“Final Crisis” is certainly a strange event book, isn’t it? Here we have this massive, globe-spanning takeover by the forces of evil, and you could read 95% of the DC comics on the shelves this season and not even know that it was going on. It’s the reverse-“Secret Invasion” approach. Unless you’re reading the handful of books with “Final Crisis” in the title, you could completely ignore the epic events of Grant Morrison’s superhero blockbuster. Honestly, Skrull fatigue has set in pretty hard over the past couple of months, so I prefer DC’s approach here. “Final Crisis” may have dramatic repercussions for the rest of the titles later (though I kind of doubt it), but it’s been left alone, basically, since that horrible “Countdown” business concluded. You haven’t seen Blue Beetle fighting Justifiers for months at a time in his own comic, and Black Canary hasn’t been revealed as a secret minion of Darkseid in any stories written by Judd Winick. No, “Final Crisis” isn’t a company-wide event at all. It’s a Grant Morrison story on an expansive tapestry, and it’s all the better for it.
“Final Crisis” #4 picks up where issue #3 left off, with the Anti-Life Equation infecting everything on Earth. But in a comic where bullets travel backward through time and life changes retroactively, moving from one moment to the next isn’t as straightforward as you might think. In this case, the Anti-Life Equation contaminates everyone almost instantly, and as the Ray’s narration points out, the world changes into a frightening, post-apocalyptic wasteland “as if it had always been this way.” Helmed Justifiers — presumably transformed humans (and superhumans), tainted by the Anti-Life — brandish weapons of steel and ride canine steeds. The few remaining heroes are scattered across the globe, operating small pockets of resistance. Green Arrow, Black Canary, and the Ray in the Hall of Justice. Mister Terrific and Hawkgirl at Checkmate’s castle. Supergirl and the Metal Men at the Fortress of Solitude. A few more groups of third-rate heroes litter the planet, but you know things are bleak when Freedom Beast is battling gorilla Justifiers and mankind’s only hope rests with a secret carried by the Tattooed Man.
With a comic like this — a story which derives its power less from Grant Morrison’s dialogue than from the quality of its images — it’s too bad that J.G. Jones couldn’t tackle all the work himself. Carlos Pacheco’s fill-in pages aren’t discordant with Jones’s work at all, but they do lack the sense of foreboding that Jones imbues into every panel. Pacheco is a skilled but much more traditional superhero artist that Jones, and in a story that relies on visual storytelling to show the overwhelming evil, it would have been nice to see all Jones, all the time. Pacheco would have done a fine job with the Turpin-turning-into-Darkseid sequences, I’m sure, but Jones turns those few panels into a gritty, demonic struggle as this “maggot of a man battles on alone against Anti-Life infection.” It’s just a guy in a chair, hooked up to some tubes and wires, but Jones renders it as if the fate of the world depends on the outcome. And, in fact, it does.
“Final Crisis,” even with the artistic inconsistency, is shaping up to be a powerful story of the DC universe in its darkest days. Any of the initial confusion should have been wiped away by issue #4, as the scene has been set for the superhero uprising. Evil has won, almost completely, and the heroes have three remaining issues to save the universe. We know how it’s going to turn out in the end, but it’s the journey to that destination that makes it all worthwhile, and with Morrison at the helm, I’m sure we won’t be disappointed.