Saturday, February 7, 2009

Final Crisis and Stories about Stories

When asked about 'Walking Dead' Robert Kirkman once said (and I'm paraphrasing here) that the best zombie stories aren't about zombies. Rather, they use zombies to tell us something about ourselves. I love that sentiment. I've never been much of an 'art for art's sake' kind of guy. I believe that our reaction to it is a large part of what makes it art. It's art because it influences or provokes thought or action. Art transcends the aesthetic.

I get a lot out of stories that acknowledge the role of narrative in shaping societies. It's why, when I was a kid, I thought 'Sandman' ruled. Sure, it was neat that he was all goth and whatnot, but I really dug how he burrowed deep into myths, legends, and epics from the Greek pantheon to Shakespeare to explore the ways in they tackle the most ubiquitous topic of all: human nature. It's why I love 'Planetary', despite the fact that Warren Ellis seems like kind of a dick. Through the lens of popular culture, he takes us on a stroll through the great legends, both tragic and uplifting, of the 20th century. And of course, no fanboy can resist the delightful 'Dr. Thirteen: Architecture and Morality'. It's a wonderful metatextual exploration of the modern comic book. Every time I read it, it makes me smile.

And that, second printers, brings me to 'Final Crisis'. Full disclosure: I loved it. It was dense, and it's not easy to follow a story like that with month-long (or longer) gaps between issues, but I'll be damned if I didn't love the hell out of every page.

I was talking to Ben about it, and he viewed it to some degree as a meta-admonition of the fans. 'We're the monitors,' he said. 'Sucking the life out of comics.' Maybe. But I want it to be more. I need it to be more.

I want it to be about the triumph of imagination over despair, and the immortality of true heroism. About how those who devote their lives to something greater than themselves might all have 'To Be Continued' etched into their gravestones.

I want it to be about overcoming fatalism and standing defiant in the face of grim certainty. I want it to be about outrunning the inevitable doom.

I want it to be about enduring hope. About what's possible when a hero wishes for a happy ending. Mostly, I want it to be a story about stories. About what our heroes mean to us and what they say about us.

When you strip out the continuity screw ups and the inconsistent tie-ins and all the other crap, I believe 'Final Crisis' is a treatise on the human imagination. Perhaps the greatest crime of modernism is that it once and for all slew the gods the myth and replaced them with unassailable reason. Superhero comics free us of the yoke of reason and tell us to look beyond into countless worlds of imagination, reminding us that those images that we dream are often the truest representations of ourselves.

What I take away from 'Final Crisis' is this: We don't exist just to consume narrative, nor does narrative exist just to fulfill us. Narrative also consumes us just as we fulfill it. This is the tacit agreement between humans and their myths, legends, and tales, tall or otherwise. Our stories are all that survive us when the Black Racer chases us down, and maintaining balance with our stories is the only way that they will speak truth about us. It's the only way we can view our own souls with clarity. It's through the penetrating gaze of human narrative that we find and celebrate that special thing that Jack Kirby believed was the hallmark of life itself: our free will.


lou said...

Superman ultimately saving the day not with his fist, but with a song, really typified for me what Final Crisis was. I thought it was such a powerful and symbolic moment. I love the Superman that lives in Morrison's head. He's better than all of us.

I hear all the criticisms and hatred and I just laugh to myself. Because the Monitors are those people that are nitpicking at all the details and not taking it all in for the accomplishment that it was.

ChrisM said...


I haven't had an opportunity to re-read Final Crisis or to really digest it. It was weird to think how much I enjoyed it without being able to follow in the traditional linear narrative. Very similar to his Invisibles stuff. Very dense. but very provocative.

thanks for explaining it! Its great to see Second Printings back after the break!

PJ said...


I agree that there's a lot of interesting concepts in Final Crisis, particularly the Fifth World, that Batman always wins and Superman as the guardian of Fiction. I just think all of those ideas would have benefitted from a more coherent execution. It seems as if editorial said "Grant, go nuts." And boy howdy did he.

Jeff said...

Agreed completely. I loved every bit of this story. The fact is that this is a story that will be able to be read again and again, with something new to be gleaned each time. Very rich story.