I was sitting in my car, a few pages away from finishing the first issue of Final Crisis, when my sister called me to let me know that I could her pick. I quickly read the last couple of pages, frowned, and picked her up before returning home, the image of the cave man from the chapter’s opening seemingly being teleported to some kind of future Planet of the Apes-like New York where some shirtless guy in jeans is running towards him stuck in my head. I was missing something – the cave man, my mind told me, wasn’t just some nameless guy that had been given fire randomly at the start of the chapter, and that guy running towards him at the end was significant in some way too.
When I returned home I didn’t instantly do a Google search for annotations of this story – part of me believed that I could work this out myself, so I held a debate with myself about the matter. Ultimately, however, I decided that I’d sneak a peek at the first annotations I found, which happened to be Douglas Wolk’s. Unfortunately, his very first point of note for the first issue blew my mind to such an extent – my “random cave man” is actually an established DC character called Anthro, the first man on earth, and the guy in jeans who runs toward him at the end, indeed from the future, is the last man on earth, Kamandi – that I read everything he had to say about the first issue, found that there were links to two more sets of annotations, read those too, and used all three for the rest of the book. So yeah – so much for that small peek.
But: good news! It was totally worth reading it that way, especially for someone like myself who is completely unfamiliar with pretty much all of the DC Universe. Though I do believe the book can be read without annotations and its story and message understood, I can’t stress enough how much better it is to know who this or that character is, what world this is that we’re suddenly in, what this panel or page is referencing, and so on – to fully realise Morrison’s intent with pretty much everything he does throughout. The guy once again shows that his head is just filled with crazy ideas but if you have the pre-conceived notion that he’s just out to reference stuff and use all these characters for the sake of it, think again. Only the first issue of this epic tale is “normal” – everything else is as unimaginably insane as insanity can get, but the amazing thing is that it all leads to what, in my opinion, is one of the greatest conclusions to a story that I’ve ever seen, and is simply fun the whole time.
Oh, sure, it’s a dark story. Unfortunately I’ve lost the exact link where I saw this, but I read the thoughts of someone comparing Darkseid and his anti-life equation to depression, and that seems fairly spot on, especially thinking back to the exact moment that Dan Turpin, who has been fighting Darkseid for his mind and body, finally gives in and makes a thumbs down gesture for all of humanity and life itself. But, as this same person pointed out, it’s metaphorical depression too – that of Grant Morrison and other writers, as well as the readers themselves, looking at comics – though I would point out this could just as easily apply to video games, music and film – and seeing the fucking mess that the so-called top brass can make of creativity; how they can stand in the way of it, and ruin this beautiful thing we call art. There’s this whole race of beings in the story called the Monitors who are, if the name doesn’t outright say it for you, basically stand-ins for the terrible editors, executives and bosses of the world and they literally turn out to be vampiric in nature, feeding from, if I’ve understood this right, the “Bleed”, a reference of course to the term used in comics for when there is no white space used, which in the comic itself is the “leakage” (believe me, that horrible comparison is nothing compared to Morrison’s own) of all the universes that these Monitors supposedly watch over and protect. In the end, however, we see that one Monitor engages with the ongoing story itself instead of simply being an observer, and in the end convinces the Monitors to leave the complicated DC Universe be – to not stand in its way and let its characters do their own thing.
So, yeah, it’s quite dark and more than a little sad. But not angry because there’s a whole lot of fun to be had here too, which is a good thing because I don’t think Morrison could have proven the point he was making if the whole thing was simply this dead serious temper tantrum. For the record, I don’t really like superheroes, and empathise a great deal with writers like John Wagner of Judge Dredd who find them difficult to enjoy either. Not because they’re not as realistic as a bastard like Dredd – in fact, here’s Morrison answering a question about the very subject of realism and why it’s not something that should be the focus of comics – but because they have superpowers that I believe weaken the dramatic appeal of the predicaments the characters find themselves in. What I’m saying is that because Batman is a guy who doesn’t shoot laser beams out his eyes or anything like that, because he’s only a man, I feel a greater level of tension or curiosity when he finds himself in particularly dire straits, whereas I don’t so much as stop to worry when the guy or gal with super powers gets the crap beaten out them, simply because I know they’ll find a way and probably be all shoulder shrugging about it.
Yet I loved this story, jam-packed with superheroes as it is; I fucking loved it, so much so that I feel like I should probably reconsider my outlook upon superheroes. Well…I probably won’t, if only because I’m so used to not caring about them, but the point is that I think this story is amazing enough to make me want to consider it. It’s a masterpiece of comics, I think, but as one of the people I will be leaving a link to points out, difficult to decipher, for there is not only a lot that makes it the complex story that it is, but seemingly normal panels can surprisingly contain references to older stories and sometimes even covers themselves. It’s a book that displays the best of comics – the mad, fun things you can do with page layouts and panels (there’s a sequence in Superman Beyond, for example, where the group of characters with him go world to world through the different panels of the comic) – but shows too that there are characters here just as wonderful as those in a novel. Hell, using Superman Beyond as an example again, we at one point find ourselves literally in comic Limbo where the forgotten characters of the DC Universe sadly reside – that’s how amazing this book is and, like I said in my Batman R.I.P. follow up, shows how much Morrison loves this medium.
But it’s a book that’s even better if you know who the characters are and where all the references are so, as promised, here are the annotations I used in my reading of the book. First up is Douglas Wolk, who goes into a tremendous amount of depth, actually going as far as to date the first appearance of most characters as they appear, as well a stating such facts like who their creator was. But, as well as the history lessons, he explains quite clearly the significance of each scene that might demand an explanation. Just use the side bar to the right of that first post to find the annotations for every issue and, yes, he does cover the spin-of issues included in the trade paperback, Superman Beyond and Submit. Next up is Gary Greenwood, who has a more organised list of contents than Douglas. Though his don’t go into quite as much depth, he does tend to go panel by panel for the most part, which means that pretty much every little scene is explained if you’re not sure who the characters are or what they’re doing. Below his list of annotations for the main seven issues, at the bottom of the page, you can find posts for the tie in stuff as well, though he doesn’t write annotations for those, but synopsis’ instead. They’re still worth a read though, so check them out. Last but not least is David Uzumeri, and check out that handy link! You’ve got all you need for the trade paperback right there, but note that he also explains the now corrected mistakes. Indeed, as you read any of these three annotations, you’ll notice that they refer to mistakes, most often in colouring, that no longer exist in the collected edition, but if you’re curious, there’s your list of what those mistakes are. Like Douglas, David’s annotations are rather heavy stuff but they’re also very excellent.
But wait – I’m not done! As I read those sets of annotations, I noticed that they leave a lot of exterior links lying around the place to other articles, or covers or images that Morrison is often referencing within the story. Unfortunately not all of these links work any longer but I’d highly recommend doing a search for them where you can because the more you know, you know? Anyway, here’s two links I bookmarked during my reading that I do find quite handy. First is Douglas’ timeline of events. It was indeed the one thing I couldn’t quite wrap my head around at times, but his explanation sounds pretty damn plausible, though I’m sure there’s other interpretations lying around the interwebz. And secondly is one Dr. K’s analysis of the story. I think his first name is Kevin going from another blog he has, but I have no idea what his full name is – either way, he’s an English professor and was the chap I forgot to mention earlier that quite rightly compares it to James Joyce’s style of writing in terms of complexity, as well as the reaction of readers to it, which he suggests – and I agree, and I think I pointed this out in my Batman R.I.P. follow up – is antagonistic, as if they believe the author’s trying to trick them. And that’s only in the first of several very worthwhile set of posts he has, so definitely check those out.
So, then, that was a whole lot of not-really-reviewing-the-story and then posting a bunch of links, wasn’t it? Well, I certainly do think that it’s a story you should go into not really knowing what the big deal is, however you take it be “big”, by which I mean a lot of people call it amazing and others, utter shite. Unlike my follow up post on Batman R.I.P., I’m probably not going to get into that again as I think my thoughts there can apply here too, but also because, as I said in my last post, this story was a bit of a mess when released in comic format, and I can’t say I’m any expert on that. Still, seeing as you get only the necessary parts of the story in the trade paperback or Absolute edition, I don’t know if that mess matters much any more, unless you hold some sort of grudge against DC and Morrison over it. You really shouldn’t though, and boo on you if you do. Boo, I say.
Um, so I believe I said that I’d be getting the Batman part of this book after Last Rites out of the way at the start of this post. Well…I didn’t, so, uh, imagine me rasping like an annoying child or something. Alright, here goes. In the fifth issue of Final Crisis we saw Darkseid kill his servants, two of which had been trying to clone Batman but had failed, implying his escape. Indeed, in the following sixth issue, he comes a-knocking on Darkseid’s door with a gun and the bullet that killed Orion at the beginning of the story loaded into it, as foreshadowed in Last Rites. This bullet contains Radion, lethal to Gods like Darkseid, and he uses it to shoot and wound Darkseid before being shot by what Darkseid calls his “Omega Sanction”. As the annotations explained, what this does is make the victim forever relive their demise…or maybe not. Though Batman appears dead, Superman carrying his body at the end of the sixth issue, and then confronting Darkseid with it cradled in his arms in the seventh, we see at the very end of this last issue the first man, Anthro, now old and dying. There’s a narrator here that we don’t at first see, though we do see a space shuttle that Lois Lane launched to this time period from the future which contained Batman’s things, as well as belongings of a few other dead characters. But as Anthro passes away, Bruce Wayne does indeed make his appearance, picking up some chalk to draw the bat symbol on a cave wall.
Although I’m not surprised that he’s in the past, seeing as the cover of The Return of Bruce Wayne, that we’ll be reading after Batman and Robin, sort of gives the idea that he’ll be fighting his way back through to the present day away, I am a little confused by his narration here in this closing scene. It sounds very…cave man-like, which could be a hint that he’s maybe lost his memory or something. Plus, how his dead body can be in the present but his actual self in the past is one of those time travelling things that makes my head hurt. Although I do have a theory that, if the annotations actually are completely correct in saying that being hit by the Omega Sanction should make Batman go through an endless recycle of his death, that maybe the Batman we saw shoot Darkseid was actually one of the clones. Only trouble is that that doesn’t explain why the real Bruce is sent back through time. It’s probably, as I say, one of those time travelling things that confuse us all to no end. But maybe the next book on our reading schedule can help.
We’ll be reading Time and Batman next, which is a small and quite unusual collection of stories. The first, using the same title, is written by Morrison and is a reflective series of stories on Batman’s past, present and possible future and far future but not, I’m thinking, in any way significant to the run as a whole. The story after that, also written by Morrison, probably bears some importance, though I can’t imagine very much. It’s the one I’ve talked about as bridging the gap between Batman R.I.P. and the beginning of Final Crisis. It might shed some light on what happens to Bruce at the end of Final Crisis. We know he’s gone back in time but, as I wonder, at what cost? Maybe we’ll find out. The last collected story is not written by Morrison yet does appear to follow Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne as Batman and Robin, so I’ll have to do a search online to see if it’s in any way important to Morrison’s run. After that – and I’ll probably be reviewing that book in the one post – we’ll be going on to the three Batman and Robin books, which should be very exciting indeed. When I post my review of Time and Batman I’ll talk about my intended approach to reviewing that series.
Well, as always, until then.