Saturday, February 7, 2009

Final Crisis #7 (of 7)

DC Comics, 37 pages, $ 3.99

Writer: Grant Morrison 
Penciler: Doug Mahnke
Inkers: Tom Nguyen, Drew Geraci, Christian Alamy, Norm Rapmund, Rodney Ramos, Doug Mahnke, Walden Wong 
Colorists: Alex Sinclair, Tony Aviña, Pete Pantazis 
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Cover artist: J. G. Jones

You could say that the final issue of Final Crisis has its heart in the right place, and it would be partially true. Grant Morrison wants things to end well—for Superman, for the DC Universe at large and for us poor mortal bipeds on the supernarrative plane, too, while we’re at it. Which, presumably, is why this big conclusion is kicked off by a Barack Obama proxy segueing from his full-time business at the White House to his “other job.” (He’s his Earth’s version of Superman.) And of course, everything does end well once the dust settles. The story, titled “New Heaven, New Earth,” is a little bit like Baron Münchhausen, who pulls himself—and horse—out of the swamp by his own hair, in a folk tale first told when fiction and lying were still synonymous.

On the face of it, that seems to have changed nowadays. Given that the term “wish-fulfillment fantasy” is mainly used in a pejorative sense and tends to be dropped with sideways glances that make their recipients feel lucky that they’re indeed glances and not elbows, it seems to be a semantic change rather than a substantial one, however. Final Crisis is “wish-fulfillment,” in a quite literal sense. Wish-fulfillment is precisely what happens at the big conclusion of the whole thing: Superman literally gets to save the universe—nay, the Multiverse—by wishing for a happy ending. He has a machine for it. It’s not called the Münchhausen Machine, though; it’s called something less confusing.

There is a plot. The Flashes race through Darkseid’s dying body, everybody escapes from Earth before it falls “into the abyss,” Superman shatters Darkseid’s lingering essence with a song. Then time stops, then the Monitor-turned-vampire Mandrakk from Superman Beyond shows up, then Captain Marvel and the Supermen of the Multiverse show up, then Monitor Nix Uotan shows up, then everybody shows up, then Mandrakk is defeated (emphasis mine, there is no emphasis on anything in the comic). Then Superman wishes for a happy end and there’s a happy end. The Question and Frankenstein’s Monster and Lex Luthor and Hawkman and the Atoms and Aquaman and Wonder Woman and Supergirl and Captain Carrot are also somehow in it.

It’s a mess that makes no sense. Are the 4D goggles missing?

The story’s momentum grinds to a halt long before the plot requires it to. Darkseid’s defeat is an impenetrable stew of Radion-poisoning, Omega-Sanction Finder-Beams, cosmic Black-Racer judgment on skis and Superman giving a thundering performance of whatever song you like best right now. When the universes crash (which universes?), or fall into the abyss (what abyss?), or do whatever (whatever?), I can’t keep track of who ends up in the Boom Tubes, gets shrunk, escapes through which inter-universal tunnels to which Earths. And quite why, how, when or where any of this happens and what anybody wants remains a mystery. And 3D? Hardly. Darkseid and Mandrakk remain paper-thin characters with no desires other than to wreak destruction and death. Which is not interesting.

In other words, Final Crisis #7 is the perfectly imperfect escalation of everything that’s been happening in the series. A meaty chunk of narrative and philosophical chaos ground to tiny little bits and then magically glued back together by a metafictional contraption the author sneakily slipped to his hero in the previous issue. I want to see that flashback where Grant Morrison whispers something in Superman’s ear and then gives him a friendly nudge down the stairs leading back into the story. Maybe they even high-fived each other. And all of this would have worked, too, if Mr. Morrison had not forgotten his secret ingredient this time around. “I sense a faint … heartbeat,” poor Superman declares. “I think it’s Element X. Fire of the Gods. It can take … any shape … become the last … last part of the jigsaw …”

You could say that the final issue of Final Crisis has its heart in the right place, and it would be partially true. It would be partially wrong because, while Mr. Morrison’s heart is very much in this story, it is not actually beating. It’s in cardiac arrest, and while that’s appropriate for the plot, it does not save the comic. It deprives it of its hum, its warmth, its rhythm, its weight, its force. Why does Superman care? Why did Batman die? Why does anybody care or die or do anything in this story? What exactly was meant to be at stake here? Where’s the music? It’s all lost in the noise. This is all on the abstract, the conceptual, the intellectual plane, and it’s not even sound. The Multiverse is saved at a price; its salvation comes at the expense of the human moments that made the whole thing worthwhile. It seems they ended up on the cutting-room floor, and what’s left is somebody’s theoretical approach to fixing some world I don’t care about, mechanically executed.

And yet, and yet. There is that part where the story pulls itself—and the bloody horse—out of the swamp by its own hair, and just for that alone, Final Crisis—all of it—is one of my favorite things people have ventured to print on paper. Because the heart of the story did not survive the Boom-Tube transition from Earth-Zero, I don’t believe in it by the time I turn the last page. Still, it makes me wonder: Wouldn’t it be the greatest thing on any Earth if somebody told a story that pulls itself and the horse it rode in on right out again of the swamp by its own hair and we could believe it? Just for the fraction of a second? Wouldn’t it be grand if more people at least tried to tell that story?

Boy, what a mess. Clearly my favorite comic of the year.

Grade: C-


Anonymous said...

I don't get it. Why would a comic that is a mess by your own admission be your favorite comic? Are people who like Morrison really that zombie-like that they just automatically love anything he writes no matter how bad it actually is?

jason said...

Good point about the human moments being neglected.

Despite the above post's tone, there's something to the comment. This is a disturbing trend.

Bob Temuka said...

Probably because there is a clear difference between something being the best comic of the year, and a title that is somebody's favorite comic of the year.

Marc-Oliver Frisch said...

Quite. Nobody said it's okay to like "good" comics only.

Do I think FINAL CRISIS #7 succeeds at much of what it wants to do? No. Do I like it for trying? Absolutely.