Monday, May 31, 2010

Horror In Comics: Final Crisis (DC Comics) Turpin Becomes Darkseid

(ALL images contained herein are the property of DC Comics - at the end of the day, you should really buy the book I'm about to discuss - trust me on this)

In the world of the superhero, at the end of the day's adventure, the good guys win. No matter how vile the bad guy, somehow the hero will find a way to defeat him or her. It's part of the wish-fulfillment aspect of the comic book and superhero fiction: we, the readers, wish we could employ a variety of powers to tackle the bad guys of the world. But that very notion and super-basic plot device is the basis for something with terrifying potential in fiction:

What happens when evil wins?

Sure there are times when the bad guy gets the upper hand. You can't have a plausible hero without some setbacks here and there. It's why for every hero, there are at least a good half dozen villains in his or her "rogues gallery." But what if there was a moment when the ultimate evil finally - after centuries of trying - set his horrible foot into our world and brought it crashing down, and the heroes figured it out too late to stop it?

This is the basic premise of 2008's DC Comics miniseries Final Crisis, written by my favorite comic book author, Grant Morrison and featuring art by J. G. Jones, Doug Mahnke, and several others. Like a good writer should, Morrison began planting the seeds for Final Crisis in earlier works, going back several years. There are clues pointing to Final Crisis in books such as JLA and the wild, ambitious miniseries 7 Soldiers of Victory. In fact, the Mister Miracle portion of 7 Soldiers serves as a prequel.

While Final Crisis has its place in the Crisis trilogy of DC Comics (Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis), it owes more to legendary creator Jack Kirby and his New Gods stories. Kirby wrote and drew huge epics about two warring worlds of demi-gods, heavenly New Genesis and hellish Apokolips. Sometimes the wars spilled over to our world, and there in the mix of things was Superman himself. The demi-gods were varied and colorful, intensely powerful and yet individually interesting. Heading up the evil gods was Darkseid, a granite-skinned despot who sought to ruin the heroes of Earth and corrupt reality to its core. Much of Darkseid's Silver Age appearances included soliloquies swearing vengeance or making threats.

In Final Crisis, Morrison laid the groundwork for Darkseid to finally enter our world. Doing so not only corrupted reality, but as Darkseid fell, it bent reality and put him at the epicenter of a cosmic pit, dragging our dimension down with it. High concept stuff, but never expect anything less from Morrison. The evil New Gods could infect the bodies of regular people until such a time that Darkseid could manifest himself in the body of a noble soul that he could systematically corrupt. And that's the moment I want to focus on for this blog (even after all that set-up!).

He finds such a noble soul in detective Dan Turpin, another great Kirby creation. During his investigation, Turpin meets Boss Dark Side, the manager of a seedy fight-club style nightclub for villains. Too late does he realize, but Turpin is infected by Darkseid's spirit through the Anti-Life Equation, a mathematical equation that is proof that Darkseid is lord over all.

This Anti-Life Equation is this - read with caution, lest YOU be infected:

loneliness + alienation + fear + despair + self-worth ÷ mockery ÷ condemnation ÷ misunderstanding x guilt x shame x failure x judgment -- n=y where y=hope and n=folly, love=lies, life=death, self=dark side

Turpin finds himself infected when he goes to investigate a lead in a bombed-out city, he meets strange, disturbing people who refer to him as "great one" and seem to know him. Hell, they even have Batman as a prisoner. There's no escape for Turpin. He's getting sicker while those odd people around him rejoice.

His body begins to change. His skin becomes like...granite. His soul is battling against something dark and familiar. He's had run-ins with the New Gods before, so he knows what he's dealing with and yet he knows how futile it is:

"I tried to show them what humanity's made of...But wrestling with Darkseid, well...It's like trying to beat the ocean unconscious..."

It's too much for Turpin, and as the world deteriorates in both physical and relative space, his soul is entirely supplanted by Darkseid. When his minion G. Gordon Godfrey (in the body of a Don King-like evangelist) asks for a sign:

"Give us a sign, great Darkseid...Thumbs up for the triumph of the human spirit...or thumbs down to summon a day of holocaust that will never end..."

...the former Dan Turpin gives us his chilling answer:

Outside, heroes are dying or are corrupted. Time and space is warped. The world has ended. Humans are slaves or dog soldiers completely ruined by the Anti-Life Equation which was broadcast on the Internet to infect as many as possible in the shortest amount of time. Weeks become days. There is no sunlight. Pockets of heroes and villains band together to resist the best they can. It's the end.

What gave me the heebie-jeebies was the deft combination of street-level spookiness and cosmic-scale scares. It's a world being corrupted almost overnight due to the ruination of time and space. The aspect of a mad god falling through dimensions and dragging realities into a dark singularity with him is a wild concept right at home in the mind of Grant Morrison. Evil has won and good didn't see it coming.

I reason I picked this instant of Final Crisis - the transformation of Dan Turpin into Darkseid through a corrupted soul - is that the idea of a malevolent force edging out the personality of a good person while ruining reality at the same time is a grand-scale scare to me. It reminds of what good Lovecraftian fiction is about: Old gods scratching their way back into our world through the corruption of everything that is good about us, and there's nothing we can do about it.

Of course, there is a conclusion to Final Crisis, but the heroes have to really fight for it. The miniseries remains very polarizing, with many fans hating it and many (like me) loving it. Since this is my blog, I'm just dealing with my perception of it. Morrison touched a dark nerve in superhero storytelling with this epic. It influenced my own writing, much as Morrison's work did when I discovered it in the 80's on Doom Patrol. The idea of the storyline made me re-think the box in which I imagine my own written worlds, and forced me to step outside of it.

That's good storytelling.

So, yes, while this isn't horror per se, it does have horror elements, most notably possession. That which was creepy in films like The Exorcist and more recently Paranormal Activity is present in Final Crisis. Also corruption is there, as I mentioned it in relation to H. P. Lovecraft's visions. If you have a chance to read it, I highly, highly recommend it.

Until next time, fellow survivors, don't let the zombies get blood all over your comic book collection. Bag 'em up!

Stay safe!

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  1. Have you read the comic version of "The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks" written by Max Brooks and illustrated by Ibraim Roberson. It tells different stories of zombie attacks, that sound like they might have really happened, altho eveyone knows they didn't. It's a really interesting one and I think, if you haven't read it yet, you should. I really liked it and would like to hear your thoughts on it. :)

  2. Amazing. Just re-read this 3 times. Love Final Crisis, just google'd Turpin's quote about beating the ocean unconscious and it brought me here. Nailed it. Damn super muk-muks.

  3. Thanks for taking a look at my blog! Final Crisis is definitely one of my favorites and I'm definitely biased towards Grant Morrison. I'm really digging his Multiversity series so far as well. Trust him to make Darkseid absolutely terrifying!