(Just a note: This is criticism, not a consumer review, so there WILL BE SPOILERS. If you don't want them, stop reading now, or you'll just get mad at me later.)
When this series is finally finished, it's clear now that the most impressive achievement of "Final Crisis" is illustrating such a vast Event Book Level conflict on such personal terms. In this issue -- with just one left -- we see all kinds of pieces finally falling into place, but we see them through the eyes of individuals, in sequences of intimate brutality and stark humanity. After all, what other comic would start the last ditch attempt to save the universe in an old woman's apartment?
It's that kind of strange frisson that has become the hallmark of this series. Instead of lingering on broad spectacle, Morrison lets all that be revealed as happening on the outskirts. While armies mass outside Checkmate's last remaining bunker, we see the star-crossed lovers of the Super Young Team unable, even at this final hour, to express their feelings to one another without using an intermediary. It's an effective way of denoting the real stakes on nearly every page. And it's done in a way that a two page spread of fifty dudes punching fifty other dudes could never accomplish.
Unfortunately, this is the first issue where the art team swapping does take a noticeable toll. I can't tell if it's Marco Rudy inking Jones' work or penciling and inking the art himself; it's hard to tell. But it is absolutely noticeable and just not up to the standard that Pacheco and Jones have set in the rest of the series. It never reaches the lows of the what-looked-like extraordinarily rushed work of the usually stellar Ivan Reis in "Infinite Crisis" but it just doesn't look as great as the book has looked previously.
One bright spot in the rotating teams is that Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy, who are set to take on the entirety of #7's art and whose work is seen here in the final pages, deliver a phenomenal sequence of art. Giving off some serious "Akira" vibes, they capture perfectly the infected collapse of the world and the literally shattering depth of Superman's wrath.
When Jones is clearly on his own and working, the art is still among his best. Two extended and brutal sequences between Supergirl and Mary Marvel and Kalibak and Tawky Tawny (I know!) respectively, look fantastic. Filled with gritty detail and clever shot design, it makes you glad that he still remains in at least some capacity.
At the close of the issue, it is clear that Morrison still has a lot to explain. While much of the conflicts set out in the first issue have been pretty much resolved, he's been moving in an even greater threat throughout the series. As Nix Uotan has gained prominence, it's become clear that this isn't just a story about the heroes fighting Darkseid. It's all just a fraction of the overall reorganization of the universe.
In a literally multilayered two page spread, Morrison once again makes the physical entity of the comic book clear, as we see Uotan, whose helmet was revealed last issue, looking upon a scattering of the comic book panels themselves, urging the newly revealed Metron that there's no way he can organize all of it. He's watching what we're watching. What some might see as an oncoming Deus Ex Machina in the Miracle Machine that Superman is introduced to in the first scene of the book is more likely another manifestation of the importance of creativity and imagination. Nix, the new Fifth World Monitor, was seen as constantly doodling the disparate figures of the Multiverse and it's probably a sure bet that his new responsibilities will include repopulating the new one that Checkmate and Renee Montoya so desperately pull into play in this issue.
And that's what makes the death of Batman at the close of the issue so central to "Final Crisis." Morrison has always written him as the most ingenious hero in the DCU. He can outthink anything and anyone, find a solution for any problem. And this final task is no exception. It's also critical that, among all the superpowered heroes fighting for their lives all over the world at that moment, it's a regular person who makes Darkseid vulnerable again. Just as Danny Turpin was a symbol of the corruptibility of the human spirit, Bruce Wayne serves as a mirror image of that opposite -- that the right human being can outthink anything.
You can step off your ledges, though, folks. Anyone who's read "Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle" #4 knows exactly what's been done to Batman at the close of the issue. He's caught in the Death Trap, the Omega Sanction. It won't be easy to escape, but sheesh, if Shilo Norman could do it, Bruce Wayne should have no problem at all.
So the sandbox Morrison is playing in is nothing new to his long time readers. He has always played with the comic book form, both figuratively and literally, and now he's able to do that with the entire DC Universe at his disposal. What's remarkable is that he's been able to personalize it in so many ways in this series, all while constantly drawing attention to its artificiality. He's paying tribute to imagination, the literal power of words and ideas, by making it the one thing that can save everyone when nothing else is left.