Thursday, August 07, 2008

Final Crisis #3: 'Know Evil'

Final Crisis #3, like the two previous issues, features some really great stuff and some material that doesn’t work. The series’ greatest strength is its atmosphere, this oppressive feel of death hanging over the whole thing, that keeps building as we move along. But, on an emotional, character level, the series remains frustratingly fractured. Largely due to the limited space, and month long wait between issues, it feels like we never get enough time with the characters, and that makes it hard to emotionally engage with what’s going on.

The strongest parts of the book are the ones taken from the areas of the DCU that Grant has built over the past ten years, particularly the scenes with Frankenstein and Mister Miracle. The opening is one of the issue’s high points, as we at last get the return of Frankenstein, last seen one billion years in the future in Seven Soldiers. How did he get back to the present? It doesn’t really matter, perhaps SHADE went into the future to retrieve him. And, why are they trying to capture Renee Montoya? SHADE head Taleb says that he’s got a future in mind for her, but their approach seems malevolent.

Either way, Renee takes some names in this sequence, smoothly departing from that trippy pop art room and shedding her skin behind her. Apparently, the bodies of those inhabited by the Evil Gods are left drained of all life. That does not bode well for Turpin.

One of the things I like about the series that’s also frustrating on the monthly read is how oblique the narrative is. Much like Seven Soldiers, it’s up to the reader to tie events together and construct the metanarrative out of the various snippets we get. I read Seven Soldiers after all but Issue #1 had come out, so it was easy to ingest huge amounts of the series and process it as I went. Reading this series monthly, the pieces come slowly, each issue makes things from the past click into place, but it won’t be until the last issue is out that everything becomes clear. Here, the stuff with the fallen Monitor explains what was up with Kamandi and Anthro’s meeting in issue one, and clarifies Metron’s role. He is seeding his sigil throughout time, setting up a covert resistance that will likely help the heroes defeat the Evil Gods.

Almost every scene in the book has additional layers, a surface and a subtext that fills us in something going on elsewhere. The scene with Father Time clarifies what Turpin saw last issue, while also setting up the scene with Wonder Woman later in this issue. A ‘Local Warlord,’ likely DeSaad took over Command D operations and is now using Bludhaven as the center of his experimentation.

Next up is the scene with the Flashes and a trip back through time. I think bringing Barry Allen back is pretty much pointless. He looks exactly the same as Wally West when in costume, so I wouldn’t have even known what was going on without the internet. But, the scene itself is cool, watching them try to catch where the bullet was fired. Orion’s death seems to be the catalyst for the dark gods’ reign on Earth. I’m guessing that at some point later in the series, one of the Flashes will catch the bullet and revive Orion, leading to the eventual defeat of Darkseid.

Libra’s evil plan continues to unfold in a secret lair that brings to mind Slaughter Swamp from Seven Soldiers. Libra has become so dangerous even Lex Luthor opposes him. Why does Lex do this? Last issue, I speculated that it was the inherent opposition of Luthor to the natural order of the universe. Libra is trying to flip the morality of the world, and in a world where evil rules, Luthor will fight for good. Also, he’s too smart to want to surrender his mind to the anti-life equation.

Mike’s words, “Anti-life justifies my hatred” are particularly haunting. In Kirby’s Fourth World books, he made note of the easy lure of anti-life. It’s easier to think about nothing and surrender yourself to the comfortable certainty of anti-life. It’s the same kind of thing Kirby saw when fighting fascist governments in Germany and Italy. People accepted the rule of these governments, they bought in to anti-life.

The series dips for me when it leaves Morrison’s corner of the DCU and goes to characters like the various Green Lanterns, or even, in this case, Superman. I don’t know that much about the Green Lanterns, so that whole side of the plot just kind of sits on the page for me. The scene with Superman is alright, but doesn’t really hit me on an emotional level. I like the frantic pacing most of the time, but those moments really need to be expanded to make an emotional impact.

In some ways, I think this story would have been served better by being expanded, or put out as a weekly series. He’s going for a 52 style overview of the DCU, but with only seven issues, there’s no time to delve deeply into the characters’ emotional lives. Admittedly, it’s more of a big spectacle story, like his work on JLA, but it’d be nice to spend some more time on each storyline.

The highlight of the issue is undoubtedly Shilo Norman and Sonny Sumo’s adventure in Japan. I love the blend of street level action and high concept. Shilo recounts his escape from the grave, and ties things back to the prophecy he saw in his own Seven Soldiers series, which is starting to come true here. There, the New Gods were all hidden in homeless and dejected people, perhaps the same is true here? I loved the Mister Miracle series, and I’m glad that this series has turned into its sequel.

And, things pick up another notch with the arrival of Super Young Team. To be honest, I think this series might be better if it was played all Seven Soldiers style, taking the big players off the board, and sticking to lower level characters, like this bunch, The Question and Frankenstein. The reason I love 52 and Seven Soldiers is that the characters there aren’t so tied into years of continuity, or the expectations that being Superman or Wonder Woman bring. They can explore new corners of the DCU and really grow and change. When I read the parts with the Flashes or the Green Lanterns, I always feel like I’m missing something, not so here. Either way, it’s pure pop fun when Most Excellent Superbat takes Shilo and Sonny up into the sky, Super Young Team style. Don’t worry, they’ve done this sort of thing before.

The issue ends with a series of harrowing scenes. Mary Marvel, now dressed as a punked out dominatrix attacks Wonder Woman in a nasty, bloody fight scene. Her explanation for the change is interesting, “I just couldn’t stand being wholesome and plan and boring one second longer.” I’m not sure on that much of the character’s background, but she seems to be going through a period of typical teen rebellion. She doesn’t want to listen to her parents anymore, and, since she’s got super powers, her rebellion is very dangerous.

The anti-life equation hits the net, and plunges the world into apparent darkness. The Flashes trip to the future and find Wonder Woman at the head of a group of Darkseid’s female furies. She has been horribly distorted, like Mary Marvel before her. On these seedy urban streets, she seeks to destroy all that is good.

So, this issue has some brilliant scenes, but the overall shape of the work remains hard to see. Read on a month to month basis, it’s an intriguing atmospheric story, but I think we’ll need to wait for the release of the entire series to really understand what Final Crisis is.

1 comment:

Nicholas Galvin said...

Hey man. I’ve read your blog for a while and really dig your musings. I especially liked your analysis of Six Feet Under and Nate’s various dilemmas. I just started a blog myself and thought you might like to check it out:

Similar theme of just writing about random things that interest me, I guess.