To celebrate the release of The Dark Knight Rises, July is “Batman month” here at the m0vie blog. Check back daily for comics, movies and television reviews and discussion of the Caped Crusader.
I have to admit, I’ve always preferred DC’s approach to big comic events, as opposed to the approach at Marvel. While Marvel’s events (like Civil War or Secret Invasion) seem to exist to encroach on a writer’s comic book run (Ed Brubaker’s Captain America or Matt Fraction’s Iron Man), DC’s events tend to allow writers to tidy up loose ends. Or, to be fair, that’s what Final Crisis appeared to do. The major tie-in miniseries didn’t seem to exist to fill in gaps with the main book. Instead, they allowed the writers to resolve or move forward their own plots. For Geoff Johns, Rogues’ Revenge allowed him to segue between his first Flash run and Flash: Rebirth, while Legion of Three Worlds allowed him to sort out some outstanding Legion of Superheroes continuity.
Revelations exists to serve as a coda to Greg Rucka’s superb Gotham Central and his Question series, as well as tying in a bit to his upcoming Batwoman work. While I’m not the biggest fan of “comic book events” in general terms, I do respect that they allow writers to tell stories they might not otherwise get a chance to.
I still maintain that Gotham Central is perhaps the strongest and most consistently brilliant Batman series ever published. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, I can’t recommend it enough. Essentially Homicide: Life on Gotham’s Streets, it presented the reader with a very human cast dealing with all manner of superhuman chaos. Perhaps two of the most compelling cast members were those shepherded by Greg Rucka. Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen were perhaps the most fully rounded and developed of the cast, so perhaps it’s appropriate that they went on to have the most significant roles outside of it.
This being the gigantic DC universe, filled with magic and mysticism and pseudo-science, the pair couldn’t remain ordinary beings. Even if they could, the ending of Gotham Central prevented that. Allen had been brutally murdered by a corrupt cop. Montoya had left the force after she was unable to properly resolve her partner’s death. Allen was resurrected as the Spectre, God’s Spirit of Vengeance, during Infinite Crisis. Montoya was trained to replace the Question during 52.
While I actually quite liked Montoya’s development into the Question, I am less sure about Crispus Allen as the Spectre, if only because it seems a rather radical departure for the character. (Of course, the Spectre was originally Jim Corrigan, a murdered detective, so I guess it fits.) Either way, the most potentially interesting aspect of Final Crisis: Revelations is reuniting both Allen and Montoya, former partners, years after they both left the Gotham City Police Department. Certainly, their lives have taken interesting paths – even by the standards of comic book characters.
However, the reunion can’t help but feel a little bit disappointing. There’s actually a minimal amount of interaction between the two, as they meet at the very end of the first issue, while the Spectre is captured an enslaved by Vandal Savage at the start of the fourth. Strangely, Montoya feels a bit like a passenger in all this, existing as something of a witness as Allen is put through his paces, and has any number of his assumptions and beliefs challenged. Montoya makes a very human and very selfless decision at the climax of the story, but the decision is all about Allen.
It’s a bit disappointing that the link between the two doesn’t feel more meaningful or significant, but then again – that’s the point. Allen is assigned by God to punish his closest and best friend, and he’s powerless to do anything but obey that command. When Montoya tries to plead her innocence, the Spectre responds, “I know. God knows. God just doesn’t care.” In a way, it’s an interesting exploration of the Spirit as a concept. The Spirit as “God’s Vengeance.” How angry and vindictive must God be in the DC Universe that he effectively employees his own enforcer? And, even then, that he deploys his enforcer in such arbitrary and cruel ways.
Revelations is most interesting in exploring this religious angle. I like the idea of introducing Radiance as a counterpart to the Spectre, the “Spirit of Mercy” – demonstrating that this iteration of God is not just about punishing the wicked. I’d actually really like see Radiance more fully integrated into the shared universe. I’ve never liked the implication that the indisputable all-powerful and almighty God of the shared DC Universe only really interacted with his creation through the Spirit of Vengeance. Of course, you could argue he could manifest mercy through restraining the Spirit of Vengeance, but I’d argue that’s still a pretty bleak representation of an all-powerful deity, one predicated on wraith and hatred and anger.
Radiance is an interesting balance to the Spectre, effectively a very New Testament approach in contrast to his very Old Testament approach. “God has always cared,” the Spirit of Mercy observes. “So the Spectre is God’s spirit of Vengeance… thus the Radiant is God’s spirit of Mercy.” Despite the fact that I like the idea, I suspect that it won’t catch on. If only because it’s a lot easier to tell comic book stories about the Spirit of Vengeance than it is to tell stories about the Spirit of Mercy. Still, I like that element.
Indeed, Crispus’ central revelation here hinges on realising that the Spectre is not solely the Spirit of Vengeance. He’s not just all this negative energy given form so that he can punish a cruel and wicked world in an arbitrary and unfair manner. “I am God’s strength made manifest,” he boasts, seemingly at peace with what he is. I have to admit, I like the attempt by Rucka to gently steer a little bit away from the disturbing implications of the Spirit’s existence, seemingly unbalanced and unopposed.
Of course, writing about a Judeo-Christian God in any work of fiction requires a great deal of tact. It is, after all, a sensitive subject for a lot of people, and it’s a belief system that does mean a lot to adherents. To use a pulpy character – especially as vindictive and murderous a character as the Spectre – to explore those belief systems is a very tough thing to do. In the end, Rucka opts for the only real answer he can offer as to the motivations of the divine. If God exists, after all, God must be unknowable, literally beyond our comprehension.
Struggling with God’s arbitrary decision-making and his seemingly random commands and restrictions, Allen’s big revelation seems to be that he can’t understand. “We do not, we can not, understand the will of the divine,” Allen observes. “Why some are punished while others are spared. Why some are blessed while others are cursed. We can never know. In the entirety of creation, in the multitude of universes, we are but small things… how can we ever hope to understand?”It might seem like a cop-out of an answer to those dilemmas inherent in religious belief, but it’s not an unreasonable response.
On the other hand, it does feel like a bit of an awkward character beat. Allen only really embraces this after his son has been resurrected. Of course, it was Montoya who did that – reinforcing the idea that it is the mortal who must make the decisions and fight the good fight. Still, it seems like really awkward plotting. Allen was forced to kill his own son in Crisis Aftermath: The Spectre, only for his son to be revived here. It seems more like a hasty editorial back-peddle rather than a fully-formed character arc. Allen doubts God because he has to kill his own son. He then makes peace with God when he gets his son back.
Still, there’s a lot of great ideas here. I like the idea that Vandal Savage is the biblical Cain. It’s a character beat that actually makes a lot of sense, looking at an existing long-term character in a very new and very interesting way. It also works quite well for the character, although – again – I suspect it will be a piece of continuity that will be dropped by the wayside, because Savage is easier to write as a conventional megalomaniac. Still, regardless of whether it gets used again or fades into obscurity, it’s a nice touch.
I also like the way that Rucka ties his story into Final Crisis. I love that these tie-ins are really only tangentially related. You could read any of the three major tie-ins without needing to read the main book, which I consider an editorial triumph. Comics should be interesting on their own terms, not because they are “important” or any nonsense like that. And while Revelations is a little flawed in places, it’s intriguing and interesting enough to merit reading on its own terms.
Rucka’s connection to the main event is mostly thematic, playing into the whole ‘the day that evil won’ thing. It’s interesting to get an idea of what God was doing when the New Gods manifested themselves on the mortal plain. “God has abandoned us,” Cris Allen remarks, as Rucka uses the Earth-shattering crisis as an excuse to turn Gotham into Hell on Earth. It is something Rucka might have difficulty doing on its own, but it fits the framework of the event quite well. He even ties it into Morrison’s Final Crisis mythology. “There are New Gods,” Renee observes, tying the religious aspect to Morrison’s Final Crisis. “In the book of Adumbrations, we are told, Cain ushers in the Age of Apokolips on Earth.”
I also kinda like how the entire story is essentially based around how completely useless the Spectre is in a situation like this. After all, you’d imagine that God’s Spirit of Vengeance would pretty handily be able to resolve just about any cosmic catastrophe, but Revelations is about just how idle and impotent the Spectre is despite having all this power. After all, surely God trumps Darkseid, and the Monitors, and virtually any other threat?
Indeed, the opening issue of the collection sees the Spirit preparing to pay retribution to Libra, only to discover he can’t actually do anything. Of course he can’t, because that would be the shortest DC event in history, but Rucka essentially uses that as a springboard to explore the character’s role in the grand scheme of things. It’s a nice touch, and I think it’s an interesting commentary on how illogical the shared universe of superhero comics are.
Interestingly, as well, Rucka also uses the Spectre to put Doctor Light out of his misery. The character had become increasingly difficult to write after his depiction in Identity Crisis. Even the opening of Morrison’s Final Crisis suggested that the character had become a very grim and off-putting one-note character who had really become indistinguishable from “the one thing he did one time in order to make an event comic sensationalist.” (In fact, he shows up here acting out a rape fantasy with a bunch of prostitutes in Teen Titan outfits. It’s hard to imagine there’s a time when Doctor Light didn’t seem to have an entire schtick around being a rapist.)
I have to say, I don’t mind Philip Tan’s artwork here. It is a little stiff in places, and it does seem to be inked a little too heavily, but it’s fine and clear – even if it’s not necessarily fluid. He’s an artist best suited to pin-ups, as illustrated with that impressive one-page splash of Kate Kane taking on Killer Croc. His sequential storytelling isn’t as strong as it should be, but I do like the rough and sketchy quality to his art – it suits a story as dark as this one.
Revelations isn’t the strongest tie-in to Final Crisis, but it is perhaps the most thought-provoking one. Mainstream comics are normally a bit show around religious issues, so it’s interesting to Rucka really roll up his sleeves and jump into the spiritual implications of a character like the Spectre. There are a few bumps in the road, mostly because a key plot point hinges on magically reversing something that happened quite recently. It’s not essential, but it is intriguing and interesting.
You might like our reviews of the other Final Crisis tie-ins:
Filed under: Comics Tagged: | Apokolips, batman, Crispus Allen, Dark Knight Rises, dc universe, final crisis, god, gotham central, Gotham City Police Department, greg rucka, new gods, Renee Montoya, spectre, Vandal Savage