Some thoughts on Final Crisis

You know what this site has too much of? Content, that’s what. So I did a guest-post over at Matthew Brady’s, where I ramble interminably about 70s Kirby and OMAC in particular.

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Final Crisis is perversely oblique for a Big Event Where Nothing Will Evah Be The Same. Grant Morrison has proved that he can write Big! Dumb! Explodey! Comics (that nonetheless don’t entirely insult your intelligence) with the best of them. Think of his Ultra-Marines mini with Ed Guinness, Dexter Vines et al. from a few years back, or his New X-Men (where it wasn’t hampered by rushed art, at least), or even his current All-Star Superman with Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant. Those works manage to be straightforward entertainments, immediately accessible if you want to stay at the surface level, and they also contain thematic and symbolic depth, rewards for close reading and familiarity with the rest of Morrison’s writing.

But Final Crisis is most definitely not a crowd-pleasing blockbuster smash, at least not in its first two issues. Which is just fine by me — I’d sooner read the sequel to Morrison’s Seven Soldiers or Seaguy than the sequel to his JLA or Batman — but it did take me two issues of Final Crisis to readjust my expectations. Like a lot of Morrison’s work, this will no doubt read better once it’s all finished and we can go back and join the dots: “Ah, so that’s what Hamburger Hegemony was all about!” And as a tacit sequel to Seven Soldiers, it’s just swell. But as a big crossover event to please the masses, it kind of stinks.

A large part of that is due to the super-compression and some missed art cues. It was not at all clear who was supposed to be the last page reveal in #1, and I couldn’t, for the life of me, work out what happened on pp 18 and 20 until I read a comments thread at the Savage Critics. (Thanks, Douglas Wolk!). So, John Stewart gets attacked by a mysterious figure. Then, three pages later, Kraken clutches her head and says “Help Me!” while raising her hand to Batman; who realises she’s a traitor and says “John has one hell of a right hook, doesn’t he?” WTF?

Honestly, I read that sequence five times and still couldn’t figure it. In order to parse it, you need to know (1) that the Alpha Lantern (or whatever) doesn’t ordinarily have a ring-mark on her palm, so that (2) you can follow Batman’s induction that it was made by John Stewart’s ring, so that (3) you can understand his remark about John’s right hook, so that (4) you can then infer that it was her attacking Stewart, three pages earlier.

The problem is, first, we haven’t seen the Alpha Lantern’s palm without the ring-mark on it. At least, not in the two pages of Final Crisis that she’s in before the attack on Stewart. So that chain of reasoning I just gave falls through at the first step because, for all we know, her palm always looks like that. And, second, the panel where Stewart’s attacker is shown from behind is just plain confusing. I read that panel as showing, not someone in a hood, but half a Green Lantern coming out of nowhere (like that classic Gil Kane cover) the green part of the hood being the start of the Lantern’s back and the black part of the hood his shoulder. That’s what the uniforms look like, after all.

[Extra-dull digression: and, anyway, knowing how it’s supposed to play out (at least according to Wolk) just raises more questions. The next page suggests that the reason they go after Jordan is eyewitness testimony from Opto, who must have seen Kraken, disguised as Jordan, attacking Stewart. But if Kraken wanted to be mistaken for Jordan, why was she wearing a hood and not some kind of magic Green Lantern Hal Jordan mask? Why wear such an ambiguous disguise? Or maybe it wasn’t Opto’s eyewitness testimony that led them to Jordan. But then why have him show up at Jordan’s house with the Alpha Lanterns?]

Look, it’s absolutely fine to ask the reader to do some work and draw conclusions that aren’t explicitly shown. But the reader needs to have enough information on the page to draw those conclusions, and at several points in the book there just isn’t enough of that kind of information. I don’t want to be spoonfed What It All Means, but I do at least want to know What’s Happening in any given panel, in the plainest sense of “x is doing y”, “Jack is running”, “Jill is catching the ball”.

Put it another way: it’s one thing not to know what the dancing midget on Twin Peaks was all about. But it would have been another thing entirely to show us something that might be a midget dancing, might be a piece of cheese, or might be a smudge on the film stock.

***

If Terrible Turpin doesn’t have a crucial struggle against his possessing spirit, sometime in #4-7, I’ll eat his hat. If he doesn’t play an important role in defeating Darkseid, I’ll eat every single hat that Jack Kirby ever drew. There’s just no way that Morrison is going to leave Turpin, as a stand-in for Jack Kirby, tarnished. no way.

***

I’m such a GODDAMN INTERPRETIVE GENIUS that I realised Libra had some sort of connection to Metron (avatar maybe?) SEVERAL PAGES before Wally made the chair connection. Take that Harold Fucking Bloom!

IIRC, Kirby played Metron as a mercurial (in more than one sense) and amoral figure. As befits a personification of Intellect/Knowledge, Metron could do good or bad and seemed pretty neutral in the battle between Apokolips and New Genesis. Pairing him with Libra, who seems similarly amoral, makes symbolic sense.

Two possibilities, then, if Libra is a body for Metron. Either:

(i) evil has triumphed so completely that even Metron has turned fully to Darkseid.

Or, what I think is more likely:

(ii) Metron has been plotting against Darkseid all along, right from the beginning of humanity and his role as Libra is just part of the grand plan. That’s one of Morrison’s favourite tricks–the last minute revelation that the good guys have already won. We’ve already seen, in Seven Soldiers and Mister Miracle, that Metron gives people–Shilo Norman, early cavemen–enlightenment, even if that sets him against Darkseid. So he certainly seems to be working on the side of the angels now. So Metron goes back in time, gives the human flame to Anthro, and then returns to the present to harvest that potential against the evil gods, in the form of the Human Flame. Or something like that.

If he’s so amoral and neutral, why would Metron be helping our world? Maybe it’s because Darkseid would strangle human thought, killing knowledge in its crib, and Metron is all about the knowledge. Maybe Metron cares about balance as an end in itself — hence adopting the identity of Libra — and, when evil has won, you achieve balance by helping out good.

But most probably, I think, Morrison just doesn’t buy into Kirby’s idea that Metron is amoral. Rather, Morrison shares the Socratic ideal that knowledge is necessarily a good thing, and all bad deeds are done through ignorance. Knowledge defeats the dark side. Doesn’t that sound like the sort of quasi-gnostic sentiment Morrison would endorse?

***

Or maybe Libra is just a bad guy who stole Metron’s chair, and I’m full of shit. Time will tell.

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2 Responses to “Some thoughts on Final Crisis”

  1. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » July 28, 2008: If Brad Meltzer can win an Eisner, anyone can… Says:

    […] “Jones” on the first two issues of Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones’ Final […]

  2. Doomkopf.com » The Doomino Effect for Dec 24, 2008 Says:

    […] working on a separate post about the Gnosticism in Final Crisis, I came upon a July blog on Final Crisis #2 which mentioned one of Grant Morrison’s favorite tricks is “…the last minute […]

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