Grant Morrison, Final Crisis, and the Power of Apocalyptic Storytelling

By Julie Rivera

Anyone that has heard a Grant Morrison interview can deduce that he has some interesting ideas about the world, which he portrays using metafiction, unique storytelling, and spirituality. While Morrison does not identify as a Christian, some of his works reflect Christian themes. His graphic novel Final Crisis uses the idea of narrative to comment on apocalyptic literature, as well as to portray the power of stories and emphasize the apocalypse as the overarching story of the world. Final Crisis is the story of the triumph of the evil archvillain Darkseid, who takes control of half the minds of everyone on earth, and whose very presence threatens to drag all of existence down into a void of nothingness. It is also the story of how the heroes of the DC universe, faced with the end of all things, are able to overcome the ultimate evil.

CHRISTIAN ESCHATOLOGY

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, eschatology focuses on the salvation of humanity at the end of history (Styfhals, 2015, p. 191). Literature surrounding the end of history is filled with symbolism, prophecy, and the discussion of divine judgment and the new kingdom of God (Davies, 2017, p. 517). The Book of Revelation, as a literary work, can be described as apocalyptic, prophetic, and epistolary. The apostle John is commonly thought to have written the book, and he describes the apocalypse as a consummation of events that began with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Gundry, 1998, p. 6).

CHRISTIAN THEMES IN FINAL CRISIS

The American monomyth asserts that the Christian narrative is widely used in popular culture as a template. The comic medium is no different, often drawing from Christian ideology to create characters and stories. Superman is often compared to Jesus Christ, and symbolism consistent with Christian eschatology can be found in apocalyptic comics. For example, Superman has been given a humble beginning as a boy raised in Kansas, and Jesus Christ was born in a manger and raised by humble parents. “This kind of dramatization can be described as a form of religion-in-popular culture where religious themes, language, imagery and subject matter appear in an expression of popular culture” (Garner, 2016, p. 44). Morrison uses characteristics and actions associated with Jesus Christ to develop his heroes in Final Crisis. Superman is commonly portrayed with Christ-like traits, but Morrison also uses Batman and the Flash to reflect the actions of Jesus. In Final Crisis, Superman is the ultimate hero, but Batman’s role in saving humanity requires that he sacrifice his life, and the Flash is similarly able to help only after being resurrected from the dead. Death for salvation and resurrection are themes consistent with Christian ideology.

Morrison begins Final Crisis with the idea of a celestial war that is won by evil, which is an idea reflected in Revelation 6:1-8, where it is suggested that God will allow evil beings to have control over the Earth at the end of the world. Morrison also uses the idea of a false prophet, discussed in Revelation 19:20, by creating Libra, a self-proclaimed prophet of the New Age. Final Crisis highlights prophecy in apocalyptic literature by centering a story plot on the book of the Library of Limbo. Much like the Bible itself, the book contains an origin story and an apocalyptic prophecy. Morrison introduces a prophecy into his narrative in order to emphasize the power of story itself, as well as damage a story can cause.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF STORIES

Stories give meaning and direction to the human experience, which is otherwise experienced as chaos (Mobley, 2012, p.2). Stories are important for humanity, because they create order by giving direction, shape, and motive. Storytelling is engrained in humanity, and Mobley would argue that consciousness itself is storytelling. Stories are created in the mind based on a chain of events, which allows them to exist throughout time. He states that “the task of theology is the linking of our individual story to the biggest story we can imagine” (Mobley, 2012, p. 6). In his work, The Return of Chaos Monsters and Other Backstories of the Bible, Mobley puts forth that the Bible is composed of seven basic stories that humans have been telling since the beginning of time, and these narratives create meaning (Mobley, 2012, p. 7). Some scholars suggest that the apocalypse in particular is the fundamental idea that led to the emergence of Christianity (Davies, 2017, p. 517).

Stories can be used to influence or send messages to society. Some scholars have suggested that the apostle John uses the Book of Revelation to criticize the Roman Empire and the imperial system, while others point out the irony of this goal as John describes a new imperial system led by Jesus Christ (Barr, 2009, p. 21). Furthermore, the book of Revelation uses irony to highlight the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and show that true power is the “faithful resistance to imperial pretensions” (Barr, 2009, p. 30). A good and lasting story can influence society and find humanity debating its significance centuries after it was written. Morrison both plays with the specific narratives found within the Bible, and highlights the influence and power of stories themselves, in Final Crisis.

STORIES IN FINAL CRISIS

In the “Superman Beyond Part 1” volume of Final Crisis, Superman discovers a book that contains an infinite number of pages, holding every book possible. This infinite story contains an origin story that prophesies the apocalypse, a “final crisis.” In Part 2 of the volume, it is revealed that there is a final chapter in which the spiritual and physical worlds will meet. Superman discovers that he is in a “self-assembling hyper story,” and that the demon he battles is believed into existence. Superman uses his own story to defeat the villain during this battle, saving humanity by simply wishing for a happy ending.

Morrison uses many moments to emphasize the significance of narratives to humanity. In the “Submit” volume of Final Crisis, Black Lightning believes a family is burning newspapers, and he reprimands them, saying that books and newspapers are treasures of civilization. There are also several scenes where the superheroes stop to tell stories to children, showing how narratives can give hope in chaotic times. “The Daily Planet” continues to release stories during the turmoil, with its final article covering the climax of the apocalypse (Morrison, 2014). Similarly, at the end of the “Submit” volume, the villains destroy the book “The Origin of Man.” In doing so, as they emphasize the fact that stories have given meaning to humanity since the beginning, and therefore the destruction of stories is symbolically the destruction of humanity itself.

THE APOCALYPSE AS THE STORY

The Bible is a compilation of many stories that create a large narrative that defines Christianity. The Book of Revelation represents the culmination of Christian belief, which is why it has been suggested that apocalyptic ideas influenced the emergence of Christianity. “This end of history (Eschaton) is not just a destruction of the present world but, in the Christian tradition, it can also be the fulfillment of world history by divine providence. In this regard, the story of time that commences with the creation of the world is completed by the salvation of humanity at the end of history” (Styfhals, 2015, p.194). Similarly, the prophecy in Final Crisis presents an overarching story in which the apocalypse is the fulfillment of world history and the culmination of events that began with the origin of life.

Morrison furthers the idea of apocalyptic events beginning at the origin of life with his use of Anthro in Final Crisis. In the volume “DOA: The God of War,” Anthro, the first man, is given the weapon that will be used in the future apocalypse. He was given knowledge, which manifested as fire and the symbol of life. Later in the novel, a character comments that fire was the beginning of the downfall of man; however, the symbol protects individuals against the evil during the apocalypse (Morrison, 2014). Some Christian traditions place the beginning of the apocalyptic narrative at incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Styfhals, 2015, p. 195). Jesus Christ died for the salvation of humanity, which can be considered the beginning of life, but the events also symbolize the beginning of the end.

CONCLUSION

Morrison emphasizes the power of stories, and he uses them to reflect his ideas. Biblical narratives provide meaning and hope to readers, and Morrison highlights this ability of narratives through his novel. In the most chaotic of times, children are told stories, newspapers are being publicized, and books are revered. As storytelling exists in the consciousness, so it can influence life and perspective. Morrison uses Superman’s encounter with the demon to express the ability of story and thought to manifest in life.

While individual stories can give meaning to one’s life, there is a larger narrative that encompasses all others. Like Morrison’s prophecy, the futurist perspective of the Book of Revelation views the apocalypse as a coming climactic event. The stories told within the Bible are meant to relate to humanity throughout time, much like Morrison’s infinite book that contains all stories. Both Morrison’s prophecy and Biblical scripture culminate with the apocalypse, which has been set in motion from the beginning of life.

References

Barr, D. R. (2009). John’s Ironic Empire. Interpretation, 63(1), 20-30. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1177/002096430906300103.

Davies, J. P. (2017). Apocalyptic Literature in the New Testament. Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 79(3), 516-518.

Garner, S. (2016). Vision: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Stimulus: The New Zealand Journal Of Christian Thought & Practice, 23(2), 43-45.

Gundry, S. N., Pate, C. M., Gentry, K. L., Jr., & R. L. (1998). Four Views On The Book Of Revelation (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology). Zondervan.

Mobley, G. (2012). The Return of Chaos Monsters and Other Backstories of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Morrison, G. (2014). Final Crisis (New ed.). Burbank, CA: DC Comics.

Styfhals, W. (2015). Evil in History: Karl Löwith and Jacob Taubes on Modern Eschatology. Journal Of The History Of Ideas, 76(2), 191-213.

 

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