Thursday, May 29, 2008

Book Selection of the Month: "Final Crisis" by Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones

darkseid.jpg Book Selection of the Month (May 2008, Month of the Nerd): Final Crisis by Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones

I won’t give anything away about this long-awaited seven-issue comic book miniseries written by a comics writer I blogged about on Tuesday and drawn by the artist of Wanted (which becomes a movie with Angelina Jolie and lots of machine guns this summer). I will say it’s good — not Dark Knight good or anything but more like, say, New X-Men good, which is fine.

And I won’t waste your time with continuity quibbles — I decided in advance that I like Morrison enough that I don’t care if every panel of this series rewrites a year’s worth of past DC Comics stories without explanation. Let Morrison do his thing.

I will criticize DC executive editor Dan Didio for just a moment, though: He oversaw one solid year’s worth of DC Comics output that had little real purpose other than to put pieces in place in order to make Morrison’s Final Crisis fit into continuity — in large part by having two whole series (Countdown to Final Crisis and Death of the New Gods) devoted to killing off the characters called the New Gods. For a year this was going on. A year. And yet, let’s just say, it doesn’t seem like some of the characters in Final Crisis issue #1 read those two series, or at least not that particular subplot, which in the case of Countdown, from what I’ve heard, makes them quite fortunate — but I’ll stop myself there. No looking back. No regrets. Excelsior!

The new series (about which I should say something for the uninitiated) depicts “the day evil won” in the DC Universe, with evil gods coming to take over the Earth — and its superheroes all but powerless to fight back — all of it climaxing decades worth of related “Crisis” storylines throughout DC’s history in the perfect nostalgic treat for this, my Month of the Nerd (a month in which I’ve already ready several old comics Dan Greenberg gave me, including Thriller [visionary], Cadillacs & Dinosaurs [lame output from professional comics nostalgist and continuity-obsessive Roy Thomas], Micronauts [my favorite at the time], and First Six-Pack [from the comics company Larry Doyle used to edit, long before New York magazine and even before he co-wrote comedy at National Lampoon and MTV with my then-roommate Christine Caldwell, who chucked comedy for medieval history]). The poetic high point of my Month of the Nerd comics-reading may have been an old (and, due to complex lawsuits, out of print) trade paperback of Neil Gaiman’s stint on Miracleman, also about gods taking over the Earth, albeit in a less-sinister fashion.

Were Final Crisis not such a perfect encapsulation of so many dreamt-of plotlines and resolutions and story elements from decades of my past comics reading, I swear I would not have fallen off the no-comics-buying wagon, upon which I’ve been stably seated for about a year now and to which I promise I’ll return for good once all this is over around the end of the year. I just can’t think of anything left for them to do after this that I’ve wanted to see them do for so long, plotwise. (And I’m not the only one to theorize that it all fits into a “red vs. black” masterplan in Morrison’s mind, by the way.)


I’m skipping the numerous Final Crisis tie-ins, spin-offs, and companion miniseries, aside from the five-issue Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds. Like the main Final Crisis miniseries, it combines too many Todd-pleasing elements to plausibly ignore, including the villain Time Trapper, about whom I’ve blogged before (indeed, this blog was at one point recently the highest Google hit for the search “Darkseid Libra Time Trapper,” oddly enough), and the art of George Perez, who drew not only the best-known prior “Crisis” minseries, 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, but also drew the first superhero comic book I recall ever buying, Avengers #149 in 1976 (at age six), which I now realize was a Marvel homage/rip-off of DC’s “Crisis” stories (with the added thrill of demigods and a delightfully eclectic bunch of Avengers including Iron Man trussed up all Franken-bondage-like with electrodes on their heads by evil oil company captors, it being the mid-70s).

A few years later, like a lot of Gen X Marvel zombies, I’d follow Perez over to DC as he started work on New Teen Titans in 1980 — with the one other DC series I bought at the time being Legion of Super-Heroes, the very same characters he’s now drawing in this new series (including Brainiac 5, the alien super-genius who I plan to be for Halloween, and whose adventures, ironically, I was given as a reward by my parents for keeping an eye on my maternal grandmother as her mind increasingly wandered due to Alzheimer’s).

Fans have been complaining about the numerous Final Crisis spin-offs — all because the aforementioned editor, Didio, made the mistake of claiming a while back that the central Final Crisis miniseries would be “self-contained.” But it’s funny: I actually don’t think there are too many (eighteen miniseries, one-shots, or story-arcs within ongoing series — see Appendix A below). In fact, I have to admit that if I were in charge, I’d probably stick the attention-getting “Final Crisis” prefix on at least three additional miniseries DC has right now: Rann-Thanagar: Holy War, Reign in Hell, and The War That Time Forgot (maybe even the Ambush Bug parody miniseries). I mean, with Final Crisis being about a war in Heaven and disruptions in time, how hard would it have been to bring these three similarly-themed stories under the Final Crisis aegis? Will, say, Final Crisis: Revelations or Final Crisis: Rogues Revenge really be any more closely related to Darkseid, the main villain in Final Crisis? But perhaps I should admire Didio’s restraint.


A few miscellaneous additional observations:

•If, as rumored, one Justice League member dies early in the Final Crisis (possibly at this odd character’s hands) and another returns later after a long absence, as may already have crossed your mind, a chance for a big reunion of the whole Justice League line-up will have been narrowly missed after a twenty-three-year wait, surely a source of frustration to some.

•My guess for Time Trapper’s destiny, incidentally: he’ll now be depicted (after years of contradictory origins) as an extremely aged Superman-Prime (he’s already whining about deserving “better than I’ve got,” is striving to eliminate the current Superman’s legacy, and is able to physically manipulate time — it would all make a certain amount of sense, and would make him not so unlike Gog from The Kingdom).

•Morrison has been depicted as a petty god himself, in the recent Doctor Thirteen miniseries that contained continuity- and metafiction-play after his own heart (and a talking Nazi vampire chimpanzee). Let us hope he does not toy with us too cruelly, or at least not ineptly, in the remainder of Final Crisis — but I’m quite optimistic (I’d be even more optimistic if they gave Morrison permission to lump every weirdo character DC has into one giant Doom Patrol, but maybe someday).

•And while I’m at it, let me add that the ad for an unrelated young-adults adventure series of novels on the back of Final Crisis #1 is one of the most brilliant one-word concepts I’ve ever seen: Vampirates. I would have high-fived myself and headed directly to Hollywood after coming up with that, and I bet it sells like hotcakes.

APPENDIX A: The components of the Final Crisis storyline, rather broadly defined

I think it’s now these nineteen bits throughout the remainder of 2008 ($$$ = ones I’ll buy or have already bought, according to my plan as of this writing):

DC Universe: Zero (prelude one-shot) $$$

Batman arcs (two of them counted as one here)
Wonder Woman arc
Infinity Inc. arc (Dark Side Club)
Teen Titans arc (Dark Side Club)
Green Lantern arc
Justice League of America issue #21 $$$
(Justice Society of America “Gog” arc, sort of) $$$

Final Crisis (the main seven-issue miniseries itself) $$$
FC Rogues Revenge
FC Legion of Three Worlds $$$
FC Revelation

DC Universe: Last Will and Testament (one-shot by thriller writer Brad Meltzer)

FC Sketchbook
FC Requiem
FC Rage of the Red Lanterns
FC Submit
FC Resist
FC Superman Beyond (two issues exploring the multiverse in 3D)


I can’t resist sharing this fantastic, funny — and nicely egalitarian! — spat from the official DC Comics message boards over whether the main DC Comics Earth is “New Earth” (with “Earth-1″ being in another universe) or is in fact itself called “Earth-1″:

[JAMAL IGLE:] the name is Jamal Igle . I’m the guy who has been drawing this series for the last five months, the guy who has weekly meetings with Nachie Castro, the series editor, conversations with Dan Jurgens the series writer and meetings with Dan Didio the executive editor. New Earth is Earth 1, Tangent Earth is Earth 9. This was in the script, this has been in all the scripts. I made sure I confirmed it before I ever spoke about it. You don’t have to like it, It however is an uundeniable fact.

[FAN RESPONDING:] I deny it and I’ll continue to deny it.

As for Dan Jurgens…this is the guy who thinks 90’s Hawkman was Carter Hall (recent Booster Gold issues).

Earth 1 is NOT New Earth….too much official fiction PROVES otherwise, so I really don’t care what you say. You can also say that the current Batman is earth 2 batman disguised as earth 1, but I won’t believe it because the printed fiction says otherwise.

You guys screwed up in tangent, just admit it and move on.


T.A.B. said...

If the Marvel Avengers storyline was printed 10 years beforehand, how could it be an homage to “Crisis”? Unless you’re having fun with your readers.

Todd Seavey said...

1985 was not the first “Crisis,” grasshopper. DC had been doing multiple-worlds stories with that word in the title for over a decade by the time that Avengers story (edited by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Perez, who’d go on to do DC’s 1985 miniseries) came out.

Indeed, there was an homage to the early-60s first of those “Crisis” stories, in the form of a crystal ball scene involving the Legion of Super-Heroes, in the one-shot prelude comic _DC Universe: Zero_, an entry about which was the alpha of my Month of the Nerd, just as _Final Crisis_ is nearly the omega:

toddseavey said...

In my ’hood, of course, we just have crises on multiple cranes. But remember: thousands of cranes take off and land safely each day, they just don’t make headlines.

Todd Seavey said...

Incidentally, to those paying close attention to DC’s transition from “Fourth World” to “Fifth World” characters at Morrison’s hands, this passage from Wikipedia about the Fifth World of Hopi mythology will come as no great surprise (especially if you’ve read _Final Crisis_ #1):

For the Hopi, the end of the fourth world is marked by the arrival of Pahana, or the lost “White Brother.” [The White Brother is scheduled to reappear to the "Fire Clan," incidentally, though possibly transmogrified.] The Maya calendar charts out this progression through astrology, concluding that the current, fourth world will end sometime near the December solstice in 2012 (dates vary based on interpretation).

The Aztecs held similar beliefs, but they believed we are currently in the fifth world, and that it is the sixth world that is to arrive next.

The coming Fifth World (where our present World is presented as the Fourth) is said to arrive following a cycle in Nature affecting our entire Solar System, where our Earth births an Egg (Mystery Egg, Hidden Egg) and then moves “up” within our system to reach its crowning place. All of the Earth’s life is then said to be “raised” to its perfected-eternal form. Some tribes refer to this period of change as “Purification Time.” During this period of Purification, Time is said to change where we must choose between the natural Time we have now upon our Earth (meant for us) and an unnatural Time structure which removes us from Nature and our opportunity to reach the Fifth World. It is told that everyone will have to choose between the two Time frames– one leading to the Fifth World with our Earth, and the other (which will be very alluring, deceiving many) which will remove us from our Earth, taking us to oblivion.

Sean Dougherty said...

Your post implies you’ve read “Final Crisis” but makes reference to it “starting today.”

Does that mean if I go to buy it I’m going to find only issue #1, or all of it collected?

Todd Seavey said...

Only the first of seven issues has appeared so far (of the one core miniseries). Scheduled to be monthly, as is the Legion spin-off miniseries, which runs five issues starting in August.

Sean Dougherty said...

Ok, I read the comic. Spoiler alert: do they really expect the audience to react to a showy killing of a major character when they always, always come back to life anyway?

Todd Seavey said...

It’s become sort of an aesthetic question of whether the death was momentous enough to at least deserve to “stick” for a few years — Bucky, sidekick of Captain America, held the record at six and a half decades being “dead” before being revealed as alive and becoming the new Captain America recently — after the original Cap’s own death.

Flash has given Bucky a run for his money, though, since his epic death in the 1985 Crisis. I’ll say no more for now.

Todd Seavey said...

NOTE: I’ve added additional analysis of Final Crisis and stuff like Hopi mythology (really) in this new entry, with a Hopi sun shield icon on top, no less:

Todd Seavey said...

And while it crosses my mind: though I think it’s pretty obvious, from a writer-editor’s perspective, that _Final Crisis_ was essentially plotted _before_ the series _Death of the New Gods_ and _Countdown to Final Crisis_, which were published before it as efforts to put various story elements in readiness for their use in _Final Crisis_ — and that this explains the slightly-awkward join between FC and events directly preceding it — everything _technically_ fits, as far as I can tell, if we acknowledge that the Source, which created the New Gods, implied in _Death of the New Gods_ (from what I’ve read online) that it had the power to cloud the memories of witnesses to the gods’ deaths, such as Superman.

Works OK for me. No joy to be gained looking backward in this case anyway.

And, as in _Seven Soldiers_, Morrison shows some respect for continuity but always throws in a few convenient excuses in case he’s overlooked something, like the Fifth World possibly constituting a slight reboot of the universe, or the Monitors’ meta-timestream undergoing “recent” changes. Best to just accept that and allow oneself to be carried downstream — maybe things’ll be different again next year when it’s all over anyway.