Sunday, June 29, 2008

Final Crisis Analysis, pt 1

I said earlier that Final Crisis is turning out to be an issue that is pretty heavy on subtext. You can read FC#2 easily as a complete newcomer to the DC Universe and still find an enjoyable issue. However, if you don't mind digging a little deeper, Final Crisis #2 opens up into a number of crazy interpretations, a rich discussion of DC's past, present, and future. It becomes a brutal examination of the struggle between Good and Evil.

So, to spark a little interest in 'deep readings' - which I'm sure you all remember from school as a massive pain in the ass, but which are actually quite rewarding when you're doing them on something you care about - I thought I'd post this. It's from a great poster on a message board on It's an amazing breakdown of the first half of Final Crisis #2. I hope it sparks a little interest in the series - or, at the very least, sparks a little interest in sharing your own interpretations of the events of the series. It really is a fascinating rundown, so I hope you enjoy!


What follows is in no way analytical, being just some random thoughts I had while reading Final Crisis #2. Some of which aren't even about Final Crisis. Nevertheless, it demanded to be called...


"Stop! You must be supercool to proceed! Your life depends on it!"

I've talked here before about how the real Joss Whedon (as opposed to his evil clone that writes comics) considered the title of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to operate like a nightclubber bouncer; Screening those seeking admittance to the fiction. If you were cool enough to get past the title, you were cool enough to engage with what lay beyond.

Morrison previously used this sort of challenge to the reader at the start of Seven Soldiers' penultimate issue, asking "Can you imagine...Frankenstien in Fairyland?" because if you couldn't then you didn't stand any chance of keeping up with what followed. But this is the most literal use of the 'Page One Bouncer' technique imaginable, and it's a bit of a pity about the context really. Seven Soldiers had 28 slices of fried gold preceeding its direct challenge to the reader. Final Crisis had one hugely disapointing first issue.

"You must be supercool to proceed!" in this context makes even the most enthusiastic reader think ,"Grant, love. You're the one with something to prove over the next thrity-nine pages, not me."

Of course, he does prove it because the issue turns out to be screamingly brilliant, so that's alright then. OR IS IT?

Have a look at this spot-on review from CBR...
"Timothy Callahan"

"Final Crisis" is not a tour through the DC Universe. It's not a fun, light-hearted summer event. It's a deeply disturbing look at heroes under siege. And it's very good.


And have a look at this wonderfully sneaky 'praise' from Bendis...


But I've also been thinking about Final Crisis too, and remembering I had a similar reaction to the first two issues of The Filth too. I was like, what's going on here? There were giant hands! But at the end of it, I was like, 'Oh, that's the best comic I've read all year!' And I'm not even sure I got it all. And I'll read it again. And I've bought it every time it came out.

I don't know that you'll have that feeling [with Final Crisis] but you may have that feeling at the end. Not everything has to be spoon-fed. And I love to spoon feed. But that doesn't mean everything has to be the same flavor. Look, it may be the biggest 'what the fuck?' ever. But there's a track record with him that it might end up being like The Filth. Which would be awesome."


It's now obvious that Final Crisis isn't going to read much like a summer event book, but rather more like a seven issue Grant Morrison story. And Bendis' backhanded compliment there allows him to suggest that the best it could possibly turn out like is The Filth - a book which only an 'elite' of readers can understand, and which only a handful of those can stomach.

"Here's me giving the kids Independance Day," Bendis is implying, "And here's you trying to screen Bruno Dumont's L'Humanite in the same multiplex."

You don't, as has been discussed, have to have a strong background in DC continuity to follow Final Crisis. But it might turn out that you do have to be supercool to proceed. Does that really make much sense for DC's summer event? Because, and I hate to say this, an awful lot of the target audience really isn't.

"When will he realise that being fantastic is a superpower in itself?"

I wonder what we're supposed to do with the Super Young Team?
If this were Invisibles, Morrison would be directing us to love them, and if this were Seaguy he'd be directing us to hate them. We seem free to make up our own mind here. I like 'em.

Not as much as I love seeing Shilo as the man with the plan though.The DCU must see him like we see Tom Cruise, mustn't they? Big celeb who thinks we're beset by fallen-alien-god-spirit thingies.

"These super-people who built the machine made of parallel universes"

Interesting choice of words. If the Orrery we saw in the first issue isn't a way of perceiving the multiverse or a device for sustaining and regulating it, but rather a machine that's just been built out of it then there're some big questions to ask.

What would a machine built out of universes be for? What would it do? What would it produce?

If I were doing a proper critique of this issue then I'd link this with all the stuff about fire in the first issue and talk about 'the use of tools' as a major theme of the story so far, but I'm eager to get on to the next scene because it's incredible...

"Who knew the sound of breath whistling through smashed cartilage could be such a turn-on?"

Who wants to bet that is was round about here Bendis started thinking about The Filth?

Because obviously a scene of a once-decent cop brutally beating a pedophile while threatening to smash his brains open with a toilet seat doesn't belong in a superhero summer event. The superheroes haven't realised it yet - they're on the moon, almost anticiapating J'onn's ressurection because they know how the DCU's rules work - but they don't live in the DCU anymore. Evil has won the day. They're living in Sin City.

In the first issue Turpin was capable of horrible things, like mocking Vic's death, but of then immediately recognising that he'd done wrong. This Turpin keeps on with the horrible, because he belives his actions are justified, which is a huge bit of the Kirby Mythology. Look at the posters around Granny's school in the flashbacks to Scott's youth or to Godfrey's first sermon in Forever People. Darkseid doesn't work so much by inculcating evil in others, so much as by allowing them to justify thier evil to themselves and take it further.

"You're not a beast -- if you kill for Darkseid"
"You're not a liar -- if you lie for Darkseid"

You're not a thug, if you beat someone to death trying to find missing children.

But of course, there are no missing children. And if this were a film then Godfrey's simple and creepy, "But you already met the children, back in New York" would be the equivalent to "You're eating worms" in The Lost Boys. It's possible there's a metafictional joke going on here, in that Turpin's first scene strongly appears to break the continuity of the previous issue, until we get that little bit more information.

Too much going on to dwell on that though, as watching Turpin's progress lets us know how the Fallen Gods work. They're in everyone (evil was in Turpin when he made his cruel joke) but sometimes they're really in someone (Turpin's now being so fully riden by the God of Evil that Godfrey can talk to him as if he was that God).

I love the lack of any glamour attached to evil in this series. It's just brutal and ugly and nasty. The various series that've lifted Darkseid out of the Fourth World context and used him as an all-purpose Generic Evil Space Tyrant have generally tried to make him cool and majestic and awesome and stuff. But that's not really very much what evil's like. Darth Vader's cloak swishing about and the Imperial March booming away are one thing, but evil looks a lot more like the decaying body of the three year old on the news yesterday who was locked in a room full of flies and dog shit and starved to death while her mother went to the pub.

The best line in Millar's Wanted, which seems more relevant to Final Crisis by the page, is "People love facists, man. You ever met a woman who fantasised about being tied up and raped by a liberal?"

Kirby's mythos has always offered us facism without the erotic fantasy. There's a pretty obvious biographical reason for that.

His Fourth World asks a very strange question. Only that could only have arisen via the culture-fuck of one of the War generation trying to tell his most personal story while simultaneously trying to get down with the kids of the Woodstock generation; what if fascism wasn't a political ideology but was a cosmological principle? All those hideous ideas, which compelled artists to become soldiers in order to slap them down, what if they weren't just Something That Happened In Our History but were hardwired into the very mathematics of the universe?

If the logic of facism, of anti-life, were something as fundamental as that, could we still fight it? Should we still fight it?

(One of the reasons The Fourth World never feels concluded is because nobody's ever understood that and finished the saga with the "HELL YES!" it demands)

So here's how evil is in Final Crisis then. All shit and tears and smashed cartilage. It's getting Turpin hard, but hopefully we're all feeling a little ill. People might fantasise about being raped by some idealised facist, but nobody fantasises about being raped by Josef Fritzl. The Dark Side is less sexy than the one they've been selling.

"Warn the Justice League! Warn everyone!"

This doesn't just mean, "Get a big team of like, loads and loads of superheroes together!"
This means that everyone is fighting this war. On every level. You and your mum and your dad and your gran and a bucket of vindaloo.

One of the most fun things about the series so far is how it's eliminating the distinction between a 'cosmic' book and a 'street level' book. The distinction's entirely false anyway - Daredevil's struggles are all concerned with huge abstract concepts just as much a Doctor Strange's adventures are. The only difference is that in Doctor Strange's adventures the huge abstract concepts get externalised into big nasty Demon Princes and stuff, and in Daredevil's adventures then the huge abstract concepts stay internalised as Guilt and Anger and Shame and so forth.

This can be a huge problem for storytelling at the Huge Summer Event level because you've got characters who normally fight their Big Eternal Struggles inside thier heads side-by-side with characters who normally fight thier Big Eternal Struggles against the Demon Prince of Guilt, the Elder God of Anger and the Spooky Ghost of Shame. You get Spider-Man trying to fight Thanos.

But what we've got here is something that's been set up so cleverly that the conflict happening on every level is explictly the same one. This is nothing new to comics, try and argue whether Sandman, Hellblazer or Lucifer are 'street level' or 'cosmic level' books and watch the grown-ups laugh at you. But it's very unusual for a big crossover thingy to mange to set up a story in which the actions of the Question and the actions of the Spectre carry equal importance.

If you've got conciousness, you're a cosmic entity.

I wanted to write about much more of the comic than this, but I've frazzled myself out for tonigt concentrating on a single two-page scene of Turpin beating up the Mad Hatter. Sorry.

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