I’ll be honest here and say that when the Final Crisis comic book miniseries was released, I didn’t get it.
No, not “I didn’t get it” in terms of I couldn’t comprehend what was going on—although there were elements of that at times, too—but I didn’t get what Morrison was trying to DO, exactly.
Having read the upcoming hardcover release, though, I get it completely: Final Crisis is Grant Morrison’s answer to a generation of fans whose favorite writers are Alan Moore and Garth Ennis–twenty-odd years of readers who believe Watchmen to be the best superhero story ever told and who have bought into the myth that the only “smart” superhero stories are the ones written by guys who clearly hate superheroes. And the answer is, in the words of Final Crisis‘ unlikely hero The Tattooed Man, “Here’s where we all say ‘no’ to that.”
Certainly this hardcover is the best way to read Final Crisis; it includes the core miniseries itself, as well as the Superman Beyond two-part story (not in 3-D, which is a blessing and a bummer at the same time) and Morrison’s Final Crisis: Submit one-shot featuring Black Lightning and the Tattooed Man. I imagine that reading a “complete” edition (as described by Morrison and clamored for by many fans on message boards), including the relevant “Batman R.I.P.” issues and the rest of the (non-Morrison) tie-in books would be a rich experience, but one that would bog down the narrative and slow down the story…not to mention constantly changing narrators. While having a different hero narrate every tie-in is fine when you need a POV for a one-shot, jumping from Geo-Force to Green Arrow to whomever would likely be a little disconcerting for a collected edition. The story here is linear and logical, making sense of the many complexities that baffled me a little bit on the first read-through (presumably because I was trying to keep track of too many story beats over too long a period of time, while the book got later and later).
After all the mind-boggling complexity and metaphysical imagery of Final Crisis subsides, though, the final resolution–”He’s Superman. He wished only the best for all of us.”–is incredibly poignant. At one point Metron describes the Fifth World as the era when “men become gods,” and certainly the incorruptible, Christ-like nature of Superman is toyed with here in a way that makes the (new) Genesis moment of that era ring with sincerity.
The change in artists about halfway through the series—a necessary evil to keep to some semblance of a production schedule for the “monthly” comics—is more obvious than ever in the collected edition, but less distracting because of the presence (and the powerful, unique style) of Doug Mahnke in the Superman Beyond chapters as well as peppered throughout the whole book “after” those. It also helps that the fill-ins have already happened and we have, by and large, seen these books so the element of (often unpleasant) surprise when you turn the page to see another new penciler working is lost here, where it might have been an issue in the floppies.
Ultimately, it’s probably fair to say that where Final Crisis failed rather spectacularly as a monthly serial story, it succeeds mightily in this nicely-put-together collected edition. And oh, yeah, as a bonus? Empress and Shiloh Norman are black again now!