Tuesday, February 3, 2009

You Can't Always Get What You Want... (Part 2)

The Crisis continues and things get bad in a good way. And many of the tie-ins, some critical to the storyline, some not and some still not even halfway finished will be addressed.


Final Crisis #3 - "KNOW EVIL"
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by J.G. Jones

The opening of this issue is another that requires some knowledge of one of Morrison's Seven Soldiers miniseries, in this case Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein. This version of the monster works with SHADE (Super Human Advanced Defence Executive) as the ultimate demon neo-noir detective, and in the raid on the Dark Side Club finds the Question examining the corpse of Boss Dark Side (note the symbol on his tie for identification). Before escaping the Questions asks all the right ones, "What kind of gangland killing leaves a man mummified?" and "What happened to Danny Turpin?"

While Montoya races after something that fell from the sky, Frankenstein watches as a computer pointer finger icon indicating the quickly disappearing prophecy of "KNOW EVIL," which I believe is a modernized version of the Source Wall at the end of the universe which the New Gods frequently interacted with. And the same time SHADE director Father Time speaks with Taleb Beni Khalid, Checkmate's Black King. Taleb wants the most expendable agents for a mission against a local warlord in Bludhaven killing anyone who wanders near his bunker (obviously Command-D), he also notes he has a role in one of their global law enforcement agencies for Montoya.

Montoya's falling object is shown to be Overgirl (Uberfraulein), the Supergirl of Earth-10 we met in Countdown who comes from a world where the Nazis won WWII. Now here's where my high school German comes in handy... Thanks, Mister Daeschner! She says, "I... I... I am... Overgirl." and "No. It's the...the bleeding heavens. Hell... is... is here." Did I just rock your mindhole with my knowledge... I hope so. Anyway this pretty much the bleed separating the universes is falling into disrepair, oh and the SHADE agents catch Montoya.

Meanwhile Uotan is fired from Big Belly Burger for asking unsettling questions. You know I did feel the graviton impacts increasing, sir. He then passes by a news report where scientists discovered the ancient drawing of Metron's symbol drawn way back in issue #1 at the dawn of time by Anthro, the same symbol is appearing throughout the world in crop circles in England. Uotan moves on unaware the female monitor Zillo Valla is watching him (denoted by her big headdress). Now might be a good time to mention the recurring idea in the crisis series to pass on information through television news reports. It's nice to see the thematic tie between them and is an impressive way to show the global scope although here it's obviously just used for foreshadowing the events in Bludhaven and the ever-increasing involvement of the New Gods in humanity's history.

Another interesting tendency of Morrison is to avoid revisiting the cliffhangers of previous issues until part-way through to explain things, instead starts by throwing interesting scenes with new seemingly insignificant characters at the start. Jay Garrick is sitting in a living room explaining what just happened to the Flashes extended families (Iris Allen, Linda Park-West, Joan Garrick and Wally's children Jai and Iris West). The Flashes race ahead of the Black Racer, faster than sound and speech, chasing the bullet back in time, unable to get his fingers around it before it strikes Orion. Iris, of course, wants to know exactly what Jay means by "three generations of the Flash". As the flashback shows the Black Racer floating above Turpin and Orion's body it catches sight of Barry and begins chasing them back forward in time, Jay wore down and fell out of the timestream today and the Racer past him by to continue after the other two. Jay notes the the last the Racer can't run faster than light, but Wally and Barry can, confirming to Iris that her husband is alive.

Another old-school throwback, fans of the animated series Justice League Unlimited, will recognize the Hall of Doom (also known as the building that looks like Vader's helmet), here Libra give the Human Flame a new costume and shoves a red-eyed helmet on the man's head broadcasting the Anti-Life Equation and turning the flame in a soldier of Darkseid. "Judge Others. Enslave Others. Anti-life Justifies My Hatred."

Luthor attempts to surprise Libra, but Flame and another soldier turn on Lex and Libra demands the big bad of the DCU give up on science and swear an oath of loyalty to his master, Darkseid. Clark is now in the hospital keeping watch at Lois' bedside and even I, who defended the idea of running through time, have to call bull on the idea that Lois is only being kept alive by Superman's heat vision... seriously, there's nothing the hospital can do, but heat vision saves the day? That it's followed by by a shadowed Zillo Valla demanding in a new high of hyperbole, "I offer you one ultimate chance to save her! But we must leave this world now before it's too late!"

Despite Wonder Woman, Black Lightning and Alan Scott's objections about a lack of evidence the Alpha Lanterns are taking Jordan to a trial on Oa. After they leave, Scott mentions the international meta-military organization Checkmate is currently starting to investigate the battles in Bludhaven instead of the Orion investigation. He mentions that if Diana's intuition about the Evil Gods of Apokolips is correct, whichout the New Gods to balance the scales they need an army to battle them and plans to enact Article X, the superhero draft.

Scott asks Oracle to coordinate the effort and quickly gets the world out to various heroes... the new Aquaman (whose is told by a whale), the current Shazam (Freddy Freeman), who mentions that Mary has been missing since the days of Countdown and his friend and anthropomorphic tiger, Mr. Tawky Tawny. Also, seen are Supergirl saying goodbye to her cat Streaky and Black Canary and Green Arrow, who of course rants how this is all authoritarian militaristic crap and proves he's right about everything.

But just as the heroes are fully assembled and about to get their marching orders, Morrison cuts the legs out from under the momentum to go back to Shilo Norman and Sony Sumo at a Japanese airport. But sometimes it isn't the big superhero gatherings that can change things. As he is about to board the plane, Shilo recounts his story from Seven Soldiers: Mr. Miracle where he crawled out of his own grave. Sumo thinks Motherboxxx is familiar, but doubts an escape artist and sumo wrestler are the ones to stop it. Of course, before boarding the plane is shot by a rocket launcher and they are attacked by an army of the Anti-Life infected minions of Darkseid. Just as Sony asks for a miracle, the Super Young Team pulls up in their Wonder Wagon futuristic car and they peal out with Darkseid's forces hot in pursuit. Sony seems to accept his fate calling to cancel his match with Killotron, "I'm on a mission from the Gods." Shilo thanks them and insists they shouldn't get messed up in this. To which, Most Excellent Super Bat remarks, "Excuse me. We are the Super Young Team. We've done this sort of thing before." and their car takes off into the sky. And even the Morrison detractors have to give him that one, cool rescue.

In Bludhaven, Wonder Woman is visiting a refugee camp on the outskirts of the city. She is about to investigate the city with some of the Atomic Knights, originally created in the early 1960s, the Knights wear medieval armor and ride gigantic dalmatians. Since Infinite Crisis, they patrol the devastated ruins of Bludhaven. As the group pass the many corpses of Replika, who was killed there in SS: Frankenstein. It's safe to say Morrison is dedicated to tie a large chunk of those series into the background of his Final Crisis. The now-villainous Mary Marvel, who "just couldn't stand being so wholesome and plain and boring" shows up fresh from a make-over at
Darkseid's Flesh Farm at Command-D... or perhaps a brothel in Amsterdam. The funny thing is Morrison gives as thorough an explanation of her transformation here as DC did in 51 issues of countdown. After killing one of the Atomic Knights, Mary is defeated relatively quickly by Wonder Woman, but reveals a broken vial with the symbol of the Anti-Life Equation, making Wonder Woman the patient zero of the new infection. Immediately after, Mokkari starts a computer program that sends an email to every address on the planet, as Oracle attempts to cut off the internet before it finishes opening.

Finally, we're back with Wally and Barry who run out of the timestream back in front of the strip club in Central City. While getting away from the Racer, they overshot to a couple weeks in the future. The two finally talk and Barry has no idea why he's come back or what has happened to this red-skied world. In the final panel, the new Furies (Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Batwoman and Giganta), all controlled by Anti-Life, corner the Flashes. We are finally seeing Darkseid's master plan taking form and it's gone pretty well so far. He's working his way back to life in a new body, has taken Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman out of the picture and begun infecting humanity to his new Lowlies.

The red sky is a symbol that's pretty standard fare in the DC Crises. Morrison made the move to isolate the three biggest heroes, let smaller well-known ones have a place, but leave the action driven by relatively obscure creatures like Libra, Turpin and Shilo Norman, letting them have the opportunity to shine. By now, Jones' artwork is starting to look rushed with the best work left for the major scenes and a more hurried approach to others like Clark in the hospital or the superhero group shot, which we quickly learn is not as important as you might think something like that is. An item that I didn't get the first couple of times through was a subtle indictment on the corrupting influences on technology. Take note that in the superhero draft, all the characters receive a letter as opposed to the Anti-Life Equation being spread through the internet. Or maybe that's just why evil wins.

Final score: 3.5 stars out of 5


Superman Beyond 3D #1-2
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Doug Mahnke and Various

Let's right off the back, address the idea of the use of 3D. It doesn't work. It certainly never added anything to a movie, not Jaws 3D, not Beowolf. It didn't work as Geoff Johns' interpretation of sight in the Phantom Zone and it doesn't work in here. Especially with comics there's nothing so distracting as my giant red hand holding the book open. A long time multiverse afficianado doesn't really need a 4D vision upgrade like Superman to understand the bleed, the arteries between the universes. See, you understood what I said right there if you've read any crisis story or Planetary. So it's a distracting gimmick. Repeat after me... NO.

This and the Legion tie-ins mostly looked like the excuses to keep Superman out of the main storyline of Final Crisis for a time when they were announced. But the story picks up inside of Final Crisis #3 and doesn't last more than hardly a few heartbeats. The fact that it shared the writer of the main series arose more interest. The crowning achievement of this series is the attempt to portray the multiverse as a living entity, the lifeblood of which, the bleed, can heal any injury. Superman is promised a chance at it between Lois' last heartbeats by Zillo Valla (who pauses time throughout the universe) in exchange for his help.

This is really the main fine line that Morrison always walked, the one between concept and execution. Even his greatest apologists like me know he tumbles away from a decent and coherent story. When he nails it like in Seven Soldiers, We3, All-Star Superman and New X-Men (thought I know Billy will fight me on that one), it's one of the great fantastic rides in this medium. When he doesn't it's an over-the-top shock-schlock like "The Ressurection of Ra's Al Ghul" and "DC One Million." And he goes there here, which is a shame to waste the concepts like the living multiverse, a team of a half dozen Superman (including a Dr. Manhattan riff), finding the points of view of a Nazi superman searching for his lost cousin, and the Monitor Dax Novu corrupting their people making their judgment wrong and turning into a vampire god feeding on the lifeblood of existence. Of course he just coincidentally is Nix Uotan's father and Zillo Valla's lover. Then he gets lost at the edge of existence by a giant robot Superman... um, yeah.

The relevant points are the defeat of Mandrakk, the exile of his conspirator Ogama (who plots to retrieve his master and turns Ultraman into a vampire monster) and him pulling some of the bleed back to save Lois.

Final score: .5 stars out of 5


Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #1-5
Written by Geoff Johns, Art by George Perez

Taking place only immediately after Superman Beyond3D, this series is what takes Superman out of the plot of Final Crisis. A must-have for Legion fans (and largely inpenitrable to most others)this series faced incredible delays with issue #3 only appearing this week. There's a bit of hope the schedule improves since there are few better artists to tackle the super-huge cast than Perez and few writers better suited to confusing topics like the Legion than Johns.

The direct sequel to Johns excellent Action Comics storyline, "Superman and the Legion of Superheroes" my great hope of this series is to create a single unified Legion between the three previous continuities, one of which just ended after issue #50. Unfortunately right now there's a couple great battles and a strong story, but the final score can't be determined this early.

As to the question of why Superman left, remember the presence of the Evil Gods of Apokolips is still unknown and in the past the Legion has always returned him to the moment he left. Of course, by now we're familiar enough with the series to realize it's indicative of a problem with the entire DC line right now. Most of their significant creators and longtime fans of the mythology and history of the line, especially Morrison and Johns. And their work tends to be mostly well-regarded by the fanboys, but often verge into being difficult to follow to near impenetrable to new readers. Luckily, for this series' chances Johns generally stays towards the understandable side of the spectrum.


Final Crisis: Rogues Revenge #1-3
Written by Geoff Johns, Art by Scott Kolins

The three issue series gave some background on Libra's villain recruiting related to the refusal of the Flash villains, the Rogues. While this has almost nothing to do with the continuing plotline of Final Crisis, it's by far the highest quality among the tie-in miniseries. Johns and Kolins worked on the Flash together for years and this is possibly a new highpoint for the artist. Johns has the voice of each Rogue down solid, playing to his personal strengths with Captain Cold as the narrator. And it's noticable how much better Mirror Master plays and more in-character he sounds here than in issue #1 of Final Crisis.

What makes the Rogues some of the most compelling villains as Johns writes them is their incredible realism. Now, obviously their names and powers are rooted in the touch-in-cheek style of the Silver Age, but their current decisions and motivations are often those normal criminals might make. That being the point - these aren't villains out to conquer the world, but violent criminals. They fully expect the heroes to win and defeat Libra. Whereas Lex Luthor can't help himself from being tangled up in the large-scale machinations, Cold and the others need no part of it and will not get involved. More often than not, they aren't trying to defeat the Flash so much as avoid him whenever possible.

More exciting than the little effect it has on Final Crisis is how much the series changes the status quo for the Flash without ever showing one outside the final page in a tease for next year's Flash: Rebirth series. Wally's greatest villain Zoom is depowered and Inertia, the lead killer of Bart Allen is murdered by the Rogues in revenge for making them break the rule about never killing a speedster. Iris Allen even has a couple pages to shine and further sell her emotion over the return of her husband, Barry.

Final score: 4 stars out of 5


Final Crisis: Revelations #1-5
Written by Greg Rucka, Art by Philip Tan and Various

The original plan for Rucka's miniseries was to tell a "from the street" story about how the events of Final Crisis would alter life for the average person. Hopefully from the image to the left you can figure out for yourself that they didn't end up going in that direction. Instead Rucka chose two characters with backgrounds rooted in the streets of Gotham where he wrote them in the wonderful and gritty Gotham Central: Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen. But both allowed him to tell a bigger story because of the changes both went through in the aftermath of Infinite Crisis with Montoya inheriting the identity of the Question and the murdered Allen became the new host of the Spectre.

The first episode centers around Allen delivering vengence on Dr. Light and Effigy, but cannot touch or recal the true name of Libra, showing the characters with some real power going beyond what had been seen early in Crisis. A problem with the well-written and drawn debut issue is one of continuity. Montoya in no longer in America as she was in the first several issues of Final Crisis, but it is after the Martian Manhunter has been killed. But it's not so jarring and I think I might be in this a little too deep to start questioning when she took a flight across the pond. But it is in service to the story as the Spear of Destiny she is trying to take from the followers of the Crime Bible is eventually used to kill Vandall Savage and raise Cain of the Fourth World, the first murderer marked by the Spectre, in his place.

Most of the story however takes place in Gotham City the day the Anti-Life Equation is released in Final Crisis #3, of course further continuity questions come up since Renee references being at Checkmate Castle weeks later in Final Crisis #4 and 5 as the past. Allen's struggle to accept the role as God's Spirit of Vengeance is something that until now was never really explored. The idea of him not being able to punish Libra leads to some generous raging at God (personified by the Spirit of Mercy, the Radiant) since there was no mercy for his own son, when Allen was made to kill him. By issue #3, we see both Radiant and the Spectre unable to effect those effected by Anti-Life and to watch Cain utterly defeat the Spectre and be called his, "Master" the idea story blends into an excellent crisis of faith. Did God abandon man? Or is the battle ours to win or lose? While it doesn't fit from much of a timeline perspective with the main series, Rucka tells a strong story and the art is overall fine, but some of the story points are drawn too tight and it makes it unclear exactly what happened, especially when the Spectre and Allen are temporarily severed. The real balance to find in the score is a pretty blatant disregard for what the main character is doing in other titles with the quality of the story which is pretty high on its own.

Final score: 3.5 stars out of 5


Final Crisis: Submit
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Matthew Clark and Various

While the original purpose of this issue was to bringe the cliffhanger of Final Crisis #3, the release of the Anti-Life Equation on the world, with the world's new status quo in issue #4. Unfortunately delays (highlighted by the use of three inkers that gives the book's art somewhat of a jigsaw feeling) had it shipping the same day as the next Final Crisis issue, which makes the time spend in a world with an active resistence seem even more rushed.

Consider that point from the last issue of Final Crisis pounded home. Technology bad, paper good. The issue starts with Jefferson Pierce on what looks like a newspaper delivery route (it actually turns out to be a rescue mission) with a bag of Daily Planet papers. It actually make sense that if every media outlet is broadcasting Anti-Life 24-7-365, this is a way some bastardized for of mass communication can still take place. And Mr. Pierce makes damn sure those chasing him remember. "That's right. Black Lightning!"

I suppose the newspaper is better than technology approach isn't too preachy and it's a major point of Morrison's approach to this series and DC in general... things used to be better. While I'm certainly note endorsing that statement and have some huge problems with the concept, I mean you aren't reading this review in the New York freaking Times... I appreciate the sentiment behind his position. Maybe the fact that the old ways were harder added some value to them. I mean, hey if Superman took the time to build a printing press at the Fortress of Solitude, I'd skim an issue.

Regardless the main storyling has Lightning eventually chased down by Darkseid Cylon-headdress toting minions, the Justifiers if you please. He is saved by the superhero loathing Tattooed Man and his son, eventually taken to where his entire family is hiding. Excluding the cool opening scene, Clark's art make virtually every fight scene unintelligible. When Lightning wakes he ask his rescuers not to burn the newspapers for heat or the books they've found.

They couldn't have chosen a better hero of the people to try and help this family that can't stand superheros. Lightning comes off as an intelligent and selfless, but really human in the way he can relate to others. It turns out the Tattooed Man's wife and daughter used a computer to call for help, meaning the bad guys are right on their tail. The chase scene, complete with the staple of any mindless zombie apocalypse, the school bus, lacks in detail, but still comes off sharp enough.

The awfully broken down art makes the final confrontation lack much of any understanding. The dialogue for three pages needs to be reread a couple of times to even start to understand what is happening. In the end, Pierce sacrifices himself to the family can escape and Clark's close-up of the man's face as the Justifier helmet is lowered over his head is actually pitch perfect. Generally, if some type of action isn't involved the art is just fine. In the end, Tattooed Man takes up the remained of his rescuers mission to contact the remains of the League at the Hall of Justice, while Black Lightning burns the books he previous espoused the virtues of and commits that "Anti-Life is the answer."

Final score: 2.5 stars out of 5


No comments:

Post a Comment