Obviously any writer working on a big time comic book event looks to end their story in the most innovative and unexpected way they can. If you’re not looking to surprise your readers and keep them guessing until the end, you’re in the wrong game.
However, in our medium—I’ll call it “ours,” that’s cool, right?—just as in action movies or genre TV shows, there are certain tricks that will always work if done right. A good tragic sacrifice brings the emotion. A well-choreographed battle scene boosts folks out of their seats. A final act babyface turn from a heel elicits a grin. These are things you kinda see coming, but if they’re well executed, you don’t mind.
And one of my personal favorites: The cavalry charges in to save the day.
There are many variations on bringing in the cavalry to help resolve a global or universal peril when it comes to comics. Crisis On Infinite Earths was so big you needed essentially the whole friggin’ multiverse as the cavalry, but there were also several moments where individual heroes got a chance to shine, whether it was The Spectre arm-wrestling The Anti-Monitor at the dawn of time or Golden Age Superman throwing his Earth-1 counterpart back to reality and landing the final blow.
Sometimes events can be used to remind why certain iconic characters in particular groupings have the place they do. I remember talking to Geoff Johns when he was breaking the end of Infinite Crisis and a major goal was to make sure each member of the DC Trinity got their moment—Batman shuts down Brother Eye, Wonder Woman stops him from killing Alex Luthor to reaffirm her morality, Superman takes down Superboy Prime—and also elevate Green Lantern and the Green Lantern Corps back up. Siege was a similar deal for the big three of the Avengers, as they reunite in battle for the first time since they disassembled and all get their shots in on Norman Osborn before he goes down, with Cap leading the charge of heroes, Iron Man crashing the Helicarrier into the villains and Thor being the guy to finally halt the rampage of an out-of-control Sentry.
Other times one hero gets to step up and earn their place as a world beater. Hal Jordan got to do it twice with Final Night and Blackest Night. Captain America managed to get the power of The Beyonder away from Doctor Doom in Secret Wars. Batman put an end to Darkseid in Final Crisis. Jean Grey took down Madelyne Pryor and then Cyclops blasted Mister Sinister to bits to put a bow on Inferno.
My favorites are when the guys you don’t suspect pull off the win though.
The Justice League is totally screwed at the end of Underworld Unleashed until The Trickster of all people outsmarted the devil and saved reality. Nova was a B-lister at best—I can admit it—until the galaxy needed him to rip Annihilus’ guts out in order to prevent Annihilation from going any further.
However, even better than that is when the last folks responsible for pulling everybody’s fat out of the fire are the most mismatched band of misfits whoever’s writing can come up with.
In Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos gets his hands on the combined Infinity Gems, becomes omnipotent, kills half the universe, and does generally horrible things. With many of Earth’s heroes out of the picture, Adam Warlock works with what he has left, pulling together Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, The Hulk, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Namor, Cyclops, She-Hulk, Quasar, Drax, Firelord, The Scarlet Witch, Nova, The Vision and Cloak. The good guys get their asses handed to them, but it’s a pretty fierce battle and the ways Thanos comes up with to dispatch his foes—turning Wolverine’s skeleton to rubber, suffocating Cyclops with a ruby quartz box around his head—are wickedly clever. It’s also neat to see a dude like Cloak hanging in there alongside Thor despite how terrified he is. And of course, the sight of Captain America, the most mortal of all heroes, defiantly standing up to the bad guy even after all his allies have fallen, is classic. Ultimately, Thanos beats even the most powerful cosmic entities opposing him but gets the Gauntlet stripped from him by Nebula, necessitating an even more surprising white knight to come to the rescue: Thanos himself.
Before he hit those last minute homers a few years later, Hal Jordan was the guy tossing strikes down the middle, trying to wipe the universe clean and rebuild it the way he wanted during Zero Hour when he was going by the handle Parallax. The former Green Lantern actually succeeds and does erase reality, himself fading into a blank white page at the conclusion of Zero Hour #1, a visual effect I always dug, especially as it was mirrored in all other DC books that month. However Zero Hour #0 opens with Parallax giving a sermon to Batgirl, Guy Gardner, Alpha Centurion, Triumph and Extant about his next phase, while over at Vanishing Point, Waverider has managed to preserve a team of his own in hopes of setting things right: Superman, Captain Atom, Kyle Rayner, Hawkman, The Ray, Donna Troy, Green Arrow and Damage. It was such a wacky mix and match of big name heroes with no names as well as folks being pushed, plus traditional impact players like Batman and Wonder Woman left off to the side that it had me riveted; it was a great primer for the DC Universe and what they were trying to do in 1994. It’s the barely-powered Green Arrow who hits the agonizing “kill” shot on his former best friend Hal, and then relative nobody Damage who jump starts the big bang—a great fun fact he’d later harp on in Titans—so perhaps the ultimate example of unexpected saviors playing the true cavalry.
Stuff like that stands out to me because I love genuine attempts to elevate new and overlooked characters, and there’s perhaps no better place to do it than a big event. Don’t get me wrong: I still get plenty tingly—bad word choice, oh well—when Superman or Thor show why they’re the undisputed big guns of their respective universes, but there’s an untouchable satisfaction you get when the last person you expected hits the one in a million shot or figures out the unbeatable villain’s weakness.
So while the best ending is a well-written ending regardless of who saves the day, I certainly wouldn’t mind if Booster Gold does turn the tide in Flashpoint or Black Widow knocks out The Serpent in Fear Itself—I would not see that coming, but I’d love it.