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Final Crisis #6-7
posted February 4, 2009

imageCreators: Grant Morrison and JG Jones and Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino and Christian Alamy
Publishing Information: DC Comics, comic book, 40/48 pages, $3.99, January 2009
Ordering Numbers:

In the end, Final Crisis bored me. I could barely get through the last issue. I have a hard time working up anything resembling passion for it or against it. This is a disappointment because when you buy into one of these summer comic book events you want it to be entertaining, thrillingly or disturbingly or even hilariously so. Of course, you also don't plan on buying a third of the issues in your planned outlay that next January, but that's Final Crisis for you. All kidding aside about the publishing cock-ups that seen from the air take the shape of DC giving its readers and client stores the finger, a rich subject worthy of its own essay, I wanted to like this series on its own merits, and was willing to extend myself all the way through the last issue to see if it would pay off. I didn't dislike it. I just found it sort of dull.

Grant Morrison is a clever enough writer there's always something in his work into which one may dig. Heck, Morrison's convention panel appearances typically provide enough mental amusement for a couple of day's worth of riding the bike at the gym. In past comics, it's always been fruitful to follow the fancier flourishes of craft. As Final Crisis rushed to its climax, the bravura elements for me were his use of aggressive narrative jump cuts to suggest a universe collapsing in on itself and a sly critique of superheroes as vehicles for despicable behavior and moral despair. But here those aspects are quickly hemmed in by failures of craft: the general, plodding, unoriginal feel to much of the story, the changing art teams of various skill levels, the rushed-looking art from one or two of them in #6, and most importantly, I think, by the paper thin concepts at their heart throughout. The jump cuts bounce back and forth from suggestions of adventures and slivers of story moments that are meant, I think, to indicate entire scenes. They do so in unconvincing fashion. They don't feel like stolen moments from a rich and diverse universe of remarkable events. They feel like snippets created for snippets' sake, fake trailers to non-existent movies. Their inauthenticity makes seeing them strung together feel like watching the One Shining Moment montage of a sporting event without having watched any of the games.

It's the lack of light touch on those panels and from the story in general that keeps the employment of this technique a moment of craft, as opposed to craft in service of art. Compare Morrison's use of disjointed narratives in Final Crisis #7 to something similar like the panel to panel leaps in Jaime Hernandez' "Tear It Up, Terry Downe." In Jaime's story, everything you need to understand it is there in front of you; what you'll see if you give yourself over to it isn't a nefarious plan of some fake cosmic bogeyman but a story of emotional betrayal and how quickly our positions can change vis-a-vis the people we love. When a narrative technique is most effectively used, it tends not to bring to mind another use of that technique but some sort of gut-wrenching effect based on the content being marched through its paces. I just didn't get that here.

It seems to me as if Morrison aimed his Final Crisis at the wrong part of the universe he's created. I found it much more disconcerting to think of these proud icons as having no juice left at all to thrill or inspire or encourage than I did to think of them being threatened by various outside elements. Final Crisis shares with many past Morrison efforts a series of heroic comebacks that seem to turn for little to no reason. This was cute in his JLA. When Superman or especially Batman assumed control over the narratives in that series, it seemed to be a confessional that no story was ever bigger than the essential awesomeness of those characters. Final Crisis needed an explanation why this is so, and is sorely lacking for its absence. Watching Grant Morrison string together yet another apocalypse is like watching a comedian tell the Aristocrats joke four or five times over the space of several years: entertaining at times, yet only dimly satisfying.

As for the genre-critical elements of Morrison's work, they remain mostly intact, but I have to imagine what he's saying should be obvious to anyone still reading those things. I couldn't help but think that in scenes like Tawky Tawny going all dark and badass on us, Morrison was exercising one of his occasional attempts to one-up Alan Moore by creating a Rorschach far too goofy for any kid to get behind. Forget for a moment that I needed to see Blood-On-Lips Tawky Tawny about as much as I want to see The Tin Man of Oz split open the Nome King's head with his axe; the metaphor is approximate when it needs to be clear, broad when it should be razor sharp. I felt like I was watching good actor diving into a thin role that played on his dignity rather than simply utilized it, like Morgan Freeman in Wanted articulating the crap out of the word "Motherfucker."

So who knows what Morrison was trying?. I sure don't. It's just that I suspect that what he was getting at was every bit as weedy and navel-gazing and Sunday afternoon on PBS philosophical as the parts that did communicate to me. It's ironic that many people are angry at Morrison for his treatment of certain characters in the series because to me he sounds far, far too overly worshipful of these empty costumes. A bit has been made about Morrison better capturing the current zeitgeist through his use of a President Superman character in #7, and how this was superior to Marvel's depiction of the current president as kind of a benign dumbass somehow willing to hand the country's keys over to villainy and scum. I thought the Superman scene was equally silly and obvious, and Morrison's take on the zeitgeist just as removed from life as most people live it as One Nation Under The Green Goblin or whatever the hell Marvel's up to. You have to really take Superman seriously to believe co-mingling Yes We Can and Truth Justice and the American Way, even subliminally, somehow communicates anything other than the immediate visual power of each camp's iconography.

In the end, this comic made me realize how much I miss Jack Kirby as a creative force within comics. I miss Kirby the artist every day, but this one put me in mind of Kirby the writer. A former soldier speaking of war as Anti-Life still seems to me far more interesting than an artist advocating for a central truth based on the values of creativity and self-evident greatness. A Superman so raw they had to redraw his face still seems to me to say something about his vitality that President Superman or Grieving Superman or Singing Superman does not. Ironically, Grant Morrison and his collaborators have created a comic book about the innate value of these characters as stories, but told it in a language of unsatisfying approximates of the real thing.