Posted by: Brian Hibbs on January 30, 2009
I’ve been enjoying the online discussion of Final Crisis, especially as the last three parts have been coming out over the last three weeks. But one thing I think is particularly interesting about the reaction to the series is that a number of people who disliked it seem angry about it, or convinced that people who “actually enjoyed” it have somehow been duped. And even though I’ve been posting notes on every issue, I realized that I haven’t actually said much about what I thought of the series since the first issue.
I really did enjoy it enormously–as much as I’ve liked any superhero comic in the last few years. I thought it was problematic in a lot of ways, although I might not say “deeply” as many times as Jog did. But I love a lot of art that’s seriously flawed, as long as 1) it’s sufficiently ambitious and 2) it does some stuff very well. I found myself looking forward to every issue of Final Crisis, and reading and re-reading it with pleasure. So here’s what I liked about it:
*It’s incredibly densely packed. There’s a lot to mull over in every issue–including a ton of plot–and earlier parts of the story reward re-reading in the context of later ones. A few people have commented that Morrison’s writing style here seems like a puzzle or game; I don’t think it’s that, exactly, just a bunch of cues that let the story unfold in the reader’s head. I think #7 is the only issue that’s seriously non-chronological, and there the organization works really well dramatically: that opening scene is fantastic (and beautifully timed for a periodical coming out right now), and much more effective than picking up with #6′s also-excellent cliffhanger would’ve been. The outcome of the great big physical fight is a foregone conclusion–by the time we get to it, it’s not just past-tense narration, it’s literally a bedtime story being told to children (“and no one was hurt”).
*Morrison’s dialogue is pitch-perfect. He juggles a gigantic cast, but he’s great at establishing who they are and how they think about things with just a few lines. (Green Arrow and Black Canary get barely any on-panel time, but their characters and relationship are totally there.) The dialogue also delivers a lot of exposition that doesn’t read like anyone’s stopping to explain the plot. See, for instance, the conversation between Turpin and the Question in the first issue: “Didn’t the Question used to be a guy?” “Lung cancer. From smoking.” If you’re meeting these characters for the first time, that reads as “you’re not the person I was expecting”/”yeah, fuck you too,” and also opens up the idea that we’re in a setting where characters’ identities are roles that can shift from person to person. If you know the Question from his appearances on the Justice League animated series, it clarifies why the Question’s a woman here. If you know the characters well already, it’s following up on a plot thread from 52, and showing the way Charlie’s sensibility has rubbed off on Renee. And, in any case, the conversation sets up the position the Question will occupy by the end of the series–a kind of liaison between the human and superhuman worlds, who’s tight with the law-enforcement community but isn’t really one of them any more.
Speaking of which:
*It’s a massive event comic that’s totally self-contained. I realize that could sound odd coming from somebody who’s been annotating every little extratextual reference in FC for nine months, but I’m serious: every essential part of the story is right there on the page of Final Crisis and its five Morrison-written tie-ins (Superman Beyond, Resist and the Batman two-parter–and I also think not including Superman Beyond in the collected edition sabotages the project). Everything else is just Easter eggs–and there are a ton of them. But, for example: there are a few sequences (in the first and last issues) involving a caveman. Is it fun to know that this particular caveman had his own series for six issues in the late ’60s? Sure–but all you need to know about him for the purpose of this story is that he’s a caveman. And, just on an analyzing-craft level, I enjoyed seeing how Morrison introduced all of this story’s important characters and ideas for the benefit of readers who hadn’t encountered them before.
*The art is mostly really good. (Aside from the dreadful sliver cover for the last issue.) I mean, yes, it would’ve been nicer to have an all-Jones (or all-Mahnke) project, but I enjoyed the look of almost all of it, and Alex Sinclair consistently hit the color out of the park. The coloring on Superman Beyond, in particular, is just fantastic–even the 2-D scenes stick to a color scheme that looks cool with the glasses on.
*It invites a whole lot of ways of reading it. Sean T. Collins has a really interesting post here about the elaborate light-as-information/darkness-as-dogma motif going on in the series, and how that was ultimately less interesting to him than the “crazy-ass superhero story” aspect. (And under the circumstances, I’m surprised that there wasn’t a prominent Lightray analogue in this story.) I also share his frustration with Morrison’s “why aren’t there right-brain comics?” quote–but I think it’d be fairly on-the-mark if it were phrased as “why aren’t there more right-brain superhero comics?”
Another good quote, from amypoodle of Mindless Ones: “the symbolic/thematic reading is just as important to [Morrison's comics] as the literal one.” I think that’s true, and in Final Crisis those readings bleed together: parts of the story are more or less literally about internal and ground-level struggle against darkness (Batman, Submit), others are grand symbolic treatments of the cosmic “what stories do you tell?” question (Superman Beyond), and they become the same thing by #7. There’s a deus ex machina ending, of course, but only in the literal sense; it’s been fastidiously set up from the very first scene, with its divinely inspired technology turning will into reality.
*It’s totally entertaining, panel-for-panel. Final Crisis tosses an amazing number of fun ideas out into the idea-space of the DCU; you know, if Lord Eye only gets two panels, so what? Somebody else can play with that later. Frankenstein on a motorcycle with a sword in one hand and a gun in the other, quoting Milton as he kills Justifiers, is my idea of quality entertainment. Morrison writes great endings, too–not a surprise coming from the writer of the final scene of We3, the last page of “Batman R.I.P.,” the conclusion of his Doom Patrol, etc., but Jesus did this series ever have some killer cliffhangers. The story accelerates steadily, from its police-procedural opening to the insane fireworks of the ending (“what the hell, let’s throw in Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew. And the Host of Heaven, too”). And when Final Crisis cranks up the volume, it really cranks it up. Superman’s entrance in the final scene of #6? It’s like having three symphony orchestras in the balcony that you didn’t know about suddenly join in with the two playing triple-fortissimo on stage.
*It opens up a lot of possibilities for stories, and doesn’t close many off. That’s something an “event comic” should do, I think. I don’t know which of those possibilities will actually be fulfilled–and even Morrison seems dubious about the prospect–but they’re there.