Thursday, February 5, 2009

You Can't Always Get What You Want... (Part 3)

By now, it's fairly obvious that Morrison is trying his damnedest to break this series out of the rather monotonous rut of typical major epic event comics that have been regular staples of both DC and Marvel's calendar for pretty much two decades. The unifying similarity of most events is their striving to be accessible to as wide an audience as possible. But Final Crisis isn't like that. It's for the type of fan that still reads Jack Kirby's original stories, the fan that can rattle of dozens of Legionaries off the top of their head, the fan that remembers there was a DC Universe older than Crisis on Infinite Earth. Basically, this is a love letter of a DC fanboy and the rest of us our along for the ride.


Final Crisis #4 - "DARKSEID SAYS"
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino

The Evil Gods ended the last issue releasing the Anti-Life Equation simultaeously from every broadcast medium simultaneously. Everyone next to a radio, television, cellphone, GPS device or computer has infected. When it comes time to give your story scale, immediately infecting a billion people to be the empty-hearted slaves of Darkseid's will... decent first step.

The rather useless resistance we meet early on is holding up in the Hall of Justice with an army of Justifiers threatening to storm the gates (well energy shield). The Ray just zapped in with Mark Richards, the Tattooed Man, who recently decided to bring Black Lightning's message to the JLA after the events of "Final Crisis: Submit." Of course, Green Arrow takes the standard, "Why'd you bring the supervillain?" approach, but of course this isn't about your standard good guy-bad guy stuff. The war against Darkseid is a war against the antiquated ideology of a society dependent on the subservience of the many for the betterment of the few and as seen in the Rogue's Revenge series, a generic criminal like Richards isn't in that camp.

Ray, one of the few characters that would be able to move freely in this world is basically a glorified paperboy, shuttling around news in the form of a Daily Planet hot off the printing presses in the Fortress of Solitude. While it could be easily mocked, given the message of the Dark Gods, perhaps the idea of a conflicting story or a dissenting voice is one of the most powerful weapons left. The paper does tease the idea of a major battle eminent in Bludhaven.

Ray, unfortunately, has the story of how that turned out... as a killing field littered with Atomic Knights, DEO Director Mr. Bones, Count Vertigo, Negative Woman and the soldiers of Checkmate. In that ruined city, Dan Turpin takes over the narration futility battling the incubation of Darkseid, holding to the ideas of not giving up, even breaking this proud man to beg help of the heavens as his body and soul turn into a rotting carcass, courtesy of some terrific close-ups from Jones. While he suffers not to fall, Darkseid's minions are already arguing of which did more to curry his favor. They even mention how Granny Goodness is within reach of Central Power Battery of the Green Lantern Corp. As an example of their genetic manipulation, Kalibak appears in the form of a tiger, fresh from devouring a Lantern.

Back in the Hall of Justice, after some great barb from Green Arrow (and really what more simplistic hero could be used to contrast his own straightforward and sharp approach to the grandiose and hyperbolic ranting of Darkseid's faith) Ray reveals an informer in Libra's secret society made them aware of a secret internet created by the world's villains that can be accessed and used without exposure to Anti-Life.

Mr. Terrific, the White King of Checkmate, is now connected to "Watchtowers" - pockets of resistence scattered throughout the DCU, holding court from the Swiss castle headquarters of his organization. From there, Green Lantern Alan Scott, one of the original Justice Society member and the elderstatesman of the world's heroes, encourages faith be kept in their six outposts and that everyone bring whatever they can to bear on the bridge in Bludhaven at dawn, their last stand against the wave of destruction. Some like Supergirl, Hour Man, Liberty Belle and the Metal Men are ready and willing to leave the Fortress of Solitude, Warmaker must abandon a falling Superbia (Watchtower 5), while Freedom Beast faces a Justified Grodd in Gorilla City. Even former adversaries and enemies like the Great Ten of China will be there and Black Adam is lured by Shazam off his throne of skulls for the idea of a last stand.

As the rallying cry ends, the Hall is again cut off and just as Tattooed Man reveals a symbol, "A Circuit" that Black Lightning gave him that was supposed to be important, the former hero shows up and destroys the barriers holding the Justifiers at bay.

The circuit, by the way, is very similar to the appearance of Metron. As the evacuation to the Satellite through the JLA teleporters begins, Morrison returns to the showdown in Central City between the new Furies and two Flashes. One of the better lines of the issue comes from Barry before escape, "An unknown force just reverse-engineered me to life out of a blizzard of faster-than-light particles. I'm sorry I seem a little abstract." Was that Flash or Morrison saying that? All credit regardless for breaking up the ever-present darkness of the issue with the lighthearted return of the Flash Fact and an utterly terrific take down of three Furies, escape from Wonder Woman and running off to save the multiverse, starting with family.

In another bit of meta-conversation, Morrison again hits home one of the biggest ideas of his story after Richards questions Ray's plan to transform himself into teleporter carrier waves and get to outerspace. Ray's response, "Seriously. I thought you were a super-hero like the rest of us." They will always succeed, because the super-hero always does. But the cost to make sure there is no trail to follow is Green Arrow remaining behind so the League's leader (and his wife) Black Canary, Richards and Wally's family can ride the Ray's signal to safety. A sweet goodbye, to a flurry of arrows and futile showdown before falling to his former friend.

While the skies outside Checkmate's citadel begin raining blood as the Super-Justifiers (former heroes) close in, the familiar helmet is placed on Turpin/Darkseid's head and he is told to make his choice for humanity. As that scene is cut off (a nice job holding the suspense), and Barry and Wally find Iris Allen looking at her television, succumbed to Anti-Life. No explanation is given besides a kiss and spark of lightning before she's free and even as the world falls apart, we believe along with her when Barry confirms it will all be alright.

But we end the issue back with Turpin gone and Darkseid's finger cast downward. It's a wonderful splash considering it's just one person's face and hand. The facial expression has a large chunk of the cold rage of the villain, with still enough of the broken man's eyes giving in to the monster in his soul.

A wonderfully perfect lead-in to the busting into the Citadel of a flying hot rod car. Not so wonderful is a trigger happy soldier putting a round in Mr. Miracle's chest. C'mon people, he said they were going to save the world! Also, notice the image the Super Young Team and Sonny Sumo have painted on their faces, since it'll come up again. Even with the series' pace ratcheting up, Morrison still stuffs in a single panel at the Citadel of the Black King and Queen escorting Renee Montoya in, something that will have a dramatic effect on the endgame of the series. In this story, all the pieces matter. And while some might say that makes the series worse, I would contend it makes in denser and more complete. There are plenty of chances to read all of the story together and pick up on new wonderful things the second, third and fourth times through and beyond. Shouldn't that be what we want? Not just a character drawn in the background, but bits and pieces of the ever-evolving story bleeding together?

The biggest complaint I have isn't that Jones couldn't handle the art on his own, it's that when the decision was made to bring in Pacheco who's work looks undeniably different at a fundamental level. At the least they should have worked to get someone whose style would blend a little better. And of course, given that I loved Jones' work on Wanted, the covers for 52 and earlier in this series, never seeing his full vision of this series will always be just about the biggest shortcoming.

Final score: 4.5 stars out of 5


Final Crisis: Resist
Written by Greg Rucka and Eric Trautman, Art by Ryan Sook

Another story of the weeks between Final Crisis #3 and 4, this story is, more than anything else, one last chance to revisit the world and characters of Checkmate through Rucka and Trautman, the former writers of the series which quickly fell apart after is was handed off to a new creative team. But here the team is back with it's largest scope yet, serparated from the main unit Mr. Terrific, Sasha Bordeaux and most of the major characters of the series are attacked as Anti-Life is being launched by former JLAer Ice and the entire facility with the exception of Terrific, the A.I. lifeform The Thinker, Black King Taleb Ben Khalid and Bordeaux, who uses the nanotech implants implanted by Brother Eye before the last Crisis to put herself into a coma to delay her infection.

The middle section of the story shows off a good bit of the groups dark humor, contrasting the world being overrun for a month with the light character of teleporter Snapper Carr and his frequent PG-13 and R-rated run-ins with Wonder Woman villain and Anti-Life survivor, Cheetah. And while this keeps it light in the face of continued failure, the real emotional weight of the story is in the later portion. The only real chance to form an army against the Justifiers is the activation of the OMAC nanovirus that 11.5 million people carry in their blood. Of course accessing the code means reviving Sasha and allowing her to be infected completely. That the choice has to be made by her lover, Terrific, is a bit melodramatic and coincidental, but his incredible determination to find some way to win against the ever-increasing legions of Darkseid also reminds us that Sasha would probably do the same thing.

It's nice to see the formerly malicious force of the OMACs and the AI that spreads the infection turned on their head as a desperate gambit used against an even bigger enemy. It's also good to have the best spy organization in the DCU getting one last chance to shine with Rucka running the show. Like Submit, this adds a lot to the story of the main book and helps give a better sense of scope to the plight the world faces against Darkseid's infestation.

Sook's work hasn't been around much lately it seems and while I like him here, he probably would have been a better match than Pacheco to work on the main series with Jones. He might not be on that level, but the feel of the two would mesh together better.

Final score: 4 stars out of 5


Final Crisis #5 - "INTO OBLIVION"
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino

The series continues to start each issue with it's version of a cold open, the trial of Hal Jordan. He is charged by one of the supposedly "infallible" Alpha Lanterns, Kraken, demonstrating that even the near-omnipotent powers of Oa can be infultrated by the forces of Darkseid. One of the best ideas presented by Morrison should be mentioned here. So much of this series is about stories being told, not just the plots, but the story of Darkseid thus far in the series has been insubstantive, hidden in the shadows and inside of Turpin while others act on his behalf with his words on their lips. Darkseid isn't a monster that is punched into submission. He and those close to him are almost immaterial, an idea infected someone's mind. And though Kraken might have the raw power to lash out and hurt one of the Guardians, Jordan breaks free of her constructs pointing out the power of the lantern is one of the minds, and Kraken's is fractured. Before Granny Goodness/Kraken is taken away, she has noted once again Metron's gift of an ultimate technology back in issue #1 with the gift of fire.

The real scope of problem is revealed to be more than just a madman taking over Earth by force. The infection of the Dark Gods is one of words that enslave souls and the force of the return of the message and story of Darkseid is forming a Doomsday Singularity. And even a DC rookie should know the words doomsday singularity on the foundation of existence... not a good combination. And what an excellent final few lines to the scene that perfectly incapsulates what makes a Green Lantern special. As all their world is being dragged to hell, they charge in without fear, saving the universe in 24 hours... hey it must be Wednesday.

Back in Switzerland, Amanda Waller and Khalid lead Montoya into the depths of the castle and tease their plans for the days when the super-heroes fail them. While the defenses led by Mr. Terrific act as a target to distract the Justifiers attention away from Bludhaven for the final attack.

The last remnants of Turpin seem to be vanishing while Darkseid stutters his way into existence, meanwhile the Super Young Team has a brief showdown with Checkmate, showing one of them, Shy Crazy Lolita Canary ripping off a sonic scream similar to the Justice League Black Canary's.

Shilo get back up (thanks to his impact-proof vest) and explains the messages of the Motherboxxx, and provides a bit of exposition for Morrison to explain what exactly is happening. The dawn of the Fifth World of the Gods is crashing dawning and Darkseid (a fallen devil-god) while falling to his death in Countdown began to cling to the world and the power of his fall will drag the universe down into an end time with him. He also reinforces the symbols they have painted on their faces being important, a Metron style circuit.

Kalibak, now leading a large force of anthropomorphic tigers, brings them out to face a force of heroes. The rollcall of super-hero in a very nice splash page are Shazam, Black Adam, S.T.R.I.P.E., Green Lantern John Stewart, Supergirl, Iman, Vixen, Blue Devil, Bronze Tiger (and we still aren't done with the walking talking tigers yet), Liberty Belle and her husband Hourman, J.A.K.E. 2, Frankenstein (complete with motorcycle and broadsword), the father and son Wildcats of the Justice Society, Mr. America, Red Arrow and someone I honestly don't recognize. Now you can complain all you want but Frankenstein firing a revolver, pulling out a sword, driving over Justifiers on his hog AND quoting Milton... that's just four or five kinds of cool there.

While Black Adam takes on Mary Marvel, who's just unheathily concerned with taking Supergirl and making her, "Mine! Mine! Mine!," discovers she is possessed by a leering old man, Desaad. While Mary gets the upper hand (and crotch) on her opponents, Tawky Tawny (See! I told you we weren't done with the tigers yet!) arrives on his jetpack, but is attacked by Kalibak.

The best scene in the book, despite the big fight, happens in a jail cell where they store people unexplainable immune from Anti-Life. Nix Uotan is tossed in with a crippled man in a wheelchair fiddling with a Rubik's cube, which he mentions cannot be solved in under 18 moves and a cloaked man with hairy hands. This man knows a bit of the backstory as well, knowing that Uotan was a Monitor and hands him a set of his earlier doodlings, including one with the symbol Anthro was drawing at the end of issue #1. Amongst the other pictures is Superman and Weeja Dell, Uotan's lost love.

This picture causes him to utter the girl's name, which turns out to be his magic word and as the new Metron solves the cube in 17 moves, well... something changes. The cubs pings, the symbol of a Motherboxx.

Mostly it seems to save the reveal for the end of the issue, a scene where Libra (forget about him? it's been awhile.) is torturing Calculator for betraying his society (telling Ray about the alternate internet before issue #4, which serves for little besides forcing Luthor to realize that the path of Libra and his Gods can't be his.

Back in Bludhaven, the combined power of Supergirl and John Stewart can't breach the Command-D structure where Mokkari informs his master their clone army was killed when attempting to psycho-merge them with Batman (that story to be told in the Batman title), which in Apokolips world means they are promptly killed. Darkseid finally stands and expuses his goals, dragging the world into the hell where everything is Darkseid. Jordan and the other Lanterns are dragged towards this singularity as they are returning to earth. Darkseid's big speech, said through the 3 billion voices of his states his only goal: drag the world to hell and murder their souls.

At the end, we return to the highlight scene where the Fifth World is fully born with Uotan combining with Metron's Motherboxx and is declared by the God of Knowledge (identifiable by the dialogue boxes matching the scenes with Anthro in issue #1) as the Judge of All Evil, the first Fifth World Monitor.

Even with the Jones-Pacheco art still conflicting terribly, there's enough cool battle, the beginning of the underlying points about what the power of stories and the new rising to defeat the antiquated and the highlight real moments of the battle in Bludhaven, Darkseid's speech and especially the Uotan and Metron scenes to feel that bad about anything here.

Final score: 5 stars out of 5


Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns
Written by Geoff Johns, Art by Shane Davis

I have only one complaint about this book. And I mean ONLY one. Under no circumstances should this book bear the Final Crisis logo. It has nothing of substance to do with the event. It's an excellently written start to a new arc for Johns' Green Lantern book and the first big step toward the eventual Blackest Night saga that will play out in the title. But it tells us this happens between Issue #1 and #2 of Final Crisis and my main question is "Why?" That means nothing really bad will happen in this arc to Jordan since we see him in later issues of Final Crisis.

Not judging it as part of the Final Crisis saga, it does a wonderful job in deepening the ever-expanding world of ring-bearers with the addition of the Blue Lanterns who operate using Hope and the Red Lanterns ruled by Rage. Davis uses a bit too much dead space in his panels for my tastes, but handles the diversity that Johns loves to throw into this title.

The bits of doubt that start to infect some Lanterns might further fracture the Corp as began when Laira became a Red Lantern, obviously Johns has continued to push this in the Green Lantern book, but in Final Crisis... doesn't matter so much.

Final score: 4 stars out of 5


Final Crisis: Secret Files
Written by Len Wein and Various, Art by Tony Shasteen and Various

Not too much to say about this, my least favorite book in this entire series. Despite coming near the end of the publishing schedule, this unengaged history of the villain Libra would have meant something more when he was a driving force of the series in issue #1 or 2 before the Dark Gods showed up and stole the show. It wasn't too hard to figure out that after being absorbed into the universe deep in the Silver Age, he happened to land on Apokolips.

The art is so, so and their rather boring "bonus material" doesn't add much to the fabric of the story. In all we didn't really get much of an original story, which jumps back and forth to the original Justice League of America story. And honestly, the new writing actually seems like it was created 40 or more years ago. If this series is about moving the medium forward to the new, to something different, then this is a slap in the face to all of that.

Final score: .5 stars out of 5


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