.
The reason that Morrison can so easily incorporate positive story elements is, in part, related to the second way he is commenting on Moore’s 80s work. Unlike Kid Miracleman, Mary is not responsible for what she did. In fact, when it is revealed that Mary is possessed by Desaad, or “a leering old man,” it’s not too hard to imagine Alan Moore settled in behind her eyes.
To some extent, this substitution of another creator for Desaad is due to the way Morrison refers to the New Gods and the Monitors as existing outside the narrative reality of the DC Universe. The Monitors repeatedly describe humanity as germs--and Superman Beyond demanded 3D sections in order to help visualize the realm where they exist as they watch and tamper with all of the stories inside the Orrery.
Similarly, Morrison had already set himself up as a Higher Being outside the DC Universe in his Animal Man series (as well as in Seven Soldiers series to a lesser extent)--existing on a higher dimensional plane of existence than do the characters in the stories he creates.
When the Monitors interact with the narratives, they corrupt them--going back to the first Crisis. Likewise, when the evil New Gods (whose true forms are beyond comprehension and exist outside of reality) manifest in physical form, they corrupt the players in those narratives.
This corruption can be equated to the work of comic creators, and the demands of comic readers, since the early 80s--and it’s why there was so much focus on the Supergirl vs. Mary Marvel battle. It was a battle between idealism and cynicism; innocence and corruption. It’s why the ultimate evil is a parasitic vampire god, sustaining itself by destroying and corrupting the narratives that it was supposed to safeguard. The evils being defeated here are the comic creators and readers who crave this cynicism because they believe it to be “mature” and “realistic.”
It’s why, in the end, both Darkseid and Mandrakk are barely even worth paying attention to. It’s why Morrison allows us only glimpses of the renewal of Earth 0. It’s why, as Nix Uotan says, “the germ creatures themselves reestablished the symmetry of the Orrery, the ‘multiverse’ as they call it.”
For Morrison, the DC Universe has been purged and rebuilt, flushing out the corruption of the 80s icons and reveling in the mythic imagination of Jack Kirby as the inspiration for what’s to come.
From those two paraphrases, Morrison created the chorus phrase variation that Paul identified. I’m glad Paul wrote all of that. It saved me the time of having to write it all myself in my own words. Instead, I was just able to quote the extended passage from Paul and use it as a paraphrase of how I would have phrased the same information.
In fact, let me do it again--this time from my own review of Superman Beyond #1:
Superman’s creation was the first story that brought about what would become the DC multiverse, and he (or, rather, his story) is now the weapon that can defend the multiverse against the Ultimate Enemy--which is a being called “Mandrakk” [who refers to himself in the third person and tells Superman in Final Crisis #7, “Mandrakk dwells . . . Here at the end of all stories (page 24, panel 1)].The heart of Final Crisis is not Darkseid’s attempt to enslave humanity and create “Apokolips on Earth (that is just the framework plot around which Morrison has constructed his jazz composition--similar to how a jazz musician will construct an improvisational composition around a musical standard, such as Charlie Parker composing “Koko” based on the chords of Ray Noble’s jazz standard “Cherokee,” or Parker’s variations on Johnny Mercer and David Raskin’s “Laura,” or jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan’s reworking of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”).
Mandrakk may be a play on the name of Lee Falk’s character Mandrake (the Magician), who was arguably the first “comic strip” superhero to appear in print (as opposed to a pulp novel superhero). Mandrake debuted in 1934--two years before Falk’s other comic strip superhero, The Phantom, and four years before Superman debuted as the first comic book superhero in Action Comics #1. Thus, we have a possible confrontation between the first “comic strip superhero” (Mandrake/Mandrakk) and the first “comic book superhero” (Superman).
[As the Monitor named “Dax Novu,” Mandrakk was there at the beginning of the superhero story when Superman was created (as was Lee Falk’s Mandrake back in the 1930s). However, now, as Mandrakk, he dwells at the “end of all stories.” In other words, he is the nihilistic result that would come about if stories (or art) was no longer being created. As Paul mentioned, he also would seem to symbolize the nihilism that could result from too much cynicism in stories, which would effectively kill the power of stories to enrich and empower humanity.]
Additionally, Mandrakk seems to have some correlation with the Semitic deity known as “Moloch”--particularly through Morrison’s probable allusion to Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl.” Morrison seems to be evoking Ginsberg’s poem on page 26:Dax Novu, the Radiant One, the First Son of Monitor and bravest of the Science Gods.The anaphoric construction of these lines (an anaphora is the use of the same word or phrase at the beginning of several successive lines) is a key component in the poetic construction of the King James translation of the Christian Bible, and it has since been used in poetry as a device for conveying religious or mystical themes. In the case of Walt Whitman, it was used to catalog commonplace tasks and people in order to raise them to the level of divinity.
Novu, whose brilliant, rebel intellect first probed the flaw and mapped its horrors.
Who wrestled the angel of contamination!
Who brought knowledge and the riches of the Bleed!
Who gave his life to chain the beast in darkness!
Who knew the day of the holocaust would come again!
Deep within the sepulcher of Mandrakk there is a restless stirring.
In the plague pit, the prime eater of life senses its freedom!
However, in the case of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” (which is what I believe Morrison is alluding to in Superman Beyond, the anaphoras are used to not only convey the Beatitude of Life but also as an introduction to the destructive spirit of Moloch [I removed part of the passages I originally quoted from Ginsberg’s “Howl” to use later in this review/critique]:In Ginsberg’s poem, Moloch is the bringer of chaos and crisis that takes the form of suffering, authority, capitalism, and mechanical existence (similar to Kirby’s concept of the Anti-Life Equation) and whose ear is a smoking tomb (a sepulcher)--similar to the Pits of Apokolips that Morrison seems to allude to with his vision of Mandrakk residing in a sepulcher in the form of a “plague pit.”
What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!
Nor is the heart of Final Crisis Mandrakk’s nihilistic attempt to end all creation by being that which dwells at the end of all stories (though that factors into it).
Nor is it the breaking down of the barriers (the branes) between universes in the multiverse (though that also factors into it, and is related to Mandrakk’s threat of multiversal nihilism as well as to the plot of Darkseid’s Fall from the higher dimensional plane in which the New Gods dwelled).
Instead, the actual heart of Final Crisis is the efficacy of art, which is fueled by “the magical power of symbols to structure our perceptions of reality.” In particular, because of Morrison’s profession as a writer, it is the efficacy of stories. The main chorus phrase variations of this message of the efficacy of art comes through in a few places:
- In Uotan’s drawings of his “dreams” as he takes a break during his shift at Big Belly Burger in issue #2 and tries to recall the “magic word” that will take him home as he recites the words in his vocabulary in alphabetical order as he hopes to stumble across the correct one--unfortunately, “Taaru” wouldn’t appear in any English language dictionary (page 9, panels 4-5).
- In Uotan’s conversation with the cloaked simian figure in the holding cell in issue #5:
Uotan:We’re all gonna die and the superheroes can’t save us this time! They’re as useless as my stupid drawings.
Cloaked Simian Figure: If your superheroes can’t save you, maybe it’s time to think of something that can. If it doesn’t exist, think it up. Then make it real. (page 23, panels 1-2)
- In “the plan” that Uotan “used to reconstruct Earth Designate 51”--a plan that is the map drawn by Jack Kirby nearly 37 years ago for Kamandi #1.
- In the entire plot of Superman Beyond--from the ship the Ultima Thule ending up in Limbo (the domain of forgotten characters from forgotten stories and of characters not yet created from stories not yet written) to Limbo existing at a place where “the music’s over: we’ve run out of multiverse” to the single book that is housed in the Library of Limbo: the “Infinite Book” that contains an infinite number of pages all occupying the same space and comprised of every book that has ever been written or ever will be written (more on the Infinite Book later)--a book whose first story is “The Secret Origin of the Monitors of the Multiverse” (more on that story later).
- And, finally, in the various references to “the Music of the Spheres” in issue #7:
Alternate Superman:What is that music? Like I’ve known it all my life: So sad, so hopeful, so brave . . .
Alternate Wonder Woman, Nubia:The Music of the Spheres. The sound of the tides of the Infinite, breaking on our mortal strand.
The harmony of the movements of the celestial objects (which are spherical) was viewed as a type of mathematically precise dance that was choreographed to a universal harmony that was generated by the movements themselves. It was considered an inaudible “music” that existed on a higher plane.
In Morrison’s story, the “Music of the Spheres” is audible to certain superheroes--such as Superman and the alternate Wonder Woman, Nubia. Given the cosmology in which Morrison is working, it might more accurately be called Musica Multiversalis in Final Crisis.
This Multiversal Music plays a significant role in Superman’s defeat of Darkseid on page 22 of the final issue:
Darkseid (as a psychedelic disembodied force): The Walls [separating universes] are coming down around you. It is over, Superman.When I first read that page I didn’t really give it much thought. Superman used a harmonic frequency (possibly amplified by the Miracle Machine in some way) to disrupt Darkseid’s force. I guess I thought, “Oh, he used the Miracle Machine to defeat Darkseid by wishing him away with a musical send off.”
Superman: You’re right about that. You’re in the final stages of radion poisoning, Darkseid. Your composite human “body” unable to move, let alone act.
Darkseid: You’ve constructed a cargo cult Mother Box capable of a single operation [referring to the replica of the Miracle Machine that Superman supervised the construction of]. How could I ask for a better gift to destroy you with?
Superman: The worlds of the multiverse vibrate together, Darkseid . . . sound, like an orchestra. Everything’s just vibrations, really. And counter-vibrations that cancel them out.
Superman: ♫♪♪ [the third of those four notes should actually be a sixteenth rather than an eighth, but there is no sixteenth note symbol in MS Word.]
Superman: . . . Darkseid . . . always hated music. . . . (panels 1-4)
As I mentioned, I didn’t really give it much thought.
Then my colleague Chris Murman asked about the scene on the Comics Bulletin message boards: “I was hoping someone would explain the panel with Superman delivering the single note sung for the single-shot weapon, only apparently it needed Element X to finish things off.”
So, I decided to take a closer look at that scene to see if I could answer Murm’s question. I prepared a five-paragraph answer to post on the message boards. Then, just before I was ready to post it, I decided to check one more thing . . . and then I didn’t post my answer. Instead, the one more thing I checked led to this 12,075-word review/critique of the entirety of Final Crisis.
Up to then I had been planning to write a much shorter review of just the seventh issue, which I was going to rate at four to four and a half bullets. Instead, I ended up raising the rating to a full five bullets and spending the past three days (on and off) writing this unwieldy review/critique. Funny how things work out.
First, Murm was wrong. Superman didn’t deliver a “single note”; he delivered four notes: two beamed eighths, a sixteenth, and another eighth. It’s impossible to tell what tones these notes are supposed to be in since there is no staff, just a word balloon. However, since the first note drops beneath the line of the word balloon, it could be argued that it’s a “D”--in which case the second note is an “E,” the third note is an “E,” and the fourth note is another “D.”
If that’s correct, and it’s really just a guess, then we could say that the tone of the four notes spell out D-E-E-D (perhaps as in “Superman did the deed”).
On the other hand, since the first two notes are beamed, we could say that they are to make one sound together “D” followed by the sixteenth note in “E” and the final eighth in “D”--as in “Darkseid is now ded (dead). However, that’s all just wild conjecture and the truth is probably that Morrison called for the illustrator or letterer to place some musical notes in a word balloon emanating from Superman’s mouth.
Still, it’s an interesting possibility that the four notes are meant to be in the tone of D-E-E-D.
Anyway, here is my original reply to Murm’s question on the message boards (which I never posted)
Each universe vibrates at its own frequency--this is something going back to the earliest concept of the DC multiverse under the editorship of Julius Schwartz. A Flash (either Barry or Jay) was able to easily travel from one universe to the other by controlling the vibrational frequency of his atoms.At that point I checked “Howl,” which I had also brought up in my review of Superman Beyond #1.
The universes were falling apart and the barriers (the branes) were breaking down due to Darkseid's Fall. In essence, the vibrational frequencies were undergoing entropy as well.
While standing over the Miracle Machine, Superman used his voice to tune the multiverse by setting up a “counter vibration” within the “Music of the Spheres”--restarting the individual vibrations of each universe through the concerted (pun intended) actions of his voice while his thoughts fed the Miracle Machine.
Additionally, under string theory, which is related to the M-Theory that Morrison is using for his concept of the branes separating universes, the strings each vibrate at different frequencies. Specifically, the electrons and quarks of an atom are considered one-dimensional strings that vibrate at different frequencies to give particles their charge, mass, and spin.
Another thing that I thought of in the sequence of Superman using music to defeat Darkseid was Allen Ginsberg's “Howl”. . . .
Much to my surprise and delight, I saw yet another correlation between Ginsberg’s poem and Morrison’s Final Crisis:
As I mentioned in my review of Superman Beyond #1, those last six lines of part one of “Howl” have a metatextual element in them. Ginsberg is indicating that art--specifically painting, poetry, and jazz, but all art in general--is a type of metaphysical or mystical “weapon” that has power over time and space, and that it can be used to redeem people from their moments of personal crises--as well as be used as a Eucharist that can elevate them to Millennial divinity.
and who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessed with a sudden flash of the alchemy of the use of the ellipse the catalog the meter & the vibrating plane,
who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space through images juxtaposed, and trapped the archangel of the soul between 2 visual images and joined the elemental verbs and set the noun and dash of consciousness together jumping with sensation of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus
to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head,
the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting down here what might be left to say in time come after death,
and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in the goldhorn shadow of the band and blew the suffering of America's naked mind for love into an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio
with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their own bodies good to eat a thousand years.
Let’s look at each of these six lines in relation to Final Crisis. The reference to the “vibrating plane” in the first line (which is actually line 73 in the poem) could be construed as a description of the vibrating branes separating the universes that each vibrate at their own unique frequency:
and who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessed with a sudden flash of the alchemy of the use of the ellipse the catalog the meter & the vibrating plane,Of course, it’s doubtful that Ginsberg was referencing M-theory and vibrating branes, et cetera--though William Blake has a poem from 200 years earlier in which he describes “the golden string” that passes through 27 dimensions (which is also an aspect of string theory). Still, even if Ginsberg was not referring to M-theory and vibrating branes, it’s an interesting parallel nonetheless.
What Ginsberg was absolutely referring to, though, is the “flash of alchemy” (a burst of occult power) that is inherent in the use of the ellipse, the catalog, and the meter. Those three items are all elements of writing--primarily poetry, and the reference to “the catalog” is actually an allusion to the poetry of Walt Whitman and the poets who followed his approach (such as Ginsberg himself). In other words, Ginsberg is referring to the alchemical power of poetry to evoke change in reality (the vibrating plane)--which is not too different from Morrison’s theme phrase of the magical power of symbols to structure our perceptions of reality.
Ginsberg’s next three lines (or lines 73-75) work together, particularly since there is no punctuation at the end of the 73rd line but also because they are a continuation of the same idea:
who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space through images juxtaposed, and trapped the archangel of the soul between 2 visual images and joined the elemental verbs and set the noun and dash of consciousness together jumping with sensation of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus.Without trying to make a direct word-for-word (or concept-for-concept) correlation between these lines and elements in Morrison’s story, I’ll just say that the Monitors (and Uotan in particular) were divine beings who dreamt and made incarnate their images. In particular, see “The Secret Origin of the Monitors” in Superman Beyond #1 and Nix Uotan’s sketchpad.
to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head,
the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting down here what might be left to say in time come after death,
Specifically, Ginsberg is referring to himself (as a Whitman- and Blake-inspired poet) having dreams or visions of the nature of time and space--which he is able to manifest in juxtaposed poetic images that capture a quality of the divine through the use of language and punctuation. This ability evokes a sense of himself as the “Omnipotent Father, Eternal God” as he is able to recreate in his poetic lines the qualities of human speech to an extent that makes himself speechless with feelings of unworthiness. He trembles before the power of language and poetry, and the primal thoughts in his infinite consciousness--feeling unworthy and worthy at the same time (“the madman bum and the angel beat in Time”) yet recording here (in this poem) things that might be left to say after he has died.
Ginsberg's concepts are yet another parallel to the theme phrase of Morrison’s work: The power of language and poetry to alter consciousness and perceptions of reality. Then, in lines 76 and 77 of “Howl,” Ginsberg's speaker states:
and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in the goldhorn shadow of the band and blew the suffering of America's naked mind for love into an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone cry that shivered the cities down to the last radioHere Ginsberg is referring to the power of poetry and art (rising “in the ghostly clothes of jazz in the goldhorn shadow of the band”) and ending the crisis of America’s suffering need for love by playing a composition on a divine saxophone that cries out “eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani” (Jesus’s last words on the cross before he died--“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) and which shivers the cities like the trumpets of rams horns that brought down the walls of Jericho:
with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their own bodies good to eat a thousand years.
And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams' horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets.Early in Final Crisis #7 we were shown the “Wonder Horn” that the Amazonians of an alternate Earth were given by “the Universals in mythic time before time” that were responding to the breaking down of the wall between universes that was being penetrated by the Bleedship Ultima Thule that carried The Question and the Supermen of Many Worlds (pages 2-3, panels 1-2).
And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him. (Joshua 6:4-5)
Later, of course, Superman blows a counter-harmony that doesn’t bring down the walls of the multiverse. Rather, it strengthens them by bringing them into tune while razing Darkseid. It’s all very mythic in scope, and it is the chorus phrase variation about the efficacy of art (in this case music) that has arisen from the theme phrase and paraphrases about the magical power of symbols to structure our perceptions of reality.
Okay, so that’s all well and good that Morrison’s story works as a jazz composition (whether he consciously intended it to or not) and that the theme of the story is the magical power of symbols to structure our perceptions of reality--and that the theme is then manifested in a variety of ways within the overall plot--but what many readers have complained about is that it doesn’t hold together as a comprehensive story.
In particular, they wonder about all the “flaws” that I referenced in my list way up near the top of this lengthy critique. What about all of those questions to which no answers can be found in the story? What about those few dangling subplots that aren’t resolved?
Well, let’s look at a passage from the “Infinite Book” in Superman Beyond #1:
Previously! [Which is kind of contemporary way of saying, “In the beginning] There was Monitor only! And then! Then a flaw found at the heart of Monitor Perfection! Monitor makes a concept to contain the flaw! Monitor examination reveals within terrifying complexities and contradictions! Magnification reveals a structure of infinitesimal rippling manifolds upon whose surface intricate germ-like processes thrive and multiply!What this origin story is telling us is that “In the beginning there was a void--an empty white space, like a clean sheet of paper--or, more precisely, a blank computer monitor. But then a flaw was found on the monitor screen--a symbol appeared that flawed the perfect blankness of the void on the monitor. From that symbol, language developed. Then from language, art developed--such as stories and characters, which contained complexities and even contradictions.
Furthermore, we learn in Superman Beyond that the first such story contained the concept of Superman--Siegel and Shuster’s Golden Age original who was the basis for the Silver Age Superman (“scabbed over with divine metals”--such as gold and silver)--as well as all the other superheroes that followed.
Essentially, the Monitors represent the writers and illustrators who have worked on comic book characters to create these various superhero universes that have become so complex and contradictory that it has become difficult for readers to keep them all straight. It’s become so frustrating lately (what with Crises on Infinite Earths, Infinite Crises, Brand New Days, Civil Wars, Ultimatums, et cetera, et cetera) that some readers have called for a complete annihilation of the various comic book universes so that the stories can be started afresh and structured in an orderly and organized manner (adhering to an architectonic sense of order and balance).
In fact, I’ve actually suggested such a thing: Wipe out the entire DC line and start afresh with a re-introduction of the Golden Age characters on Earth-2 and a re-introduction of the contemporary characters on Earth-1 and forget about adhering to the contradictory continuity of the past 70 years.
In essence, I was advocating what Monitor Tahoteh called for due to his “encroaching senility” near the end of Final Crisis #7: “. . . our story has become toxic . . . out of control . . . we must end it . . . (page 33, panel 1).
The DC Multiverse is filled with flaws, as are all comic book universes (as are our own lives), and the form of Morrison’s story reflects that fact.
I entered into this story seven months ago on May 28, 2008 being completely enraptured by the opening scene between Anthro and Metron. I felt then that Morrison was going to deliver something that would rival Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen as the greatest superhero graphic novel of all time. Along the way I began to doubt that Morrison would achieve that lofty goal because I didn’t like the idea that this story branched off into such series as Final Crisis: Revelations and Legion of Three Worlds.
I was also greatly bothered by the fact that such “set-up series” as Countdown and Death of the New Gods didn’t actually lead into the story that Morrison had conceived.
However, none of those "flaws" actually matters, because Morrison’s point is that stories have the power to create worlds for us to enjoy--and if those worlds (or those universes) become so complex and contradictory that we endlessly whine about their flaws, then we’re really not allowing ourselves to succumb to the power of stories: To the magical power of symbols to structure our perceptions of reality.
Rather than destroying the universes that are “flawed,” Morrison destroys the Monitors--some of whom worry too much about the flaws, and who then actually create more flaws in their misguided attempts to “fix what was not broken” (Crisis on Infinite Earths). Yet even those “flawed fixes” are powerful as stories even though they may have been misguided.
Are there flaws in Final Crisis?
Sure there are. A great many of them.
Is it frustrating to not have them all resolved to our satisfaction?
Sure it is. In particular, I want to know who that cloaked simian creature is supposed to be.
However, Morrison’s Final Crisis really does work as a jazz composition, as jazz critic David Gioia has stated about jazz:
Too often the finished product will show moments of rare beauty intermixed with technical mistakes and aimless passages. Why then are we interested in this haphazard art? What we are talking about is [. . .] an aesthetics of imperfection.This idea of an “aesthetics of imperfection” is not simply a means of allowing the jazz artist to present substandard material that does not have to achieve the same degree of craft as that of a classical composition. Rather, Gioia stresses that the significant aesthetic standards in jazz are not premeditated design, balance between form and content, and an overall sense of symmetry--which are the standards of classical compositions that he terms as “the blueprint method” of artistic creation.
In contrast to the architectonic structure of classical forms, jazz allows for a more natural correspondence between the artistic form and the mind of the artist that is projecting the form--and that’s what we have with Final Crisis, a correspondence between the artistic form and Grant Morrison’s mind as he contemplates the magical power of symbols in the DC Multiverse that could structure our perceptions of reality and that projects those thoughts to us.
Nearly two and a half years ago I ended a review of Morrison’s Batman #655-57 with this paragraph that seems appropriate to include here as well:
Of course, I don’t expect those who want an architectonic plot structure to suddenly embrace Morrison’s decidedly Postmodern structure. Such readers are a bit like the layperson who asked Louis Armstrong what jazz is. Armstrong supposedly replied, "If you have to ask the question, you ain’t never gonna understand the answer."I took a lot of heat on the message boards for that concluding paragraph--not surprisingly it was from people who didn’t like those issues of Batman. Nevertheless, I hold to that statement.
There are various aesthetics around which works of art are constructed. The way to approach any work of art is to try to understand the aesthetic principles that informed it and then judge it against those standards, not against the standards of an aesthetic that didn’t inform it. It’s pretty basic, but art isn’t always approached in that manner.
It’s ludicrous to criticize jazz for not complying with the aesthetics of classical music, or to criticize Jackson Pollock’s action paintings for not complying with the aesthetics of Flemish Baroque painting, or to criticize Beat literature for not complying with the aesthetics of Victorian literature. Yet, I know people who approach works of art that way--colleagues in university English departments, in fact. They are the poorer for their closed-minded adherence to one set of aesthetic principles being superior to others.
Okay, I’m finished. This review/critique is probably filled with minor flaws (and perhaps a few major ones as well). If I was going to submit it to a refereed literary journal, I would want to go through it several times to try to revise it until it’s “perfect.” However, it’s a spontaneous projection of my mind corresponding with the form (jazz structure) of Morrison’s art. Rather than find all the flaws in it, I’m going to post it and go to bed.
Thank you and goodnight!
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