Saturday, January 31, 2009

You Can't Always Get What You Want... (Part 1)

For the That's A Wrap take on DC Comics' latest multiverse-spanning event, I took up the job as the resident DC fanboy and history-buff and long-time Morrison Kool-Aid addict (Oh, Yeah!) to get a reaction down. Here it is from the start (as much as these things ever have singular starting points) to the end (as much as these things ever end as opposed to roll into something else). If nothing else, perhaps we can make some sense of what exactly happened, cause this is some complicated stuff here bud. Maybe it's all just the rantings of a fanboy and his line. Expect separate ratings for each issue or relevant tie-in, the main series on its own and an overall grade for the quality of the event and its effect on the DC Universe as a whole.

We'll gloss over some things, but given the importance of the event to DC and my own affection for this writer and subject, we will leave literally nothing that I can think of out of discussion of the main issues themselves.

I went into this expecting a large-scale relatively single purpose event, with easily understood character motivations and an A to B to C plot development. I know I didn't get what I wanted, but check below the cut to see if I found this time... I got what I need.



Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985-1986) #1-12
Written by Marv Wolfman, Art by George Perez

Really the stories of DC's main trilogy of Crisis events is the story of the Monitor(s) and their multiverse. And given that every ending in DC or Marvel just leads into the beginning of the next story or event, why not begin with an ending. The original Monitor was designed as a guardian of the universe. His death powered a device that prevented the destruction of the last few bits of an infinite number of universes. The remainder of the original crisis was the heroes of these few worlds stopping the Anti-Monitor from obliterating the rest of it.

The main advantage this series had over its predecessors is the length. When telling these stories that feature hundreds of speaking roles and huge casts the extra five issues allowed them to maintain more of a narrative. The disadvantage it had was one Infinite Crisis managed to avoid for the most part and Final Crisis was dragged into, the need to have a near encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the DCU. Not necessarily a problem for me, but it makes recommending these types of stories very difficult.

The main points for Final Crisis here are the destruction of the Monitor and shortly thereafter the multiverse by his antimatter counterpart, verifying these creatures as the most powerful beings in the DC Universe.


Infinite Crisis (2005-2006) #1-7
Written by Geoff Johns, Art by Phil Jiminez, George Perez, Ivan Reis, Jerry Ordway

More than 20 years after the original crisis, the decision was made to reintegrate the concept of the multiverse to, among other reasons, diversify the types of stories that could be told. And while the success of using the multiverse has been mixed at best, it's a decision that is both understandable and defensible. The choice to simplify the universe came at a time when the average age of readers was much younger and to get over the problems of Superman and Batman and others having existed continuously for more than half a century. Now with most readers in their twenties or older, the concept of alternate realities is perhaps easier for most to understand. And
possibly necessary given that the alternate reality stories had never left, simply generically left under the banner of "Elseworlds" the DC equivalent of Marvel's "What If" line.

Coming from the simpler single universe point of view, and with a relatively small cast of a half dozen core characters with simple goals, "find the perfect earth" or "stop them from destroying the world" it was by far the most accessible of the three and the character's voices were all consistent with their monthly titles and it significantly impacted the world of many of the major characters in the Universe.

The main plot points that go on to effect Final Crisis were the creation of 52 alternate realities and with them 52 identical Monitors with the main DC-set stories taking place on New Earth.

51, 50, 49... um, 32, 6, 19

Countdown to Final Crisis #51-1 (2007-2008)
Written by Paul Dini and Various, Art by Various

The immediately lead into this current event was this series, originally simply titled "Countdown" which was DC's follow-up to the weekly series 52. While the first was one of the best long-term creative efforts from DC in some time, this inheritor was almost entirely an unenjoyable mess. That it was meant to be the spine of the stories in the DCU and incredibly important only made the poor quality all the more abhorrent. The art ranged from adequate to terrible and the story largely focused on the minor characters (Jimmy Olsen, Donna Troy, Jason Todd, Kyle Rayner, Karate Kid, Triplicate Girl, Harley Quinn, etc.) exploring the new 52 alternate realities, each protected by their own Monitor. Among the all-time low was the unconvincing corruption to evil of Mary Marvel, Trickster and Pied Piper's run from the law and the bestowment on Jimmy Olsen of every power he presented throughout his history and believe me back in the day Superman's Pal could do everything and anything.

While in itself a very poor effort, it did at least begin laying the groundwork for the events of this new Crisis. The main plot points are the beginnings of the "Death of the New Gods" storyline that brought an end to most all the characters of Jack Kirby's Fourth World, including Mister Miracle, Big Barda, Lightray and most importantly Darkseid. Finally killed by his son Orion, which was their destiny all along, this singled the end of the Fourth World with the promise of a Fifth to come. Also, the Monitors beginning to argue about how to manage the 52 realities and even start to form distinctly different appearances. One of these Monitors, Nix Uotan, even fails as outside interference leads to the destruction of Earth-51 and its corresponding universe in #13. Uotan comes to believe the Monitors do more harm than good and strives to make some (not well thought out) measures to make them accountable.

Final score for this event: 1.5 stars out of 5


DC Universe #0 - "Let There Be Lightning"
Written by Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns, Art by Various

With the end of the Countdown, the one-shot was meant as a direct lead in to the first issue of Final Crisis written by DC's two biggest and most successful creators. It was actually not too much more than a 50 cent advertisement for upcoming events in some of the major characters solo books as well as limited series both related to Final Crisis and others not. The narration throughout and the final five pages is the real lead-in. The narration begins with the caption box in full black and throughout the issue becomes more substantive as it goes on.

Beginning with a splash page of outerspace and the words, "This is everything. This is me." on the first page. Continually the faceless narrator becomes more specific in his references to the characters we are watching, for the most part glossing over the teasers for Superman (Legion of 3 Worlds), Batman (R.I.P.) and Wonder Woman (the only now just beginning Whom the Gods Forsake storyline). In the teaser for the Darkest Night series, some very personal and descriptive references are made to Hal Jordan and by now the brief glimpses of red that began in the boxes have spread over half the length of the boxes. And in the final teaser as the narrator takes form and falls to earth, the villain Libra is seen preaching of a war in heaven that evil won and a dark god rising on Earth. Appearing in the original Justice League series for only two issues (#111-112), Libra was last seen absorbed into the cosmos after draining the powers of the Justice League. As he finishes his preaching, the narration boxes are almost entirely red with a streak of lightning in the corner as they read, "A sound like the crack of doom - like a starter's pistol - and this is me." The final page is lightning streaking across the skyline teasing the return of the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen, the most noted casualty of the first Crisis with the words "And NOW I remember."

While the plot begins to form here, the story is really little more than an advertisement and only the clever reveal of the narrator and Libra's vague hints revealing anything of directly relating to Final Crisis. Hence the significant drop in the final opinion.

Final score: 2.5 stars out of 5


Batman #676-681 - "Batman R.I.P."
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Tony Daniel

While it doesn't relate specifically, the Batman R.I.P. storyline is included here given that the mental state of Batman leading out of this and directly into Final Crisis has been known for sometime to lead to the removal of Batman for a brief time and the Bruce Wayne character for significantly longer. The original story planned by Morrison when he took over the Batman title two years earlier, most all events were meant to lead specifically to this story, which explored the limits, if any, that Batman had and exactly how many problems he had planned solutions for in advance. Drawn superbly throughout by Tony Daniel one of the more promising artists in comics currently, the story begins with the mysterious Black Glove organization planning a massive attack led by their associate Dr. Hurt, who once put Batman through an extended sensory deprivation test to help him better understand the Joker. While Batman plans to investigate them more thoroughly, he is distracted by his new romance with Jezebel Jet, who recently discovered his secret identity.

A continually addressed theory in the storyline is the questioning of Wayne's sanity as a man who dresses up like a bat to beat up criminals and questioning the truth of the Batman's entire identity. The mayor reveals evidence he has received that indicates Alfred and Martha Wayne were lovers and while the billionaires lived a secretly decadent life of alcohol, drugs and degenerate sex with other members of their social circle. Jet even suggests that the Black Glove might be Wayne himself driven mad... the only person capable of defeating the Batman. As Robin, Nightwing and Alfred are all attacked to stop them from interfering, Hurt and his Club of Villains corner Batman in the cave with a trigger word implanted years early, then drug him with everything from crystal meth to heroin and more and dump him on the streets of Gotham. After wandering the streets, Wayne fashions a tattered Batman costume and begins assaulting criminals, discussing strategy with gargoyle statues and conversing with an imp from the Fifth Dimension wondering aloud if he is going mad, repeated referring to himself as the Batman of the Zur-en-arrh.

Lured to Arkham Asylum where the villains have recruited the Joker and kidnapped Jet, Batman is finally poisoned at the same time Jet reveals herself as the leader of the Black Glove organization. In the final issue, Morrison reveals the depths to Batman's preparation to continue his war against evil. While he routinely switches dishes with strange people while they blink out of habit in case they poison him, Wayne also planned for an enemy eventually being able to drive him insane and created a default personality to operate until he can emerge. While highlighting exactly how intelligent and driven Batman is, the cast around the main hero all participate in the battle against the Black Hand. From staples like Dick, Tim and Alfred, they mix in Commissioner Gordon, the Club of Heroes and even Talia Al Ghul with Batman's son Damien (whose takedown of the Joker with Alfred is a wonderfully humorous moment) and her army of ninja Man-bats.

Credit has to be given to all the groundwork Morrison laid for the final payoff of this storyline. Even before he took on the title, in the pages of 52 a world-wandering Bruce Wayne locked himself in a cave to confront his inner demons, the discover of his son and conflicts with Talia, the brilliant recreation of the Silver-Age Club of Heroes and the three replacement Bat-Men which further hinted at the idea of Gotham needing to be prepared for life after Batman. The most significant complaint was the fact that Batman's final fate was saved for the pages of Final Crisis and not here. But this isn't about the end of Bruce Wayne. It's story is about how Batman can survive...

Final score: 5 stars out of 5


Final Crisis #1 - "D.O.A.: The GOD of WAR"
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by J.G. Jones

The story of DC Universe's Final Crisis, the event teased as the Day Evil Won, and given the fact that Grant Morrison was allowed to run almost without edit meant that everything including the kitchen sink and the hyper-mega-ultra kitchen sink would be thrown in, it starts with the beginning the man wanted... with the stone age Cro-Magnon hero, Anthro (the First Boy), being given the gift of knowledge in the form of fire from Metron, a demigod of the Fourth World, in his Mobius Chair. The young hero then uses the gift to save his people from a band of violent cave-men led by Vandar Adg (who in millenniums in the future will be Vandal Savage).

In the end, this is an appropriate considering this is a story of how in their seemingly infinite power the gods (be they from the Fourth World or the heroes of the DCU) effect the overall course of humanity for good or evil. We fastforward to the present day where the first narrator is Dan Turpin, the former member of Metropolis' Special Crimes Unit and like the characters of the Fourth World, another creation of Jack Kirby. The private detective is interrupted from his search for six missing gifted children and discovers the smoking body of Orion, last seen ripping out Darkseid's heart in Countdown to Final Crisis #2. Before dying, Orion grabs Turpin and screams "They did not die! He is in you all..." forshadowing the return of the New Gods as the Black Racer, Kirby's personification of Death in all its inevitability, looks on.

Voicing his distaste for "super muk muks," Turpin abandons the scene to find the children and leaves the case of Orion to "the space cops" in this case Green Lantern 2814.2 John Stewart, whose ring alerted him the the 1011 in progress. Meanwhile Turpin meets up with another former cop, the Question, Renee Montoya, who alerts him to the targeting of meta children and sends him in the direction of the Dark Side Club.

John Stewart and Hal Jordan report the murder of Orion to the Guardians on Oa who dispatch the recently created Alpha Lanterns to investigate the deicide and seal the planet off for investigate as the search is on for the weapon powerful enough to commit this crime.

The dialogue heads a bit over the top (and yes, maybe it is proof of what a Morrison-freak I am that we've used the word deicide and its even after it that I use the phrase "over the top"), as Dr. Light and Mirror Master murder the newly created League of Titans in their first appearance as they recover what looks to be Metron's Mobius chair sitting atop a landfill for Libra. How over the top... well let's just say rapist Dr. Light would like some... pharmaceutical requisites for his date with Giganta... yeah.

Libra is turns out is meeting with the leaders of the new Society with his compatriot the Human Flame (a flamethrower wielding low-level one-off villain defeated by the Martian Manhunter 50 years ago). The line "We are organized supercrime specialists..." is used in it's full ostentatious capacity, but honestly, some degree of forgiveness must be present when you have a line-up of Gorilla Grodd, Talia Al Ghul, Lex Luthor (in full battle armor), Vandal Savage and Ocean Master sitting at a table. Of course, the villains are legitimately doubtful of yet ANOTHER bad guy claiming he will organize and lead the forces of evil to victory. Human Flame records the meeting on his cell phone as Dr. Light and Effigy drag in the Martian Manhunter. Libra promptly executes him while the Justice League mainstay screams the name of his wife, M'yri'ah. A great deal of criticism was laid at Morrison for killing off a top-tier hero with only three panels, but in this too-fast paced epic that character's story would unfold fuller in a tie-in.

A brief television interview shows Reverend G. Godfrey Good, the latest reincarnation of the Darkseid's master of persuasion, Glorious Godfrey, setting up shop in the ruined city of Bludhaven (destroyed in Infinite Crisis). Watching the interview, Turpin's case has lead him to the villain, the Tattooed Man, who further points him to the Dark Side Club. Upon arrival, Turpin is take before Boss Dark Side, whose older body appears to be wearing down quickly. He admits to having given the children to Granny and claims that "there was a war in heaven, Mister Turpin, and I won." Boss Dark Side then has the red eyed children revealed, the eyes indicate the infection of the Anti-Life Equation.

Superman in a meeting of the league at the Hall of Justice, restates the urgency of Orion's murder. We get it... a god is dead. And he declares Justice League Condition Amber... um, yeah, even I have some trouble defending that one. Three Alpha Lanterns arrive and seal off the earth "the foundation stone of all existence" for the investigation.

The next scene in the first issue takes us outside the multiversal orrery, where the Monitors watch on ensuring the bleed continues to insulate each of the universes despite the disruption of Earth-51's destruction, twice due to sabotage in Countdown. The monitor of that world, Nix Uotan, is exiled by the Prime Monitor Tahoteh to be stripped of his powers to live out a normal life as a "mortal germ" for his failure. He screams he will find a way back to his love, Weeja Dell, before disappearing. Weeja Dell after weeping for her barely understood love is comforted by another female, Zillo Valla, who worries about their new emotions and the contamination of their species by interacting in the worlds of the orrery. Meanwhile the Monitor of Earth-8 and villain of Countdown, Solomon, states that his only opposition Uotan is now gone.

The issue next shows Anthro drawing Metron's symbol into the sand then he is transported forward to a post-apocalyptic future scene that Morrison had planned well in advance, with Kirby's Kamandi (The Last Boy) demanding "Metron gave you a weapon against the gods. We need it now!" Finally, Uotan awakens as a mortal while a television reports on the Martian Manhunter's death.

As far as first issues go, one has to realize that those unfamiliar with the work of Jack Kirby and the recent Countdown series will be largely lost and the significant amount of focus on the unexplored relationships of the Monitors and Dan Turpin may lack in a proper scope. But the story hums along relatively smoothly (for me) and J.G. Jones' art is fantastic excluding the page with the Justice League meeting where every face looks rushed, but the highlight is the opening with Anthro. Also, note the alternate cover with the cave drawings... we'll get back to that one someday.

Final score: 4 stars out of 5


Final Crisis: Requiem - "Caretakers of Mars"
Written by Peter J. Tomasi, Art by Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Rodney Ramos

This book is set during and after Final Crisis #1, beginning with the funeral on Mars of J'onn J'onzz, then flashing back to his torture and murder by the Society and Libra, in this version however he is able to fight back as the Justice League burst in and quickly murders and defeats the villains, which is in short order revealed to be a desperate mental gamble by J'onn who upon his death flashes out to Superman, Batman, Black Canary, Hal Jordan and Gypsy. The artwork is detailed enough while not shying away some more gruesome elements and Tomasi's line from Hal while standing over the body, "Look how they slaughtered our friend." sets the remorseful tone of the issue. The rather simple approach makes this a far easier read than the main series. Each of the five friends he mentally touched begin involuntarily taking down part of the history of J'onzz's memories of his home planet to save the last record of his species. After the well-attended funeral it is these five wait behind and promise to keep him and his people alive in their hearts. It was Bruce Wayne though who gets the final moment though leaving one of the Manhunter's favorite cookies behind with him.

Final score: 3 stars out of 5


Final Crisis #2 - "TICKET to BLUDHAVEN"
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by J.G. Jones

This is the issue that turned off a good deal of the mainstream. Let's face it the very concept of a "Super Young Team" or an issue starting "STOP! You must be supercool to proceed! Your life depends on it!" is a big stretch. But let's face it the kitschy history of DC needs to be represented too if you're going to cover everything. So some supercool superhero fans are going to factor in somewhere, there will be a Robin backpack, a Killing Joke t-shirt, young girls in Mary Marvel and Wonder Woman costumes, maybe a Stormtrooper or two and a Pow-Bam-Zap shirt deserve a place too. In a club these young wannabe superheroes watch a news report on Japan's older heroes led by Rising Sun. The idea of the older traditional superheroes and the young generation just as concerned about looking cool and meeting famous people is really what the series and all the work with the New Gods rebirth is about, rebirthing concepts through to a newer and fresher generation. And just because their names are that awesome... the role call of the Super Young Team is Shiny Happy Aquazon, Well-Spoken Sonic Lightning Flash, Shy Crazy Lolita Canary, Most-Excellent Super Bat and Big Atomic Lantern Boy.

Also in the bar, the superstar Sony Sumo (another Kirby creation and friend of the Fourth World's hippie-inspired Forever People) is attacked by and rips the heart out of the armored Megayakuza and while ignoring the SYT's requests for autographs goes to clean himself up in the bathroom. There he is confronted by the world famous escape artist and protege of the New God Scott Free, Shilo Norman, the new Mr. Miracle and star of Seven Soldiers: Mr. Miracle miniseries by Morrison. The idea of pushing Sonny together with the SYT, a band of counter-culture independent kids lends a very serious vibe of -- this has all happened before and it will all happen again.

For now Shilo is trying to convince Sonny that Motherboxx (the portable supercomputer Mother Box) brought them together to form a team to defeat the evil victors of a cosmic war.

Of in his new little corner of the world, Uotan, is getting every bit of the worth at his "germ" life toiling away at Big Belly Burger and mumbling various words out of the dictionary to find his secret word, convinced he is destined for something great, doodling pictures of various characters from other realities. The next check in with Turpin, in full beatdown mode, going after the Mad Hatter demanding to know how the children are being controlled by Boss Dark Side. In the background, a news report notes Reverend Good continuing to pressure for relief in Bludhaven, which just happens to be where Hatter tells Turpin the children are now located. One especially telling picture shows Turpin's reflection in a fractured mirror as he laments his course, but buys a ticket to Bludhaven regardless.

A single page shows a scene from Requiem of the funeral of the Manhunter with Superman delivering a eulogy that ends in the line that reflects not just his Christian upbringing, but the biggest in-joke in comics, "We'll all miss him. And pray for resurrection." Yeah, it's comics... they're never gone... ... this is what those of us in the writing business refer to as foreshadowing, my friends.

While the heroes mourn, Libra continues to push for the villains to unite under his god's banner. While Luthor remains unconvinced this undefined quantity could hurt a bigger hero like Superman, a larger number have gathered (including Shadow Thief, Zoom, Deathstroke and Weather Wizard) and Clayface is ready to jump on board after Libra's job helping the Human Flame. Of course, Luthor being Luthor by the next panel already has Sivana recruited in an alliance against Libra, though his attempts to recruit Savage come up short. And poor Human Flame like the ZZZ-lister he is, ends up pulled away by Libra to discuss what is owed.

Batman, fresh from the conclusion of R.I.P., takes the lead in the Orion investigation by dispatching the Flash to the crimescene, convinced there is evidence the speedster can discover, and even the arrival of the Alpha Lantern Kraken doesn't stop his take-charge role. Despite her assertion that earth lacks the technology for the autopsy, the man with all the answers states Orion was shot, though there was no exterior wound, due to the internal trauma and dispatched John Stewart to recover a bullet. Sure enough Stewart finds the bullet (though it had been buried in concrete for 50 years), leaking Radion, a toxin lethal to the New Gods (theotoxic). Unfortunately he is quickly assaulted by an unseen Green Lantern and the Alphas arrest Jordan based on his history of infection by Parralax.

Batman quickly confronts Kraken, who mutters "she's eating my mind alive." Batman notices an injury Stewart gave her and after a brief struggle she subdues the Dark Knight and throws him through a boom tube, revealing herself as infected by a Fourth World villain.

In his search for the missing children, Turpin searches the ruins of Bludhaven, avoiding the Atomic Knights (more on them next issue). He is led to an underground base by Reverend Good, who recognized the detective. He reveals his status as a New God of Apokolips and refers to "your son Kalibak, the Cruel" which indicates Turpin is now carrying the spirit of Darkseid inside his mind and mutters, "my son is dead" referring to Orion, I believe. Kamandi appears here as one of the slaves in cages at Command-D, honestly even I'm not entirely sure why he's here, possibly a refuge from Earth-51 which has already died. Also captured which a rather sinister looking helmet hanging above his head is Batman, while Kraken and two of Darkseid minions, Mokkari and Simyan, are operating on Kalibak's new body, building better bad guys.

The next scene is at the Daily Planet where Clark has just turned in an obit on the Manhunter and Lois asks Jimmy to run a story on the missing children downstairs for her. He refers to her as "Mrs. Kent" as opposed to "Ms. Lane" or "Lois" which hints to a short series of events where he's revealed as Clayface and an explosion takes out several floors of the building, leaving Lois buried and at best gravely injured.

Two generations of Flashes, Wally West and Jay Garrick arrive at the strip club where Libra had until recently been meeting, leading to one of the funnier exchanges in this very dark book, "You know this is where Barry and I met all those years ago." "At a strip bar? Nobody told me that when I was Kid Flash." Turns out it was a community center years back, but still it's nice of Morrison to inject a bit of humor into an event comic that really isn't going to have many light moments. Here they discover the "phony Crime Bible" and a plastic copy of the Mobius chair. And Wally brings up the point Batman thought the bullet was hidden by being fired backwards through time at Orion. Jay of course mentions that "I hate anything to do with time in all forms."

Of course that's a statement most hardcore science fiction fans might nod their head with, noting how generally inaccurate virtually every comic book take on science and time travel has been. Wally recognized the Mobius chair as the scope of the hyperdimensional gun and sure enough the scope starts opening up for them and Jay feels some very familiar vibrations (the Flashes were able to transfer throughout the multiverse by adjusting their internal vibrations).

And the long hinted at return in the flesh takes place for the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen. The speedster to which all others are compared bursts forward chasing the Radion bullet and trailed by Death himself, the Black Racer. This was the first big splash panel surprise of the series and Jones absolutely nailed everything from the sense of Barry's movement to his facial expression. And with things getting worse for Batman, Superman and Hal Jordan, it's good at least to have another of the world's definitive heroes back in the mix.

In the issue overall, Morrison did a fine job of picking up the pace and keeping the events focused on several of DC's biggest names as significant events happened to them. Despite everything though it is this ultimate tragic fall for Turpin that is the heart of the series so far. It's made all the more terrifying by asking the question of why he was looking for the children in the first place. Was it his own crusade and fierce internal drive? Or was this just further machinations of Darkseid making sure his new body got to the right place at the right time to be turned over for... alterations by the mad scientists of Apokolips? Whereas in previous events, minor characters get killed, there is usually one or two heroic sacrifices and good triumphs in the end... but I'm not sure if anything as bad as what happens to Turpin has taken place before... his fall is just beginning.

Final score: 4 stars out of 5


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