Another week, another first issue of a Grant Morrison-penned “event” story. But where the opening two parts of Batman RIP have thrilled, the first chapter of Final Crisis underwhelms. The technical quality is there, but the story fails to deliver on the promises that this will be something huge, significant and epoch-making.
The main problem, really, is that it’s difficult to see anything in the series so far that’s particularly original or compelling. It’s far too rooted in recent DC history and style – and so a number of pages are devoted to a scene featuring the staggeringly dull Monitors, something which will make absolutely no sense to anyone who didn’t read the interminable Countdown (that’s, er, most of us then), and for what should be a self-contained miniseries accessible to new readers popping in to see what all the fuss is about, this is pretty criminal. Perhaps the strongest element of the issue, meanwhile, is in having much of the action take place through the eyes of longtime Superman supporting character Dan Turpin. It’s good that Morrison understands the need to provide a human counterpoint to the metahuman drama – it’s something that Infinite Crisis, for example, sorely lacked – but even this feels like a huge retread of the character arc that 52 built around Renee Montoya (even down to the fact that Montoya herself appears, in her new guise as the Question).
Despite this peripheral material, there’s a sense that there are two main plot strands – which will presumably converge at some point – but again, neither are hugely interesting at this point. Another story where the villains all band together to take on the superheroes? Didn’t they do that (largely in the background) during Infinite Crisis? And for all that Morrison might talk up in interviews his neat idea of bringing back a forgotten villain from the ’70s as a terrifying new threat… I’m just not feeling it yet. The action that puts Libra on the villain map, as it were, feels nowhere near as landmark as it should – despite being the death of a long-time and well-respected Justice League member – as the storytelling is a little muggy, the character in question barely gets to utter a line before being offed, and his death is only subsequently confirmed off-panel.
As someone who’s thoroughly enjoyed JG Jones’ cover art in recent years, meanwhile, I’m a little disappointed by his interior work here. At times it looks lovely – but there’s a slightly soulless quality to some of it, and in places it’s positively static (this is an attribute that harms the aforementioned murder scene – there’s no real sense of action at all). While there’s some nice scope in scenes involving the Green Lanterns, when we catch up with the Justice League there’s some sloppy work, especially a poor opening close-up of Superman’s face. And the colouring doesn’t help, either – again, Lanterns aside, everything’s too red. It would appear to be a specific DC style, having also been an attribute of Infinite Crisis, but it’s really starting to wear thin, and doesn’t help with the overall absence of vibrancy.
There are certainly hints of that quintessential Morrison-ness – the opening pages, while they perhaps go on a bit too long, make for one of his textbook non-sequitur openings, and the image of (a brilliantly redesigned) Metron appearing to prehistoric man is a sharp one. A particularly nice touch, meanwhile, is that because the scene is taking place from Turpin’s perspective, the name of the mysterious red-eyed club owner is always written as Dark Side, even when he’s saying it himself – shades there, I feel, of “Why should I want to know where to find raw shark?” The final page, too, offers a teasing mystery, as we watch an unknown someone apparently waking up in an entirely unfamiliar body.
There’s scope for this to get better – despite being opposed in principle to his return, I can’t help but be excited by the cover of #2 featuring Barry Allen, and indeed the lack of any reference to this plot thread (unless that’s him at the end, which it very well could be) is perhaps one of the reasons for the slightly deflated feel to this issue. Plus, you know, it’s Grant – he doesn’t usually steer us wrong, not when you take the long view. But for the moment at least, Final Crisis has firmly failed to dazzle – and all hope has gone out of the window that anyone but hardcore DCU enthusiasts will want to stick around to the end.