Friday, December 12, 2008

Final Crisis #5: 'Into Oblivion'

Final Crisis as a whole is a really curious event. Taken in the context of the DCU as a whole, it feels rather disconnected. I don’t even really read any DCU books other than Morrison’s, but just from the online chatter, you can tell that it isn’t as huge a deal as Secret Invasion was over at Marvel or previous Crises were, simply because it isn’t really a crossover. The story doesn’t sprawl out over the whole line, it’s very concise and focused to a specific set of books, and I think that set of books has been remarkably successful because most of them are a piece of Grant Morrison’s DCU. This book is his little corner of the world, full of heavy violence and Silver Age insanity living back to back, all infused with a glorious over the top energy. I still think the series lacks the emotional resonance of Grant’s best works, but it’s full of crackling energy and an epic good/evil quality that will hopefully make it a fitting capper to the many years of Grant’s work in the DCU.

I think the best way to enjoy the book is to look at it as very much a companion piece to Batman RIP, a cleansing ritual in which the DCU will reach its low ebb, then burst forth again in a new, better way, in the Fifth World. And, just as Batman RIP was about uniting the many different corners of the Batman mythos, this series is about exploring the DCU in all its strange and contradictory elements, focusing particularly on those which Grant has rehabilitated during his time there. We get appearances by three of the Seven Soldiers here, and in his treatment of characters like the Marvel Family, you can see what Grant’s been writing down in those fabled notebooks of possible character revamps.

This entire work feels a lot like the missing piece of Seven Soldiers, the actual invasion of the Sheeda. Seven Soldiers was notable because it let you see this awful threat obliquely, through what we picked up in the various miniseries, never connecting them all for the full on ‘war.’ Batman RIP/Last Rites, Superman Beyond and FC: Submit all function like the Seven Soldiers miniseries did, filling in the gaps of what happened around the big threat. I think Final Crisis is the only crossover that I wish had a lot more tie ins. I think it would have worked better if it was structured as a two month weekly series, where every book in the DCU told a story set in the world of the series, all overseen by Grant. There’s so many stories to be told in this world, and I’d love to see even more of what Grant had in mind with the story.

Anyway, on to the issue itself. This issue is largely about plunging everyone even deeper into darkness, even as the cracks in the plan begin to shine through. This is the battle to create a new and better world, even as Darkseid creates a populace with one mind to serve him in braindead oblivion.

I don’t love the opening bit of the issue. I never particularly liked the Green Lanterns, their powers are so vast, it seems hard to tell stories with the characters. Admittedly, I haven’t read Geoff Johns’ recent run, but even in JLA, Green Lantern often served as an all purpose deus ex machina. What the scene does set up is the way that Darkseid’s lieutenants have infiltrated all areas of the DCU. I like this concept, and I think it works well to pave the way for the fifth world. The Gods of old now wear mortals, if evil gods can do this, good gods could do this too. Way back when the series was first announced, there was speculation that Batman and other current heroes would replace the New Gods, and I think it would be incredible to see Batman channel the spirit of Orion and just tear apart Darkseid’s world.

This is the final battle of the Fourth World and it’s being played out on the DCU. When this war is over, there will be a new set of new gods, and the DCU will be a healthier, shinier place. But, for now it seems that the gods of New Genesis are dead, and the gods of Apokolips reign. It plays a lot like the fiction suit concept from The Invisibles. The gods are wearing the identities of people within ‘the game,’ and manipulating them to their own ends, only these aren’t the benevolent 4-D beings of The Invisibles, they’re using this possession to destroy the DCU.

The creepiest of these is Mary Marvel, who’s being worn by DeSaad. The crotch rub on Captain Marvel Jr. is already an infamous moment, and she seems like the pure embodiment of this wild youthful embrace of total evil. DeSaad is definitely getting a lot of joy out of being able to wear this girl, and use her body. Grant has talked a lot recently about the fact that the DCU is always going to revert to the status quo, so he might as well push it to extremes on the journey. That’s what this comic is about, taking the DCU to its nastiest, darkest place before soaring back into the light.

The thing that separates it from something like Identity Crisis or even Miracleman is that it’s not trying to bring the horrors of the real world into the superhero universe, it’s taking the evils within the DCU to their extreme. That’s why we’ve got a gang of tiger soldiers going out to hunt people, the concept is ridiculous, but Morrison makes it look badass. And, it’s answered by that fantastic two page spread of our heroes going into action.

I heard somebody call this issue the Silver Age taken to its darkest extreme, and I’d agree with that. It’s got the frantic storytelling pace of a Silver Age comic, and the total embrace of the craziness of a superhero world. Like Batman RIP, it’s about finding the psychological resonance inherent in these comic book characters.

I’ve been reading The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test recently, and it’s interesting to see all the acid heads of that era constantly referencing comic books. They saw themselves as superheroes, they saw that as the evolutionary path to move humanity forward. That’s the inherent power in the concept, the draw of reading about people who are better than us, people we can hope to be one day. This comic is about that evolution, the war that we all fight against oppression and single mindedness in our society.

We are fighting that war everyday, we’re fighting an army of corporate influences out to enslave our minds, out to make us forget that our lives can be more than just this. Wonder Woman and her furies are the people who’ve given up their dreams, given up on ever being happy and decided that it’s easier to just surrender to the routine and go along with what society wants them to be. But, we can be Hawkman too, fighting in the sky to save ourselves from Anti-Life. It’s easier to go through life without thinking. That’s what Hawkman reacts against when he proudly declares that “Life…is all struggle!”

I wish that more of the critical commentary on this work was about the way that it relates to our world and the political place we’re at right now. I hate when writers on entertainment blogs say that politics is off limits. The best works of fiction, even if they’re as seemingly removed from our world as this one, are all about the world in which they’re created. Grant’s an astute social critic, and his works always capture the zeitgeist of the moment in which they’re created. To read The Invisibles is to trip back to the mind space of the 90s, and you can tell a lot about the change in times by comparing his JLA to Final Crisis. This is a heavier time, but we’ve still got people fighting on the edge of perception to make the world better.

One of my favorite scenes in the issue is Mister Miracle’s call for action. Of course he’s not dead, we’ve already seen him rise up and miss death at the end of Seven Soldiers. If he can come out of the ground, surely he can survive a bullet. That does raise the question of Batman as the fifth world’s incarnation of Mister Miracle? Is he the host for Scott Free?

Anyway, the critical thing here is the Metron pattern. This is sigil, designed to channel the god Metron into the reality of the DCU. It’s the same kind of thing we saw in The Invisibles with King Mob channeling Lennon, only in this case, the gods of the Fifth World are able to literally visit them and influence the world. I really hope that the last issue involves an army of people united by the positive god, wearing the Metron symbol, and going out to battle the army of Apokolips.

Also notable in the scene is Shilo’s description of Darkseid’s fall, “A devil-god is dragging us down with him into a deep, dark hole in time.” This is exactly what happened to Shilo in his own Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle series, a mini that should be essential reading for understanding Final Crisis because it contains the entire series in micro. The DCU is now experiencing the plunge through awful permutations of reality that Shilo went through, and it will need to die before punching out the grave infused with a new fifth-world energy.

Along those lines we get the great scene where wheelchair bound Metron from the Mister Miracle series runs into Nix Uotan. Nix is at his lowest ebb, he’s lost faith that there’s anything more than this world. He remembers a life he used to have, a life of wonder and magic, but now it only comes out in dreams and drawings. He has lost his faith and seems on the verge of succumbing to Darkseid. The entire series is contained in his arc, the loss of the wonder, and in this scene, its glorious rebirth. I love the way the Rubik’s Cube becomes a motherbox and wipes out the guards so quickly. The hypercondensed storytelling works in this issue because it’s centered around this one struggle. Each side makes salvos at each other, and this time, good has won one.

But, things go bad again very quickly during the chilling Darkseid speech. We’ve all seen these sort of evil speeches before, but here, I was just overwhelmed by the amount of evil on display. This is the superhero comic taken to 11, an entire universe in peril to the point that even Lex Luthor is worried. Darkseid has command of the world, they are united and one behind him, a hivemind extension of the ultimate evil, and only a few heroes remain to do combat with it.

One of them is Nix Uotan, who has realized himself into some kind of fifth world superhero. Parituclarly notable here is the transition page where the heroes he drew from many worlds float in the air. His side of the story ties back to what was going on over in Superman Beyond. The core of it seems to be that it is our belief in the heroes that matters, the apperance of Metron reaffirms Nix’s faith in himself and lets him actualize as a hero again. In All Star Superman, Morrison posited the idea that Superman was actually the creator of our world, and his good qualities are an archetypal well from which humanity will always pull. Superman will always be there because we need him to save us, and if we believe in him enough, he’ll be there. Because that’s what heroes are, and the bigger the threat, the bigger the heroes.

I’m still loving this series, I wish it came out in a more timely fashion, but I think it’s going to be looked back on a lot more kindly than it’s being received now. It really is drawing on all Morrison’s DC work in a way that is virtually unprecedented. I love the fact that Batman RIP continues here because it ties everything together in a fascinating way. It feels a lot like Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, an acknowledgement of the fact that all these stories hail from the same mind, and an attempt to reconcile the contradictions and ideas within.