Final Crisis #1

Review by KC Carlson

DC Comics has two new mega-events rolling this summer: One is a cosmic event that promises to recalibrate the DC Universe yet again (Final Crisis — “That trick never works!” says pint-sized skeptic Rocket J. Squirrel), and the other is an exploration of the core DC hero dynamic, running once a week for a year (Trinity). Both events spur further thought on the current superheroic environment in terms of publishing and the real world. Here I cover the first; watch for my review of Trinity coming soon.

Final Crisis #1 cover

There’s a great British phrase that reminds me of about half of the current crop of superhero comic books: “too clever by half.” Roughly translated, it means “to be too confident of your own intelligence in a way that annoys other people.” Sadly, Final Crisis #1 falls into this category, and I really wish it didn’t.

I really enjoy these superhero cosmic “let’s change everything (but not really)” smash-your-head-against-the-wall epic saga thingies. I liked them so much, I even edited one of them (Zero Hour, 1994), although I came to regret much of it later. I don’t really care much for the more recent ones, however. Mostly, because I can’t understand what’s going on in them any more. Which brings us to another well-turned phrase: “It’s not on the page.”

A large part of this is in the way that comic book storytelling has evolved over the years, eliminating some of the very tools that serve as the basics of communication. Footnotes are now extinct. Thought balloons were removed completely, replaced with way-overused first-person narrative or color-coded or iconic captions that you have to stop and graphically decipher. (Let’s not even talk about Bendis’ ballyhooed return of the thought balloon as a gage for how horny each of your characters are. How we have progressed!) And Kirby-forbid if the writer should actually deign to refer to his characters by name (or even by caption) somewhere (anywhere!) during the story.


I had to learn elsewhere (Newsarama) that the caveman wearing the preppy sweater in the opening pages of Final Crisis was Vandal Savage. Vandal also appears later (and is identified by name), as a part of the supervillain group that is meeting with Libra, but there is no indication anywhere that the two characters are one and the same and that he is immortal (although implied in dialog). I know this because I’ve been reading DC comics for 45 years and have read many stories about the character. Lord help the person who, attracted by the glossy bookstore-style design of the Chip Kidd-styled cover, is picking up their very first comic book.

And then we come to the Human Flame, a loser villain who is apparently instrumental in killing the Martian Manhunter. Although Libra actually does the dastardly deed, indicating his obvious “control freak” tendencies, while poor ol’ Flamey is left to snap the death photo on his cellphone. What, you’ve never heard of the Human Flame before? Why, he was the first supervillain MM ever met (as we found out in the previous week’s “cover-your-butt” Justice League of America story). In neither comic do we learn that the Human Flame last appeared in Detective Comics #274 (December 1959), which probably no one on earth either read or remembered until it was recently reprinted in Showcase: Martian Manhunter.

The less said about the Martian Manhunter’s death, the better. Other than “yawn” and he’s been dead before…

Unfortunately, the book is full of yawn moments: the New Gods as gangsters, whatever the hell is going on with the Monitors (who just, and always have, look boring), and the whole scene with “Man” (oh, sorry, Anthro) and the other long-haired kid (Kamandi), who thankfully brought along his handy Statue of Liberty from his first issue cover to help identify him.

Not everything here is disappointing. J.G. Jones’ art is as beautiful as ever, although his continuity chops may be a bit rusty as a few storytelling choices seemed a bit flat, especially for the Martian Manhunter’s death scene (or maybe I was just expecting something more iconic or memorable?). Grant Morrison’s reputation as an “idea factory” is largely upheld here, with dozens of new concepts on display, although one wishes a bit more information. Or clarity. Put it on the page, please!

I had to find out from the internet what Anthro was drawing in the sand, and it’s a good thing I did, because I also found out that the story really ramps up in its third issue! Meaning I have to be 12 bucks into the story before anything exciting happens?

Plus, there was the Newsarama interview about why the the New Gods continuity was all screwed up. Writer Morrison’s explanation: He wrote it over a year ago and couldn’t change it. Which begs the question about why the DC Editorial powers-that-be didn’t do anything to make sure that material in Countdown or The Death of the New Gods didn’t contradict any of Grant’s stuff. Maybe they just didn’t care.

If they don’t care, why should we? And why should I have to have a computer handy just to enjoy a comic book story? Consider this, publishers: if your comics can’t be understood without resorting to the internet, don’t be so surprised when readers decide to stop buying the book and just download it. And you pointed them at the tool to accomplish this.


25 Responses to “Final Crisis #1”

  1. Dave Says:

    word…

  2. Dan Grendell Says:

    I couldn’t have said it any better.

  3. Mark S. Says:

    Too many fan boys in comics assuming that you’ll know what’s going on…that, and lazy writers/editors/publishers.

  4. James Schee Says:

    Perhaps because the election is so big in the news these days. Yet something I recently realized is that (at least in “print” interviews) Morrison would make one heck of a politician.

    He always makes the things he’s doing sound so amazing and full of energy. Though the actual product for the most part usually falls rather short. He even now has “its someone else’s fault” thing down now.

    I feel sort of odd here. I don’t care one iota about Final Crisis itself. Yet a couple of the side projects (Superman Beyond and Legion of Three Worlds) I’m curious about.

  5. Mike Says:

    Would it be out of school to ask what about “Zero Hour” you came to regret? Just idle curiosity…

  6. KC Says:

    Mostly the killing-off of the JSA members, because it was yet another “death list” I was executing for DC. Before ZH, I also initiated (but ended up not editing) the big hero massacre in “Eclipso.” I didn’t select any of the characters on either list, except for the Creeper, who we had plans to bring back in his own series, but that fell apart due to creator problems.

    I did manage to “save” The Sandman from the ZH purge by arguing that since he was (at that time) the oldest and most infirm, wouldn’t it be ironic if he ended up being the last surviving member of the team. After the PTB rolled their eyes at that, I suggested that we probably shouldn’t kill off the lead character of “Sandman Mystery Theatre” even if it was set in another era. That did the trick.

    I hated being involved in killing the JSA characters. Even though I had read comics before, the early JLA/JSA team-ups were what made me want to save and collect comics. I loved those characters.

    Although ZH was a pretty big success for DC, all I remember about it were the bad things that happened. At one point, discussions about what to do with Hawkman continuity became really convoluted and Hawkman editor Archie Goodwin got REALLY angry with me. And Archie almost never got angry. He was the sweetest guy in the world. And I made him really angry over a stupid comic book.

    ZH was also directly responsible for leading me to my next big editing project, which, in turn, caused me to leave the company, and pretty much comics, for a very long time. And THAT I’m not ready to talk about, in public, yet.

  7. Jim Perreault Says:

    I’m going to disagree on this one. Maybe it’s because I read “Secret Invasion” first, but I thought by comparison he did a really good job of introducing the characters. All the major ones get names. Just because there are a few “Easter eggs” in there, does not mean the story is unapproachable.

    I didn’t read either Countdown or “Death of the New Gods” so any inconsistencies would have went right past me.

    My 2 cents,

    Jim

  8. Alan Coil Says:

    2 issues in, Trinity seems to be a story.

  9. Kelson Says:

    I’m seeing a lot of this “You have to know 50 years of DC continuity to understand it!” talk. But here’s my question: How much of it is actually necessary knowledge, and how much just adds another layer?

    You don’t need to know who Anthro is, just that he’s a caveman.
    You don’t need to know that the evil caveman is Vandal Savage.
    You don’t need to know who the Human Flame is, or when he last appeared, beyond the fact that he’s a disgruntled Z-list villain who hates the Martian Manhunter.

    And so on.

    Another review talked about how they had to look up who Dan Turpin was. You know what? I didn’t know who Dan Turpin was, and I followed his part of the story fine. For all I knew he could have been a new character.

    And really, Libra and the Human Flame might as well be new characters. No background knowledge on them is needed. It’s sort of like when this Max Mercury guy showed up in the pages of the Flash. Was it necessary to know the history of the original Quicksilver (or, for that matter, Johnny Quick) to understand “The Return of Barry Allen?”

  10. Johanna Says:

    Kelson, you may ber hitting on the difference between understanding and enjoyment. You may be able to comprehend the basic story (although we’ve been debating whether there even is one) without knowing who these folks are, but they were used precisely because of their history and connections. So if you know that, but you don’t know what those references are, then how much will you enjoy the comic? It can feel like one big “you’re not part of the in-group” — a feeling I used to frequently get with Busiek/Perez Avengers.

  11. Jim Perreault Says:

    Johanna wrote:


    You may be able to comprehend the basic story (although we’ve been debating whether there even is one)

    You seriously don’t think that Morrison has the whole story mapped out? One of the things I liked about Final Crisis #1 is that there seemed to be a definite story he wants to tell. ( Unlike Infinite Crisis, which was a big mess).

    but they were used precisely because of their history and connections. So if you know that, but you don’t know what those references are, then how much will you enjoy the comic?

    To some degree, that’s a matter of personal preference. To me, if I don’t know the characters, it depends on how well they are introduced. I think Grant did a good job of introducing the major players and how they interrelate. I think anyone who was not familiar with Turpin, got a really good sense of who he is and how he relates.

    To again bring up the “Secret Invasion” comparison, I really did feel out of the club on that. Mainly because I didn’t read the stories leading into it, which is quite different than using obscure characters that haven’t been seen in decades.

    I think it is good form for a crossover series like this to have connections to long standing continuity. As long as all the main players are properly introduced, it will be perfectly enjoyable even if they are not familiar.

    Jim

  12. Johanna Says:

    Morrison wrote at least some of it a year ago, and in his interviews, he seems to be backpedalling what may come of it, at least as it fits in the current DCU. So no, I’m not very confident in the story mapping. And I still remember what a mess (and ultimately nothing) came of his last big great idea, hypertime.

    I guess we disagree on whether everyone’s been properly introduced. I think KC is almost the ideal target audience for this, and if he’s left feeling lost and confused, I think that speaks to the work’s failure in reaching what it attempted.

  13. Chuck Says:

    Another thing that wasn’t on the page was the intended context of the Martian Manhunter’s death. Morrison has said that it was portrayed as it was to be brutal and shocking, to show that evil was ascendant and doing evil things like executing Silver Age heroes was becoming easier, etc. That’s interesting, but it’s not in any way communicated by the comic.

  14. Alan Coil Says:

    KC said: “And THAT I’m not ready to talk about, in public, yet.”

    Oh, don’t tease us! ;)

    We’ll all be waiting to here THAT story.

  15. Andrew Says:

    I didn’t understand half of this issue until reading this review. Thanks for clearing that all up.

    “Explaining Final Crisis – Because Morrison won’t”

  16. Michael Says:

    First, couple of things:

    As a kid, I loved Zero Hour, so thanks KC. And Thanks for saving Sandman, because then I got to see him in James Robinson’s “Sand and Stars” a couple years ago, and that got me to read “Sandman Mystery Theatre”. So, you did good work there. It may have been rough work, but I appreciate that you did it, and I, who knew NOTHING about DC continuity at the time, was able to follow it pretty well. Thanks again.

    Secondly, as far as Final Crisis goes..eh, I’ll take a “wait and see attitude”. I find it to be pretty similar to Morrison’s JLA arcs, just a bit slower.

    And as far as knowing and enjoying…I get that feeling when I read a lot of Alan Moore’s work, so when that happens, I go online for annotations (Jess Nevins, or Wikipedia, or whatever), and that can be a fun diversion at times.

    But I also enjoyed the Busiek Avengers stuff, and I didn’t know much about that continuity either. So, maybe I’m weird.

  17. James Schee Says:

    Michael, sometimes the less you know the better. I knew nothing about the Legion of Super-Heroes when I picked up the issue where the blew the Earth up in V4.

    Reading that run I loved it, and it wasn’t until later when I went back and read the past versions of the series. That I realized how much was “wrong” about those stories.

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  20. Jim Perreault Says:

    Johanna wrote:

    Morrison wrote at least some of it a year ago, and in his interviews, he seems to be backpedalling what may come of it, at least as it fits in the current DCU.
    So no, I’m not very confident in the story mapping.

    I guess I read his interview differently. It sounded to me like he was saying “I’m telling the story I want to tell, and not worrying about how it ties in.”


    And I still remember what a mess (and ultimately nothing) came of his last big great idea, hypertime.

    Now this is another kind of criticism entirely, and one I’m inclined to agreed with. Strategically, I think it is very backward looking for DC to revisit the past the way the have been. (Multiple earths,Supergirl, Bary Allen, etc . . .) And there is a good chance, I won’t like the status quo once things are finished. I almost didn’t pick up Final Crisis because of this. In fact, when someone told me the title of the series, I laughed and thought it was a joke.

    Without having read any of the lead ins, I ended up enjoying the first issue. Maybe that was easier because I did not have to worry about how it fit. Also, I did enjoy Grant’s take on the New Gods, something KC did not.

    I think KC is almost the ideal target audience for this, and if he’s left feeling lost and confused, I think that speaks to the work’s failure in reaching what it attempted.

    I didn’t get the impression from his review that he was lost and confused, but that he felt it was “new reader unfriendly.” I do agree with him that footnotes would be of great benefit, as there were things that I was confused by. The one that springs to mind is what happened to the Question? I presume he died in 52. Did he really die from lung cancer as was implied? Or was that a joke?

    So I do think KC has a point, but I don’t think the story is as big of a mess has he said.

    Cheers,

    Jim

  21. DennisMM Says:

    Morrison’s supporters seem to dismiss his overweening self-confidence when he points out that Countdown was barely in the plotting stage when he’d supposedly turned in detailed plots for Final Crisis. Countdown should have been altered to meet GM’s scripts, we’re told. Shouldn’t it have gone both ways? Shouldn’t some of GM’s seemingly random shots across the bow – almost always there to make his comics look more imaginative – have been modified as well? At least, since DC had announced the project Death of the New Gods, shouldn’t GM have worked with editorial and possibly even Starlin to make the two series dovetail at least a bit?

    Jim P. – yes, Vic Sage (only Tot called him “Charlie”) is dead, from lung cancer. Perhaps this was an anti-smoking message as well as a convenient way of disposing of an interesting character. Since no one but Dennis O’Neil could write him properly, perhaps it was time to say goodbye to Mr. Szasz.

  22. Jim Perreault Says:


    yes, Vic Sage (only Tot called him “Charlie”) is dead, from lung cancer. Perhaps this was an anti-smoking message as well as a convenient way of disposing of an interesting character. Since no one but Dennis O’Neil could write him properly, perhaps it was time to say goodbye to Mr. Szasz

    Thanks for the information! I did enjoy the latest mini-series, although it was a very different take on the character.

    As for the reasons for his demise, since many Ditko characters have recently been killed or dramatically altered (Question, Blue Beetle, ALL BB’s villains, Captain Atom becoming Monarch, Speedball becoming Penance) I had assumed there was some sort of legal reason behind it all.

    I’ve no evidence of this, but the pattern is striking . . .

    Jim

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