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Final Crisis: Secret Files #1 Final Crisis: Secret Files #1

Final Crisis: Secret Files #1

Scheduled to arrive in stores: December 31, 2008

Cover date: February 2009

"Balancing Act"

Writer: Len Wein
Penciller: Tony Shasteen
Inker: Alex Bleyaert
Cover Art: Jim Lee, Richard Friend & Randy Mayor/Frank Quitely

Reviewed by: Barry Freiman

Click to enlarge

Libra tells his origin story - which begins with eight-year old Justin Ballantine. His mother was ill and he was at the pharmacy waiting for her pills. The pharmacist was a drunk and gave her the wrong pills. She died.

Afterward, his father became a sullen, physically abusive drunk. So Justin looked toward the stars. He eventually saved up for a telescope and would watch the stars. His drunken father came to the roof and yelled at him for wasting his life. He leapt at the boy and fell off.

With both his parents now dead, Justin believed that "Life is all just a matter of balance." He went to Opal University so he could study at the feet of Ted Knight, a.k.a. the Golden Age Starman. One night he snuck into Knight's office and took photos of the blueprints to Knight's cosmic rod.

Years later Ballantine had put together an energy-transmortifier capable of absorbing half the energy in the galaxy. But he needed to test it. He decided to test it on a super-hero. If he could absorb half their great powers, surely he could absorb the energy of a galaxy. He created a costume as a means of attracting JLA attention but he was perplexed how to begin.

Suddenly a stranger appears in Libra's lab. The stranger tells him he represents another party interested in aiding Libra. He teleports Libra to a satellite and tells him to form an Injustice Gang of the World (IGW). The satellite had an elaborate laboratory. Libra was intrigued so he did what the stranger asked.

He teleported a group of villains to his satellite: Tattooed Man, Scarecrow, Mirror Master, Poison Ivy, Chronos, and Shadow Thief. He gives each of them a button to push if in danger of defeat, which will automatically turn the tables on the attacker.

Summarizing events initially disclosed in "Justice League of America #111" (1st vol.), the story continues with the villains facing JLA members and, at the appropriate time, using the buttons to instantly transfer half their power into Libra's body.

Libra brought the JLA members to the satellite so they could watch him use his gizmo on himself and take on half the galaxy's energy. Superman uses the red sun lamp keeping him helpless to heat up Flash's cell. But even Flash is too late. Libra has exposed himself to his gizmo and starts to grow. Unfortunately, Libra did not anticipate what happened next. The universe's energy was so great, he simply was absorbed into it and disappeared. The heroes assumed the day had been saved.

But Libra awakened in the land of the New Gods where he was met by Metron. As an observer, Metron watched as Desaad's guards took Libra away. Desaad punished Libra to make him pliable to Darkseid's will. But he didn't need to because Libra already was willing to serve Darkseid. Darkseid called for a stop to the torture and explained to Libra that he had special plans for him that involved his special plans for the Earth.

Darkseid uses his omega beams to give Libra an upgraded costume, explains Libra's new mission, and returns him to Earth via boom tube. There, he attacks heroes as a means of gaining access to the super-villain community. He then makes them the offer of granting their heart's desire. First, for Human Flame, he murders the Martian Manhunter. Then he gives the villains a choice: obey or submit to anti-life. Libra's story then continues into "Final Crisis".

4Story - 4: The story reads like a 1970s Justice League tale and that makes sense. Libra's co-creator, writer Len Wein, pens this tale. Like Justice League stories of that era, there are clichés like the drunken pharmacist and abusive father. There are huge jumps in logic like the decision to test his gizmo on the League rather than an ordinary man (either way, he'd feel half the power of a being come into his body" to end instead as "being's power enters his body ala the Parasite). And the classic unnecessary expository dialogue like Darkseid introducing himself to Desaad and the readers. Modern readers may consider these liabilities to the story. To me, a pre-teen when the original story was released, this origin story is vintage gold.

Though Libra's story does in fact continue outside this issue, the story has a definite beginning, middle, and end to it unlike so many stories told in comics today. It's also been awhile since we've been given a one-issue 'Secret Origin'. With its ties to a Bronze Age story, I'm reminded of the "Secret Origins" title, mostly a reprint book in its first volume run - this book could just as easily been called "Final Crisis: Secret Origins".

One final question for the road: Why do so many super-villains have little figures or chess pieces of the Justice League? Food for thought.

5Art - 5: I'd never heard of artist Tony Shasteen so I googled him. Hope it was good for you too Tony. Anyway, it turns out he's best known on projects for DC competitors Marvel and Dark Horse (though he was also artist on the Vixen tale in DC's 2008 Halloween special). And he's really good. It's actually worth checking out his website's art gallery. On his site, there are a few pages from a painted "Star Wars" book that really shows off this guy's talents. My prediction is you're watching - or is that reading - the birth of a great artist on the par of George Perez.

In "Secret Files", Shasteen gives us a contemporarily drawn comic. It doesn't feel like a knock-off of the old style Dick Dillin art. Yet there are panels that certainly evoke the 1970s and 1980s era such as the panel where Libra appears in his original costume for the first time.

Like the story that the Justice League mistakes as over when Libra disappears into the fabric of the galaxy, it'd be easy to mistake Shasteen's work as retro but it takes on a very modern and realistic tone when Libra wakes up in the Fourth World.

I hope we see more of Shasteen's work for DC soon. In fact, I'm so hopeful I added "Shasteen" to my Microsoft Word dictionary.

2Add-Ons - 2: There are two one page text pages. The first is by Greg Rucka and it's some jibber jabber biblical language, I presume from the Crime Bible. The second is by Grant Morrison and is entitled "The Anti-Life Equation" - it's basically just Morrison's justification of "Final Crisis" really. It would have been nice to include the actual Anti-Life Equation in a piece titled after it. It seems the only reason this was included was to add the mega-popular Morrison to the creators listed on the cover though, writing-wise, it's really Len Wein's issue. Though it is curious why Morrison is included and Rucka isn't.

2Cover Art (Sliver Cover) - 2: The story isn't about Wonder Woman. But few of the sliver covers on "Final Crisis" and its related books have featured anything relevant to the story inside on the cover. That's an editorial decision so I can't really fault the artists. Nonetheless, Diana's been featured on other "Final Crisis" covers already. This seems so arbitrary. I get it. You don't want to use Libra on the main cover because he doesn't sell books. So how about the villains of the IGW? Even the Martian Manhunter would have made more sense as his murder represents the start of Libra's role in Darkseid's plan. The art on the cover is just fine but I review the cover for more than just the art. That explains the low grade.

5Cover Art (Libra) - 5: I've already said it in other reviews but I much prefer the alternate "Final Crisis" covers to the main sliver covers. But this one isn't just nicer; it's a beautiful piece of art with incredible detail. Quitely brings together Libra, Apokolips, and the Crime Bible into an image that very clearly explains what to expect inside. It's so simple yet so effective. Brilliant.

Mild Mannered Reviews


Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

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