Let's be clear: I like Grant Morrison a lot. His best work has been among the high points of comics of the past 20 years -- stories like Animal Man, Doom Patrol and The Invisibles have demonstrated just how weird you can be while still writing a compelling comic book. I suspect that that's part of why I'm so very annoyed by Final Crisis: I can't just say, "Oh, it's just Jim Shooter" and shrug it off as expectedly crappy.
And really: it *is* crappy, both as a comic and as a crossover. First, let's talk about the writing. Now granted, epic crossovers are rarely magnificent examples of the medium, and the Crises have always been particularly dicey. But this is even worse than usual. I mean, in the middle of issue 6 (which provoked this little rant), we have two characters bemoaning how they love each other, but cannot bring themselves to tell each other, despite the imminent end of the world. It reads like a segment of a badly over-the-top romance novel. Worse, I have absolutely no idea who these characters are (and I'm not exactly ignorant of DC continuity), and these two panels are their only speaking moment in pretty much the whole story. So an attempt at pathos comes across as, sadly, pretty pathetic.
Then there's how disjoint the whole crossover is. I can't even keep track of all the End Of The World grade elements in this particular crisis. There's Darkseid, who was killed last year (in two different and contradictory stories), and has been reborn in human form along with all the rest of Apokolips through means that have never actually been explained and is now using the Anti-Life Equation (mark 5.2) to take over the world. There's Vandal Savage, who has apparently been Cain all along, who is going to take over the world. There's Libra, a minor JLA villain who has pulled all the super-villains together in a plan to take over the world. And there's this desperate attempt to rectify all of the various versions of the Legion of Super-Heroes in a plot that so far doesn't make a lot of sense, but probably involves *somebody* trying to take over the world.
The Crises have always been sprawling messes, but even by that standard this is confusing as all get out. Some parts are definitely contradictory (in particular, anything that they foolishly allow Jim Starlin to touch), and really -- there are just too many plots. I can't help but compare it with the ongoing Marvel crossover that's been running for several years now. That's big and complex as well -- indeed, the Marvel stories have been touching the entire Marvel universe much more comprehensively than anything DC is doing. Yet each six-month phase of the Marvel story can be summarized in a concise sentence: "Iron Man leads the government in regulating the super-heroes, and Captain America leads a resistance movement"; "The Skrulls infiltrate and invade pretty much everywhere"; "The Hulk breaks Manhattan"; etc. The result is that Marvel's had a clarity and consistency that is just plain lacking in DC right now.
And then there's the big moment. (No, really, big spoiler coming up.) At the end of issue 6 of Final Crisis, Batman Dies! OMGWTFBBQETC! Let's see: how many different ways did they screw this up?
- First, there's the fact that they have been foreshadowing this blatantly for months. For heaven's sake, they've been advertising stories by the collective title of "Batman, R.I.P." for ages. This kind of kills the shock value.
- There's the dreadfully contrived symbolism of the climax: Batman, Mr. "A Gun Killed My Parents; Only Bad Guys Use Guns; I Will Never Ever Ever Use a Gun", uses a gun to kill Darkseid, and is killed himself in the same moment.
- Then there's the fact that this all feels rather familiar. The very next page after Superman walks out with Batman's dessicated corpse, we get the two-page ad for "The Battle for the Cowl", showing all the people who are going to try to take over the name "Batman" in the coming months. Those who have been playing along at home for enough years will find this all eerily familiar: yes, it is *exactly* the way they handled Superman's death a decade or so ago. You will note that Superman stayed dead for exactly one year -- I would lay decent money that Batman will follow suit.
- Finally, just to put the cherry on top, what did they do in the issue right before this? They *brought back Barry Allen*. Yes -- one of the two important deaths from the original Crisis, the *avatar* of death in the DC universe, is alive again. Surely, there is no more effective way to demonstrate that death is meaningless and temporary here than to bring back the character who, for many years, they swore they would never bring back.
I'm a serious, longtime DC junkie. I've been following DC comics pretty faithfully for 30 years. But about a year ago I decided that I was going to give DC through the end of Final Crisis, and if they screwed this one up I was going to swear off of the bulk of the line. So far, they've done nothing to dissuade me, and I've been dropping an average of about one book a month. I find myself alternately angry and pitying about the whole thing, as only an apostate can be. But the fact is, DC is managing to disgust me as thoroughly as Marvel did fifteen years or so ago. And I suspect the result is going to be the same: me dropping nearly the whole line for a fair number of years, until they wise up and start hiring people with a clue again...