The complaints about “Final Crisis” #1 would seem to be reinforced by the opening sequence in issue #2 — that it’s too sprawling, that you need a Ph.D. in DC Continuity to make sense out of it, that it’s too fragmented, that it’s a bunch of snapshots that don’t add up to a story. Not that I agree with those complaints, but that’s what some readers have said regarding the start of “Final Crisis.” And if you didn’t like the first issue of “Final Crisis,” you might not like the first eight or nine pages of issue #2, as Morrison and Jones introduce a range of new characters — Rising Sun, Zero-X, Most Excellent Superbat, Sonny Sumo, Shilo Norman, and others — some of whom have appeared before in the DC Universe, some of whom haven’t. But Morrison and Jones aren’t just showcasing a menagerie here; they are establishing a world, a scope, within which to tell their story. And by the end of that opening sequence, much has been established: Sonny Sumo is a legendary badass (as he should be, coming from Jack Kirby’s pencil and all); the new wave of Japanese heroes is an embarrassment to the old wave; and Shilo Norman (Mister Miracle) lets the reader know the deal — the powers of evil have won, and he’s kinda hoping Sonny Sumo might help him “put some kind of team together.”
After that effective, if overwhelming opening sequence, the story becomes even darker. This is a dark, dark story, especially for a company-wide event. It’s brutal and violent — more powerfully so than either “Crisis on Infinite Earths” or “Infinite Crisis,” because this one is more vividly down-to-Earth. Superboy Prime may have ripped the limbs off some third-rate heroes in “Infinite Crisis,” but that was all part of an oppressive wall of violence that filled the panels. It was the readerly equivalent of ripping off a bandage. Once you got past the initial “ouch,” it was forgotten. In “Final Crisis” #2, Morrison and Jones linger over the pain. When Sonny Sumo rips out a character’s heart, Jones shows the bloody organ in a highball glass as Sumo walks away in the background. Later, when the “good guy,” Turpin, roughs up the Mad Hatter to get information, he not only swears like a vitriolic longshoreman, but he leaves behind a bloody wreck of a man in a smashed bathroom. It’s a mass of blood and filth and insanity — the key being the insanity, because Turpin doesn’t even know what he’s doing — what’s wrong with him? And wasn’t he just at the Dark Side Club at the end of issue #1? He doesn’t seem to remember.
The whole issue has that dream-like quality or, more accurately, a nightmarish quality of scenes not quite transitioning together properly. But that’s the point, as the characters indicate. They know something’s not right. Things aren’t happening as they should. Something is deeply wrong with the fabric of reality. And Morrison and Jones simulate that not only with puzzled characters, but with awkward leaps from one scene to the next. It creates for a jam-packed puzzle of a story, and even though it’s all setting up the inevitable confrontation as the forces of good rally against the forces of evil, it’s much messier than a typical gathering of superfolk. Because evil has already won, and the heroes are barely starting to figure that out.
“Final Crisis” #2 also has some stand-out moments, like Superman’s speech at J’onn J’onnz’s funeral, in which he says, “we’ll all miss him. And pray for a resurrection.” These characters have seen so many of their friends die and become reborn, and Morrison and Jones give us a superhero funeral that knowingly reflects that fact. We also get an Alpha Lantern pulling rank on the Justice League, a brilliant character moment between Lex Luthor and Vandal Savage, and the mystery of a god-killing bullet that travels backward through time. Unlike “Secret Invasion,” which started strong and then began to coast in issues #2 and 3, “Final Crisis” has continued to escalate, building upon the tone and themes of issue #1, until we get to a final image of a man literally outracing death.
“Final Crisis” is not a tour through the DC Universe. It’s not a fun, light-hearted summer event. It’s a deeply disturbing look at heroes under siege. And it’s very good.