Thursday, August 14, 2008

Final Crisis: Revelations #1 Review

Writer: Greg Rucka
Penciller: Philip Tan

"Homicide...we work for God". Greg Rucka took those words from Vernon Geberth, a former homicide detective with the N.Y.P.D. (they were later used in the television show "Homicide"). This book picks up that theme: what is it that a homicide detective does? How does it differ from what the Specter does? What does it mean to work for God? This book follows Crispus Allen, a former homicide detective, who now serves as the God's spirit of vengeance. He used to serve justice and is now an agent of revenge. This book has a lot of reflection on the nature of justice, the nature of vengeance and what it means to work for God.

I would like to quickly commend this book for something that was long coming: they finally kill off Doctor Light. I didn't get any sense of vicarious revenge from his death. I just wanted to see him gone from DC comics. One of the unfortunate consequences of the success of Identity Crisis is that the characters became affixed in their roles in that story. The Elongated Man became the perpetually grieving husband. The Calculator became the perpetual schemer. Doctor Light became a perpetual rapist. That story turned him into the official sexual predator of the DC universe, and that was not a good thing. Comic creators often underestimate the dangers of representing sexual violence against women, especially in a visual medium, as it can attract exactly the wrong sort of reader. A serial rapist with a superhero fetish has the potential for the wrong sort of stories, and I'm glad to see him gone.

This book does a good job of setting up the Specter's dilemma. When he was a police officer, he served justice. Justice is a matter of balance and reason. However, while what he does as Specter appears to be similar to what he did as Crispus Allen, vengeance is about emotion. This, of course, isn't a new sentiment. It was recently expressed in almost exactly the same terms in Batman Begins. Rucka's approach lacks the subtlety and ambiguity of Morrison's interlocking thematic uses of freedom in Final Crisis #3. However, it is an important part of the setup for this new Specter comic that we realise that what the Specter is doing is not giving the world otherwise unavailable justice. He is doing something else entirely, and Allen's imminent rebellion is a result of that difference, so it needs to be made clear.

At one point, the Specter attempts to attack Libra, for the crime of genocide for killing the last member of the Martian race. Interestingly, the Specter has no power over Libra. Given that justice is defined as being about balance, while vengeance is about emotion, it sets up an interesting contrast between Libra and the Specter. Libra, as one can tell by his name if nothing else, is somehow trying to bring balance, even if it benefits evil. To date, the good guys keep winning. Now it's time to even the scales. The Specter, on the other hand, isn't able to balance anything. He just kills and destroys in revenge. In response to being unable to kill Libra, Specter throws a fit and kills the Hangmen (hanging them, of course). Here, Rucka is starting to take advantage of the medium: when your characters are walking metaphors, having them interact causes the readers to reflect on their meaning.

In terms of what it means to work for God, Geberth, the original source of that phrase, is a practicing Catholic and meant it literally. By helping to enforce the law, he believes the police officer reflects divine justice. Theologians have debated for millenia how to reconcile God's justice, vengeance and mercy in a way that consistent with the basic position that they must, in some sense, ultimately be the same thing. Geberth sees himself as a part of that plan. In the DC universe, however, God's attributes are split into various angels with no real attempt at reconciliation. Moreover, God has a serious personnel problem. The angels are apt to act with complete abandon in their appointed roles unless somehow tethered. As the Specter's role is vengeance, he has a tendency to do things like, for example, threaten to kill all of New York state.

This aspect of the Specter appears to be about to come to a head. Allen is rejecting the Specter persona after being ordered to kill his own son. Now, he has been sent to kill his former partner, Renée Montoya, now the Question, who has found a weapon capable of killing "false gods". As the character has been sketched in DC's quasi-polytheistic universe, Allen has reached a point where his role as the Specter is completely unbearable. He simply can't reconcile his old obsession with justice with his new obsession with vengeance. Now he is almost forced to rebel, as his own character cannot tolerate the Specter.

This promises to be an interesting book. I hope that Libra remains as an important character, as the contrast between he and Specter is the most intriguing part of the story. Fundamentally, it is about a police officer forced into a mockery of his former life, who is trying to break out. This is a solid start to what could be a very powerful story.


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