The Structural Mess of Final Crisis (A Review of Sorts)
Final Crisis, while not without enjoyable bits, is a victim of poor scheduling and worse formatting in its lifecycle as a “monthly” mini-series or series of mini-series or series of mini-series with a couple issues of a regular title thrown in. Yes, figuring out how to read the silly thing is that convoluted and the collected edition will doubtless get worse.
Consider yourself warned, spoilers are on.
A large part of the problem is the structure of the “big event” series. Marvel seems to invented the current playbook with Civil War. The main series give you the straight ahead, guns blazing action portion of the story. If you want more background or want to follow some of the sub-threads you dive into a companion mini-series or a few issues of a regular book (The various Frontline books serve this function, and was especially important for a more textured reading of Civil War. More recently, much of the back story for Secret Invasion played out in the pages of various Avengers titles. Sometimes you even get lead-in mini-series that aren’t necessarily billed as such, as with Illuminati and Secret War which were both functional prologues to Secret Invasion.)
The reading order for Final Crisis has confused enough people that Grant Morrison gave a reading order for the cross-overs in a recent interview:
“FINAL CRISIS # 1- 3
SUPERMAN BEYOND # 1- 2
FINAL CRISIS # 4 – 5
BATMAN #682 – 683
FINAL CRISIS # 6 – 7”
Right here we start raising some red flags. First off, the Mister Miracle arc from Morrison’s Seven Soldiers project is most definitely the starting point, as that’s where we first find the spirits of the New Gods taking on human hosts. Final Crisis makes much better use of this earthly host motif, but this story really starts as a segment of a different (much more contained and conceptually structured) cross-over. Except you’ve got a little hitch in the plan to just read the Mister Miracle series to prepare yourself for final Crisis: Seven Soldiers is a “meta-textual” so the individual issues of Mister Miracle interspersed with issues of Zatanna, Frankenstein, and so forth over the final two volumes of the Seven Soldiers graphic novels. Seven Soldiers is a decent project, some segments being better than others (I was a bigger fan of the Guardian segment, for instance), but you’re probably looking at a 4 volume sequence to read a segment that’s about half of a single volume in the series.
So maybe we pretend that Seven Soldiers didn’t happen and we start clean. I have to say, reading through Final Crisis in one sitting made it a lot more coherent than it did as a… not quite monthly serial. Back to back, the issues flow well from 1 to 5. The tension builds as things slink towards doomsday. The progression of the possession of Dan Turpin makes perfect sense, whereas while reading Final Crisis as it came out, by issue 3 the pauses between issues was wreaking havoc with my suspension of disbelief. The pacing of the Flashes chasing after the God Bullet also reads much better. Really, right up through issue 5, Final Crisis is making a stellar argument to “wait for the trade” as the popular saying for graphic novel buying goes. Lots of Jack Kirby love in the pages, right down to the Evil Factory from Kirby’s Jimmy Olson run genetically engineering all the animal men from Kamandi. Even the annoying Super Young Team (thank god there was no super karaoke) wasn’t able to break the mood for me, while they were a deal-breaker in 22-page installments. My biggest moment of suspension of disbelief was the line about Superman keeping Lois Lane’s heart beating with his heat vision. How does that work again?
So I’m up to issue 5. I’m feeling good. I’m much happier with the comic than I ever was buying it as a monthly. At this juncture, I should point out that when the collected edition of Final Crisis is simply issues 1-7. No Superman, no Batman, no Submit. (Actually, you can ignore Submit. Not missing anything there.) Now up through issue 5, I’m suffering no ill effects of not reading these cross-over books. Then it happens in issue 6. Batman is loose. The last time we saw Batman, he was getting shoved in a box in issue 2. (And let me tell you, there were a lot of months between issue 2 and issue 6, given all the delays.) Where’s Batman been? How’d he get out of the box? How’d he get the God Bullet? Beats me. I suppose I’d have to go buy whatever reprints those issues. (We’ll get to that shortly.) Superman now pops up. He’s in the 31st century with Brainiac 5 and looking at the Miracle Machine. Um, okay. I guess maybe I need to read Superman Beyond at this point? (I didn’t need to read it right after issue 3.) At least I know what the Miracle Machine is from the old Superboy and the Legion of Super Heroes book.
Issue 7 is where things start to come unraveled. It just feels rushed, like Morrison needs another issue or two, except this book’s so far behind schedule, it just needs to end so the entire line can move on. Frankly, there’s a little too much dialogue box exposition in the entire series, but here it comes to a head. The exposition dances around the big fight scene things were leading toward (I know, I know: Grant Morrison comic, but this is also an event comic, so why do you have to play around with the timeline and get cute instead of just resolving the story) and in the all the prose dancing, things become a bit muddied.
- Did Batman really kill Darkseid or did the Flashes kill him by bringing his Omega Sanction back to him?
- Or did Batman not kill Darkseid and Superman killed him with a song?
- Or did Batman/Flashes just destroy the physical body?
- Does this cheapen Batman’s sacrifice?
And then I find myself asking, “Why is Lois Lane alive and running around, all healed up?” Must be that pesky Superman Beyond. Really I’m getting lost here. But that’s nothing. At this point, Mandrakk the cosmic vampire shows up and reveals himself as the real villain. What? Who?
Yes, the hidden villain is apparently the main villain from this Superman Beyond mini-series. He appears with no explanation of who or what he is. Nothing but confusion on this one. An army consisting of the Superman from several different parallel dimensions, no problem. Mystery villain with no explanation, big problem. And what’s this throw-away line about him being a Monitor gone bad? Care to explain that in the main title, Grant?
I can’t make up my mind if I’m more disgusted that Morrison would just plop in a major character into the last issue of the series without any background of why he’s there or I’m more disgusted that the editor, Eddie Berganza, didn’t think that maybe the 50,000-70,000 people who weren’t picking up Superman Beyond might wouldn’t recognize who had never appeared in the title before. Are you being punished if you didn’t pick up Superman Beyond? It cheapened the whole series for me.
Now, just to make sure we know even less of what’s going on, when this Mandrakk appears, he’s already taken down, off-panel, the Spectre, Supergirl and who knows who else. That old fiction tenet “show, not tell?” Final Crisis #7 has serious doses of “tell, not show” when it comes outside elements.
The Miracle Machine (think of it as a Cosmic Cube if you’re a Marvel fan) lets Superman wish everything away and back to normal. So maybe Batman is still dead. Except that he’s in a stone age cave. Probably. And maybe Hawkman’s dead and maybe not. (I’m thinking not, because Kyle Baker’s early pages look amazing.) All of Kirby’s creations, notably Kamandi and the New Gods are reborn on Earth-51.
The ending is jumbled and a bit too allegorical and meta-textual for its own good. Probably would have benefited from an extra 40 pages to show a few more things. All and all, not a bad comic, but it stumbles at the end and it stumbles with a poor arrangement of plot points. This will only get worse with the collected edition.
In April, the hardcover version of Final Crisis will collect issues 1-7 only. Even Morrison says you need more than that. Will you have a page that says, around the end of either issue 3 or 5 “Stop: go read Superman Beyond, then come back and continue reading?” I doubt it, but that’s a serious question.
In Morrison’s Seven Soldiers, they’d alternate issues of different titles in the collected editions. Ditto for all the collected edition of the ‘90s Batman epics (Knightfall, No Man’s Land, etc.). Here, no dice. Just to emphasize how nobody was thinking about this, it isn’t until June that The Final Crisis Companion collects “FINAL CRISIS: REQUIEM, FINAL CRISIS: RESIST, FINAL CRISIS: SUBMIT, FINAL CRISIS: SUPERMAN BEYOND #1-2 and FINAL CRISIS SECRET FILES.” Thus, you couldn’t read it all straight through at the same time without searching the back issue bins. For that matter, it isn’t clear to me that the Batman sequence is scheduled for reprint.
Taking matters a step further into the realm of the ridiculous, this companion book has 3 titles in it that aren’t on Morrison’s list. If you ever thought that the number of spin-off books was getting silly, well, apparently even the event’s writer didn’t think they were core. For that matter, I gather the pages with Brainaic 5 and Superman are the aftermath of Legion of Three Worlds, which would make that series (one I enjoy) so extraneous a cross-over that it won’t finish for a few more months. A fellow might ask out loud how much of that title’s cross-over status is just an excuse for Superman to be somewhere to see the Miracle MacGuffin, er, Machine?
One of the interesting things about these event series, over at Marvel, is the advent of the “Chronicles” series. “Civil War Chronicles,” “Planet Hulk Chronicles,” and so forth. These newsstand-targeted comics reprint the event, splicing in different issues from the various cross-overs as it makes chronological sense to read. As I’ve said, the Marvel events can all be read, one mini-series at a time, and make sense. You just don’t get the texture.
You take the spin-offs out of Final Crisis, the last issues fall apart. Bye-bye suspension of disbelief. The way these elements were shoehorned into the last issue was very poor form. Not taking steps to allow the collected edition to make sense is sloppy beyond belief in an age where graphic novels have demonstrated shelf life and are constantly increasing their share of the market. There needs to be a Final Crisis Chronicles. That’s just how the story is structured.
I will say one positive thing about editorial on this book. There were art changes on the series. When artists swapped out, the change in styles was not jarring. That doesn’t always happen. Still, from scheduling art from J.G. Jones (who would be the first to tell you how many pages he can produce a month) with no lead time, thus guaranteeing delays. to collected editions that don’t tell a complete story, Final Crisis has been a veritable guidebook on how not to handle a big cross-over series.
Oh well, maybe they can figure out something more cohesive for the paperback edition? And while we’re at it, since Final Crisis practically ends with Kamandi, isn’t it about time for Showcase Presents: Kamandi? Show the King some love.
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