Over two years has passed since Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis came to an end. Not a day has gone by that I haven’t cursed it. Recently, I decided to do what I never thought I would – revisit the “day evil won”. While I’m definitely not alone in my long lived dislike for the “event”, I actually wanted to try to understand it better. Maybe within its pages a clue was buried that would make my brain go “ping” like a Rubik’s Cube solved in 17 moves. I’ve spent the better part of two days doing all I could to dig as deep as I could. Guess what… I still don’t understand the damn thing.
How Final Crisis Spelled Doom for the DCU
When someone utters the words Final and Crisis in consecutive order to me, I tend to shudder. My forehead starts to bead with sweat, my hands get clammy, and I get a metallic taste in my mouth. I usually respond verbally with a few colorful four letter words. It’s not a pleasant experience for anyone within a 10 foot radius of me. At the time of its release, I found things I really did like while other things made me angry. The conclusion of the story enraged me to no end. This was mostly because I had no freakin’ clue as to what I read, what it meant for the DCU, and that I didn’t have the same drugs Grant Morrison had.
Going onto message boards was interesting during that time. I honestly cannot remember a more polarizing comic in all my years of collecting. I wasn’t surprised to find Morrison fans defending the story, and its high concepts, fervently. However, I was glad to find others who felt the same way as I did. While not the norm, it shouldn’t be ignored that some fans of the book criticized the intelligence of those of us who simply didn’t get it.
I admit, even though I’m a big time Marvel guy, I’ve been thinking a lot about DC lately. You’d have to live under a rock not to know what DC announced some six weeks ago about their publishing future. It doesn’t matter if you love or hate the idea of relaunching the entire universe, what matters most is that it got people talking about comics. With all this fresh on my mind, I started seeking out podcasts and articles about some of my more favorite DC stories (what few there really is since I decided to try some out).
The crown jewel of all the DC stories I’ve read has to be Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. It’s the story that got me excited about the whole idea that DC owned this sprawling multiverse, an idea that our real life scientists have considered. There’s so much to learn about DC’s characters and stories to learn about. In the days of the internet, doing the research was an absolute joy for me. When revisiting some of that same research I did for the original Crisis, it soon became clear that research would forever be tied to the sequels Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis. Despite swearing off Final Crisis forever, I decided to go back to see if I can find that one little nugget of gold that would permanently change my mind about the story.
So, I went to Comic Geek Speak and reviewed extremely in depth discussions about each issue of the series. While I still strongly dislike the series, I did find some new insight on the story as a whole. I even found a new connection to that huge announcement DC made about its total relaunch. The one thing I definitely retained from my original conclusion on the series is that the story is still convoluted and confusing as hell. Let’s break this down in three segments, shall we?
I. Can anyone really say Final Crisis is an “event” or a Crisis?
When it comes to comic books, what is an “event”? It’s actually quite simple… It’s a story that gets heavier advertisement than any others from a particular publisher. Sometimes an event can be centered on a particular line of books, and sometimes it can fully encompass the entirety of the publisher’s titles. Usually, there are more books than just the actual series given the name of the event. Tie-ins will be published in short, mini-series form, and within regularly published titles. Normally, when the big event story ends, there is some change in the status quo of many characters’ lives. Regardless of how the event is liked, or disliked, an event is a story that is bigger and usually supercharged with bigger ideas and action.
Now, we come to Final Crisis.
The word CRISIS means something to comic book readers. Particularly anyone like me, a guy who likes to dabble in DC at times while sticking to my Marvel books. When I hear the word, the first thing I think of is a setting of a blood red sky and panic as a wall of white anti-matter comes sweeping through the universe. All the while, a guy in a funny outfit balling his eyes out as he’s forced to watch another universe die. That’s what a crisis is to me. It’s a universe-spanning changing of the guard. So, does Final Crisis meet that thought? Not even close.
Yes, there were Monitors, and yes, there were blood red skies. Universes were merging as Darkseid was going through his rebirth plan. While it was a big story that featured many of the DC Universe characters (however most of them were secondary characters while the big three, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, were removed from the playing field). The main problem was accessibility. Grant Morrison is, for however well liked or disliked he is, a fringe writer. He deals with ideas that are are so big and cerebral that you almost can’t say he’s truly mainstream. While I learned so much about the DC characters with the original Crisis, anyone in my position trying to get into Morrison’s Final Crisis would be lost, and likely end up frustrated.
But why is that? If you generally like Grant Morrison’s work, and, in no way, am I saying I never liked some of his other stuff, I just find myself too often falling off the fence on the negative side, you really need to be a Grant Morrison fan. You can’t just be a fan of some of his stories. Morrison often revisits ideas he’s tinkered with before, reworks those ideas, and puts different characters into that idea. Final Crisis meets that very formula. Many point to past works like Flex Mentallo and his 90s JLA arc “Rock of Ages” as being stories of his own that have ideas that pop up in Final Crisis. However, Final Crisis’ roots actually begin in a fringe set of mini-series called The Seven Soldiers of Victory. Many of those characters were much less known to anyone outside of longtime DC fans and therefore not something I could really get excited about. If I knew the confusion I had going into Final Crisis could have been lessened by reading Seven Soldiers, oh man, I would have gobbled up those books like no one’s business.
So, while the multiversity of Final Crisis is suspect at best, it seems as though using “crisis” in the title was a ploy to make comic readers prick up their ears. It takes all of one issue to realize this was not like the other two “Crises”. Knowing I was nervous about reading an event from Grant Morrison, I admit I was suckered in by the title. I’d have to say a lot of people were. Sure, plenty of nods were made to Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis, but it didn’t feel right. This was a story spearheaded by the Jack Kirby-created New God characters, already a mind bending concept at times to grasp. These are also characters that aren’t always counted as favorites of the majority of comic readers.
Ultimately, Final Crisis had several problems. My first problem was that it focused on those Kirby “Fourth World” characters that, unless you truly are fans of that era of Kriby’s creative mind, are really hard to get into. Darkseid is a great villain, and Big Barda and Mister Miracle are relatively interesting heroes, but man… These are tough concepts to build an event around in the Modern Age. Next, the groundwork is laid in stories that weren’t widely read, save for the Morrison fans. How could the general comic reader get behind an event when the joy of learning more about the central characters is tedious and difficult instead of fun and exciting?
The biggest, most sinful affront to an event is when necessary plot points are in another book. Final Crisis does this in spades. Okay, to understand who the Tattooed Man is and why he’s gone to the Hall of Justice to help the heroes (Tattooed Man is a villain after all), you probably needed to read Final Crisis: Submit. It’s not even that great of a book, and it could have been explained in less than a page of exposition. But the biggest gripe I have is the 3-D two-part story Final Crisis: Superman Beyond. Each issue came laced with acid. If you lick a page, all you have to do is throw on those 3-D glasses and let Grant Morrison blow your mind. The idea of the book is actually quite brilliant, but the gripe comes in is if I didn’t want to read that book? If all I wanted to read was Final Crisis proper, I would have been screwed. I would have no idea who the shoehorned big bad of Final Crisis was if I didn’t read Superman Beyond. Why couldn’t the main event series be eight or nine parts long instead of requiring a tie-in to understand the end battle? Why don’t people, when so many bitch and moan about tie-ins to events, call DC on their shenanigans with Superman Beyond? Forget how unbelievably confusing the final issue of Final Crisis is (yes, I freakin’ know “time is broken”… I’m just saying nothing is actually explained and “time is broken” is about as shitty of an excuse for nonsensical conclusions as it comes), my biggest problem was actually the necessity of a tie-in to explain the sudden appearance of a vampiric Monitor that not once appeared in the event series proper.
That shit is just unacceptable.
II. What happened to the plans Grant Morrison had for stories in DC’s Multiverse?
Okay… My griping about story itself is over. Now comes the question of Grant Morrison’s supposed follow up to come a short while after Final Crisis - his “Multiversity” project. Travel around to different forums and you’ll inevitably run into a thread where someone is still counting on this project to come soon.
Obviously, the upcoming “relaunch” of DC’s entire publishing line makes this possibility less and less likely. However, I do believe there’s a deeper issue going on here. The DC Multiverse is something that is part of the publisher’s lore. It was removed by the events of the original Crisis, but returned through the events of Infinite Crisis and 52. This new Multiverse was not quite what readers had prior to 1985. These new universes (51 plus the regular DCU in all) were simply carbon copies of the current DCU, then slight historical changes came through each one when Mister Mind ate away at their continuities.
What that leaves us is basically 52 Supermen, 52 Batmen, 52 Green Lanterns, 52 Wonder Women, etc. That wasn’t the original Multiverse pre-Crisis. Those worlds were vastly different and didn’t necessarily rely on strict character models. Ultimately, would stories in this new “52″ be interesting at all? I have a feeling DC editorial stepped in and realized their error. I’m positive no one at DC would admit to this, but the new Multiverse seems to be somewhat of a mistake. They brought them back and, with the exception of the dismal Countdown, haven’t been seen since. Add to that a writer whose hook has always been his ability to use concepts that aren’t always appreciated by the general comic buyer, and this fabled Multiversity project seems to be a disaster waiting to happen.
It’s safe to say the 1-2-3 combo of Countdown, Death of the New Gods, and Final Crisis created problems of its own. Death of the New Gods chronicled just that – the New Gods were getting killed and wiped out of DC’s existence to make way for a new “world” of gods and goddesses. This story actually wasn’t so bad. It had an old school feeling to it that I actually got excited about. Some of where Countdown went to tied back to Death of the New Gods. The late issues, supposedly there to prep readers for Final Crisis, deals with Orion and Darkseid facing off for the last time on Earth. Final Crisis does start with the seeming aftermath of that fight, but nothing what we saw in the “prep” series really had anything to do with the main event.
As tempers flared on both sides of the “Did you like Final Crisis” argument, DC realized their event was mightily polarizing. It really felt whatever plans Morrison had to explore the Multiverse or any other ideas derivative of FC were shelved immediately. We haven’t seen any other Earths featured prominently in any other story. Barry Allen’s return to help defeat Darkseid was mentioned in the far superior Blackest Night, and the evil, over-sexed Mary Marvel did appear in a JSA story immediately following FC. There were a handful of “Aftermath” minis but I primarily remember some pretty bad reviews to come through against those. That was all that I was truly aware of in the aftermath of Morrison’s “event”. Doesn’t anyone want to talk about half the world being enslaved by Darkseid? Some of those people did some truly awful things. Isn’t any of that going to, I dunno… COME UP IN A CONVERSATION?
Editorial decisions seems to have shied away from Final Crisis. Characters we thought were going to be major players disappeared (Super Young Team anyone?). Ideas beyond the few examples mentioned above disappeared. The Multiverse disappeared. It’s like Final Crisis was eaten by the same anti-matter wave that ate all the other universes in Crisis on Infinite Earths.
III. Did Final Crisis have a hand in DC’s Relaunch?
Let me get a few things off my chest… I am not against DC relaunching. It’s their stories and they can do whatever they want. It’s obvious that they want to do something to beat out Marvel on a consistent basis. It’s also weird and doesn’t feel quite right, but I figure the relaunch has actually brought attention to the comic industry, and that’s a very good thing. So, please, don’t think that being against Final Crisis and wondering if there’s any underlying connection between the relaunch and the story means that I’m harboring issues with the relaunch. I’m just analyzing a potential connection.
That being said… If Final Crisis had been a runaway success and the DCU was riding a wave of multiversal stories and dealing with how easy it was for Darkseid to steamroll the world, would DC be relaunching in a couple months? You’d have to think that if FC was that huge, Blackest Night would have been even bigger. That kind of success would have shaped DC in such a way that it would be killing Marvel in sales today. I simply can’t ignore how quickly threads from FC were dropped and pretty much forgotten. I really wonder what else might have come up if all these themes and events weren’t swept under the rug.
It didn’t work out that way, though. FC was, as I said before, a polarizing event. Honestly, I don’t even want to call it an event. I’m not saying because it did create such a buzz on both sides of fandom that it isn’t an event. It’s not an event because it didn’t have a big time feel to it. The heroes struggled and it took an awful lot of them to fight back Darkseid’s slaves, but in the end, all you needed to end this was Superman, Batman, and a couple Flashes. Without those four characters Darkseid won. A true event should have dozens of characters joined together to fight the common bad guy. It’s clear DC’s higher ups wanted “Crisis” in the title and elements to fall back on to tell us all we were reading a Crisis story, but what would have happened if Morrison was just allowed to cut loose and do everything his way (don’t believe everything you read as Morrison claimed he did give us his pure vision of this story)? Five years from now, it’s likely no one will be talking about anything from Final Crisis. What was supposed to be the next great event from DC will likely be much more of a footnote on the Modern Age than the previous two Crises.
Ultimately, we might be getting a multiversal story after all. I’m of a growing opinion that this relaunch does in fact take place on another Earth (my money’s on Earth-1). I honestly believe whatever Flash has to do in Flashpoint to turn things “back to normal” will not work quite as expected. When it falls apart, the heroes will awaken on an Earth they kinda recognize but really isn’t their own. Their memories will be foggy and discombobulated. This will leave the door open for two possible future stories – 1) the chance for DC to say, “Hey, guess what? We’ve still got stuff going on back on Earth-0! We can still produce those stories!” or 2) if this relaunch fails just as Marvel’s “Heroes Reborn” did, it gives DC the opportunity to make everything “right” again.
I hope this works out well for DC. I really do. I think this is a beginning of something new in comics in general. I know some people (even those associated with this site) has referred to this being the start of the “Digital” Age of comics. Seems only fitting that the publisher responsible for starting the Golden, Silver, and Modern Age of Comics would be at it again in a new era. But the origins of those Ages are all creatively driven. This one seems more of a forced change. A change that was mandated by a corporate entity more than the creative ideas that sparked new adventures and new ways to tell stories.
In an age that finds most comic book fans jaded and more often looking at these new ideas with snark and smugness, I still get excited about new stories and the possibilities that come with new creative teams. Even if I don’t feel this transition is quite right, or that I believe DC may actually be running away from Final Crisis, I’m trying to stay positive and hopeful for new stories and new possibilities.