Due to the restrictions of life, I often find myself being unable to read as often as I would like, comics or otherwise. Luckily, audiobooks exist, allowing me to make good use of the time when reading is out of the question. I first got into listening to audiobooks on the 550-mile, 9-hour trek from South East Michigan to the Upper Peninsula, where I attended college. The drive itself isn’t difficult, you just are on the same three or four roads for a long amount of time, so it can get a little boring at times. When I had someone carpooling it was always fun, and we would sometimes listen to some audiobooks together, but I will always remember my friend Ryan’s look of bewilderment while we listened to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and a man is sucked into the nether regions of the Queen of Sheba. Good Times. On one trip, I subjected Ryan to listening to GraphicAudio’s production of Final Crisis, knowing full well that Grant Morrison’s celebration of all things DC was not the easiest story to digest, but I really wanted to listen to it, so I figured I could fill him in along the way if need be. Much to my surprise, I rarely had to.
GraphicAudio’s tagline, “A Movie in Your Mind” is the best way to describe the format of the recordings. Each production features a full voice cast, original soundtrack, and professional quality sound effects. Along with Final Crisis, GraphicAudio has also adapted the novelizations of 52, Infinite Crisis, Marvel’s Civil War, and many other works, with over 400 titles in their catalog. Seeing as how it has been several years since I first listened to the production, and the desire to brush up on Grant Morrison’s DC work in preparation for the release of Multiversity this summer, I figured now would be a wonderful time for a re-listen. I then came up with the idea to reread Final Crisis, and see how well the auditory version one of my favorite DC stories compares to the printed page.
Final Crisis was DC’s 2008 crossover event comic that encompassed the entire DC Universe, to date it is the third “Crisis” event and the last of the Crises before the New 52 relaunch. It is worth noting that I do not include 2004’s Identity Crisis in this grouping due to the vastly different subject matter. Whereas Identity Crisis deals with the personal lives of super-heroes, Crisis on Infinite Earth, Infinite Crisis, and Final Crisis deal with multiversal threats that have had a drastic effect on the cosmology of the DC Universe. Aside from the 7-issue miniseries written by Grant Morrison, Final Crisis: Submit and Final Crisis: Superman Beyond were also penned by Morrison, and are included in collections of the main storyline. Other miniseries were also subsequently released to accompany the main storyline featuring other characters and concepts of the DC Universe not touched on by the main story. Although Final Crisis: Rogues’ Revenge, Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds, and Final Crisis: Revelations stood on their own as stories, they still had major effect on the DC Universe with their own ramifications. Crisis events are notorious for resulting in the deaths of larger players in the DC Universe as well as the usually second and third stringers. Final Crisis sticks with this convention but also revives a number of characters that had previously died, as character death and resurrection is as common as the solicitation of “Nothing will ever be the same!”
Promoted with phrases such as “The Day Evil Won” and “Heroes Die, Legends Live Forever,” Final Crisis is the story of the villain Darkseid plotting to overthrow all of reality, leading to either the corruption or death of several DC heroes and a perversion of reality. The scenario is best described as when everything goes wrong all at the same time. The series starts with grizzled old P.I. (and Superman supporting cast member) Dan Turpin on a case to find missing children, finding the corpse of the New God Orion. Turpin’s case eventually brings him before Boss Dark Side, the human vessel holding the essence of Darkseid, of which Turpin becomes the new host. Following this, events unfold at a pace unheard of by the heroes of DC with little time to react before evil takes over. Using the Anti-Life Equation, a mathematical proof that Darkseid has been searching for since his inception in Jack Kirby’s Forever People series, Darkseid and the other New Gods of Apokolips take control of most of the Earth. All the while, reality is crumbling around the Earth, drawing the Multiverse into a singularity of which there is seemingly no escape. Alongside this, there is a looming threat in the realm of the Monitors, the enigmatic beings that overlook each of the DC Universe’s 52 parallel worlds. Nix Uotan, the Monitor of Earth-51 has been banished to reside with “the germ people” of Earth as punishment for allowing the destruction of his universe prior to the events. It is a story on a scale that is rarely seen that dips into every realm DC has to offer, celebrating everything that super-hero comics are and can be, resulting in a grand tale that has few equals.
It seems only appropriate to start this by commenting on how the GraphicAudio production is based off of Greg Cox’s novelization of Final Crisis and not just Morrison’s work itself. A quick search online reveals that Cox is also the author of many movie adaptations and other comic events that have since been adapted by GraphicAudio. While I have not read any of his work (that I know off), I can clearly state that Greg Cox does a remarkable job of adapting Morrison’s words – as well as J.G. Jones and Doug Mahnke’s art – to the page. While listening to the recording, I stopped and said to myself, “This scene is kind of cool, but I don’t remember it being here.” As novelizations often do, some scenes are altered or omitted to make the story flow more naturally. For example, when Dan Turpin reaches the Dark Side Club in issue #1, we don’t just go from outside to Boss Dark Side’s lounge. We instead are treated to a brief journey through the club, with Turpin commenting on how the latex-clad coat-check girl has skin that looks like plastic, a brief reference to the Plastic People from the Mister Miracle part of Seven Soldiers of Victory, adding another reference to anything and everything in DC that Final Crisis already was packed to the gills with. Like Morrison’s story itself, all of these little details and references aren’t needed to be understood to enjoy the story, but they reward rereads and relistens the more the reader / listener dives into the DC Universe. Cox’s narration of what is otherwise drawn on the page does a great job of conveying the events of the story, even to those who have next to no knowledge about the characters of DC outside of the Justice League.
When I first saw the above image I had very little knowledge of the DC Universe, and I could only name a couple of those characters, but I thought that page was spectacular and wanted to know who they all were. Cox’s adaptation does a great job in this scene – and the many other scenes like this – by giving a brief description of the characters present, what they do, and who they are. Even now, as a fairly seasoned DC reader, there are a few characters that I have to ponder over in that splash, and until I listened to the production, I never realized the heroes are riding on the Metal Men in this scene, or that Frankenstein goes around quoting Milton’s Paradise Lost during the battle that follows.
The voice acting and sound design are really what sold me on the production. With a cast of characters so immense in this story, I never expected everyone to get their voice in, even if they are just in a single scene with a single line, and with voices entirely fitting to the characters. Superman has the regal, yet calm voice that you expect from him, and Reverend Godfrey Good has the syllable enunciating televangelist tone that until now just lived in my head. There are certain lines that just sound fantastic and made me giggle with glee to actually hear them being spoken aloud, not because they are funny (although some are), it’s just that they are words I never thought I would hear spoken aloud by actors; “I make electricity dance like Beyonce” is amongst my favorites, as is whenever Dan Turpin refers to super-heroes as “Super Muk Muks”. There are some instances where there is some modulation on certain characters voices that is used superbly. When the Flashes are running at superluminal speeds that are causing holes in time, their voices have a small level of distortion to them, making them sound a little blurry, not to the point where you can’t understand what is being said but rather to convey just how fast they are traveling. Characters with full faced masks sound a little muffled as they are talking through the material. The production makes an interesting choice by not clearly stating the Anti-Life Equation out loud, which I found incredibly fitting. The Anti-Life Equation is present, but it’s murmured in the background by creepy children in the Dark Side Club or as a few phrases that can be heard from the Justifier helmets as they are forced onto the unwilling, making them slaves to Darkseid. Alongside the chants of crowds going “Die For Darkseid!” it makes the atmosphere really tense and dramatic, as it should be. The crowning moment of glory is when Superman sings Darkseid out of existence, and the following scenes in which he is struggling to talk due to his injured vocal chords. Listening to production for that short scene alone made it worth it, as there is no logical way to describe the sound produced, but GraphicAudio somehow managed to pull it off.
For all the praises I give the production, there is one major thing that bothered me about the adaptation: the omission of Superman Beyond. Instead of being tasked by the Monitrix Zillo Valla to help her confront the looming threat the Monitors face, with the reward being saving a severely injured Lois Lane, Brainiac 5 shows up from the future to teleport Superman forward in time to look at a literal Miracle Machine, saving Lois before departing. This change of events makes the scene a little more digestible in comparison to the events of Superman Beyond, which deals with the bringing together of Supermen from parallel Earths, a trip to DC Limbo where the forgotten characters have gone to, and a Superman “Thought-Robot” that fights the vampiric Dark Monitor Mandrakk. The story is chaotically marvelous and regarded by some as the best part of the entire series. Omission of the event also results in one of the biggest themes of the Crisis not being as prevalent in the overall narrative. Moreso than the struggle of good versus evil, the dawn of the 5th World, and the impending threat to the Multiverse, Final Crisis is a story about stories – how humanity has told stories throughout time, how stories persist, and how the only way things are lost or forgotten is if the stories about them stop being told. Metatextuality of the comic book medium aside, the lack of Superman’s multiversal 4-D adventure also makes the coming of Mandrakk at the climax of the recording feel like a fleeting threat. Aside from his reveal at the end, the only other mention of Mandrakk is an offhand comment about him during the introduction of the Monitors at the beginning of the story. The influence or presence of the Monitors has always been a staple of DC’s Crises and downplaying them, especially in Final Crisis, kind of makes the ending feel a little hollow. The visual style of Final Crisis #7’s conclusion – of the panels “burning” away into white as the Monitors are disbanded – is also lost in the translation, but like Superman Beyond, it’s a narrative style that only really works in comics. While usually exemplary, there are times during the larger fight scenes where the sounds of the battle overpower the volume of the narration, making things a little difficult to hear. These losses or omissions don’t make the overall story, as presented, any less enjoyable (clumsy ending aside), and it just goes to show that there is no such thing as a perfect adaptation, although this is probably the closest we’ll ever get, and it does a fine job at that.
Final Crisis has always had a special significance to me; the first issue’s release coincided with my return to monthly comics. I had little to no sense what was going on during my first read through, as I had read very little at the time, but I wanted to know. Every time I read it, I picked up on some small detail or reference that I had otherwise missed. Final Crisis made me dive head first into comics to find more stories that challenge the notion of what you can do on the printed page, and I haven’t looked back since.