Final Crisis Requiem – Gone All Gooey

Hamiltons Modern LifeThere are always a few comics that stand out in their ability to foster a pure emotional response. There is a philosophical bent to the content, an element of emotional intensity, designed specifically to lead the reader to new places. In our daily lives it can be too easy to get caught up in the web of mundane, repetitive tasks of living. Being an adult seems to involve an excessive amount of work, bill-paying, cleaning and generally dealing with some not very soul-nourishing stuff. But we are not the sum of our jobs or our possessions, these things are part of what we do, but they do not create us. For me, the magic of humanity, our universal superpower, is our internal lives, the leaps of the imagination taken. This is where comics come into their own.

People have often accused comics of being another form of pointless escapism, (as if reading can only ever be an escape from reality, rather than an attempt to live more consciously and explore new, impossible spaces). But I believe that because of the nature of the medium, they can touch us that much more deeply than any other form of communicative entertainment media (i.e. film, tv, novels).

When I read comics, I feel like they reach deeply into my brain and I’m forced to immerse myself. The effect of the simple line drawings combined with words, which I read almost without realizing what I’m doing, causes the information to be absorbed that much more unconsciously and personally. If the stories told were films, then someone else’s vision of the characters and timing would dominate. In comics, (as Scott McCloud pointed out in Understanding Comics), sparse lines describe people, and so our minds fill in the blanks, fleshing out the characters, thus the connection to the characters become personal. This is similar to the experience of reading regular books and imagining the stories. But without the rough imagery to provide visual guidelines, it’s easy for me to read a regular book and simply not focus. The information goes in, but sometimes chunks of the story don’t get the attention they deserve. There’s no point in which the story is brought to life outside of the mind, and so the characters in a book may live fully in the realm of the imagination, they lack substance and a connection to their words. Obviously, this is something that the comic medium conveys intensely.

Reading comics in this way, the characters permeate so thoroughly into the mind that they quickly become a source of personal connection. And so when something happens to cause a change, subtle realizations in their lives can be incredibly intense moments to read, because the line between the self and the fictional character has become so thin. They live so completely inside of us that their experiences begin to feel like our own. To my view, this immediate emotional response has more in common with the experience of listening to music than it does with film or traditional literature.

With this in mind, it’s interesting to look at which comics strike me most intensely, which ones I have become emotional over. These are the comics I come back to, the comics I will re-read and recommend to friends.

Martian ManhunterMost recently, in Final Crisis: Requiem, an unusual thing happened; a hero died, and his passing was given the attention and space it deserved. Unlike the usual treatment of death and violence, the Martian Manhunter’s murder was given an entire issue to unfold.

When the issue came out, I had time to kill that day (and to be honest, I really couldn’t wait to read my comics), so I sat down on the couch in my local comic store and immediately read the story. As soon as I saw what was happening, tears welled up in my eyes. My friends in the store thought this was ridiculous. “People die in comics all the time” they exclaimed “this is not big deal, he’ll probably come back anyway…”

But in that moment, plunging myself entirely into the story within seconds of opening the book, I was touched. Nothing rational that I told myself made any difference. I just couldn’t deal with the fact that this trusted old friend was dying and I had to watch his desperate death cries, powerless to help him, just as all of his friends were helpless in the story. It tore me up, I can’t put it any other way.

And yes, I do understand that this is fiction, none of these people exist, and anyway, it’s comics so he’ll probably come back, or maybe lately he’s become a crappy version of himself anyway…

So what? This is J’onn J’onzz we’re talking about! The great granddaddy of the DC heroes, the true heart of the Justice League, he holds all of the disparate characters together. If you want to know more about how much of a well-rounded, solid guy he can be, the second volume of JLI came out in hardcover recently, and I’d strongly recommend picking it up, as well as it’s precursor. I’m not crying about some guy they wrote a weird book about last week. I’ve been reading about this character since I can remember, he’s an old friend who I’ve known for a lot longer than many of the people I see everyday. For me, he’s always had maturity, a solidity, and a calm that many heroes lack. His alien nature allowed him an outsider’s perspective, lending him the air of an itinerant philosopher combined with the ultimate anthropologist. Somewhat similarly to the protagonist’s view of America in Lolita, (but without the dodgy bits), he always seemed equally confused by and in love with his adopted planet in a way that always seemed lacking from his fellow lone alien; Superman. He had gravitas and heart. I’ve always identified strongly with the perspective of the foreigner, even before I moved to Europe and the U.S. As the child of an American I can’t remember ever not feeling foreign, separate, outside of things. Ultimately we all live separate lives, divided by our individual thoughts. J’onn broke down these barriers with great compassion.

Justice LeagueIn the moment of his death, J’onn reached out to his friends, and the lines dividing them fell away. For a moment they shared his life, his experiences, and knew him as well as they know themselves. J’onn truly gave of himself at the last, and for that, I mourned.

An unusual book like this, focusing as much on the impact of the action as it does on the action itself, feels like a gift to the readers. All too often these kind of special event comics can often be yet another novelty, a marketing tool designed to create artificial interest while trashing continuity all over the place (which can be deeply frustrating; see Mike Romo’s column this week). Instead I feel like the Final Crisis books are working with the strengths of the medium to do something different in the mainstream. It’s thrilling and invigorating to be able to experience such incredibly extreme stories playing so thoroughly with some of our most beloved characters.


Sonia Harris is foreign. She is a big fan of America, Oreos, and comic books. Please continue to send your random and strange mail to her at



  1. I was reading New Frontier again last month and, after having no real story ideas for J’onn, I thought "Ah!  I think I have a good handle on him for a story!" By then, I remembered his fate in Final Crisis though and I became sad.

  2. Great article. I feel that this book, as far as eliciting an emotional response goes, far surpassed anything in recent memory. The only thing that comes close for me was Civil War: The Confession, and Falcon’s eulogy for Cap.

  3. I haven’t been reading Final Crisis, but even so I was a bit devastated just by hearing what happened to J’onn.  I’m only a very casual DC reader, but he’s someone who has always been there, in just about every version of the Justice League I’ve encountered — your tribute to him is really lovly and perfect.

    Anyway, even though i wasn’t following FC, by chance, I picked up "Requiem" this week.  (And when I say "chance", I mean "I knew I was going to read FC: Revelations b/c it was the Question book, so I wanted to have a little background, and "Requiem" was sitting on the shelf at my LCS with a big sign that said, "This may be the best single issue you’ll read this year!!")  So I picked it up, and it really did live up to the hype.  I actually found tears stinging my eyes when I read it.  It’s true that, all too often, comics stories move on from one disaster to another without pausing to consider consequences and emotional fallout.  When they do, though, it can be something really special and it’s worth paying attention to.

  4. I’m a novice to the DC Universe but reading Requiem had my eyes watering.

  5. Sonia

    Your columns are sooo good! It’s refreshing to see an article writer be so honest and thought provoking.  As for the issue itself… I’ve not had the good fortune to read it yet but thoroughly look forward to it.  The quality and impact of the story has lot to do Pete Tomasi. I’ve enjoyed many of his stories in the past and have a copy of The Light Brigade on my bookshelf.  He’s writer that seems to put a lot of thought and care into his work and genuinely interested in telling good stories.

  6. ah, crap!!  Sorry for the missing words.  I hate when I do that.  Just woke up and I’m bleary eyed.

  7. Great write up! Requiem was a great one shot. I alwaways like John J’ozz better been superman. He just more human in a way.

  8. Ah, so glad to see JLI mentioned. I think that’s also where I really came to love Martian Manhunter as a character. Well, actually there was that and a really underrated mini-series by JM DeMatteis back in the 80’s that was this wonderful love story about J’Onn and his family from Mars. Really beautiful, but it kinda had to be slightly retconned by later stories.

    Anyway: great character.

    I thought the one-shot was good, but I have to admit, after the opening act, at the point when the story shifts to telling all the "events" in the life of MM….? That’s where I thought the story dried up a little bit. A little too much dry exposition for my tastes.

    Of course, then the final pages. And Batman had to go and leave the damn cookie on his coffin. They got me right there.

  9. Yeah, I loved that issue when I read it a few weeks ago.  It was so excellently written, and it really highlighted how important he is as a character.  The cookie scene was heart breaking, but truly in character for Batman.  The JLU series on TV used to do that all the time, and there’s nothing that makes this guy happier than that.

    FC has been a real hit for me, and I’ve enjoyed the series and the tie-ins immensely.

  10. Choooooooocooooooooos!

    Despite being a really big MM fan from way back, I resisted buying this. I actually picked it up on accident (thought it was a new issue of FC) and then didn’t read it for 2 weeks. But when I did, man it got me.

  11. I had the strangest experience with that book… I read it and sure… I got misty when he was psi-sending his life story to his closest friends. And the Batman thing at the end just killed me. But I was telling my girlfriend about the book a few days after reading it and when I got to then end, describing Batman putting the cookie on the casket this total devastating wave of emotion ran through me and I started crying right there in the cafe. Not just a tear but like an "excuse me for a minute while I compose myself" type thing. I never saw it coming, never anticipated it. It was just suddenly on me like a sneeze.  Now I’m sure this was more about some unprocessed grief over something else and not just a comic book in and of itself. But to have a totally raw emotional moment like that spring from a comic book… or any work of art for that matter… that’s rare. That’s brilliant. That’s something to be grateful for. Jusy sayin.

  12. Wow! From shagging Swamp Thing to crying for Martian Manhunter. You cover the whole gamut don’t you?

  13. She’s got a thing for green.

  14. It’ll be alright. J’onn will still be seen in the DCU.


  15. Great article, I’m glad to see some J’onn appreciation.  Why couldn’t it have been Firestorm?

  16. @Kimbo – Because no one would have cared.

  17. Excellent article and well stated.  I look forward to reading your articles again.  Keep up the excellent and thought provoking work.

  18. It is weird to care so much for a character. I mean, out of all the people in the DCU….I would’ve really cared about Martian Manhunter? I was very dubious with his death in FC #1 and wasnt into reading the Requiem. But then after I read it, I couldnt stop being so depressed.

    Why cant any death in any industry be this heart warming? I mean sure his death was too quick in the main book….but damn DC really wanted to make sure why his death was so serious. Although death in comics is quite common, I would have no problem this being the end of MM with this gut wrenching final memorial