angry jeremiads about the utter stupidity and ineptness of the current DC brain trust vs. self-styled realists lecturing in acidic tones to why none of this matters in the long run unless you’re a big nerd that cares about stupid things. What’s missing is a cold dissection as to the why and how of this happening.
Someday, possibly decades in the future, someone is going to ask Dan DiDio, Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, and the rest of the DC brain-trust about what was really going on in the years 2004-2009. Until then, I will have to make do with my own perspective.
To me, Final Crisis’ problems began with the success of 52 and the failure of “One Year Later.” Together, they were presented as a victory lap for Infinite Crisis, which advertised them via that trusty old device of the two-page characters-rushing-towards-the-reader spread. However, after 52‘s relatively good reception, I think DC’s high sheriffs figured that the marketplace was still more friendly to an event than to the regular books’ attempts to reconnect.
Furthermore, DC probably knew at the time that it had two big Grant Morrison projects in the pipeline, namely Final Crisis and “Batman R.I.P.” The seeds of each had already been planted in “Seven Soldiers,” Batman, and 52. However, I don’t think that DC had any blockbuster events planned between the end of 52 in May 2007 and the beginning of Final Crisis in May ’08; and in light of 52‘s success, I think DC wanted to gin up something to keep the momentum going. FC and “R.I.P.” might still have been big sellers on their own, but why take that chance? Give the public more 52 … or, more accurately, give it a “better” 52: a weekly series that helped out the regular titles and built momentum for FC.
Thus, DC created Countdown, apparently without a lot of help from Morrison. (Remember all the plans for the last issue of Countdown? Morrison was going to write it, and then it was Morrison and Geoff Johns, and then it wasn’t the last issue of Countdown but a standalone issue which led into FC.) Whether Morrison’s involvement would have helped is probably moot by now, though. Countdown sold in decent numbers, despite receiving regular critical and fan drubbings.
And I think that dichotomy helps explain Final Crisis’ big problem: it is an esoteric, creator-driven project which must fit into the every-Wednesday model of big-event series. I have nothing to back up either of the following assertions, but I suspect that for a good bit of the people who followed Countdown, FC doesn’t mesh with orthodox continuity strongly enough; or otherwise doesn’t feel enough like a big-event crossover. (Conversely, for many non-regular DC readers, FC may feel too heavily connected to Dan DiDio’s “culture of continuity.”) FC’s shipping schedule, and lack of connection to the regular titles, has also made it easy for every-Wednesday readers like me to forget it’s there. At this point FC might even feel perfunctory.
Final Crisis might also have arrived “too late” in another way. In the wake of Countdown and “Sinestro Corps,” DC has settled on an array of mini-events emulating the latter, each focused on a different high-profile character. Indeed, six of the seven DC franchises I consider “foundational” — the Big Three, plus the Flash, Green Lantern, and the Legion — are either in the middle of an event or preparing for one; and Geoff Johns is involved in four of the six. (Justice League has just started relaunching the Milestone characters, but I don’t think that’s the same thing.) More importantly, though, none of these events ties directly into Final Crisis. That may be good in terms of continuity tangles, but it doesn’t help remind readers that FC is still out there, waiting to be resolved.
I say all of this not sure myself of my feelings about Final Crisis’ merits. Each issue so far has left me with a feeling of creeping dread, which is probably the minimal, baseline reaction for which Morrison et al. were hoping. However, using a collection of moments to illustrate the end of the world, instead of a more traditional approach, takes some getting used to. I loved Morrison’s JLA, and I still think his DC One Million (which admittedly, at its core, was an extension of JLA) is a model for line-wide crossovers. FC’s storytelling style is a couple of steps removed from both of those, and again that might explain a reader’s ambivalence towards it. I don’t dislike FC, but neither is it as thrilling as certain other Morrison works.
(It is sorely tempting to speculate that Final Crisis might be doing better if Geoff Johns were at the helm. Johns is involved more directly with the regular titles, and is in a better position to do “subliminal advertising” in the pages of Green Lantern or Action. We’ll see, I suppose, next summer with Blackest Night, which will have been hawked for some two years with little promoting it except the two Green Lantern titles and endless, almost self-parodic mentions on convention panels.)
To sum up, then, I don’t think DC had much choice but to hype FC. It was the next big event after 52, but its ostensible lead-in may well have created an environment (at least among DC fans) more suited to smaller-scale “nothing will be the same” storylines.