Thursday, August 7, 2008

Final Crisis #3 Review

Writer: Grant Morrison
Penciller: J. G. Jones

After three issues, Final Crisis is truly turning into Grant Morrison's masterpiece. Once one gets past the horrid Countdown to Final Crisis and Morrison's characteristic narrative lapses, what we have here is a truly epic story that not only is a monumental "event", but thematically profound. Grant Morrison always has a lot to say, both about comic books and about life, and in this book he blends both of those obsessions nearly perfectly. This book is scary, moving and exciting. It is also an interesting reflection on the nature of freedom and the ugliness of evil.

The book contains a number of scenes that deal with the nature of freedom: Checkmate plans to introduce universal law enforcement; Superman is trapped at the hospital bed by the necessity of protecting his life; two rogue Monitors begin machinations to protect the Earth (and Monitor machinations never end well); Lex Luthor is given a choice, to obey Libra or lose his free will; Mister Miracle, who cannot be bound, escapes with a bunch of superbrats ruled by their vanity; Hal Jordan is arrested and trusts the justice of the Guardians to free him; a draft is introduced of all the superheroes; and, finally, Darkseid springs the Anti-Life Equation, which rids people of their free will, on the entire planet. Every step is a dark reflection on the meaning of freedom. Is Superman bound by love? In what sense is Luthor's choice a choice at all? Does Jordan's trust in Oan justice mean that he is in any sense free? Morrison never answers any of these questions directly. Instead, freedom provides a theme and backdrop. Every scene asks a new question. The reader is invited to think carefully and deeply about freedom's nature and importance.

There are a lot of very clever moments in the book, and it is sometimes very funny. Nix is fired from his fast food job for being creepy, which is I suppose what an amnesiac Watcher constantly reciting the dictionary would come across as. Oliver Queen's rant about the draft would be too overt as political commentary if we could not almost hear Black Canary rolling her eyes. The scene at the airport is quite amusing since the Super Young Team can't figure out whether or not they want to rescue Mister Miracle and Super Sumo or get their autographs. Morrison's humour can sometimes be bleak or mocking, but most of the humour in this book seems almost lighthearted, especially in the face of the darkness surrounding it.

Other scenes are especially brutal and jarring, but in an appropriate way. Final Crisis is supposed to be about what happens when evil wins, and Morrison doesn't shy away from the implications of that. The murders of Überfraulein, Orion, Replika and one of the Atomic Knights do not come across as in any way poetic or profound. They are just bleak brutality that are a result of the darkness that is overtaking the world. Other scenes also capture the ugliness of violence. Superman is literally using his powers to hold Lois Lane together. Libra's absolutely malevolent, mocking attack on the Human Flame solidifies his role as a complete monster.

One thing very present in this story is the way that the villains do not just hurt people, they mock them. The sheer disdain they feel for everything is present in every scene. Interestingly, this penchant for mockery not only comes from the evil characters, but the good or ordinary ones as well. Aside from Libra's attack on the Human Flame, there is Boodikka/Granny Goodness's snarl at Wonder Woman and Mary Marvel's barrage of insults in the final battle. Yet, this mockery is seen in other characters as well. Father Time ridicules Frankenstein behind his back, the restaurant manager mocks Nix, and Black Canary makes fun of Green Arrow. Morrison does a great job of allowing his villains to be truly vile, while at the same time, reflecting some of those evil characteristics in the heroes.

The conclusion of the book is brilliantly handled. Not content to have a slow burn any longer, Morrison lets his premise explode. He releases the Anti-Life Equation on the whole world, giving the only two people who notice, Mr. Terrific and Oracle, not even enough time to figure out what is happening before it is too late. Wally West and Barry Allen then arrive two weeks in the future, where the whole world has been turned into dystopian madness in which four superheroines in bondage gear riding dogs attack the Flashes. This is a fantastic climax, well earned from the entire history of the Anti-Life Equation. Now we know why Darkseid wanted it so badly and why it was imperative to keep it from him. The results are horrific and revolting.

There are a few small criticisms I have of the book. Again, Morrison fails to identify characters that a reader might not be familiar with. I don't think that every reader should be expected to know every character. The Black King is only identified as Taleb, and unless one has been following Checkmate, one wouldn't know who that is. In the final scene, one of the Atomic Knights has his sister killed, making me as a reader think, "Was I supposed to know they were related?". However, Morrison is much better at scene setting than he normally is, and lets us know who Replika is and explains his powers in one sentence to make sense of his murder. Unfortunately, one mistake that is not his fault, is that Überfraulein is accidently named <berfraulein because of a font problem. Since the scene is already in German (she says "Ich bin <berfraulein"), who it is that just got murdered is rendered accidently unclear.

Something that I dislike about Morrison is his little mocking comic in-jokes. I happen to like comics, which is why I'm reading them, and sometimes his little in-jokes seem mean spirited. The "praying for a resurrection" comment from issue #2 almost single-handedly ruined the drama of Martian Manhunter's funeral, and there are a couple of instances of this here. One is the quirky dialogue around Barry Allen's return. Iris asks, "And it's not Barry from the past or parallel Earth Barry, is it? Jay, tell me." Jay says, no, this is the real Barry Allen. How, exactly, would he know? He spent about ten seconds with him and presumably he would have the same aura if he was from the past. This is a bit of clunky exposition buried in an in-joke and doesn't work. The other little in-joke is subtle, and a jab at Jim Lee. At the end, a group of superheroines show up in bondage gear, but Catwoman shows up in an unaltered costume. The joke, I suppose, is the Catwoman is already wearing bondage gear. I suppose in some context this could be funny, but this scene is supposed to be frightening and the joke ruins the moment. Fortunately, it took me until a second read to catch the joke, but had I caught it the first time, I would not have enjoyed the book as much.

Despite these few criticisms, Final Crisis #3 is a phenomenal comic book. It expands the possibilities of the medium and blends almost seamlessly the wonder of the superhero genre with the probity of high art. Comics don't get much better than this.



Cristiano Silva said...

Hi Daniel. Great review of Final Crisis. I think this title is a little bit strange for me because it does not seem similar to the other two Crisis. I felt that Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis were relates, but this one, except from the name "Final Crisis", is not like them.

Hello from Brazil, your blog is a great job.

See you,


Daniel said...

Hi Christiano,

Thank you for your comments. Hello from Canada! Yes, it definitely is different from the other Crises. It does have the Monitors, though, so I have a feeling we'll see more connections once we find out what Zillo Valla is up to.

Take care,

Cristiano Silva said...

Hi Daniel,

Since George Perez will draw Legion Of Three Worlds, written by Geoff Jones, this mini-series is more "Crisis-like" for me, and I'm looking forward to it maybe more then Final Crisis itself.

Question: in Final Crisis, is Darkseid the great-master villain of it all? Is it again an threat to all Multiverse?

Daniel said...

I'm glad to hear the George Perez will be doing Legion of Three Worlds. I've always loved his art, and he does crowd scenes better than anyone.

It seems that Darkseid is the overall villain. Until issue #3, I would have thought maybe Libra was working with someone else, but that doesn't seem to be the case anymore.

I'm interested to see what effect this will have on the multiverse. The Monitors are definitely involved. Next issue, we'll hopefully get some more details on how the multiverse is involved.

Tom said...

I like your thoughtful review of Final Crisis #3, which I was impressed with.

And I find it particularly interesting that you say that J.G. Jones' artistic effort in this issue reaches the level of fine art. I've read (on the web) quite a few complaints about how the visuals have been lacking compared with the 1st 2 issues. I agree with you that Jones turned in solid work here. As I see it, #3 shows that he has the chops. It takes a lot of time and effort and dedication to get that good.