Let me get a few things clear: I don’t have a bloody clue who Talky Tawny is. I’ve never encountered an Atomik Knight before (either in the DCU or during a afternoon of live roleplay). Christ, I even know fuck all about the New Gods.

AND I DON’T CARE.

For those that do care, I say this: Why on Great Cthulhu’s soon to be trampled Earth do you give a monkeys?

Seriously, Final Crisis becomes a whole lot less confusing and infinitely more awesome if you just put aside all the habitual headscratching. This is not to say one needs to dumb oneself down when flicking through it, or put enquiry aside generally, just that the sort of questions one should be asking have nothing to do with the secret 1950′s origins of tiger-headed butlers and everything to do with exactly why anywhere as profoundly, outrageously, obstinately outlandish as the DCU should be considered in any way normal – just a depressingly knowable imaginative cul de sac we visit come Comic’s Thursday to leech a little bit of four-coloured light into our lunch breaks. Grant has always had a love affair with the outer reaches of Earth Prime, but with his latest works he’s positively bathing in Supercats and skiing Grim Reapers, and he’s inviting us to come in for a swim too.

Honest to goodness, when I read Barbelith’s very own Finderwolf explaining how the Source Hand-turned-into-cursor moment ‘cracked him up’ I genuinely had no idea what to think. To begin with, I didn’t have an inkling what a Source Hand might be – all I knew was that there was something deeply sci-fi spooky about the whole thing, and that Morrison might be, in just a few panels, intuiting a whole new horror genre. KNOW EVIL, indeed. There was nothing funny about it at all – It was simply haunting, portentous and, above all else, my favourite word – strange.* I do want to make it clear that when I say strange I do not mean ‘weird’. ‘weird’ has, in comicbook forum speak, become a ghastly shorthand for ‘I dinnert get it. It was shit.’ No, when I say strange, I mean the sense of a looming, reality rending otherness – impossible emotions, gleaming technologies of the soul, sideways worlds and the sense that consensus reality is just a hair’s breadth away from slipping into the chasm of the Pony-dogs. Strange is that eerie feeling that something isn’t quite right with the world, that unfathomable glint in Superman’s eye, the vast abysses of Apokalips and towering gardens of New Genesis. Grant Morrison knows strange, he’s taken the LSD and met the nu-rave aliens, just like all the best sci-fi writers and rock bands, and, however prudish you might be, you can’t tell me those who’ve tasted it aren’t in the best position to sell it. Final Crisis is like the first wave of the trip when the veil is pulled back on the pedestrian reality you thought you knew and Wonderwoman and the rest are revealed as the blazing gods that somewhere in the back of your mind you always thought they were, but due to years of lazy, uninspired writing you forgot.

The sprawling, decentered strangeness isn’t just a stylistic tic of Morrison’s, employed indiscriminately (and perhaps inappropriately) to a vast, best-selling DC flagship book. It also has very little to do with nostalgia for funny tiger friends. No, It’s an intrinsic part of what will ultimately make this event work. The creeping sense of dread and evil that characterises the tone of the first three issues owes so much of its strongly felt presence to Morrison’s efforts to destabilise our sense of a coherent, easily relatable fictional universe. Suddenly everything’s uncomfortable and…odd. And because there’s no one sole narrator, no individual bridge for the reader or focus for the action, readers are left adrift in a DCU that’s suddenly become very alien, perhaps hostile. We feel isolated. Alone.

And so, of course, do Earth’s heroes.

Something’s gone wrong with the world. The magic’s back and this time it’s pink, blue and black. Heck, even the green of the Lanterns is glowing a little brighter.

Another Barbelither, Comicbook Resources very own Benjammin Birdie, mentioned in his review that the books have concerned themselves only with what’s going on at the fringes, that Morrison’s been employing his oft criticised (and sometimes rightly) tell, don’t show approach, but I think this is another old Morrisonian storytelling trope that works beautifully for FC. Because we’re kept out of Apoklips’ ground zero, because we’re only privy to the whisper of globe annihilating plans, because we’re just as ignorant as the Superheroes really, we’re just as freaked out. Morrison suceeds in making the reader feel as powerless as Earth’s defenders, and that’s quite an effective dramatic trick.

So, yeah, from my POV a lot of the book’s perceived faults are actually strengths.

And then there’s this issue specifically – the culmination of the long, drawn out destruction of New Earth. It’s amazing how hobbled the supers feel by this point, how inevitable the end feels. As though, in their current mode, all dark, morally ambiguous and grim, the World’s Finest just don’t stand a chance. While the superverse is all BATMAN SHOULD HAVE A GUN BOO! GRANT MORRISON, these guys are playing in Darkseid’s territory and he owns the game. The ontological landscape of Superboy Prime, Geoff Johns’ mega violence and Clown at Midnight Joker incarnations has infected everything, and in FC we’re seeing its dreadful conclusion played out. There’s such an awful, soul pummelling banality to it all. The feeling that the magic words and the secret identities and the mysterious origins amount to nothing more than a big, grey scrap – that there’s nothing inspirational left in the Didioverse – only a flat, dull supermulch, fit for nothing other than the most banal supervillain’s dreams. It’s the end of the road for Luthor’s grand, evil, but ultimately human, schemes, and the begining of the age of the anti-person. Anti inspiration, anti imagination, ANTI LIFE. Boredom, nullification, hopelessness – everything burned down to the black coal of Darkseid’s soul. And when Nix Ogama leans out of the panel to conspire with us in issue one, when we compare the bright, inspirational, dreaming lights of the Super Young Team with the calcified tar of our super-expectations, when we finally fully digest the idea that Superman’s heat vision can be used for more than just baddie frying, and when we realise that, generally speaking, we expect nothing more from our superheroes than to be fucking boring and pummel the shit out of each other, then and only then does it hit us… We’re utterly complicit in the Dark God’s scheme. This is Knightfall all over again, writ large enough for the Guardians to take notice. We have to watch the whole world fall before we demand the return of the superheroes.

That is what the Final Crisis is about. And no bloody wonder the first three issues have felt so muddy, sodden and depressing.

Muddy, sodden and depressing with moments of beauty peppered all over the shop, so we don’t forget why ther child in all of us loved this shit so much in the first place.

‘We’re Super Young Team. We’ve done this before.’

Or just plain

‘RUN!’

Run until you outrace death itself.

This is gorgeous, heart rending stuff. Did you get so caught up in mega events and crossovers and realistic depictions of spine-wrenching that it slipped your mind? Perhaps that’s why the new turks have been employed to remind us, a la Seven Soldiers, that there’s still life in the old girl yet. Because the spaces the old guard inhabit are so overworked, so leeched of mythology and wonder, that they require a kind of conceptual recolonisation before the Superman can return to them again?. We need Shilo Norman and Most excellent Superbat to reinterpret the fire the Gods gifted us with, transforming it, Key 64 style, from the flames of armageddon to the light of pure inspiration.

Anyway, in the spirit of balance, let’s quickly zip through the problems with Final Crisis:

  • Slightly muddy art
  • Compression to the point of ridiculousness.
  • Fucking Grant and JG revealing massive plot beats in interviews (although that’s probably because they felt they had to drum up some excitement after all the initial moaning from fandom)

There. Job done.

Like I give a shit.

The Wonderwoman hunting dog, the Orrery of Worlds, the dismal radio loop whispering from inside the helmet (NU SCI-HORROR! NU SCI-HORROR!) – these things more than make up for any of that stuff.

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33 Responses to “A few thoughts re Final Crisis”

  1. The Beast Must Die! Says:

    I’m absurdly uncritical about this comic. I’m staying away from the anti-life message boards and immersing myself in the joy.
    I think the strorytelling techniques from Seven Soldiers (still possibly my favourite Morrison-epic, alondside Zenith) are being employed to excellent use in FC. And unlike , say, JLA, everything feels more…beleivable. Whilst JLA’s bombast suited the 90′s superbly (and more importantly needed to happen, to bring a sense of grandeur back to superheroes), FC feels more well rounded, subtle and yet definitely epic. When Tawky talks of putting on his Jet Pack again, it’s not silly. It’s fucking ace.

    Also: strong shades of Zenith: Phase III, Grant’s depressing and brilliant mini-Crisis of Thatcherite British comics.

  2. Zom Says:

    Yes. Agreed. On everything

  3. amypoodle Says:

    It’s a bit of a messy splurge, but I just had to get it up here. You can edit it if you have to time, Zom.

  4. The Beast Must Die! Says:

    NOT TO EDIT!
    NOT TO EDIT!

    It’s fine.

    How sad was it when Alan assembled all the superfolk and you knew, just KNEW they were going to get chewed up and spat out by the Anti-life gang. There’s real emotional resonance and gravitas at work here, something that was drastically absent from Infinite Crikey and it’s attendant hoo-ha.

    Also: The way Superman is casually, but menacingly removed as a threat. Masterful.

  5. Andy G Says:

    I love reading all the message boards, the pitiful fanboy moaning the perfect illustration of the power of the anti life equation seeping into earth prime.

    I love the reworking of the original Crisis story themes: Instead of blonde exposition lady Harbinger we get a burger bar employee who can’t remember who he is. Instead of experiencing the valiant Lady Quark being rescued from her dying universe we get Earth-?ubergirl crashing to the ground with no explanation. Instead of Alexander Luthor gathering everybody ever in DC land for a two page DC splash we get last minute nervous photocall squeezed into one page.

    Why can’t I see the villians? Why can’t I punch the evil corporations and their world wide recession?

    The crazy thing is the story all these moaners are crying out for only exists in their heads, it’s what Secret Wars/COIEs etc read like when they were eight, which is not what they read like now. The story they really crave, is the story they will get at the end of Final Crisis, when Grant reminds us what a superhero is, and what we all can be.

    Nowt wrong with the art that a decent inker wouldn’t cure.

  6. Dean Trippe Says:

    Yeah, I love Final Crisis to bits, despite only getting half of the references Morrison’s making. Superhero comics is like that! Today everyone wants to get Season One on DVD so they can catch up, but the mainstream comics universes don’t work that way. You have to just jump on and look around, and figure things out as you go. That’s how Grant did it, and that’s how he’s asking you to do it.

  7. sean witzke Says:

    I think there’s reasoning behind the muddy art – Jones can do action and spectacle astoundingly well. I think the “handheld” quality adds to the unsettling vibe. This is a big crossover and we should be seeing George Perez battlefields, not a quiet panel of Supergirl’s apartment. I like how looming and inevitable everything is. We’re seeing none of the “important” moments on camera because these characters can literally do nothing. It’s not the sudden conquering of Earth like Rock of Ages which was quickly fixed in two issues. Even if its the same problem, this time it’s different. Only the characters on the fringes who no one cares about – Frankenstein and Shilo Norman and the Question have any chance of saving the world. It’s the closest thing to a nervous breakdown a company-wide crossover has ever been.

    For the references, I think knowing Seven Soldiers and some Kirby things has been enough for me to get by, but there are many things just flying right over my head. But I’m like that with most DC comics.

  8. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    Honestly, knowing about the (overwhelmingly shitey) state of the DCU* today – or reading the tie-ins – is actually detrimental to the experience of FC and anti-recommended.

    I can’t really go along with TBMD’s comment above because the only recent memories or associations I have of the vast majority of the All-Star assemblage (and I liked 1/2-2/3 of 52) are boring or rubbish ones – and the perspective on the page looks completely wack, like are they in a gradated pit, is Alan Scott really tall or flying?… also, not sure Superman was so much menacingly removed as taken on a multiversal tour by the Lady Watcher from #1 – Zillo Valla?

    *That said, I think I’m well-disposed to a post-FC status Q, after it (the DCU) gives birth to itself.

    EDIT: The crazy thing is the story all these moaners are crying out for only exists in their heads, it’s what Secret Wars/COIEs etc read like when they were eight

    This is so true, though, and just so sad.

  9. Conscience Says:

    I don’t know…i remember Morrison bragging about how it took the Superman writers at the time (Loeb, Kelly, etc) two months to do a massive crossover about the Joker having godlike power…which he dealt with in JLA for a couple of pages. Now it just feels like he’s stretching out two issues of JLA into seven (and could anything top the way he killed Darkseid last time?)
    And the Super Young Team, Wonder Woman with tusks riding a giant dog and the new Mary Marvel are ultimately too ridiculous to be awe-insping or scary.

  10. amypoodle Says:

    I really don’t think you understand where I’m coming from if you’re throwing the word ‘ridiculous’ around. And I’ve gone on at great length about that kind of thing here, so I’m not going to retread myself at length. I don’t want to sound like a stuck record.

    Precis: one man’s ‘ridiculous’ is another man’s ALIEN.

    This is at the core of Morrison’s obsession with the DCU and the New Gods.

    And Mary Marvel’s just an updated Apokalips gal. Check the Kirby for the leather and funny hair-styles.

    Oh, and that’s the other criticism doing the rounds, isn’t it? That Morrison’s repeating himself? FC feels nothing like ROA. The two stories aren’t the same, they just belong to the same family, as Wittgenstein would say.

    Less and less convinced by the naysayers every day. The opinions are too easy – the ones available at the shop’s counter, dangled under yr nose, so that you go for the sweeties instead of cooking a more complicated, but infinitely more tasty, meal.

  11. Zom Says:

    I think you’ve touch on a potential post here, Amy. Comics storytelling as aesthetic.

  12. Zom Says:

    Thinking about it some more, I’m not sure “alien” is entirely adequate, Amy. Other words like fantastical, bizarre, wonderful and magical spring to mind. Those pony dogs (creatures which have only ever appeared in a low selling title and would only have been recognised by a small sub-section of FC’s audience), by being so out there, serve to remind us that the DCU is an outlandish place. What’s incredible is that we em>need to be reminded of it in the first place. That people are responding badly to their inclusion suggests that the DCU, despite all the truly crazy super stuff on display, has ceased to stir us, has become flat – normal even – to the extent that when that flatness is disturbed we feel uncomfortable. If you ask me that’s our loss.

  13. Zom Says:

    I’d like to point everyone towards Savage’s essay above. It expands on some of the points being made here.

  14. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    Thinking about it some more, I’m not sure “alien” is entirely adequate, Amy.

    No, but to be fair, he does a whole bit in the actual entry about “strange” which is – I think – exactly what we’re all wanting, the Mindless Ones ethos, after the good Doctor. The new McCarthyism. The unknowable. My favourite comics are the ones that just don’t make any sense, you know?

    Actually Jog’s review highlights the embedded precis, one I’m ashamed to say passed me by: “Our customers expect burgers with fries. Bizarre, unsettling questions? No.

    Ha!

  15. Tim B Says:

    Have to agree with the post. With issue 3 of FC I think I got one of the things Morrison is trying to achieve with this story. The efforts to make the story difficult to get into I see as an attempt to get us more into the world of the story, rather than the over-arching narrative.

    With this new method (for mainstream super-hero comics) of storytelling I don’t see any similarities with ROA as relevant: There are after all only a certain amount of different Darkseid stories you can tell. However, if it is similar I’d really like to see FC top the way they deal with Darkseid.

    My other hope is that if FC has changed the game dramatically we don’t get 15-20 years of pale imitations.

  16. Carlton Says:

    Wait, WAS the homophobic-geek-perpetually-arrested-in- a-state-of-wanting-to-be-a-fratjock a nod to Mindless Ones’ beloved scottish writer (now put into a position of a soldier — fight, motherfucker!)? Or is the dude’s name actually Mike Millar?

    Or is it a case of both?

  17. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    No, there was a guy blacklisted for homphobia at DC a while ago, actually called Mike Miller… now the Green Arrow line, I think that’s distinctly a nod toward the last 8, 10 years of Mark Millar’s career trajectory.

  18. Zom Says:

    “Our customers expect burgers with fries. Bizarre, unsettling questions? No.”

    It’s right there

  19. Zom Says:

    Raises an interesting question about just when the dialogue is finalised

  20. Thrilltone Says:

    Great article/review/essay (whatever the correct term is). Totally gets me ‘pumped’ and ‘psyched’ to read the comic again. It is just good stuff, eh?

    The thing I have found notable about Final Crisis so far is that reading it makes me feel like crap, like that feeling when you’re hungover and you’re sure you did something stupid the night before, and everything just feel a bit off-centre.

    That’ll be the well-conveyed atmosphere of dread, likes.

    I am enjoying this crap feeling it gives me, though.

    Off-kilter sexy bleak wrongness. Braw.

    I also like how instead of being “MUST BUY ALL TIE-INS TO SEE FULL PICTURE” I find myself thinking “MUST AVOID TIE-INS AS THEY MIGHT GET THE MOOD WRONG AND RUIN IT ALL”.

    Yeah.

  21. Jog Says:

    I don’t know how he’s working on this particular project, but Morrison does often go over the dialogue again after the art is in, if I’m remembering correctly…

  22. Blog@Newsarama » Blog Archive » Quote, Unquote Says:

    [...] and abortion were once discussed in a very strange sense. And as much as I’d love to link to esoteric Grant Morrison hero worship (his writing just seems to attract this kind of praise), these are the quotes I chose [...]

  23. Zom Says:

    Yeah, I remember him mentioning that in some interview or other. Does seem remarkably.. on the button for something written months ago.

  24. OneMoreDay Says:

    Great article.

  25. The Satrap Says:

    Re: Rock of Ages and FC.

    The “Apokolips on Earth” issues of ROA are presented as a narrative cul-de-sac: Darkseid’s victory renders the timeline no longer viable, and therefore it is deleted. Also, the denizens of Wonderworld are quite nonchalant about Darkseid’s power grab, apparently deeming it a “normal” development within the spacetime continuum, unlike the Mageddon critter lurking beyond.

    It is all bound up with the use of the Cosmic Hourglass, the Worlowogg (or however the fuck it was called) as a metaphor for the nature of the DCU (and, to Morissette, reality at large) as what might be called a Story Engine: Darkseid’s triumph may be a dead end, but since it is a story that “had to be told”, the Worlowogg is not destroyed permanently, the cosmic hourglass gets turned over and things start afresh, in an endless cycle.

    In FC, the configuration is quite different (as well as the feel of the story, ovbs). As already stated, Darkseid is not sterilising the DCU, he’ll likely end up jumpstarting it by bringing back the weirdness, the tiger-headed host bodies and whatnot, and unleashing it on superfolk unprepared for it after issue upon issue of fake realism. Note e.g. how Kraken/Granny takes down Batman with something summoned through a power ring (a creepy centipede), whereas the best John Stewart can do is punch her really hard . Furthermore, the Monitors appear to be affected by Darkseid’s plan or something related to it, getting all emo and shit, unlike the aloof Wonderworlders in ROA.

    The ROA-related criticism, on the strength of what’s on the printed page, is a bit like saying that any two games of chess are the same because the same set of pieces is being used. OTOH, it’s perfectly OK not to like chess.

  26. The Satrap Says:

    P.S: I order my funny books online and I still haven’t got my copy of the 3rd issue. Not that such a thing has ever stopped me in the past, mind.

    P.P.S: there’s a post to be written, about the fact that Darkseid’s timeline in ROA is both nipped in the bud by the heroes of the JLA and rebooted/destroyed by Orion’s bomb, and about how that may reflect Godfrey’s beloved motif of nihil-fit-sine-causa-sufficiente-but-it’s-all-so-convoluted-you-think-it’s-freedom-and-not-fate; about the Worlowogg’s use as a blatant symbol of the “as above, so below” thing; about its shape-shifting properties, at turns heart- and puzzle/brain-shaped, and how overzealous exegetes may deem this to be Giulia making a point about the illusory character of duality. There’s a post to be written but, by fuck, I won’t be writing it.

    P.P.P.S: I’ll shut up now.

  27. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    Spooky *woah* synchronicity wrt work occurred today; okay, I log the – mostly – the kids onto their library puters through remote access at the Control Desk (I like to call it, for empowerment.)

    Yeah?

    So there’s a ghosty mouse, flying about yr screen and it is I, the authority in the domain, who hath control.

    The work passwords this week, as NOT set by me, are only: Dead. Mans. Hand.

    Fuuuuuuuuck.

  28. Benjamin Birdie Says:

    “Another Barbelither, Comicbook Resources very own Benjammin Birdie, mentioned in his review that the books have concerned themselves only with what’s going on at the fringes, that Morrison’s been employing his oft criticised (and sometimes rightly) tell, don’t show approach, but I think this is another old Morrisonian storytelling trope that works beautifully for FC. Because we’re kept out of Apoklips’ ground zero, because we’re only privy to the whisper of globe annihilating plans, because we’re just as ignorant as the Superheroes really, we’re just as freaked out. Morrison suceeds in making the reader feel as powerless as Earth’s defenders, and that’s quite an effective dramatic trick.”

    For the record, I didn’t think this was a detriment to the book, I thought it was the bee’s knees.

  29. amypoodle Says:

    Oh, I was worried there might be some confusion. I know you didn’t mean that.

  30. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    I think Andrew Hickey’s review made this point quite lucidly:

    Someone – I can’t remember who – recently made a comparison of Morrison’s writing with a technique used by quite a lot of musicians, where you make a record based around a prominent instrumental part, then remove that part leaving the rest of the track (Prince did this, for example, with Raspberry Beret and I think some of his other songs). In the same way, Morrison likes to leave a lot of important details implied.

    In Seven Soldiers (and to a lesser extent 52 which looks more and more like a practice run at applying these techniques to more mainstream stories, especially given that two of Morrison’s three co-writers are writing tie-ins to Final Crisis – essentially with FC we’re getting a weekly Morrison/Johns/Rucka written comic, with the odd skip week) we have a gigantic storyline spanning space and time, but it’s essentially in the background, and we only piece it together from hints and small incidents.

    Which is not to say there won’t be any superfight blowout, although the last few I’ve read have been curiously weightless affairs.

    Anyway, can’t stop thinking ’bout that horrible cursor, the dead man’s hand – there’s defo some connex to the ‘it’s in the internets!’ bit, ah… GMo is a bit reactionary about the soulsucking machineweb, much like my dad is about the telly? Hmm. Regarding that bit – I fucking love that internet commenters are like “strains the credibility a bit to think the Justice League could switch off my intertubes” – of course they could! Batman could manage on his own!

  31. Benjamin Birdie Says:

    Yeah, I didn’t think you did. Just figured I’d clarify it.

  32. Aleph Says:

    Well, I know it’s been said by other commenters, but…

    I’m just glad to know someone else is taking it like I am.

  33. Unreal Estate - Superman Beyond, the Book of Sand and the Harlequin « Mindless Ones Says:

    [...] absurdly uncritical, immersed and excited about Final Crisis, have been since the poodle gave out the keys to the car, sending me into overdrive and most especially and explicitly because this issue appeared to - in [...]

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