“A Shadow lies amongst you/
To defy the future cast/
Is it bright where you are?/
Have the People changed?”
I know, I know, I started with a song lyric, but anything worth doing is worth overdoing. Welcome back to WE RAN, the first proper entry. And we already have so much to talk about. The “final battle” between the New Gods and Apokolips. Renee Montoya. The Anti-Life Equation finally completed and unleashed. It’s a LOT for a first issue. But you bet your bi-loving-boots, we are gonna get into it.
A quick note however, just some housekeeping, really. I am working off of a combination of the 2014 “deluxe” edition omnibus and a collection of single issue first printings, graciously donated to this grand experiment (and in support of my…frankly troubling fixation with this event) by one of my amazing Newsarama editors George Marston, a wildly talented artist and printmaker in his own right! Just figured I should lay that out for the few of you maniacs that want to follow along with me on this lunacy.
Anyway. Enough of my jawing. There’s been a death in heaven!
BUT before we get there we have to start here. With Anthro, The First Boy and his gift of knowledge.
BUT REALLY we have to start with DC Universe #0. Trust me, I know, but I PROMISE it’s worth it! So while Final Crisis had a monumentally bad and nonsensical Countdown arc in the lead up before it, the first proper actual “prequel” story is “Let There Be Lightning” from DC Universe #0. This one-shot, which was originally supposed to serve as the “final” issue of Countdown, directly leading into Final Crisis #1, but was instead presented as a sort of summary annual for the recent miasma of plot that Final Crisis was about to sit atop of.
Basically, “Let There Be Lightning” does in four pages what Countdown failed to do in 24 issues. While Countdown is a shambling, immensely frustrating slog through a half assed take on Cosmic Odyssey (while also being a sort of sequel to Death of the New Gods?), “Let There Be Lightning” is a portentous, driving short, selling both the stakes and near religious fervor Grant Morrison will be injecting into the incoming series. Obviously not all readers are going to know to pick up some random one-shot from 2008, but the decision to position it at the front of the event in the “new” editions is a smart one. It’s a bold teaser for the event and one with some lasting story power that I think people dismiss a bit too much.
Morrison, along with FC regulars down the line Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, and Alex Sinclair, drop the desiccated corpse of Darkseid through the skin of reality, rendered with a keen perspective from Mahnke (something he plays up even further in Superman Beyond 3D). Just a note about ol’ Doug, since I know he gets a bad rap on Comics Twitter, I’m gonna deliver the Hot Take throughout this series that he’s Good Actually, and I think this short is a nice early example why. His control of scale is really tight here and he has (at least sometimes) fairly wide expression of broad emoting throughout his work and I think these few pages display that pretty well as an “introduction” to the look, scale, and tone of this event.
So while the “reverse-52” of Countdown kinda whiffs it’s own set up, “Let There Be Lightning” tightens the focus of the reader, detailing only what they need and little else. And what you “need” for the incoming event is kinda sparse! In a GOOD WAY! We now know that Darkseid has been “killed”, his heart ripped from his chest by Orion, who himself dies from the effort of killing the Anti-God. This naturally causes a time distortion inside old craggy’s chest, spilling his body, mind, and Tiger-Force through time BACKWARDS, forcing him to take on a number of hosts in order to preserve his villainy.
But as this prequel shows, the moment has been prepared for as LIBRA makes themselves known to the gathered might of the Secret Society of Super-Villains with whom he (they? I’m probably going to say they for the remainder of this series. Gender is a construct, kids.) now breaks bread while trying to sway them to their (and Anti-Life’s) cause. Again, it isn’t much just, but Morrison and the art team plant a real flag for the incoming event, both tonally and textually, which they then hammer home with the tease of a Certain Speedster’s Return (who is also revealed to the be the unseen narrator of this all, having seen these events through the veil of his speedster-vision). It’s BIG, HUGE, and VERY IMPORTANT feeling and something that should have gotten us through the end of Countdown.
OKAY, so NOW that brings us back to Anthro.
So, as openings go, this one is pretty fucking ambitious, but it trips people up when they first read it, myself included. So for the longest time I thought this was KAMANDI, The Last Boy on Earth, as I didn’t even know that Anthro, The First Boy was even a thing. Very Boy heavy this opening. BUT now that I am the man-boy I am today, I know better and this scene kinda forms a lot of the basis of my read on FC as a whole.
Also Jonah Hex is there? Because why the fuck not?
Anthro is visited upon by the New God Metron, who gifts him with “Knowledge”. In this case, fire, which allows him to protect his tribe from the looming Darkness, given form by a young Vandal Savage looking to obliterate Anthro’s tribe. It is a sudden and unexpected burst of violence from the opening pages, but having spent some time with it, I feel this exemplifies something much deeper; a pretty perfect microcosm of Detective Comics Comics’ whole brand of mythologically sized stories and encounters with the divine, but I feel furthermore these scenes hammers out of the thesis of FC pretty succinctly.
Metron gifts Anthro with Knowledge in order to stand against The Darkness, which is prevalent and ever lasting even in ancient times. The “darkness” being the evil mankind has the capacity for and the depths to which man will sink to accrue power. This is a theme that’s pretty noticeable throughout Morrison’s work (which has been lovingly detailed and examined by Ritesh Babu’s amazing thread work on Twitter) of “The Devil” or evil being a constant presence throughout life.
But unlike most of his work (at least to a more explicit extent), we, as humanity, are given a “deterrent” to evil. A light to keep the darkness as bay in the way of knowledge. It doesn’t work out so well for Anthro and his tribe, but as the ending of the first issue shows, things are bigger than your limited experience. As the actual Kamandi at the end of the world sketching Metron’s symbols into the dust of a crumbled society proves. Morrison shows that we humans are always armed with knowledge and this will carry us to the very end of civilization, should we cultivate it and allow it to grow within ourselves.
Morrison then starts to double-down on this thesis as he introduces the rest of our cast. Responding to the death in Heaven and the still steaming body of the New God Orion is Dan “Terrible” Turpin, longtime Metropolis PD and one of the few humans to ever stand against a Hunger Dog of Apokolips and survive. Turpin is a bit of a grump in these opening pages, but it’s easy to see why. He’s increasingly outclassed by the powered people of his city and growing disconnected from his own actions, wondering in the narration if he even matters at all.
With Turpin, Morrison starts to dovetail the thesis of “Knowledge Vs. Darkness” into the scale of this incoming event. Turpin may not have the full picture, but we do, aided by Green Lanterns John Stewart and Hal Jordan, the “space-cops” responding to a hitherto forth unknown event code. And again, Morrison just goes and makes it TEXT of the event, spewing Orion’s last words at Turpin, “He Is In YOU ALL!”. Not exactly subtle, I know, but a perfect tease of the concept of evil being inside us all, Anti-Life or not. Turpin knows the score and a super muk-muk just screamed it in his face. Very hard to deny it even if you want to.
Renee Montoya knows this as well and she is willing to ask The Question. Ostensibly a co-lead, Renee at this point in history is a woman on the street. An unpowered human positioned in opposition of gods and monsters just like Turpin was. Later on, Greg Rucka will use this fact and Renee’s position as a woman at the “eye of the storm” in terms of Crisis events for his angry fan-fic Lois Lane. But here, Grant’s use of her is much more straight-forward. Like Turpin, she is a person attempting to adjust her rationalist viewpoint to a world filled with walking legends. How could she ever hope to stand against that kind of thing? How indeed, gentle readers. How indeed.
Especially when a “true believer” like Libra has made the scene. Transitioning away from the “Setup” of Orion’s death, Morrison and the art team move us deeper into the new Secret Society, which has taken on a more…let’s say, fevered tone and attitude thanks to the arrival of Libra. Libra, to me, is a fascinating foil for this event. Though I feel that their purpose overall is underserved by the event at large (something we will be discussing later on in this series), the idea behind them is so fucking strong. Libra, to me, represents a real “church and state” moment for the Secret Society. Before Libra, their goals and aspirations were so tiny. They wanted riches or power or conquered lands.
But now, with Libra and their promised “full-on no-bullshit Twilight of the Gods”, they offer the Secret Society the “church” above their broken “state”. They represent evil as an elemental, primal force, not as some kind of cloak to don while seeking personal gain. They even PROVE it. By killing the Martian Manhunter, burning him at the behest of the Human Flame as he screams the name of his wife in death. It is gut-wrenching, and almost painful to look at thanks to the highly expressive artwork of J.G. Jones , but more than that, it’s PROOF. Proof that his god is real and should you swear fealty to him and their deep, religious evil, you can have your dreams too.
And that primal force is powerful enough to extend to the Orrery of Worlds and the experience of Nix Uoton, former star of Countdown and co-star of this wild and wooly ride. Here Morrison rounds out his main cast while also fully establishing the far-reaching scope of this event. This is our first look at the new state of the DC multiverse, held in perfect, but diminishing sync in the Orrery; a perfect collection of fifty-two worlds. But even in this “blessed” space, the Darkness infects Nix’s fellow Monitors, establishing the far reach of Anti-Life and how the petty power grabs of humanity extend to even “higher” peoples and beings. Cruelty, jealousy, and envy. These are more than just human concepts. He Is In You All and now we know that even means “angels”.
Morrison also hints in these scenes that we might have a greater force shielding us from The Darkness. Something deeper than Knowledge and stronger than The Darkness that lies in the hearts of all life. But THAT is a thread to pull for a later column. Until next time, be seeing you…
PS: Also Fuck Eddie Berganza.
I got to the end of #1 and saw that he had written out the “editor’s note” thingy that used to be prevalent in the 2000s DC floppies and he’s such a mewling, self-aggrandizing pile of shit, huh? I’m debating if I should end every entry in this series with “Fuck Eddie Berganza”. Petty, maybe? But satisfying, you bet yer ass it is.
NEXT TIME! II. Most Excellent Superbat and the debut of Super Young Team, A Red Funeral, Bludhaven, “Terrible” Turpin earns his nickname, and Sonny Sumo has a drink.