Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Final Crisis #7

Tim Callahan: You reviewed Final Crisis #7 for CBR, and I wrote a 2,000-word appreciation of the series for last week's "When Words Collide" column, also at CBR. Yet I'm sure we still have plenty to talk about regarding this sometimes incoherent, beautiful, wondrous, cosmic, insane seven-issue series. You go first. What did you leave out of your review that you think its extremely important to discuss first?

Chad Nevett: Well, I actually found writing the review here rather difficult since SO much happens and it's all SO important that discussing any of it seemed like spoiling the whole damn thing. Which is how I wound up focusing on Morrison's storytelling and becoming, as I said to you in an e-mail, an apologist for the book in many ways. Since we've spent a lot of time discussing Morrison's storytelling, why not start there as it will help "make sense" of what we're actually told...

Morrison's called the technique he uses here "channel-zapping," like each plot is airing on a different TV station and he's flipping through all of them, giving us the highlights. It's actually not quite the breakthrough that I think Morrison thinks it is, mostly because it's actually not that divorced from the techniques he's been using for the entire series and have shown up in past works of his like Marvel Boy, JLA's "Crisis Times Five," the fourth issue of Seven Soldier: Mister Miracle or even Seven Soldiers #1. He's been using highly compressed storytelling techniques for a while and this issue amps it up a little, but not that much. What I couldn't help but think as I was reading is that people will no doubt complain and find this issue difficult to read, but the manner in which Morrison jumps around would probably not throw off many if it were in a TV show or movie. Or maybe it would, I don't know. I didn't have that many problems with it. As I said in my review, it gives the impression that the events here are too big to be contained by this small little comic book, so Morrison crams in as much as he can, but there's no way he'll fit it all in. "Too epic for comics," I suppose. Now, there's a phrase I never thought I'd write what with comics being words and pictures and as Harvey Pekar said, "You can do anything with words and pictures."

TC: There's certainly an aspect of, well, it's too big for the pages to contain. Too big for just words and pictures, but isn't that part of what a Crisis needs to be. It's so big, so monumental, that the characters cannot wrap their brains around it, even in victory. I don't need everything explained, and I'm okay if there were more loose ends than answers, because it was a colossal event. Things happened on a multiversal scale. It can't be wrapped up neatly, but I was impressed with the emotional impact of the finale, as Superman's unstoppable force of good overcame the ultimate evil. The spine of the story reached its logical, and effective, end, and that was nice to see. But, we're still left with so many possibilities.

I really don't find the "channel-zapping" all that odd or off-putting at all, and, as I mentioned in a comment somewhere (I forget where), having just reread the two prior Crises, it's not much different than what went on in those books. We'd often see quick cuts to other locales, and even insert panels of a single action going on elsewhere. Morrison unglues things in time, but the quick cutting was very similar to what Wolfman/Perez and Johns/Jimenez did before. The big difference is that the previous two Crisis would have contained captions that said: "Aquaman battled his fierce rival, Black Manta, in defense of his undersea kingdom." Final Crisis leaves those captions out for the most part, although issue #7 did have a bit more narration than the other issues.

Honestly, I don't need, or want, those old-school expository narrative captions about Aquaman and Black Manta. They are ridiculous and juvenile. Imagine something like The Godfather with voice over saying, "Michael Corleone, hardened by his new role in the family, must make a decision. A decision he may one day regret!" That's apparently what some readers want from Final Crisis, and to that I say NAY!

And at least Final Crisis didn't end like Secret Invasion, with a long explanation of what happened and why and what we're supposed to think about it all. Man, the finale of this book made Secret Invasion seem like a middle school stage production of "The Day the Aliens Invaded and We Ran Out of Time to Write a Proper Ending, So We'll Just Sum it All Up For You."

CN: Well, this issue did have that a little with some of the narration, but at least that had a big of drama to it. A bit of style and flair. It wasn't awkward conversation that steps around the identity of the speakers. That isn't to say that Final Crisis #7 is a perfect comic or anything, but it reads a lot better than Secret Invasion #8...

Moving beyond storytelling techniques, this is the finale and I know we both reread Final Crisis ahead of time, plus you reread previous "Crises" and I reread the entire Seven Soldiers story (the parallels there being large and many, of course, especially for the finale of each). So... does this issue do the job, both as a finale to this event, but as a way to end this long build-up (of sorts) that spans many books, some fans are familiar with and some they aren't -- but really should be?

I'm going to go with yes. I haven't read Crisis on Infinite Earths or Infinite Crisis recently, but this definitely works at building upon Seven Soldiers, specifically the Mister Miracle story. It also follows the structure of that story in a very similar manner with all of these different plots going on next to one another, converging at the end in unexpected ways, bound together by a common threat. One thing that I found interesting that, I think, Jog mentioned was the idea of Superman Beyond 3D actually being the Mister Miracle of Final Crisis with the seeming tangental story that really sets up something further down the road, but still reflects upon the main story thematically and through a few minor plot points. Now, that didn't actually happen as Mandrakk returns here, but there's that similar pattern here that I really, really enjoy.

As a conclusion to this series, I rather like that it didn't end in that way that Marvel events tend to with the final few pages acting as teasers for what comes next. This issue ends with the bad guys defeated, Superman wishing everyone a happy ending and the knowledge that, tomorrow, there will be more stories, but nothing that says "Now that you've finished Final Crisis, BUY THIS!!!" Just a few hints at possibilities like the broad knowledge of the multiverse or Nix Uotan's role in the DCU... stuff that may get followed up on, but there's no compelling need to tune in next month for the direct continuation. Some elements are left hanging to work with the idea that the story never ends, it always keeps going and we're just getting a small portion of it here, but, beyond that, this is pretty self-contained (if you include all of the Morrison-penned issues, of course).

Um... you talk now?

TC: It certainly could have ended with a sequence of preview pages that said, "Read about the next exciting adventures of Mister Miracle and the Super Young Team in MISTER MIRACLE AND THE SUPER YOUNG TEAM, on sale Feb. 4th!" or "The New Gods Reborn! Read about their resurrection in GRANT MORRISON'S THE FIFTH WORLD, by Tony Bedard and Pat Olliffe." I mean, hell, there were plenty of loose ends that could have been followed up upon, that should be followed up upon, that won't be mentioned again, probably. If Morrison can't follow up on them himself, I think they're better left alone. See "MEN, METAL" and "ATOM, THE ALL-NEW" for examples of why other writers can't really take Morrisonian ideas and run with them.

But Final Crisis does end. It is an excellent ending, I think, as I mentioned in my CBR column. It's celebratory.

And I would, without hesitation, say that Final Crisis reads much better as a whole than Crisis on Infinite Earths or Infinite Crisis. The problem with the first Crisis, was that there was almost no story beyond "hey, we need to fit ALL these heroes in, somehow, so lets have a lot of different places where we can have them show up, and then they can all fight some shadow creatures and then there will be a BIG fight in the end!" It's mostly twelve issues of that, with SPECTACULAR George Perez art. But it's not much of a story. And Infinite Crisis starts off wonderfully and limps to its ending. It ends up being a bunch of incarnations of Superman punching each other, and does little more than set up Superboy-Prime as an annoying, super-powerful bad guy.

Final Crisis ends with a song, with the sad final moments of two cosmic lovers, with the assembled powers of hope standing up against the forces of despair, and with Bruce Wayne in a batcave that's far, far away from home.

I really enjoyed the ending, and I found it more satisfying as closure than any other event finale that I can remember. Better than the ones I mentioned already, certainly, and better than Civil War. Better than Legends (which was, again, just a series seemingly designed to launch new comics). I don't know. Final Crisis has some massively strange beats and things that I expected to build weren't really built up, and the loose ends weren't tied up at all, but it's still a more complete series than all the others somehow. Even with its flaws.

Let's address some of the flaws, though, since we obviously seem to like the same parts of the comic. Flaw #1: The Fifth World -- what is it? Who cares? Is it really any different than the Fourth World? The New Gods seem to be back, mostly. Does it matter? Flaw #2: Why bother introducing the Super Young Team and bringing in Sonny Sumo and Mister Miracle if they had nothing to do with the finale? Flaw #3: What happens to Hawkman? Are those feathers at the end supposed to symbolize his death, and is it important at all?

Are any of these things even flaws? Or are they just unanswered questions?

CN: Yes, the Fifth World is a big unanswered question that is probably a flaw since it was so central to the series. The tagline, based on previous issues, could have been "The Beginning of the Fifth World." We do have Earth-51, which is the Kirby-centric Earth with Kamandi, OMAC, and the New Gods watching over them, but that's obviously not the Fifth World. Or is it? I think that there is a lack of clear (or even unclear) definition as to what the Fifth World entails.

Your other "flaws" don't bother me much, except for maybe the lack of involvement that Mister Miracle had in the finale. Since this story continues from his and he's the one guy who's naturally immune to the Anti-Life Equation and survived the Omega Sanction, I expected him to play a bigger role. He's the last New God standing against the evil gods in many ways (despite Shilo Norman not really being a New God), but he's mostly a side player. Hawkman death was quick and unexpected, almost the mirror of the Martian Manhunter's death, except not as clear. I think the inclusion of that panel near the end makes it clear that he did die. Did Hawkgirl as well since she was right there, too? But, I say this with the most affection: I actually don't care. It is a flaw and vague beyond hope, but I just don't care one bit if the Hawkcouple live or die, so it doesn't bother me.

One "flaw" that I know didn't bother us is that the Morrison-penned tie-in books are actually important and people should have read them, what with the appearance of Mandrakk here. You know that I'm not a big event guy to begin with, but if there's one thing that anyone should know: anything written by the writer of the main book is probably something you should pick up even if they tell you that it isn't important. Am I wrong there? The most important tie-in here is Superman Beyond 3D, and I was actually surprised when it came out and people reading the main book said they weren't picking it up. Now, it's possible that the writer of the event MAY write non-essential tie-in books, but this is Grant Morrison, the man where everything matters, including decades-old Batman comics that were published before I was even born. Now, DC should have been smart enough to just say that ahead of time and smart enough to publish a collection that includes all twelve of the Morrison issues (or two six-issue collections, whatever), but... really, getting those extra issues just seemed like common sense to me.

TC: Just like getting all the Bendis-written tie-in books for Secret Invasion?

I'm sure you see the problem with that logic.

BUT, as you say, it is Grant Morrison, and he ties everything together, so it seems like an obvious choice to make when he's working on a project. I don't really have that much interest in criticizing DC for their strange marketing (like, um, the entirety of Countdown and Death of the New Gods and having something completely irrelevant like Final Crisis: Revelations at the same time as the completely relevant to the point of you-must-have-it Final Crisis: Superman Beyond), because I'm more of a literary critic than a business-practices pundit, but, yeah, DC made some boneheaded choices with this series. It doesn't affect my enjoyment of it, or my appreciation for the narrative techniques, but it seems like they were going out of their way to make people not like Final Crisis.

Could the Mandrakk stuff have been understood without reading the tie-in books? I think you could have gotten the gist of it -- he's a vampire Monitor -- but it does diminish the ending significantly.

What do you make of Morrison's claim that he wanted to tell this story in a style more akin to poetry than prose? Because if you recall, I made the same analogy back in an earlier discussion. Are we both just full of shit?

CN: I'm tempted to say yeah. There are some very poetic moments, some poetic lines, but nothing that really screams "poetry" to me. There's nothing that really screams "prose" either, though. I have a hard time linking comics to other media like that sometimes. I could probably come up with works of poetry and works of prose that Final Crisis reminds me of, both in style and content. I'm sure some readers who hated it and just didn't get it would think poetry, until I handed them some prose by Joyce or Beckett. I'm actually not sure I understand what you or Morrison mean by the idea of more poetry than prose.

TC: I won't presume to speak for Morrison, but when I said it I meant that the lyrical quality of Final Crisis -- the images and moments -- seemed to outweigh the importance of traditional narrative structure. You could plot out the story using Freytag's pyramid, I suppose, but the story doesn't follow the traditional beats you might expect. Instead, it presents a series of emotionally-charged images (or scenes of images) and its the affect of these images that add up to a meaning. I don't see how a traditional summary would give you any impression of what Final Crisis was really like. Instead, it's a more poetic accumulation of detail.

Does that make sense?

CN: That makes sense, but there are any number of prose works that I would say are constructed in the same manner, so the label still doesn't really work for me. Hell, the best prose works seem to work that way, where a traditional summary doesn't really give you an impression of the work. I know, that's not quite what you mean. As well, I think the narrative structure is very important since that's how those little moments and images obtain meaning, particularly as the series progresses. But, I'm also a big fan of structure and I really like how Morrison structured this series with a build that started slow and got progressively faster as events got bigger until the final issue where it moved so fast that it couldn't keep the order of events straight. I think the structure is quite important to the overal effect of the series, which includes the fragmented scenes that fill the pages since the first issue. That, of course, doesn't mean you and Morrison aren't right, but maybe since I'm much more of a prose guy, I see those elements playing a larger role. But, even in the end, the comparison to prose never satisfies since it's a comic and screw comparing it to anything outside of the medium.

Sticking within the medium, how do you think Final Crisis compares to other Grant Morrison comics? In many ways, it's a culmination of all of his DCU work, but does that make it better necessarily? In particular, how do you think it works next to Seven Soldiers, which was very similar in plot, some structural elements and storytelling techniques?

TC: Seven Soldiers was certainly more sprawling, and though it all ended up weaving together (sort of) in Seven Soldiers #1, it was a significantly less polished story as a whole. Not less polished, but maybe less chiseled down. Seven Soldiers had more room to grow and expand, in all of the individual four-issue series, while Final Crisis basically had nine issues (if you include Superman Beyond, as you should) and told a diamond-sharp story, chiseled down with plenty of facets. If I continue this jewelry metaphor, that would make Seven Soldiers a fancy bracelet with different gemstones, or something. That probably makes less sense than my poetry analogy.

And, honestly, I'm not sure that Final Crisis is really the culmination of Morrison's DC work. It echoes his past work, certainly, but those echoes reverberated through his previous work. JLA reflected a Flex Mentallo aesthetic (everyone on Earth becomes a superhero), but in a much more mainstream garb, and while his Animal Man stuff was directly referenced in Final Crisis (with Limbo), it was also directly referenced in 52. So the recursion isn't necessarily a culmination, I don't think. I didn't find Final Crisis more or less satisfying because it alluded to past Morrison comics. Or maybe I did, but I'm just unable to look at Final Crisis as something that exists completely out of context. Because it doesn't.

You recently reread Seven Soldiers -- what parallels did you notice this time through?

CN: On a plot level, there are a lot of similarities: the villains from the future who no one knows about until it's too late save for a few people that prepare a defense; the fragmented narratives with many characters working to aid one another without realising it; the sprawling differences between focus characters, spanning from cosmic to grim-and-gritty urban; the final issue of each series is similar, although Seven Soldiers #1 is far more linear (in the sense that it's a linear story), but the general attempt at showing all of these events that seemed random and disconnected until they all sync up perfectly. Final Crisis is more grandoise, more obvious in its battles. Let's be honest, Seven Soldiers is a bit more subtle with the key to the resolution being a car crash that is so well-timed and planned that it almost defies belief. That doesn't happen in Final Crisis, although Superman's dispatching of Darkseid is so simple and wonderful that it almost goes unnoticed in how quickly it passes.

I also think that, with regards to characters, Seven Soldiers was more sprawling and larger. All of the small character moments Morrison works into Final Crisis were there in Seven Soldiers, but much more so. He devoted seven four-issue series to those character moments, and then worked them into two bookend issues. I think, on a character level, Seven Soldiers is far beyond Final Crisis, but that's a simple result of the differing structures.

I do find it funny that only two of Morrison's Seven Soldiers really play a role in Final Crisis. Mister Miracle is the obvious Soldier to show up, but the only other is Frankenstein (excluding some background appearances by others) who is one of the key forces of good, mainly because he's not really alive. He exists outside of the Life versus Anti-Life struggle that goes on on Earth almost, but sides with Life. But, where were the rest of his Soldiers? I find their absence odd almost.

TC: Who else would make sense? The Manhattan Guardian? Nope. Zatanna? Maybe. Shining Knight? Not Really. Klarion? Nope. I suppose they could have appeared, but then Final Crisis would have turned into even less of a DC epic and more of a Morrison clubhouse comic. It seems that he took the characters who made sense from his past work and fit them in, but, then again, not all of the character inclusions make a lot of literal sense. Why Sonny Sumo, other than for a Kirby Konnection? Why does Tattooed Man gain such an important role? Why was Libra even necessary -- couldn't anyone have been an avatar of Darkseid if that's all that he was?

What's your take on those characters and other, seemingly odd, choices?

CN: Libra's involvement seems largely symbolic by the end: the scales, the balance... Other than that, he didn't really serve any purpose beyond being the new kid on the block, shaking things up. The Tattooed Man... redemption? I don't know. Same with Sonny Sumo. The use of those characters was rather odd and not necessarily important. It seems like the reverse of what I've noticed Jim Starlin did in his big Infinity books where, if you read closely, the core plot usually just involves Adam Warlock and Thanos with the rest of the Marvel heroes there as filler, ultimately accomplishing nothing. It doesn't read that way on the surface, but that's how it usually goes down. And, what's more, it's effective! It makes the story seem bigger and more important, but Morrison kind of does the opposite where the important characters that people care about are the more effective ones and his pet characters don't really accomplish that much, seemingly. Hmm... I'm not sure what to make of those characters.

That said, I usually enjoyed their little scenes even if there wasn't a big impact on the main plot. I like the small little tangents that serve the book symbolically or just set the mood. And the scenes involving Morrison's odd, pet characters do that: they add a sense of energy and frantic chaos at times. That's enough for me.

TC: It's almost, you might say, poetic.


  1. The Tattooed Man's power: he makes images real. Doesn't that pretty much tell you right there why Morrison would want to use him in this series?

    Sonny Sumo 1) is early (issue 2) evidence that there's something wrong with the multiverse, although we don't learn this until issue 6, 2) explains what happens to Batman when he tells the story of the original Sonny Sumo, 3) gives an excuse to set a couple of scenes in Japan to introduce the Super Young Team.

    Are Hawkman and Hawkgirl invulnerable or anything? I'm not up to date on their powers.

  2. I find it wonderfully ironic that Morrison claims Final Crisis is a rebuttal to the 'writing comics as films' school while it is so indebted to the work of two film makers- David Lynch and Nicholas Roeg. Final Crisis is Lynchian in the way it favours tone over narrative, leaving the reader with an emotional reaction rather than an intellectual one. It's no coincidence that the earlier issues provoked uneasy reactions, as that was the point of them. Yet, as Tim says, the final issue, for all its supposed chaoticness, finishes with a feeling of joyousness and hope.

    Structurally, he story is very much indebted to Roeg, and especially his masterful trilogy of films, Performance, Man Who Fell To Earth and Don't Look Now. All the information needed in the narrative is there, but not necessarily in any traditional order. Roeg was famous for his time shifts during his narratives, where small glimses of the past or future were given, but without there being quite enough information to enable the viewer to interpret them until the end (most famously with the recurring funeral motif in Don't Look Now). Morrison takes this style but, instead of flashing forward or backward in the narrative, he moves around the huge cast of characters, showing vignettes that only really make sense when the narrative is viewed as a whole.

    It's all quite masterfully done and, while needing possibly more concentration than an average comics reader may be willing to impart, is nowhere near warranting some of the criticism that has been heaped upon it. Cudos should be given to DC for presenting an arthouse story as a summer blockbuster.

    That said, though, I agree with Chad and think I prefer 7 Soldiers to Final Crisis.

  3. FC certainly will read better as a trade; I, too, was amazed at those not picking up SB3D. hilker above makes good points re: Sonny Sumo and Tattooed Man. I think TM's presence might have been diminished in SUBMIT and RESIST, I don't know. Sadly, I've accepted the fact that if Morrison isn't writing the story (examples being Earth-20 Doc Fate and what ultimately happened with Metal Men), much of the Multiverse storylines will just be big fight scenes followed by handshakes.

  4. I think one of the few art mistakes in FC#7, which I mentioned in my epic review of it, was not showing Mister Miracle opening the boom tube or showing him in the Kirby Earth. He's there, presumably in the background, but a closeup would have sold that scene and tied it all together better. He is involved in the final issue, but we just can't see it.

    That said, I thought the Super Young Team was fantastic, and the most successful aspect of the Fifth World reinvention of the New Gods. They are the Fifth World Forever People to match the DeSaad as Mary Marvel or Boss Darkseid, the spirit of yore reincarnated for a new age. I think they got some fantastic moments through, particularly the look at what money unleashed scene in the final issue.

    But, I think the series relation to Kirby and the New Gods was sort of uncertain. Was Batman meant to be the Fifth World Orion, a person born of great evil, who has redeemed himself and now fights for good? Was that the point of him shooting Darkseid to bring it all full circle? Was Superman Metron, bringing the Miracle Machine to humanity like Metron brought the fire? Perhaps, but that's not really developed enough.

    From a purely Fourth World point of view, I think Mister Miracle was a much more successful reinvention of the New Gods concepts. And, in general, Seven Soldiers was a much more satisfying event. I liked the channel jump aesthetic of Seven Soldiers #1 because I had the emotional grounding of the miniseries to appreciate what was going on. Here, the emotional attachment is all from previous DC series.

    But, the greatest strength of both issues is the uncanny amount of "Fuck Yeah!" moments, from things as low key as Black Canary's happiness at seeing the symbol on Earth to bigger things like Nix Uotan's reppearance. But still, nothing in this issue matches something like Zatanna's incantation "Seven Soldiers Strike!"

  5. A few thoughts on 'FC' that I haven't read elsewhere:

    "Morrison structured this series with a build that started slow and got progressively faster as events got bigger until the final issue where it moved so fast that it couldn't keep the order of events straight."

    Right on, but it wasn't just for pacing effect. The story's collapsing structure mirrors the events it's depicting. That is, the structure of the story collapses (or "spacetime folds down") as it approaches the event horizon that is Darkseid's heart.

    I recall reading somewhere that Morrison has a goal of making the DCU "sentient" or somehow alive. It seems like 'FC' at least partly accomplishes this. Nix Uotan explains that the multiverse repaired itself. In effect, Superman (the Supermen?) acted as antibodies that battled & expunged the Darkseid contagion & Mandrakk parasite & then repaired the DCU "body". In essence, the DCU is a self-correcting machine, which requires a low-level type of self-knowledge. So that's cool.

    About Jog's (?) comparison betw. the tangents of 'Mr. Miracle' & 'Supe Beyond'. It seems to me Morrison often sets up evils beyond the present threat. I think '7 Soldiers' was concurrent w/ 'Infinite Crisis'. So the Sheeda attack while the JLA are off fighting another crisis. But beyond the Sheeda is the threat of Darkseid. Then in 'FC', beyond Darkseid is Mandrakk. I'm not sure what to do with this idea of recursive evil, but I find it compelling.

    And a question: does anyone know what additions DC editorial requested Morrison make to the final issue? I wonder if the story's last beat had no captions, to mirror the near-silent opening of #1.

  6. In the second part of his interview with Newsarama, Morrison said it was making the final page of the issue clearer and less vague.