Comic book events are designed to be welcoming to new readers, or at least those with a cursory knowledge of a given publisher’s universe. They embrace a broad strokes approach to storytelling, capturing big moments of little consequence under the guise that “nothing will ever be the same again!” They are simplistic and heavily scrutinized by layers of editorial, and ultimately a product first and a story second. That is not the case with Final Crisis. Arguably the most polarizing comic event ever published, it features very little of the features that typically mark event comics. It has been described as confusing, sophisticated, pretentious, brilliant, and a myriad of other adjectives. With this examination of the series, issue-by-issue, there’s sure to be plenty of more colorful terms used.
Final Crisis #1
(w) Grant Morrison (a) J.G. Jones (c) Alex Sinclair
Dan Gehen (DG): I don’t know about anyone else here, but Final Crisis is the one comic I revisit on a yearly basis, and it’s because each time I do, I get something new out of the experience. And yet, I always forget that this story begins at the very beginning of the DC Universe, with Anthro being gifted fire from Metron, a reworking of the ancient Greek myth of Prometheus. It sets the stage that this story not only will involve the New Gods, but also will span all of time and space.
And then of all characters, Morrison has Dan Turpin be our entry to the main story (if such a thing actually exists). Unless you have an encyclopedic knowledge, you probably aren’t aware that Turpin is a character from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Saga (he also was a recurring character on Superman: The Animated Series, but I digress). Right there’s a big clue – before we even get to the capes and spandex crowd – that the Kirby’s DC work will play a major role.
Stephen Cook (SC): I come at Final Crisis with some baggage. I first read it in trade paperback when I was fresh out of high school and… I hated it. For all the reasons I’m excited to revisit it now.
I’d read a few DC staples (mostly involving Batman) and even the deservedly-hated Identity Crisis but really only had the most cursory knowledge of comic book lore and history. Actually enjoying a trip through the multiverse hosted by Grant Morrison? That, my friends, has been a project ten years in the making.
Jason Jeffords Jr (JJR): I may not revisit Final Crisis every year, but it does hold a special place in my heart. Final Crisis was the first event I recall collecting in single issues while they came out, and I remember it being a big deal. Hot Topic carried a T-shirt with The Day Evil Won printed on it. For me this was the first time I saw something like this, the hype around it was real. I wasn’t as fluent in DC mythology when I first read it, so much of the older references and happenings didn’t make much sense to me. But I did know some history of Kamandi because I owned a fair amount of the series.
To come back to this event on its tenth anniversary is a nice treat now with me being more knowledgeable with DC. Along with the main series I am reading all of the tie-ins due to reading the monstrous omnibus, so on top of learning more these last few years I am seeing more side and backstory adding onto the whole of the event.
DG: Before I continue, I have to ask Jason, what was your experience like reading this in single-issues? Every anecdote I’ve heard indicates it was a nightmare for monthly readers.
JJr: For me it was a fun nightmare. At parts I had no idea who was who, what was happening, or the history behind the characters. Overall I felt out of the loop with only having read some older Kirby work, and glancing at comics at the local comic store, since I was just a teen that had gotten a job down the way from the LCS. So my knowledge was limited – other than way out of date stories – but the hype surrounding the event was huge and as someone who wanted to get into comics more I jumped right into the main story. Looking back at having read it monthly a fair amount made no sense while at the same time this event felt impactful to the universe drawing me in. Hands down it felt like at the time DC’s Final event ever, hell I thought it was because the name even had Final in it. Plus I hardly knew many comic fans so I had no one to bounce ideas or opinions on, so I felt each issue tried to be an end to a universe in a dark yet retaining comic logic way.
DG: Got it. For me, I recall picking up the first issue and liking it, but then I didn’t pick up any until either the fourth or fifth one. I do recall that I opened up one of those later issues, took a look at the page, and said “I’ll just wait for the trade on this.” But kudos to you for sticking it out.
JJR: Thanks. As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted, in the issues proceeding Final Crisis #1 The Flash, Teen Titans, and Birds Of Prey all have run-ins with a new ‘villain’ that runs a meta-human slave ring, having them fight for others entertainment. This new villains name is Boss Dark Side. Which with a name like that you’d think the heroes would put two and two together, alias they don’t. Along with this ‘reincarnation’ of Darksied his minions also come back in human form. But we are given no info about why or how these New Gods turned into humans. No that’s for later.
When reading Final Crisis in the past I never read these early issues, so things we learn later on never made complete sense. But we now rejoin our ever reliable Dan Turpin (who I had no idea was until years later) who stumbles upon a dying New God Orion. While laying on top of dozens of Super Gun boxes (foreshadowing much) Orion braces Turpin before he perishes and warns, “They did not die! He is in you all….” Now if you read the few series leading up you’d know exactly what Orion warns of, but if you are like past me you had no idea.
DG: That moment between Orion and Turpin really is the first clue with regard to what’s happening. DC did have a Death of the New Gods miniseries that was supposed to lead into this story, as well as the weekly series Countdown, but they’re both shit. Also, other than getting a basic idea of this story’s plot – which is unfathomable – they DC editorial didn’t consult Morrison about the story. So even if you read the supposed “lead-up” stories, you were just as lost as a totally new reader.
JJR: That was something I also noted with the “lead-up” stories, they seemed to be side stories that – so far in my re-read – don’t really add anything to the overall story of Final Crisis other than showing some new metas and the human New Gods. Now I’m interrupting, back to you Dan!
DG: Orion says, “He is in you all…” Later, Turpin’s investigation leads him to the not-so-subtly named Dark Side Club, where Boss Dark Side recounts winning a war in heaven, which is an allusion to the Fourth World. First, this completely negates Countdown #2… I think that’s what it is… Countdown sucks. Whatever issue that was, Darkseid clearly loses, as he’s killed by… I want to say a mutated Jimmy Olsen. I’m probably wrong, but I don’t really care enough to look it up. The main point is that Darkseid and his followers’ path mirrors the fabled War in Heaven, in which the fallen angel Lucifer is cast out by the Abrahamic God. Morrison has Darkseid’s expulsion from the Fourth World reflect the effects of that Biblical story in a very superhero manner.
Darkseid is falling through time and space, and in this moment he is infecting the world by inhabiting the body of Boss Dark Side. His influence – the Anti-Life Equation – is a stand-in for evil that is present throughout history.
JJR: References like these are ones that easily go over my head because growing up I never learned much in the way of religion, or Biblical stories. Well I did watch a lot of Veggie Tales but I don’t think that counts sadly.
Before learning of this war in the heavens we have the ever infamous Doctor Light asking for some pills for his date with Giganta while on a mission with Mirror Master. I loved Morrison’s Mirror Master since he appeared in Animal Man so it’s great to see him write him as scummy as he did back then. But the Doctor Light we see here is a joke, just as he was before Identity Crisis, which we all agree was bad.
DG: “Blindingly obvious” is such a great play on words. This is an example of Morrison’s love of Silver Age sensibilities, where you’d have guys like Gardiner Fox or John Broome smashing together characters that are tangentially related for a story. It makes sense too that Mirror Master and Doctor Light would have a team-up. Even though one is a Flash rogue and the other is a Justice League villain(?), it’s not like DC in the past had a problem mixing characters from different lines.
I do like that Morrison tries to “take back” Doctor Light from the grimdark characterization he was given in Identity Crisis, but I don’t think it works.
SC: I’m with you on this, Dan. It doesn’t help that Morrison makes allusion to Light’s behaviour in Identity Crisis when he has him standing over the conquered League of Titans and say, “They’re asking for it in these outfits.” No, no, no.
DG: Yeah, that dialogue is problematic, and it just goes to show how much that story really tainted the character. Even if it isn’t in my own head-canon, I can’t help but think of what Meltzer and Morales did.
JJR: Leaving this enlightening conversation behind we join Libra in his attempts to form a new team of villains promising, “your heart’s desire.” Libra isn’t a well known villain having only been in 2 issues of Justice League decades ago and never returning until Final Crisis. Showing that he is a man of his word Libra is able to capture The Human Flame’s nemesis, Martian Manhunter. Compared to big names of the group; Lex Luthor, Vandal Savage, Ocean Master, Grodd to name a few, the Human Flame is a nobody. With Libra’s savage slaying of the Martian Manhunter the new Secret Society Of Super Villains is formed, and my interest as a young new reader was planted.
DG: The idea of Libra is an interesting one. He says he “balances the scales between Good and Evil.” By having Libra – a balance – siding with the villains, Morrison is stating that this world is inherently good and that goodness will win out. It’s a nice callback to Morrison and Frank Quitely’s graphic novel JLA: Earth 2, where that is the central conceit. Right here, in this first issue, Morrison is asserting that the good guys will win out in the end, no matter how dire things may seem. And it doesn’t get more dire than killing Martian Manhunter, which is done in such an unceremonious manner.
JJR: I never thought of it that way, but it works quite well. On the callback to JLA: Earth 2, it seems Morrison has quite a few moments throughout the event where he goes back to his older work or plants seeds for his future stories. Even with the knowledge I have now reading all of his work and other works he seems to reference I still find it hard to understand some of his concepts or plans. Which I find funny due to me listing him as a favorite creator of mine.
DG: That’s probably by design. You’ll notice that in this issue – and the series as a whole – there’s very little downtime. It’s a constant bombardment of big ideas and concepts with very little time to breathe. Hell, we haven’t even broached the Monitors and Alpha Lanterns and their role.
Morrison really likes the idea of the Green Lantern Corps as “space cops.” I don’t recall this ever being a part of the Johns or Tomasi stories that were being published at the time, but these GLs talk like cops. A “1011” as a police code for “deicide” is a fantastic little detail, as 1011 is known as an “Angel Number” that is used in reference to personal development, enlightenment, or awakening. But also, its components – 0 and 1 – represent beginnings and endings.
JJR: I didn’t read Johns or Tomasi’s Green Lantern/Green Lantern Corps series when they first came out monthly, instead I trade waited and grabbed it from the library. But like you said, I never got the “space cops” vibe from either writers time on the series. The great thing is now that Morrison is writing Green Lantern he is doing exactly what you said and making it more of a “space cops” story, hell that’s how DC even solicited it as. On your comment about 1011 being a “Angel Number” that is insane and probably something I never would’ve caught.
SC: I’m not currently reading Morrison’s Green Lantern run but you guys are selling it right now. I love right at the beginning of this issue where Turpin’s script reads, “Let the space cops handle the fallout.”
But leaving behind intergalactic jurisdictional issues, after Martian Manhunter’s rather ill-dignified death, we’re back to Turpin doing some old-fashioned sleuthing. In Bludhaven, of all places, he comes to the rather on-the-nose “Dark Side Club” following a lead from the Question.
I want to take maybe a bit of a digression here to say I really like Morrison’s use of Turpin in this series (without getting too much of what’s to come). Not only is the whole hardboiled detective schtick always enjoyable, I think there’s a way to read it in relation to comics history and Morrison’s own wider themes. The pulp detective genre precluded and paved the way for early comics superheroes and within Final Crisis Turpin becomes more and more pronounced as, maybe not a foil, but mirror to the World’s Greatest Detective. If capes are supposed to be upheld as a kind of ideal, Turpin is human frailty.
Although human frailty decked out in masculine bravado and the stench of cigarettes.
DG: That noir, hard-boiled detective vibe is really sold by J.G. Jones and Alex Sinclair’s art. Jones doesn’t do much interior work, but he had previously worked with Morrison on 2000’s Marvel Boy. Aesthetically, I find his work similar to Bryan Hitch, though he doesn’t use the “widescreen” layouts as frequently. The heavy inking gives the book a grimey look that fits this world’s descent into darkness. And aside from the Green Lanterns, the colors are very muted, as if to reflect Darkseid sucking the vibrancy of life from the world.
Even when we see the Monitors, Jones and Sinclair opt to be conservative in the design of the characters and their world. I actually think this is a bold choice. While the Monitors’ designs are in-line with the original Monitor from Crisis on Infinite Earths, Jones and Sinclair could have easily made their world they inhabit an acid-trip realized, like Wonder World from the JLA arc “Rock of Ages.”
JJR: Was this the first time we see the race of Monitors’ in DC? I only recall the original Monitor in Crisis on Infinite Earths and not seeing any other Monitors in much of anything else.
DG: They actually show up in 52, created alongside the rebirth of the Multiverse. It’s appropriate, as Morrision was one of the writers of 52.
JJR: Damn, I’m feeling like I came unprepared for this, since it’s been awhile since I read 52 and the other titles we have mentioned.
DG: To be fair, it’s been a while since I read 52 as well.
JJR: But that shows how grand Morrison is with his stories and connecting so much of his past works to what he is working on at the moment. He seems to plant seeds everywhere his pen touches or he is grabbing obscure older characters and works bringing them forth in a new light. On one side that’s awesome, showing his love for the medium while treating fans that know a fair bit of DC knowledge to some easter eggs. But for newcomers it all seems like a lot.
As fun as Final Crisis is it packs a hell of a lot in each issue. After everything we have spoken of so far we still have a few pages left in the first issue that still packs a picnic basket full of plot. Finally talking to others about this huge of an event I’m starting to see layers upon layers of plot, references, and story beats in a new light. I can understand why you read Final Crisis so often now Dan. It’s a monster of an event. It very well could have been the Final of DC’s Crisis events.
DG: Well, we haven’t seen another Crisis story since. We’ve seen similar stories, such as Flashpoint or Convergence, but DC has at least showed restraint in using the Crisis moniker. The first issue of Final Crisis does a really good job of setting the stage for this event, but things are about to get really weird in the next issue.
Previously on “The Full Run: Final Crisis”