Saturday, February 7, 2009

You Can't Always Get What You Want... (The Begiending)

Well, here it is, the conclusion to our epic breakdown of DC's far more epic event series. Along the way, Morrison pulled one over on us in his final issues of Batman and the cyclical world of superheros whips back around from end to beginning not just with the standard Crisis-expected altering of the multiverse's status quo, but perpetuating that these stories are eternal and accepts that the endings in them are in addition to everything else, the beginnings of it all over again.

And speaking of endings, I will have words on what this conclusion means for my favorite DC character, why it wasn't anything on par with the media reaction one would expect and why in the end it's fitting that the final issue revolves so much about Superman, the beginning of super-hero comics himself.

But in all, this story rolls through an incredible sixth issue and honestly, moves into seven with a few things that could have been expected and a ton and a half of stuff that tries to push into ground comics don't cover often. And unlike most events, Morrison means more than a bigger fight. But hey, let's get it on.


Batman #682-683 - "The Butler Did It" and "What the Butler Saw"
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Lee Garbett

When this issue was first being solicited, I supposed it was a standard issue retrospective of Bruce Wayne's time as Batman from Alfred's point of view. But the presence of the words Final Crisis caught my eye off the back, natural pessimistic instinct told me that this was just a marketing ploy to get more people to purchase. But still, Morrison had been churning out top quality Batman stories long enough to get the benefit of the
doubt. Of course, the second part successfully flipped the story on its head, forcing me to reread issue #1 with a new appreciation. And here I worried the book was just killing time until Gaiman's final stories (which in my defense is exactly what's happened since these issues).

"The Last Rights" storyline might have been used far less succesfully since, but in these issues, Morrison turns crooked from the standard expectation in the same manner that Batman R.I.P. and Final Crisis have turned character and line-wide events off kilter in the same manner. Dispensing with the A to B to C plot, instead this is more a splatter painting for the first issue. Simultaneously honoring the title character's abilities while refusing to shy away from addressing the inherent comical insanity of the Batman concept despite any type of realistic interpretation. The rather popular idea, Alfred presents in what is initially the worry for a loved one is that this crusade requires too much drive. A legend can't sleep or eat or take personal time. The random flashes of Silver Age images and story elements life a goofy young Dick Grayson as Robin, an silly prankster Joker, the original Kathy Kane Batwoman.

Of course, the Alfred in this story is the Lump, a tool of the Dark Gods stifting through. But true to the base of Batman that Morrison has present time and again is a man prepared for anything. Even in his dreams and memories he can recognize a phony element and hunt it down. In his own way, Batman is as indestructible as Superman. Every problem has a solution and he's thought of them all. Whether it's the physical damage caused by someone like Bane or the phycological assault of a Doctor Hurt or the Dark Gods, he will keep pushing until victory. It's as certain as the fact that the comics will be published.

Faced with his history and abilities being copied into an army of "Bat-men" clones to spread the glory of Darkseid, he is exiled into a story of a world without Batman, where Thomas Wayne saved his family and raised a rather pathetic mother's boy doctor of a son. But something that can't be copied is that drive... the history and memory of the clones presents them with a never-ending battle that drives them insane, ripping themselves apart... "What kind of man can even turn his life memories into a weapon?"

After they attempt to kill the Lump to stop the emotional transference, Batman manipulates this immobile blob into standing, walking and freeing him as the critical information of his role in Final Crisis comes into focus. Every failure and suffering, even the latest at the hands of Hurt and the Black Glove, Batman doesn't process as a human being, because he moved from man to ideal a long time ago and every pain is used as a lesson to improve him as a service for others. In "Batman's Last Case," he solved the murder of Orion and pocketed the bullet for further inspection. The final obituary of Batman, two pages perfectly encapsulating the hero and spinning him unstoppably towards defeating the Devil God that had beaten him. Nothing short of goosebumps from those final pages and for a time at least (because the end never comes forever), THAT is how you should remember Batman.

Final score: 5 stars out of 5


Final Crisis #6 - "HOW TO MURDER THE EARTH"
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco and Doug Mahnke

First off, only fair to say this issue had me from day one. In the short time since it's been out, I've read it about seven times not including referencing it again for this review. We'll get the comments about the art out of the way to start with since they really are the big problem for me in Final Crisis. J.G. Jones is a great artist. Carlos Pacheco and Doug Mahnke are very good artists. But that does NOT mean that they can split the book up and tell a coherent looking story. You could try and excuse it, but in the end it's just jarring and that's not something needed in the art of a book this crammed. Now some scenes look absolutely excellent and both Jones and Mahnke hit a grand slam on their respective super important splash pages, but the time constraints the artists were under to keep all this running just one month behind schedule had a cost and it's wrong to gloss over it without repeated mentions as we've had in these reviews of the damage caused.

The issue begins with Superman, not seen in the main title since he was pulled from Lois' beside back in the middle of issue #3. He's been busy what with fighting vampire gods of a hyperworld and hanging out with the Legion again. Brainiac 5 is informing Superman that unlike previous times, he can't be returned to the exact instant he left his own time because of the Crisis's magnitude which will end their reality in just over a minute. Superman floats along as Brainy's footsteps open the Legion arsenal to access the refined abilities of the Guardians of Oa in the last machine that translates will into being, the ultimate advancement of the fire Metron gave humanity. Because of it's power not even Brainiac will look at the well-protected device, the Miracle Machine, encouraging Superman to study it before time and space break apart and pull him out of the 31st century.

Back in the 21st century, Black Canary and the others on the JLA satellite are attacked my an armada of Justifiers. In a later scene, after Canary's pleas to her husband fail to garner sympathy, Richard's circuit shorts out the Justifier technology. Every scene set up in the Satellite looks pretty much terrible as faces are bulbous and without enough definition even in what should be a very emotional scene between Canary and Arrow.

In Bludhaven, Supergirl's showdown with Mary Marvel/Desaad doesn't have too much dialogue, but looks fantastic and gives Shazam enough time to recover and begin to execute his plan to stop her. The parallel beats between this fight and one between Kalibak and Tawny keep the pace nicely ratcheted up and ends with Shazam calling down the lightning, which Tawny brutally reminds Kalibak doesn't belong to Darkseid. Mary Marvel, meanwhile has reverted to Mary Batson, who admits she can never say her magic word and become Mary Marvel again. The dual victories have secured the bridge at Bludhaven and Kalibak's tiger warriors loyalty passes to the victorious Tawky Tawny.

Back at Checkmate, the shield fail just after the symbol of Metron is revealed by Mr. Miracle to be a letter from the alphabet of the Gods, meaning "freedom from restriction." A brief half-splash reveals the arrival of Wonder Woman and her furies at Bludhaven and the arrival of the day the super-heros fail, leading Checkmate to initiate Black Gambit. Before breaking away, six wonderful panels give tons of background on the Super Young Team's love triangle and abilities. Super Bat's power... "I am so rich I can do anything."

While some of Checkmate's plan revealed to Renee Montoya include psychics trying to purge the mental rage of the Anti-Life Equation, mystics trying to contact the Spectre (couldn't Renee just give Crispus a call... sorry more trouble with the continuity of Revelations) and the two Atoms, Ray Palmer and Ryan Choi, diving into a graviton superhighway to find another universe. But the Black Gambit is the Lord Eye, which is meant to dig this world into another if the Atoms can find one, where Montoya is meant to lead the remnants of this world there as the head of a global defense agency. And no, I won't say all that again.

Amongst the villains, Luthor has brought Sivani to his side after the mad scientist's daughter was forced to undergo Anti-Life. Together they jam the Justifier's helmets and blast Libra into oblivion, leaving them with the ability to take control of the Justifiers.

In Central City, Barry explains his plan to use the Black Racer, the avatar of Death, that has been chasing him since his return and lead him to another being that shouldn't be avoiding death, Darkseid. Together the three generations of the Flash take off with death on their heals and Iris wishing them godspeed. For a big Barry Allen fan like myself, this would be the best scene of the issue if not for...

Darkseid sits in his chair beckoning Batman out of the shadows. The image behind Darkseid is his symbol interpretation (for reference see the symbol of Metron drawn on half the remaining heroes faces)once again Morrison pushing the idea that the evil isn't just a physical being, but a unstoppable thought. Batman knows the big bad of the series is just a wounded and rotting carcass doing nothing but dragging the world to hell with him out of malevolence. So he makes a one time exception to his rule on firearms, the same bullet he used to kill Orion in issue #1 full of the Radion that is toxic the the god-essence of his kind. In a faceoff, worthy of an Eastwood western, but slowed down a bit in the world of comics for a little dialogue. Darkseid fires his Omega Sanction ("The death that is life")and Batman fired the bullet wounding Darkseid. With just enough to remind his opponent, "Gotcha." Well, Batman... has a bad day. Only four pages that means the end and the beginning of the story of Bruce Wayne. We'll have more a conversation at the end about this storyline. I will mention in regards to the double-splash... damn, i wish Jones could have drawn the whole thing.

A comment on why this wasn't a bigger story at the time; the death of Batman. The Omega Beams might have killed many creature over the years, but the Omega Sanction verion was a creation of Kirby's that was used to send opponents back in time, which was revised by Morrison in his Seven Soldiers: Mr. Miracle series to send those struck into the past to life multiple lives that become more and more painful and desperate until their soul is finally dead. So it won't be a picnic, but that's where Bruce Wayne is spending the indefinite future in the "death that is life." Besides that this method of the most significant death in the series seems more honest than previous ones. In the same series that brought back DC Comics' definitive casualty, Barry Allen, the idea that any character is ever gone is just a deception.

In their prison still, Uotan speaks with a now reborn Metron, who explains the Monitor's rebirth heralds the arrival of the Fifth World, the Age of Men as Gods, and hints a threat more deadly than Darkseid if humanity will survive the ride through the bleed. At this time, Lois and Jimmy signal Superman, Hawkman and Hawkgirl spend a few moments (in one of the worst drawn panels ever), the Green Lanterns still try to push through the singularity to reach Earth, and they turns red with the requisite "Up in the sky..."

Along with the final artist of the series, Mahnke, Superman arrives, tears through the Furies and forces of the battle, firing his heat vision to decimate the bunker and push his way into Command-D. As the alternate versions of Earth come into the view through the bleed and begin to crack. As much as I might prefer Jones' the idea that we're in the hands of a single artist from here on out is comforting. This two page spread does a great job illustrating the speed and awesome power of Superman's arrival. And his first big page certainly captures the icon moment, but Superman's face looks a bit expressionless for the scene. And that's how Morrison ends the biggest roller coaster issue yet. The scope of the event is still only being teased by Metron and it's nice to know a writer can cram in so much information and so many story lines and leave me utterly thrilled.

Final score: 4.5 stars out of 5


Final Crisis #7 - "NEW HEAVEN, NEW EARTH"
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Doug Mahnke

If you made it this far, mind if I crank it up a notch?

That's the question Morrison asks of his audience here. And just like the last issue, let's get the art out of the way. In the place of Jones, or Jones and Pacheco, at least Mahnke managed to pencil everything here. Given the non-stop pain in the butt that's been the last few issues I suppose that's something of an achievement. The sad part is the penciling is never great, but never bad, occupying a somewhat sigh-inducing middle ground. But still the push to get everything down in only a quasi-late manner meant DC had to throw everything they had at the inking. Seven different men and contrary to some jerk in Chasing Amy, they have more of an impact than the tracing. So it's still an unevenly drawn issue, but hey, it's an unevenly drawn issue. Nothing rates as terrible and the biggest stuff is at least very good.

The hardest part is the time line in this book, some bits happen out of order, others seem to be an enormous amount of time compressed into a tiny group of panels, so in as we go along, I'll try and note the order of things and all the ideas presented and reinforced along the way.

We start in the middle of the story, with a cold open of the closest to Obama that we'll ever see in a DC Universe book. The tall, black president is briefed on the world red sky and the seemingly inevitable end of existence. Alone in the White House, he takes of for his other job, Superman. He meets with this Earth's Wonder Woman, Nubia of Amazonia who brings only Anti-War technology. The building-sized Wonder Horn, a gift older than their world to be used when all other options fail. This is the first introduction of music, which I suppose relates to the larger idea of stories and how they matter since song and music is an ancient and powerful method of storytelling that has survived almost the sum length of human existence. The song it summons is actually an the interdimensional ship of Zillo Valla (which you'd only know if you read Superman Beyond 3D) and bearing not gods or monsters, but heroes. Renee Montoya nails a couple of great lines and its revealed she's gathering Supermen of the multiverse together, including the Captain Marvel of Earth-5, whose dialog is just too much of the UBER-grandiose style of the aforementioned tie-in series (ugh).

The next scene takes place at the a point in the future after the events of Final Crisis #6, possibly a bit before the earliest scene. It is the start of the end time. A narrator (Lois Lane) begins telling the last story that all in the universe except the Watchtower is Darkseid, folded into hell. Creatures from different worlds have gathered and accidental conflicts arise like the Metal Men Justice League of Earth-44 going berserk and fighting Supergirl, Blue Devil, Atom Smasher and several other heroes and villains stranded on this last outpost. Lois and Jimmy print out the last Daily Planet with a picture of the Watchtower with the headline "Earth Endures" and along with the bat signal are blasted out of the tower, a message in a bottle to let someone, somewhere, someday know what they lived through "And read the story of the final crisis." The action is fairly straightforward in this scene and Lois' narration is certainly emotional and moving.

We now jump back in time to the end of issue #6 with Superman cradling Batman's body and confronting Darkseid, who makes it very clear he is more than a single being, but billions throughout all existence and knowing Superman won't kill him because that would mean killing Turpin, who was chosen because others like Batman would have resisted too hard and too long. And on his order hordes of Anti-Life infected individuals attempt to restrain Superman. At the threat of the Omega Sanction, Superman reminds him it isn't over. Lois' narration here is a poetic love letter to the Flash legacy and the line "the approaching thunder became the roar of a gunshot yet to be" and sure enough Barry and Wally struggle to stay ahead of the Black Racer. Her line echos back to the starter's pistol line from Barry way back in DC Universe #0.

As the Flashes approached, chased by Omega Beams fired from dozens of Anti-Life infected, really nothing more than extensions of Darkseid. In a conflicting moment of the beginning of the story and the ending of another, Darkseid fires his bullet back in time at Orion just as the Flashes race past and Darkseid meets an old friend. The Black Racer rips through the villain and reclaims the Devil God and the look of fear on his face reminds us even this evil force is a piece in the machine of the multiverse, leaving Turpin coming back in his own body. The idea of the repeating circles of the stories says quite a bit about the idea of comics. And the wave of time travel that Wally recognized is the same one he and Barry ran in on, just going the other way.

The next scene jumps forward to the end time during which Superman (seated in the Mobius chair is finishing the designs of the Miracle Machine he glimpsed in the 31st century, like any crisis even the villains show up with Luthor and Sivana working on small parts of the device. Given the leisurely attitude it appears that this endtime, might last for awhile and Morrison frequently references in the dialogue that time is cracking around Earth, dragging out slowly as the descend into hell.

During this time, Lois' final story mentions the fall Checkmate, death of Hawkman and Hawkgirl, the failure of the Atoms to escape and Lord Eye realizing the failure. In space, Black Canary and Green Arrow lived long enough to see Ray take Metron's circuit symbol back to Earth. Among the survivors on the Watchtower, Supergirl tells the children the story the Super Young Team fighting like everyday super-heros, with Motherboxxx seemingly transporting them at the last second out of the castle to the ruins of the destroyed Earth-51 wasteland along with Kamandi and the other creations of Jack Kirby.

Bouncing back and forth quickly, after the fall of Darkseid Superman is confronted by Wonder Woman and the Furies, the armies of infected and then the controlled super-villain army of Libra arrive under Lex Luthor's control and putting existence over his hatred of Superman proposes one time team-up as long as he gets the credit.

Wonder Woman in the end times offers to tell the children of Frankenstein, when he rode a humongous wolf-hound and decapitated her Hell-Hound. In that battle, Wonder Woman was cured and bound the body of Darkseid and in teh simplistic world of superheroes "no one was hurt." A cute and simplistic idea, but here Morrison begins more actively pushing the audience on the theory of the success of the heroes coming from their status of such. In the end days, humanity is effectively put into a freezer with Lois entering last, their confidence in Superman saving them absolute. Alone with the Miracle Machine, the image representation of Darkseid (as shown throughout in Metron's symbol, the primitive expression of these spirits contains a more lasting power than any body) appears, which Superman destroys with a song. I know... I know... it's the theory of storytelling and the idea that those which have lasted longer contain more power.

Finally, Superman finds the ultimate technology, Element X, the Fire of the Gods in the Mobius chair and will add it as the last piece of the Machine. And here alone and at the end of all things, Superman catches up with Mandrakk. The single biggest problem with this issue is that anyone who didn't actually read and dedicate themselves to understanding Superman Beyond 3D have no clue who this is or what is happening, but the same can be said for what happened to Batman in Command-D only being discussed in his title. With his zombie Ultraman (also see Beyond for explanation), they have defeated Supergirl and apparently Mandrakk has feasted on God's servants last seen in Revelations, Radiant and the Spectre.

Though there is no light left in the world to spark the Machine, Superman reminds Mandrakk he is a living solar battery. In the final moments, the Green Lanterns are able to break into Earth along with the Supermen of 51 alternate universes decend on the Monitor vampire god and defeat Ultraman.

The last story of the Final Crisis belongs to the last participant in this battle, Nix Uotan. The Monitor of the Fifth World assembles an army to destroy his father, starting with Superman. His next step is turning three animals Mandrakk failed to kill on Earth-35 into Yankee Poodle, Pig Iron and Captain Carrot. Well, that's how I'd start my super-hero army. He further calls in God's Army, the Angels of the Pax Dei and though he starts talking in all exclamation points, any guy that starts reciting the Lantern oath to bring in Jordan and his Lantern army is alright in my book. Last but not least, the Forever People of the Fifth World, also known as the Super Young Team. In the words of Most Excellent Super Bat, "Wow."

There is no way watching a vampire god being incinerated by 50 Superman and have the Latern Corp led by Jordan drive a giant green stake through his heart, once again... cool. The showdown between Uotan and Mandrakk is really about the fresh approach of the new replacing the antiquated views of the old. And also, "No one fucks with the Judge of All Evil."

After Lois reflects on their newborn work, Uotan stands before the assembled members of the Monitors giving his report on the entire series of events. While the Monitors prepare to continue to discuss the replacements for Zillo Valla and Rox Ogama, Uotan reminds them that it was the much-maligned germ-creatures that repaired the bleed and refounded the orrery of worlds without the help of the Monitors and in fact in spite of them. It was the Lantern Corp and Supermen that pulled every universe back into place (very, very Silver Age stuff there), the Flashes represented the reunited families, and the Gods of New Genesis and Forever People began to build their Fifth World on the reborn Earth-51.

When offered his old position back, Uotan heeds the words of the oldest (called senile by his people) Monitor, Tahoteh, who mutters "...Our story has become toxic... out of control... we must end it" Uotan encourages the Monitors of the multiverse to make their peace as he unmakes them for the good of the orrery. One last time he stands with Weeja Dell and explains that this wasn't the Final Crisis of Earth-1 or the multiverse, but the Final Crisis of the Monitors... a wonderfully classic comic style to symbolize the world and story of the Monitors crumbling into the white nothingness of the page (the Overmind) and explains Superman's wish on the Miracle Machine, "He's Superman. He only wished the best for all of us. Close your eyes. He wished for a happy ending, Weeja Dell."

On the final page Uotan still exists, the white fading back to the same ending as issue #1 with Uotan a man waking in a bed. This time instead of the dark news of the MArtian Manhunters death, he hears the positive idea of the discovery of the parallel world.

The epilogue to the story ends at the beginning, with a new narrator telling us the story of the life of Anthro having spent his days spreading the fire he was given. The ssame ship that Lois launched from the Watchtower at the end of time can be seen in the background and has followed a path to the beginning of time. Anthro wears Metron's circuit on his face and as he dies, it's in a peaceful sleep. And our narrator, drawing the alternate cover of issue #1 on a cave wall, a man that lived the story reminds us that even after the old man fades like smoke, the fire burns forever.

So there it is. With all it's wild concepts and great big ideas, with all the stories of super-heroes only ending to begin again.

Final score: 4.5 stars out of 5

What did I love about it?

That both the villains of the series were just ideas that tried to live past their time. A Dark God that refused the end of his age and a protector that has started feeding off of the thing he was supposed to protect.

The idea of Superman being the comic equivalent of Jesus, just a being that loves us utterly and completely.

The final showdown with Mandrakk (at least I did after I went back and read Superman Beyond 3D and more than anything else the heroic actions of my second favorite DC character Hal Jordan and the lanterns (even the Miracle Machine just being an evolved extension of their power of crafting will into being).

The Miracle Machine itself, a wonderful Kirby creation that literally is a deux ex machine... does that mean it counts as one?

Every single scene with Nix Uotan from the time of his expulsion to the very end. his relationship with Weeja was the most emotionally moving and satisfying of the series. The idea of a man remaking himself and defying the Gods of the Universe to get back to the fantasy of his love and of her feeling the love in return even before understanding what emotions are. Just a classic love story and a perfectly sad ending where once achieved, she has to be sacrificed for the good of the multiverse.

The return of the Silver Age Aquaman and Flash. My DC hierarcy is thus: Bruce Wayne, Hal Jordan, Barry Allen, Clark Kent. It's nice to have Number 3 back in the mix and count the weeks until Geoff Johns' "Flash: Rebirth" series kicks into gear. But still his plotline in this book is one of the weakest, carried a great deal for me on the "Yeah! Barry Allen!"-vibe. The same problem is present in nearly a dozen, quickly inserted story elements.

The fall of Dan Turpin, in all it's tragedy and undeserved suffering. The fall was dramatic and terrific, but him surviving at the end was a little too much of a positive spin on it for me. If ANYONE was going to die because of Darkseid, you'd think it would be that one.

What didn't I like about it?

Well, I both loved and hated the art. I loved its quality, but was forever disappointed by the inconsistent look. The two main pencillers, the secondary pencillers that filled in throughout and the tons of inkers.

Whenever the dialogue crossed my line. Being forgiving of so much the half-dozen times everything pushed against my hokey-meter. If they just didn't write such things in bold capitalization and end every sentence with an exclamation point it wouldn't be so bad, but... even I can't say this stuff is good dialogue under any circumstances.

The editorial decision to promote this as a mainstream event. It wasn't and that idea only raised false expectations for a lot of people. The entire day-to-day life of the characters in the DCU didn't change outside of a few notable exceptions. The fact is that this wasn't going to appeal to a lot of people... I mean I know it put up huge sales numbers, but so much of that were people that weren't going to get on board with this type of story, didn't do it and spent the last six months tearing it to shreds. But the name Crisis carried too much editorial weight.

Which relates to the idea that this is possibly the least-new reader friendly book in the history of comics. So much effort is required that without entering it with either a fairly deep knowledge base or an affection that leads to a few long research sessions on wikipedia, there's no way to appreciate or keep up with anything. And all those grand ideas about changes stories and their delivery and meaning and power don't have much meaning to the people outside the narrow target audience that shake their hands at the heavens and rant throughout the internet.

And if ever there was a series to stretch out to the lengths of the original Crisis on Infinite Earth, it's this one. So much is jammed together, especially issue #6 which could have easily been a couple and the final issue as well. They could have brought Superman Beyond 3D into the main series and avoided thousands and thousands of, "Who the fuck is that?" Coincidentally, take the issues Morrison wrote for the event(Final Crisis 1, 2 and 3, Superman Beyond 1 and 2, Final Crisis: Submit, Final Crisis 4 and 5, Batman 682 and 683 and Final Crisis 6 and 7) and you have a 12-issue maxi-series... now that would have been something to behold. Even if I dread the scheduling and artwork. But look at the positive, read those books in that order and we got a 12-issue series in less than a year... can't complain about that one.


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