Monday, December 15, 2008

Review: Final Crisis #5

I keep wondering if I am being too hard on Final Crisis. I keep wondering if I am missing the boat here. Final Crisis #5 was released last week and we finally saw the beginning of the promised Supergirl/Mary Marvel fight. This is a dense issue and therefore a long review.

The truth is I went back and re-read all 5 issues before I started this review and I now feel I understand the story much better. What I don't quite get is the execution of the story. But more on that later.

The story begins on Oa with the trial of Hal Jordan. Do you remember this plot thread? Last seen in issue two when Hal was being carted off for some Oan justice.

Luckily, off screen, Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner have somehow figured out that Alpha Lantern Kraken is housing the spirit of Granny Goodness. They also think that the scar on Hal's forehead was not secondary to his purported fight with Orion but instead due to a 'supressor field chip' placed there to block his memories.

Kraken divulges that she is Granny and that as an Alpha Lantern she has the ability to drain rings and lanterns. She makes a break for the central power battery with the plan to suck it dry for the glory of Darkseid.

Hal remembers the 'tried and true' weakness of the emerald energy - you need to be able to concentrate to use it. He physically pummels Kraken while the Guardians activate the 'Krona protocol', zipping the main battery away for safe keeping.

With Kraken unconscious, the Guardians scan Earth and realize that things are bad there. Darkseid has taken root and, in case the Lanterns forgot, he and the New Gods are pretty powerful. Earth is now home to a Doomsday Singularity which will destroy the universe.

Hal is officially cleared of his charges and given his ring back. He grabs whichever Lanterns will join him and head to Earth to join the fray and defeat Darkseid. Hal rallies the troops saying it is time to "go in after him (Darkseid)" and "kick his ass".

This is a great opening scene for this series. For one, it was about as straight forward a scene as we have had in this comic. For another, it had the usual Morrison flourishes which enrich his work. The Krona Protocol? That is fantastic, mentioned quickly and once. It is these 'throw away' ideas that make me love Morrison. He stuffs so much into his series, things to think about later. Second, the 'you have 24 hours to save the universe' ending of the scene was stirring.

That said, the Oans weren't watching Earth closely enough to realize Darkseid had taken over? Didn't they quarantine Earth in issue 1? They needed to be told by Guy and Kyle?

And after this scene we have a page of Renee Montoya and Amanda Waller discussing the war and Renee's place in it. It is pages like this that make me concerned about Final Crisis. I am sure that it will be eventually unveiled what part Montoya has. But that page felt wasted to me. Would I have even noticed if that page wasn't there? Did it move the main story along? Wouldn't I have liked more pages about the main story?
We cut to the Apokoliptian stronghold in Bludhaven. The human hosts of Simyan, Mokkari, and Glorious Godfrey are all burning out. They have no other host to jump to and fear they will die in service to Darkseid.

Darkseid reminds them that all occurs through his will. He realizes the heroes are preparing a final assault and ask his new Furies, led by Wonder Woman to ride and end all hope.
The heroes last stand is a two-pronged initiative. The first step takes place in the watchtower in Switzerland. Manned by Mister Terrific and a small band of heroes, the tower has opened itself up to attack as a diversion.

There are a couple of nice moments in this scene. For one, it is clear that the heroes know that their part of this plan is a suicide mission. They are there only to keep part of Darkseid's troops occupied. And we finally hear a nice nugget of how Darkseid's 'falling downward through space' is effecting Earth physically when Oracle say the Swiss border has moved farther away.

Mister Miracle, gunned down last issue, has survived thanks to his protective gear. He tells Mister Terrific that his Mother Boxx is like a 'living iPod made by the Gods only better'. He also advises that all of Terrific's troops should paint their face with the symbol that is on his mask and the Asian super-team's faces.

My guess is that this is some sigil to ward off an angel of death which will come when the 5th World finally materializes and cleans out the chaff. The symbol does not look like anything from the Metron diagram given Anthro way back in issue one.
With the troops drawn to the Watchtower, the other half of the hero plan kicks off. Their army invades Bludhaven to try to shut down Darkseid's headquarters.

This isn't exactly the group of heavy hitters assembled to take on the Anti-Monitor's fortress in Crisis on Infinite Earths #7. Sure we have a Green Lantern, 2 members of the Marvel family, and Supergirl. But we also have Red Arrow? Mister America? The 2 Wildcats? Not exactly a power heavy group. Let's hope that Darkseid's forces have weakness to arrows, bullwhips, and left hooks.

In some ways it is a great comment on the courage of these heroes. I mean, does Mister America think he is going to survive this? And yet, there he is ready to jump into battle.

Bludhaven has its own defenses though. Kalibak, in tiger form, is there with his pack. And, of course, Mary Marvel is there and she seems a bit obsessed with Supergirl.

Maybe she is so obsessed because Kara represents all that she is not ... a symbol of purity and goodness. Or maybe it is because Kara is all that Mary was and this represents some self-loathing. Or maybe it is because Kara represented all that Mary could have been and Mary wants to defeat her to prove to herself that she made the right decision to embrace darkness.

Or ... maybe she is actually the vessel for Desaad! Because as Black Adam gets defeated by her, he sees a 'leering old man in her eyes.'

Even if possessed by Desaad, I still had to cringe when I saw Mary taunting Captain Marvel. I mean, that first panel is such a testament of how good art can move you. I shuddered to see Mary grind into Freddy and bragging about her 'dirty magic word'. That is so far removed from the Mary Marvel I know.

And how about Talky Tawny holding Sivana's 'Quantum Blunderbuss' as another throwaway idea. Just another Silver Age sounding idea tossed into the tornado.

Within Bludhaven is a holding cell for those humans who have somehow resisted the Anti-Life Equation. One of those is Uotan Nix, the Earth 51 Monitor cast down to mortality. He has always seemed to be a big part of this story but also has not been seen for a couple of issues. Within the cell are 2 other unnamed humans.

One, in a wheel chair, talks about magic numbers and Rubik's cubes. He has to be the human vesel of Metron, right? The other is not shown but clearly has very hairy forearms. He hands Uotan the circuit drawing Metron gave Anthro as well as his sketches of beings from parallel universes. Remember, Uotan had earlier been searching for the word which would somehow re-ignite his powers. Here he discovers it, the name of the female monitor he loved, Weeja Dell.

So who was this other hairy-armed person? Highfather?

Scenes continue to shift rapidly, perhaps a way to make us feel the chaotic nature of the universe right now. We are taken to a Secret Society lynching where the Calculator is about to get hanged for purportedly sneaking info to the heroes on the Unternet, the villains' internet.

Look at how Luthor clearly is conflicted about this world he is going to inherit. He most likely was the leak to the heroes, not the Calculator.

In another cringe moment, Libra promises Luthor that he will be 'first in line' for Supergirl when the villains finally win. Eeeewww. Seems like lots of people have an unhealthy obsession with Supergirl in Morrison's universe.

But remember when Libra was touted as being a very important and central figure to this story? We haven't seen him in a while, have we?

Back to Bludhaven we go, where the heroes aren't having much success. It is clear that the linchpins to this attack are Green Lantern and Supergirl.

As usual, Morrison does a great job with his characterization of Kara in a few brief moments. She calls Green Lantern 'Mister Stewart'. No GL. Not John. Not Lantern. But 'Mister Stewart'.
Morrison always said his take on Supergirl was the she was the perfect girl, pure and innocent. This respectful naming of John is a small way to show that.

She also is the one who can sense that Darkseid is finally coming to full ascension and that when he does, his will will extend throughout his slaves ... like a brain firing commands through a nervous system.

I also like she lets out an exasperated ">Tt<" when she realizes that Green Lantern can't see it. No "#$%**&" cursing here like in the Kelly issues. Not even a mild word like 'Darn'. Instead it is a clucking of her tongue. Okay ... okay ... I don't need my Supergirl to be 'pure as the driven snow', a duplication of her sugary Silver Age incarnation. But for some reason I didn't mind this.
I also like how she pulls no punches when Mary Marvel finally engages her. She unleashes heat vision to the face. And yet, despite the ferocity of the attack, she is still trying to end things peacefully telling Mary there is still time to talk!

Now that's my Kara!

Despite their best efforts, Darkseid does finally ascend. He rises from his chair and proclaims his body as a church for his slaves. We see shots of humans over Earth raising their hands in unison, in praise of Darkseid. He has won!

Or has he?

While the Green Lantern army, led by Hal, freefalls to Earth, Uotan Nix also ascends.

His ascension marks the beginning of the Fifth Age and he is the Judge of All Evil.

Whew .... that was a lot of comic stuffed into 22 pages. And it was probably the most satisfying issue of Final Crisis because I felt as though I understood the big picture plot and that it was advanced.

All that said, I again was left wondering if this series could not have been better. There is so much going on in Final Crisis that we lose track of all of Morrison's plots pretty frequently. Also, so many things happen off-screen that we just need to accept because pages are sort of wasted on small things rather than on the big picture.

We finally saw Libra again this issue. We finally see Uotan Nix. But we did not see the Flash. The return of Barry Allen is one of the signature moments of this series and yet we have barely seen him. Shouldn't he warrant some pages instead of Montoya's plot which I don't quite follow? And we haven't seen Batman (I know he is captured) in what feels like forever and yet we are told the 'Batman psycho merge with the clone army has failed'? What the heck does that mean? Shouldn't we have seen that, been told about that?

Even looking back at prior issues, there seems to be time spent on small events while bigger things happen unseen or are simply not explained fully. While they were beautiful, did we need the splash pages of Anthro getting fire and fighting off another tribe? Did we need pages of Uotan at his pizza delivery job? Or Turpin investigating the Dark Side Club? These are great moments in having us get a 'feel' for the series, but couldn't those pages ... that space ... been better used to tell me the big story in a better way? Maybe Final Crisis warranted 12 issues rather than 7 to let the story unfold and be shown in a way that the casual fan could understand and also allow Morrison to fill the issues with all the small moments he wanted.

I don't need stories to be 'dumbed down' for me. I totally did not like Secret Invasion. And I am enjoying this series but I have to admit ... I am struggling a bit with it. And I come into this with decades of DC knowledge in my head and an appreciation of Morrison's style. I don't know if everyone has the same.

I just feel like this series could have been better .... unbelievably better ... and that makes me feel unsatisfied. Maybe the last 2 issues will wrap things up in a way to squelch that feeling.

On a seperate note, I barely noticed that there were 2 artists on this issue. It was not a distraction to have JG Jones and Carlos Pacheco on this issue.

Overall grade: B


Mike Z. said...

I feel pretty much the same as you. It's a very good story, but I have trouble following what is going on in any individual panel, and too much seems to be "off screen." I agree that it probably should have been 12 issues. This story is even more complicated than the first Crisis (which, come to think of it, was mostly "heroes punch things"). It deserved a more drawn-out treatment. And possibly DC shouldn't have been trying to run other big storylines at the same time. Oh well, it will probably all make sense once it's all done and in collected form.

Heath Edwards said...

mmm, collected will be the way to read this, i think. as much fun as it is to read 'final crisis' with all the tie-ins, there's a lot going on that i've not quite understood. though, i don't know too much about the 4th world characters morrison is using, too...

Daniel said...

I agree that there are many plot threads open, but I really like the series. I think it will all make sense in the end, that's Morrison's way of writing. He has said several times that he had planned the series to be read as a whole, and that fans will have to be patient for some time...

And about the 'Batman psycho merge with the clone army has failed' thing: You should read Batman #682. It's a great issue. Most of it is a recopilation of the most important moments of Batman's life, and in the final pages there is a connection with Final Crisis.

Mike Z. said...

It also helps to (re)read Kirby's Fourth World stuff and probably Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory. And everything else ever published by DC. ;-) Morrison could get a job as the official DC historian.

Anonymous said...

My question is, in a meta context, having stooged for Darkseid, who in the DCU is gonna trust Mary Marvel with power after this?
Part of me hopes that SG wins that fight, just on "Kara uber alles" grounds...but I'm also mindful that Mary is being unconscionable degraded to the level of cannon fodder all because of DC's continuing creative crisis with the Marvel Family.
That IMHO is a bad thing.

John Feer

Anj said...

I feel pretty much the same as you. It's a very good story, but I have trouble following what is going on in any individual panel, and too much seems to be "off screen."

Thanks for the post.

I don;t mind things happening off screen if what happens on screen is as or more compelling. I just haven't always been able to say that here.

Anj said...

And about the 'Batman psycho merge with the clone army has failed' thing: You should read Batman #682. It's a great issue. Most of it is a recopilation of the most important moments of Batman's life, and in the final pages there is a connection with Final Crisis.

Thanks for the post.

It's funny, I am a huge Morrison fan but I just couldn't get into his Batman run. Maybe I'll have to get that issue now.

Anj said...

Part of me hopes that SG wins that fight, just on "Kara uber alles" grounds...but I'm also mindful that Mary is being unconscionable degraded to the level of cannon fodder all because of DC's continuing creative crisis with the Marvel Family.

Thanks for the post.

It does make me sad that DC dragged Mary down into the mud.

And while I hope Supergirl kicks the tar out of Mary (she certainly deserves it), my guess there will be some redemption since it now appears she has been possessed rather than simple turning evil.

If the DCU can trust Hal again after the Parallax incidents then they should be able to do it with Mary.

Anonymous said...

If the DCU can trust Hal again after the Parallax incidents then they should be able to do it with Mary.

Yeah but that is my problem, Hal has a fan-base and cred among strategic creatives...Mary just has the likes of me as a her advocate.
And so I worry that she may well go in the 23 year long eclipse that once overshadowed Kara Zor El in the DCU.

Easiest thing in the world for some of these pros-recruited-from-fan-dom types to consign a "difficult character" to the grave or some other nefarious place thence to be forgotten...happens all the time sad to say.

John Feer

TalOs said...

I'm still not quite feeling this being a Crisis but more of a regular run of the mill cross over intended event instead.

But hey, at least us huge Supergirl fans will get to see both Mary and Kara duking it out in one hell of a cat fight come next issue it seems! Heh.