Monday, February 16, 2009

Ticket to Blüdhaven (DC)
Where: Final Crisis #2 When: August 2008
Why: Grant Morrison How: JG Jones

Quick Fix...
So far in 2009, our perspective has been fixed on relatively recent developments in the world of the big two. Nurturing this interest in particular was DC's Final Crisis, a story that has become as infamous for it's reception, as it has the details of apocalyptic turmoil that face the heroes.

For a series that explores the metatextual consequences impacting comic book universes, it's almost a self-fulfilling irony for the book to become slightly overshadowed by the meta-event of it's interpretation. For many, the broad scope of the DCU and the channel surfing delivery of it's doomsday, proved overwhelming, to a point of apparent confusion.

The second issue is far too early in the series to launch any kind of responsive assault on the impressions of less-than-impressive readers. In ways few could have predicted, those claiming confusion from the very first issue actually had some good reason to do so, even if they were completely unaware of why.

The first issue could easily have been mistaken for a more conventional outing, setting up the details of an adventure centred on spotlighted characters; Dan Turpin, Green Lantern, The Question, The Society, Darkseid, and The Monitors.
In hindsight, the conclusion isn't exactly that removed from the beginning, at all, but a conventional linear story, this isn't.

Anyone who did the Infinite Crisis thing a few years ago, probably didn't have any trouble interpreting "Final." While concept drove events to initiate slower than the previous Crisis - and Morrison's choices included smaller details - it is none the less, quite similar in it's basic approach to touching an entire universe. Both tales deal with the congregation of parallel Earths, placed in peril by the emergence of a threat on our central Earth. In the case of the Geoff Johns story; Alexander Luthor Jr's efforts to revamp the multiverse with remnants of the Anti-Monitor gave the heroes a rallying point, while tangentially related battles were fought at other checkpoints. In Final Crisis, the dual menace of Darkseid's spread of the Anti-Life Equation, and his penetration of time and space, threatens the entirety of our existence, leading all struggles to branch out from there.

For those who made similar assumptions based upon the first issue -- the second provided quick clarification. I would argue, based on some of the chatter I picked up at the time, that many readers made the mistake of deciding what type of story Final Crisis was going to be, before even giving it a chance.

The details of the story become further unfurled, revealing more of the myriad of forces conspiring against the DCU. The descent into apocalypse only now begins to take form in a way heroes can recognise, and as we're about to see in our fight recaps, the likes of Batman discover this all too late.

Strands are concluded, as is the case throughout much of the series, but the chopping attention granted to various factions within the DCU makes the global significance of Final Crisis very apparent. Morrison's descent into Kirby files really kicks off here, too. Dan Turpin, Sonny Sumo, and various other characters from Kirby's insular DC projects, all begin to shift toward centre-stage, joining the villainous New Gods as powerful DC-centric figures in building event.

This post is about the fights contained within the issue, as is typically the case on the site. I'm torn about trying to elaborate more upon what I believe lies within these pages, ie; the potential comparisons between Morrison's in-fiction exploration of cultural "existentions" and the internet age's proliferation of wannabe do-it-yourself comics creators/heroes.
At the same time; one of the points that I hope to underscore as we travel through the pages of subsequent issues, is that this doesn't need to be as complicated a story as some people want. There's still a very enjoyable superhero epic to be read, even if some of the finer details are lost on you, and yes -- even if you do not have an encyclopaedic knowledge of DC's history.

I hope we can share some interesting tidbits, but leave some of the legwork to you, because, that is half the fun of this wonderful medium of ours. Those who have struggled with this concept seem to have inadvertently been exposed by the purity of a story supremely indulgent in superhero comics culture.

Morrison kicks off with a trip to the thoroughly suitable world of Japenese pop culture, suturing social phenomena into the world of superheroes. Here he not only contributes more colourful characters to DC's international landscape, but also consolidates key figures to the story, including Sonny Sumo, who was thrown through time in Jack Kirby's Forever People, becoming stranded in feudal Japan.

In a super-fantastic superhero themed Tokyo club, a comparably unassuming individual walks through the crowd of garrishly coloured teens and wannabes. He is Sonny Sumo -- and on this night, he simply wants a glass of water, with ice.

The legendary hero's presence does not go unnoticed, both by admirers, and those who would seek to gain reputation through his name. Megayakuza -- a towering mecha-suited newbie -- steps up to quite literally challenge Sumo!

Sonny attempts to disuade the armored fighter, suggesting he seek means of competition that will offer a forum of rules to prevent him from killing his challenger. Megayakuza does not take this rebuttle kindly, dousing Sumo's back in a ball of fire spewed forth from his mechanical gauntlets.

Megayakuza learns the hard way exactly what it means to challenge one who wields a portion of the Anti-Life Equation. With his back aflame, Sonny casually finishes his water, before driving his fist through the heart of the mechanical Megayakuza suit -- as well as the man inside of it! He leaves the gurgling muscle on top of his glass and retreats to the men's room. Another victory.

Sonny Sumo's inclusion in Final Crisis had to be one of the more curious elements of the book -- which is saying something! Few would be familiar with the brief appearances of the character in Forever People, where his history as an underground competition fighter was elaborated upon, and he wielded a portion of the Anti-Life Equation that is to eventually spread globally to enslave humanity in Darkseid's name. All part of the unashamed Kirby-worship mentioned earlier in the post. These characters; along with the Shilo Norman-Mr. Miracle, who joins Sonny shortly after this fight; all owe their defining creations to the late comics legend, whose characters provide a throughline for the entire story.

The inclusion of Sonny Sumo might not give twelve year olds warm and fuzzy memories of the Justice League cartoon show, but it introduces them to one of the unique joys of superhero comics. There is an entire multiverse to be explored and absorbed, and as he so often seems to do, Morrison makes good use of it, expanding the horizons of a community that all too often focuses on the United States and it's usual suspects.
[More on Morrison and the (Justice League) International condition].

The Fix: 4.5 The Winner: Sonny Sumo

SCU cop, Dan Turpin, returns to follow strands tugged at by the Question in the previous issue, relating tangentially to the death of Orion. With the issue of people's confusion fresh in mind, I realise that a sentence like that isn't an inclusive way to begin a section of review. It's a deliberate reference to events that occurred in the first issue, and like many good writers, I would respect you enough to expect you to recognise that, and pursue the information as you please. Unfortunately, it isn't available on the site, but if you're persuaded by the information that is presented to pick up Final Crisis, you will have something untainted to extract and appreciate. That's how we do things here.

Returning from digression -- we arrive to find Dan Turpin in the living quarters of one, Jervis Tetch, better known to the staff of Arkham Asylum as, Mad Hatter.

Having already administered a beating, Turpin probes the nervous cuckoo for information on the whereabouts of children kidnapped by the Dark Side Club. This might be a more easily justified scene if Turpin hadn't already discovered the children in the first issue when he came face-to-face with Boss Dark Side -- evil incarnate!

Turpin revels in breaking Tetch's face with his knee, finding an unnerving pleasure in the experience of "... the sound of breath whistling through smashed cartilage..."

Even as Mad Hatter trails blood toward the bathroom with a steady crawl, and Turpin follows, he questions of himself exactly what he is doing. Using a toilet seat as a weapon, he gains the last piece of information he seeks. With sickness rising in his stomach, Turpin finds a direction to move toward: Blüdhaven.
Doubt tells us he knows deep down this isn't about children any more, but what ever it was he was exposed to in the Dark Side Club, it has left him clouded and violent. He's changing from the inside-out, and when he reaches Blüdhaven, he will know his name, and fate, as the god of evil -- Darkseid.

I suppose if you were desperately in need of a conventional arc through which to enjoy Final Crisis, it might be the perception of the tale as Dan Turpin's story. His entry into the first issue is quickly followed up with one of the most significant scenes in the first act, one that firmly establishes the growing of Darkseid's influence, and the return of New Gods, as men. Turpin experiences the story right up to it's conclusion, where he suffers the bullet heard around the multiverse, intended for Darkseid. [More on that when we reach #6!]

The Fix: 5 The Winner: Dan Turpin

Found dying on the docks; the New God Orion did his best to deliver ominous final words that could give humanity a fighting chance. Alas; all his death achieves is to lure the presence of the universe's most powerful weapons.

When Dan Turpin passes on the case, it inevitably falls into the jurisdiction of the better equipped intergalactic police corps, the Green Lanterns.
Designates of Earth's Sector, John Stewart and Hal Jordan, are the first to investigate the scene, but a rare instance of deicide demands a flawless investigation. Thus, the Guardians of the Universe deploy their recently instated Corpsman of inhuman incorruptability -- the Alpha Lanterns.

While Batman and the Justice League examine Orion's body during the Alpha Lantern's transit, John Stewart returns to the scene on the advice of Batman to look for further evidence. Stewart receives a brief visit from fellow Corpsman, Opto309V of Sector-2260, who leaves just as Stewart discovers the presence of a fifty-year old radion bullet buried in the concrete beneath Orion's resting place.

Opto isn't the only visitor, however.
Upon completing the analysis of evidence, Stewart's ring begins to fizzle out, leaving him helpless as the Green Lantern is met with a hail of green spikes! They pin him by the wrists to wooden crates lying on the docks.

A heckling cymbal-monkey construct distracts Opto from returning to save his fellow, who gazes upon his disguised attacker with shock! Stewart summons the will that earned him his ring, tearing free of the wooden box behind him, to meet his attacker's hand with a thunderous punch. Even though the blow is caught, and Stewart ultimately incapacitated, his last ditch effort makes it's mark. Literally!

Wonder Woman and Dr. Mid-Nite come to Stewart's aid, while the Alpha Lanterns aprehend their chief suspect in the attack, Hal Jordan. Jordan's history as a vessel for the fear-entity, Parallax, doesn't exactly help establish character, but one would still assume the influence of the New Gods, who have corrupted the once thought incorruptable Alpha Lanterns, is really what's at work here.

Presumably the disguise employed by the true attack (Kraken) was for the benefit of Opto, or any other witnesses to the crime. Admittedly, if you aren't paying attention, this fact might have passed you by, leaving you to blame the crime on another hooded, white-gloved Lantern, such as Taa (of Sector-996).
That said, it isn't long before the facts of the truth are revealed...

The Fix: 4 The Winner: Alpha Lantern Kraken (w/Granny Goodness)

Batman steps into the Final Crisis, appearing opposite Alpha Lantern Kraken who is commandeering Orion's post-mortem investigation. Her alien cynicism toward the capabilities of humans oozes into their tension-filled confrontation reminiscent of a power struggle between rival departments. Whilst jostling for control of the situation, the pair even butt heads on the status of Hal Jordan, whom Batman himself is sceptical about, but keen to defend.

Kraken appears to show a brief moment of weakness, but in fact, this is the true Alpha Lantern shining through the influence of the evil New Gods!
Showing the cracked imprint of John Stewart's ring on her palm, she delivers a slightly cryptic warning not unlike Orion's, declaring their weapons useless to an enemy that is eating her mind.

Batman is quick to act as the alien presence of Granny Goodness regains influence over Kraken. He sounds the alarm, declaring a highest priority alert, while making attempts to subdue the Alpha Lantern whilst requesting backup. Her intricate knowledge of the League's present activities allows her to recognise the prompt response of only Dr. Mid-Nite, whom she assures the Batman, will eternally regret that he failed to arrive in time.

With that; Kraken turns out of Batman's wrist-lock, using her ring to create an alien bug-like creature that administers a crippling nerve pinch to the Dark Knight detective. A mass of energies gathers as Kraken opens a boom tube to carry the falling Batman to the Blüdhaven Factory of Evil.

A well orchestrated conspiracy of circumstances is key to the eventual defeat of Earth's greatest champions. Here, Batman's human frailty is swiftly taken advantage of, even while Wonder Woman's compassion shifts her to a more vulnerable position on the board, and Superman is taken care of by the machinations of Libra (and his access to villains like Clayface).

The Fix: 5 The Winner: Alpha Lantern Kraken (w/Granny Goodness)

The story really unfolds from here as the remaining heroes find themselves, much like the trinity, overwhelmed by forces they neither anticipated, nor recognised.
The dominoes fall as the New Gods pursue their various goals, including the rebirth of Darkseid, whose post-death descent [depicted in DC Universe #0] plays an important role in the deconstruction of time and reality on Earth. A phenomenon that not only disarms the heroes, but the reader as well, who's along for the ride via the chopping pace of Morrison's script, which gives us a grand view of the chaos, but keeps us only so many steps ahead of the characters.

I would've liked to have delved deeper into Final Crisis, but that might be a goal better suited to later reviews. I'd like to think our site is well positioned to at least reveal the basic aspects of the story that made this series an incredibly enjoyable superhero epic on a conventional level. There's more to find on the page, but the value of the tale on a simplistic level was, I feel, one of the most misrepresented aspects of Final Crisis, by critics.

I'll be very interested to hear any of the opinions you might have. I regard the story as a potentially massive moment in the current era of superhero and DC comic books, significant to the definition of a period. If you haven't read it yet, I would recommend considering picking up the upcoming trade collections, or finding the issues cheap from any reader who felt dissatisfied.

Fight Average: 5 The Issue: 6

Final Crisis won't find it's way to collected format until June, but if you're that keen, you can pre-order the hardcover edition, and the companion that collects bonus materials and additional specials, from Amazon! By using purchase links provided on the site, you help sponsor future entries, and no doubt get a valuable reading experience out of it, as well! Future reviews of Final Crisis will no doubt continue to drip filter onto the site throughout the year, so you might like to get caught up on the 2008/2009 epic before we dive deeper!

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