August 8th, 2008
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 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.