Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Final Crisis #7

Tim Callahan: You reviewed Final Crisis #7 for CBR, and I wrote a 2,000-word appreciation of the series for last week's "When Words Collide" column, also at CBR. Yet I'm sure we still have plenty to talk about regarding this sometimes incoherent, beautiful, wondrous, cosmic, insane seven-issue series. You go first. What did you leave out of your review that you think its extremely important to discuss first?

Chad Nevett: Well, I actually found writing the review here rather difficult since SO much happens and it's all SO important that discussing any of it seemed like spoiling the whole damn thing. Which is how I wound up focusing on Morrison's storytelling and becoming, as I said to you in an e-mail, an apologist for the book in many ways. Since we've spent a lot of time discussing Morrison's storytelling, why not start there as it will help "make sense" of what we're actually told...

Morrison's called the technique he uses here "channel-zapping," like each plot is airing on a different TV station and he's flipping through all of them, giving us the highlights. It's actually not quite the breakthrough that I think Morrison thinks it is, mostly because it's actually not that divorced from the techniques he's been using for the entire series and have shown up in past works of his like Marvel Boy, JLA's "Crisis Times Five," the fourth issue of Seven Soldier: Mister Miracle or even Seven Soldiers #1. He's been using highly compressed storytelling techniques for a while and this issue amps it up a little, but not that much. What I couldn't help but think as I was reading is that people will no doubt complain and find this issue difficult to read, but the manner in which Morrison jumps around would probably not throw off many if it were in a TV show or movie. Or maybe it would, I don't know. I didn't have that many problems with it. As I said in my review, it gives the impression that the events here are too big to be contained by this small little comic book, so Morrison crams in as much as he can, but there's no way he'll fit it all in. "Too epic for comics," I suppose. Now, there's a phrase I never thought I'd write what with comics being words and pictures and as Harvey Pekar said, "You can do anything with words and pictures."

TC: There's certainly an aspect of, well, it's too big for the pages to contain. Too big for just words and pictures, but isn't that part of what a Crisis needs to be. It's so big, so monumental, that the characters cannot wrap their brains around it, even in victory. I don't need everything explained, and I'm okay if there were more loose ends than answers, because it was a colossal event. Things happened on a multiversal scale. It can't be wrapped up neatly, but I was impressed with the emotional impact of the finale, as Superman's unstoppable force of good overcame the ultimate evil. The spine of the story reached its logical, and effective, end, and that was nice to see. But, we're still left with so many possibilities.

I really don't find the "channel-zapping" all that odd or off-putting at all, and, as I mentioned in a comment somewhere (I forget where), having just reread the two prior Crises, it's not much different than what went on in those books. We'd often see quick cuts to other locales, and even insert panels of a single action going on elsewhere. Morrison unglues things in time, but the quick cutting was very similar to what Wolfman/Perez and Johns/Jimenez did before. The big difference is that the previous two Crisis would have contained captions that said: "Aquaman battled his fierce rival, Black Manta, in defense of his undersea kingdom." Final Crisis leaves those captions out for the most part, although issue #7 did have a bit more narration than the other issues.

Honestly, I don't need, or want, those old-school expository narrative captions about Aquaman and Black Manta. They are ridiculous and juvenile. Imagine something like The Godfather with voice over saying, "Michael Corleone, hardened by his new role in the family, must make a decision. A decision he may one day regret!" That's apparently what some readers want from Final Crisis, and to that I say NAY!

And at least Final Crisis didn't end like Secret Invasion, with a long explanation of what happened and why and what we're supposed to think about it all. Man, the finale of this book made Secret Invasion seem like a middle school stage production of "The Day the Aliens Invaded and We Ran Out of Time to Write a Proper Ending, So We'll Just Sum it All Up For You."

CN: Well, this issue did have that a little with some of the narration, but at least that had a big of drama to it. A bit of style and flair. It wasn't awkward conversation that steps around the identity of the speakers. That isn't to say that Final Crisis #7 is a perfect comic or anything, but it reads a lot better than Secret Invasion #8...

Moving beyond storytelling techniques, this is the finale and I know we both reread Final Crisis ahead of time, plus you reread previous "Crises" and I reread the entire Seven Soldiers story (the parallels there being large and many, of course, especially for the finale of each). So... does this issue do the job, both as a finale to this event, but as a way to end this long build-up (of sorts) that spans many books, some fans are familiar with and some they aren't -- but really should be?

I'm going to go with yes. I haven't read Crisis on Infinite Earths or Infinite Crisis recently, but this definitely works at building upon Seven Soldiers, specifically the Mister Miracle story. It also follows the structure of that story in a very similar manner with all of these different plots going on next to one another, converging at the end in unexpected ways, bound together by a common threat. One thing that I found interesting that, I think, Jog mentioned was the idea of Superman Beyond 3D actually being the Mister Miracle of Final Crisis with the seeming tangental story that really sets up something further down the road, but still reflects upon the main story thematically and through a few minor plot points. Now, that didn't actually happen as Mandrakk returns here, but there's that similar pattern here that I really, really enjoy.

As a conclusion to this series, I rather like that it didn't end in that way that Marvel events tend to with the final few pages acting as teasers for what comes next. This issue ends with the bad guys defeated, Superman wishing everyone a happy ending and the knowledge that, tomorrow, there will be more stories, but nothing that says "Now that you've finished Final Crisis, BUY THIS!!!" Just a few hints at possibilities like the broad knowledge of the multiverse or Nix Uotan's role in the DCU... stuff that may get followed up on, but there's no compelling need to tune in next month for the direct continuation. Some elements are left hanging to work with the idea that the story never ends, it always keeps going and we're just getting a small portion of it here, but, beyond that, this is pretty self-contained (if you include all of the Morrison-penned issues, of course).

Um... you talk now?

TC: It certainly could have ended with a sequence of preview pages that said, "Read about the next exciting adventures of Mister Miracle and the Super Young Team in MISTER MIRACLE AND THE SUPER YOUNG TEAM, on sale Feb. 4th!" or "The New Gods Reborn! Read about their resurrection in GRANT MORRISON'S THE FIFTH WORLD, by Tony Bedard and Pat Olliffe." I mean, hell, there were plenty of loose ends that could have been followed up upon, that should be followed up upon, that won't be mentioned again, probably. If Morrison can't follow up on them himself, I think they're better left alone. See "MEN, METAL" and "ATOM, THE ALL-NEW" for examples of why other writers can't really take Morrisonian ideas and run with them.

But Final Crisis does end. It is an excellent ending, I think, as I mentioned in my CBR column. It's celebratory.

And I would, without hesitation, say that Final Crisis reads much better as a whole than Crisis on Infinite Earths or Infinite Crisis. The problem with the first Crisis, was that there was almost no story beyond "hey, we need to fit ALL these heroes in, somehow, so lets have a lot of different places where we can have them show up, and then they can all fight some shadow creatures and then there will be a BIG fight in the end!" It's mostly twelve issues of that, with SPECTACULAR George Perez art. But it's not much of a story. And Infinite Crisis starts off wonderfully and limps to its ending. It ends up being a bunch of incarnations of Superman punching each other, and does little more than set up Superboy-Prime as an annoying, super-powerful bad guy.

Final Crisis ends with a song, with the sad final moments of two cosmic lovers, with the assembled powers of hope standing up against the forces of despair, and with Bruce Wayne in a batcave that's far, far away from home.

I really enjoyed the ending, and I found it more satisfying as closure than any other event finale that I can remember. Better than the ones I mentioned already, certainly, and better than Civil War. Better than Legends (which was, again, just a series seemingly designed to launch new comics). I don't know. Final Crisis has some massively strange beats and things that I expected to build weren't really built up, and the loose ends weren't tied up at all, but it's still a more complete series than all the others somehow. Even with its flaws.

Let's address some of the flaws, though, since we obviously seem to like the same parts of the comic. Flaw #1: The Fifth World -- what is it? Who cares? Is it really any different than the Fourth World? The New Gods seem to be back, mostly. Does it matter? Flaw #2: Why bother introducing the Super Young Team and bringing in Sonny Sumo and Mister Miracle if they had nothing to do with the finale? Flaw #3: What happens to Hawkman? Are those feathers at the end supposed to symbolize his death, and is it important at all?

Are any of these things even flaws? Or are they just unanswered questions?

CN: Yes, the Fifth World is a big unanswered question that is probably a flaw since it was so central to the series. The tagline, based on previous issues, could have been "The Beginning of the Fifth World." We do have Earth-51, which is the Kirby-centric Earth with Kamandi, OMAC, and the New Gods watching over them, but that's obviously not the Fifth World. Or is it? I think that there is a lack of clear (or even unclear) definition as to what the Fifth World entails.

Your other "flaws" don't bother me much, except for maybe the lack of involvement that Mister Miracle had in the finale. Since this story continues from his and he's the one guy who's naturally immune to the Anti-Life Equation and survived the Omega Sanction, I expected him to play a bigger role. He's the last New God standing against the evil gods in many ways (despite Shilo Norman not really being a New God), but he's mostly a side player. Hawkman death was quick and unexpected, almost the mirror of the Martian Manhunter's death, except not as clear. I think the inclusion of that panel near the end makes it clear that he did die. Did Hawkgirl as well since she was right there, too? But, I say this with the most affection: I actually don't care. It is a flaw and vague beyond hope, but I just don't care one bit if the Hawkcouple live or die, so it doesn't bother me.

One "flaw" that I know didn't bother us is that the Morrison-penned tie-in books are actually important and people should have read them, what with the appearance of Mandrakk here. You know that I'm not a big event guy to begin with, but if there's one thing that anyone should know: anything written by the writer of the main book is probably something you should pick up even if they tell you that it isn't important. Am I wrong there? The most important tie-in here is Superman Beyond 3D, and I was actually surprised when it came out and people reading the main book said they weren't picking it up. Now, it's possible that the writer of the event MAY write non-essential tie-in books, but this is Grant Morrison, the man where everything matters, including decades-old Batman comics that were published before I was even born. Now, DC should have been smart enough to just say that ahead of time and smart enough to publish a collection that includes all twelve of the Morrison issues (or two six-issue collections, whatever), but... really, getting those extra issues just seemed like common sense to me.

TC: Just like getting all the Bendis-written tie-in books for Secret Invasion?

I'm sure you see the problem with that logic.

BUT, as you say, it is Grant Morrison, and he ties everything together, so it seems like an obvious choice to make when he's working on a project. I don't really have that much interest in criticizing DC for their strange marketing (like, um, the entirety of Countdown and Death of the New Gods and having something completely irrelevant like Final Crisis: Revelations at the same time as the completely relevant to the point of you-must-have-it Final Crisis: Superman Beyond), because I'm more of a literary critic than a business-practices pundit, but, yeah, DC made some boneheaded choices with this series. It doesn't affect my enjoyment of it, or my appreciation for the narrative techniques, but it seems like they were going out of their way to make people not like Final Crisis.

Could the Mandrakk stuff have been understood without reading the tie-in books? I think you could have gotten the gist of it -- he's a vampire Monitor -- but it does diminish the ending significantly.

What do you make of Morrison's claim that he wanted to tell this story in a style more akin to poetry than prose? Because if you recall, I made the same analogy back in an earlier discussion. Are we both just full of shit?

CN: I'm tempted to say yeah. There are some very poetic moments, some poetic lines, but nothing that really screams "poetry" to me. There's nothing that really screams "prose" either, though. I have a hard time linking comics to other media like that sometimes. I could probably come up with works of poetry and works of prose that Final Crisis reminds me of, both in style and content. I'm sure some readers who hated it and just didn't get it would think poetry, until I handed them some prose by Joyce or Beckett. I'm actually not sure I understand what you or Morrison mean by the idea of more poetry than prose.

TC: I won't presume to speak for Morrison, but when I said it I meant that the lyrical quality of Final Crisis -- the images and moments -- seemed to outweigh the importance of traditional narrative structure. You could plot out the story using Freytag's pyramid, I suppose, but the story doesn't follow the traditional beats you might expect. Instead, it presents a series of emotionally-charged images (or scenes of images) and its the affect of these images that add up to a meaning. I don't see how a traditional summary would give you any impression of what Final Crisis was really like. Instead, it's a more poetic accumulation of detail.

Does that make sense?

CN: That makes sense, but there are any number of prose works that I would say are constructed in the same manner, so the label still doesn't really work for me. Hell, the best prose works seem to work that way, where a traditional summary doesn't really give you an impression of the work. I know, that's not quite what you mean. As well, I think the narrative structure is very important since that's how those little moments and images obtain meaning, particularly as the series progresses. But, I'm also a big fan of structure and I really like how Morrison structured this series with a build that started slow and got progressively faster as events got bigger until the final issue where it moved so fast that it couldn't keep the order of events straight. I think the structure is quite important to the overal effect of the series, which includes the fragmented scenes that fill the pages since the first issue. That, of course, doesn't mean you and Morrison aren't right, but maybe since I'm much more of a prose guy, I see those elements playing a larger role. But, even in the end, the comparison to prose never satisfies since it's a comic and screw comparing it to anything outside of the medium.

Sticking within the medium, how do you think Final Crisis compares to other Grant Morrison comics? In many ways, it's a culmination of all of his DCU work, but does that make it better necessarily? In particular, how do you think it works next to Seven Soldiers, which was very similar in plot, some structural elements and storytelling techniques?

TC: Seven Soldiers was certainly more sprawling, and though it all ended up weaving together (sort of) in Seven Soldiers #1, it was a significantly less polished story as a whole. Not less polished, but maybe less chiseled down. Seven Soldiers had more room to grow and expand, in all of the individual four-issue series, while Final Crisis basically had nine issues (if you include Superman Beyond, as you should) and told a diamond-sharp story, chiseled down with plenty of facets. If I continue this jewelry metaphor, that would make Seven Soldiers a fancy bracelet with different gemstones, or something. That probably makes less sense than my poetry analogy.

And, honestly, I'm not sure that Final Crisis is really the culmination of Morrison's DC work. It echoes his past work, certainly, but those echoes reverberated through his previous work. JLA reflected a Flex Mentallo aesthetic (everyone on Earth becomes a superhero), but in a much more mainstream garb, and while his Animal Man stuff was directly referenced in Final Crisis (with Limbo), it was also directly referenced in 52. So the recursion isn't necessarily a culmination, I don't think. I didn't find Final Crisis more or less satisfying because it alluded to past Morrison comics. Or maybe I did, but I'm just unable to look at Final Crisis as something that exists completely out of context. Because it doesn't.

You recently reread Seven Soldiers -- what parallels did you notice this time through?

CN: On a plot level, there are a lot of similarities: the villains from the future who no one knows about until it's too late save for a few people that prepare a defense; the fragmented narratives with many characters working to aid one another without realising it; the sprawling differences between focus characters, spanning from cosmic to grim-and-gritty urban; the final issue of each series is similar, although Seven Soldiers #1 is far more linear (in the sense that it's a linear story), but the general attempt at showing all of these events that seemed random and disconnected until they all sync up perfectly. Final Crisis is more grandoise, more obvious in its battles. Let's be honest, Seven Soldiers is a bit more subtle with the key to the resolution being a car crash that is so well-timed and planned that it almost defies belief. That doesn't happen in Final Crisis, although Superman's dispatching of Darkseid is so simple and wonderful that it almost goes unnoticed in how quickly it passes.

I also think that, with regards to characters, Seven Soldiers was more sprawling and larger. All of the small character moments Morrison works into Final Crisis were there in Seven Soldiers, but much more so. He devoted seven four-issue series to those character moments, and then worked them into two bookend issues. I think, on a character level, Seven Soldiers is far beyond Final Crisis, but that's a simple result of the differing structures.

I do find it funny that only two of Morrison's Seven Soldiers really play a role in Final Crisis. Mister Miracle is the obvious Soldier to show up, but the only other is Frankenstein (excluding some background appearances by others) who is one of the key forces of good, mainly because he's not really alive. He exists outside of the Life versus Anti-Life struggle that goes on on Earth almost, but sides with Life. But, where were the rest of his Soldiers? I find their absence odd almost.

TC: Who else would make sense? The Manhattan Guardian? Nope. Zatanna? Maybe. Shining Knight? Not Really. Klarion? Nope. I suppose they could have appeared, but then Final Crisis would have turned into even less of a DC epic and more of a Morrison clubhouse comic. It seems that he took the characters who made sense from his past work and fit them in, but, then again, not all of the character inclusions make a lot of literal sense. Why Sonny Sumo, other than for a Kirby Konnection? Why does Tattooed Man gain such an important role? Why was Libra even necessary -- couldn't anyone have been an avatar of Darkseid if that's all that he was?

What's your take on those characters and other, seemingly odd, choices?

CN: Libra's involvement seems largely symbolic by the end: the scales, the balance... Other than that, he didn't really serve any purpose beyond being the new kid on the block, shaking things up. The Tattooed Man... redemption? I don't know. Same with Sonny Sumo. The use of those characters was rather odd and not necessarily important. It seems like the reverse of what I've noticed Jim Starlin did in his big Infinity books where, if you read closely, the core plot usually just involves Adam Warlock and Thanos with the rest of the Marvel heroes there as filler, ultimately accomplishing nothing. It doesn't read that way on the surface, but that's how it usually goes down. And, what's more, it's effective! It makes the story seem bigger and more important, but Morrison kind of does the opposite where the important characters that people care about are the more effective ones and his pet characters don't really accomplish that much, seemingly. Hmm... I'm not sure what to make of those characters.

That said, I usually enjoyed their little scenes even if there wasn't a big impact on the main plot. I like the small little tangents that serve the book symbolically or just set the mood. And the scenes involving Morrison's odd, pet characters do that: they add a sense of energy and frantic chaos at times. That's enough for me.

TC: It's almost, you might say, poetic.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #2

Chad Nevett: Week two of our three-week wrap-up of Final Crisis continues with a book that actually falls after issue three and during the same shipping month as issue four (you can tell by the logo and how decomposed it is). Not that matters, but I just wanted to point that out, because I'm weird like that. Now, I reviewed this issue over at CBR, so why not start with your response to that review, Tim, and go from there.

Tim Callahan: I think your review was waaaaaay off base, especially when you categorized it as a "" and said it "makes brains hurt." That's a shallow reading of the comic, and why is making a reader think somehow a negative???

Oh wait, that was CBR's own Hannibal Tabu's review I was reading.

Your review is, not surprisingly, a lot more receptive to the metafictional aspects of the comic. It is indeed a story of competing narratives, and it seems to be a commentary not only on what Morrison has done within the DCU, but a commentary on the DCU itself as a complex meta-narrative. This is a comic about the way in which these kinds of stories have been told before, so we get the recursion of Morrison's ever-popular character-senses-the-presence-of-the-reader trope along with an explanation of the Monitors as cosmic vampires feeding off the lives of fictional characters.

I think my own review would have tended more toward yours than Tabu's.

CN: I think nearly every review of yours would tend more towards mine than Tabu's...

But, yeah, this was a bit more obtuse in its presentation, but it's the same story Morrison has been telling for years. Your latest "When Worlds Collide" named a few precursors to Final Crisis, and you could have easily thrown in a whole bunch of other Morrison tales, but he keeps exploring these same ideas over and over again in different ways. This time, it was through the ultimate superhero fighting for life against a being that is anti-life through the lens of some metafictional commentary. Superman's fight here (and the decision he makes to win) is mirrored in Final Crisis by Batman's choice to shoot Darkseid. Both characters reach beyond their typical morality to "save the world," although, in Superman's case, it's save the... hyperuniverse?

And even if you don't get everything, it all comes down to: Superman fight evil Monitor to obtain magic potion that will save his wife. That's easy. Ignore the captions and look at the pictures then... even on just that level, there's still a lot to appreciate in this comic.

TC: Since this comic is clearly about the art of narrative -- specifically the art of the superhero narrative as embodied in the character of Superman -- what do you make of Morrison's portrayal of the Monitors here? I've seen critics refer to it as a commentary on fandom, feeding off a fictional universe for their own intellectual (and emotional) sustenance. And I've also seen people compare the Monitors to superhero comic book writers, who simultaneously feed off the lives of fictional characters (a writer's gotta get paid and buy food) and also manipulate the destiny of the characters they "monitor."

Do you think such a specific allegorical reading works for this comic?

CN: I'm not sure either really works, because of the use of the "corruption" the Monitors experience. Do readers or writers experience something similar? Especially because it's clear that the "corruption" isn't actually a negative at all, which the Monitors seem to realize because of Superman. I think you can see a broader commentary about feeding off of characters and watching them, but it's far too general to be about a specific group.

TC: What role do you see this story playing within the larger Final Crisis context? On its surface, it seems to have nothing to do with the greater Darkseid plot, and the Monitors see Earth as the "germ-world," a term which implies contamination and insignificance (simultaneously) yet they realize also that it's the keystone to the multiverse (and presumably the keystone to their existence as well). So how does the Monitor plot -- the Mandrakk plot -- echo/relate/reflect the concerns of the overall Final Crisis?

CN: It seems to mirror the plot of Final Crisis with the return of the "dark god" type figure, don't you think? This is the metacrisis that causes all of the various crises that are happening not just on the Earth the heroes we follow inhabit, but, apparently, on all of the others. Because of Mandrakk's return, every Earth is experiencing a crisis... Also, that Mandrakk is basically called the embodiment of "anti-life" surely points to Darkseid, don't you think? It also makes me wonder about the solution to Final Crisis being a combination of "good" and "evil" since it required Superman and Ultraman to coexist to defeat Mandrakk.

CN: How do you think this little tangent story works in relation to All-Star Superman? It seems to have some relationship, but where that book fell flat for me, this one really worked. Is there any relationship beyond the same writer and character?

TC: There's certainly a parallel between All-Star and Superman Beyond, most emphatically on the final page of each series. In All-Star we get the promise that Superman will continue via Quintum's technology -- "Superman 2," which we know will lead to a future strain of Supermen, as seen in the appearance of the Superman Squad in issue #6 -- while in Superman Beyond we get the ultimate Superman epitaph: "To Be Continued." It all ties in to Morrison's constant articulation of the existence of Superman above and beyond our own mortal existence. The whole "Superman is realer than us" idea.

Plus, both series feature that moment of transcendent awareness where Superman realizes how everything fits together, but, ironically, in All-Star, the moment is one in which he realizes that "we are all there is" and there is no higher power or meaning above the deeds of humanity/superhumanity. In Superman Beyond, he not only recognizes the existence of a higher realm in the Bleed, but he senses the reader as well, as he feels our breath as we "cradle" the comic book in our hands. I think the difference between those two moments speak to the differences between the two series. All-Star is a sealed-system look at the Superman mythos and our universe exists inside that one -- we are the pocket universe inside Superman's Fortress. Superman is the ultimate example of goodness upon which our sense of right and wrong is based, or something along those lines. Superman Beyond is the DCU as a creation of our universe, and like Buddy Baker, Superman can only look up at us from inside his comic book reality, but he is always trapped within it. Of course, if we take Morrison's cosmology to its logical extreme, the DCU is a layer nestled inside our reality, and our reality is a layer nestled inside the DCU -- it's a physically impossible situation to be in, or it seems to be, but maybe that's because we lack the fifth-dimensional vision to see it properly.

Why do you think Superman Beyond works so well for you, but All-Star didn't do a thing for you?

CN: I hate to go to my old stand-by, but Superman Beyond 3D just seemed to have more "energy." It's more a frantic, high-speed charge through an insane adventure, while All-Star Superman was more... purposeful, more planned, a bit too static for my tastes. Superman Beyond 3D is told in the same fashion as my favorite Morrison stories where everything happens too fast and you need to go through it a few times to really pick up on everything. It reads like a six-issue arc compressed into these two issues, which is a style that I love. And while it shows off Morrison's love of the character, this story seems to be more about demonstrating how great Superman is without spending an equal amount of time telling us that he's great, which All-Star did quite a bit through secondary characters. It was more show than tell, I guess. Plus, it's in 3D and who doesn't love 3D?

I'm pretty sure most people don't love 3D -- or at least 3D comics. Didn't you complain about the 3D last time? I know I did.

But the 3D is FAR more important in this issue. It's a great use of the effect to break the fourth wall, and while it's not an absolutely essential part of the story, it does provide a new spin on an old Morrisonian cliche as Superman reaches out toward us. I read this issue differently than the first one, too. I read the whole thing without those damned glasses, then I went back and re-read the 3D stuff with the glasses on. I just have a hard time reading the words.

CN: Yeah, the 3D wasn't that great in the first issue, but worked really well here. I do think the 3D ended a page too early since there's a non-3D page that takes place in that "higher Monitor reality" and I don't know why it's not in 3D. If you look at the story as a whole, I'm not sure the 3D works, particularly in the first issue where it's like you need 3D glasses to comprehend one level of reality, but that wears off and then you need 3D glasses to comprehend another level of reality. It's kind of odd and arbitrary in many ways. But, if you take this issue alone with the 3D, it works for the most part, I think.

TC: What a bold defense, my friend! I guess we should probably wrap this up, and get our brains ready for whatever is in store for us next week with Final Crisis #7. Do you think the Monitors will play a role in the finale at all? Will Mandrakk reappear in the end? Or will this 3D detour remain just a thematic parallel to the main event, and someone else (Judd Winick? Gail Simone?) will pick up on the space vampire Monitors and use them as villains in the future?

CN: Actually, Mandrakk's introduction here reminds me of the way Morrison brought Solaris into Superman's world in DC One Million. I could see either Morrison or someone else picking up on the character and his followers, especially vampire Ultraman. I think Morrison began something here that will have to be addressed at some point. As for the Monitors in the finale... I don't expect much beyond Nix Uotan, but maybe he'll have a nice reunion scene with his long lost love... or maybe he'll initiate some sort of "upgrade" with the other Monitors, making them the new gods... who knows?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Final Crisis #6

Chad Nevett: And we return with our first column of 2009 to, once again, discuss the new issue of Final Crisis. Can I assume that you enjoyed the issue, Tim? Or did the art finally diminish your enjoyment a bit? Because, honestly, it's starting to bother me (especially the colouring of Shilo Norman), but I know that the quality of art plays a larger role in your enjoyment of a comic than mine, so I can only imagine that it's starting to bother you. Am I right?

Tim Callahan: Honestly, the art on the new issue of Captain Britain (which one of our colleagues gave FIVE STARS to) bothered me a whole lot more, with its Mike Collins fill-in hackery on a few pages. Final Crisis #6 did have three artists working on it, and some of the Pacheco pages looked a little rushed, but I actually didn't mind the art at all. I thought Jones's pages looked mostly great, and the Mankhe Superman pages looked chaotic and bombastic and a little sordid, and that final page gave me the chills, even though we all know that it probably doesn't mean what it seems to mean.

I don't think we need to put up and SPOILER alerts at this point, considering all the other coverage that people must have been exposed to, but, yeah, Batman's dead. Deceased. A stiff. Totally and absolutely dead.

I would like to talk about some other aspects of Final Crisis #6, but Batman's death is pretty damn important, so let's get that out of the way first. What's your take on how the Batman sequence played out?

CN: Honestly, I thought the showdown with Darkseid was great, but Batman dying didn't surprise me at all. For the supposed death of one of the biggest superheroes around, it was surprisingly underwhelming. When I saw that Newsarama had a story up about it, that's when I went "Oh yeah, Batman's dead... people probably care about that, don't they?" Otherwise, fantastic sequence. I know it's unclear if Darkseid died as well, but I think Darkseid's downfall coming in such a quiet way would work very well.

TC: I thought Batman's death was a perfectly placed big-superhero final showdown moment, but that's only because I just read the final two Morrison Batman issues. Does Batman's appearance in this issue even make sense otherwise? I mean, he's totally out of the comic -- easily disposed of in issue #2 -- and then he randomly reappears now and defeats Darkseid basically out of nowhere?

I like the bit with the gun, and we should have known that god-killing bullet would reappear to, uh, kill a god, but in the context of Final Crisis itself, does this Batman climax even work properly?

CN: How would I know? I've read those same Morrison-penned Batman issues. I think the mention of Batman killing the clone army in issue five may provide enough of a reminder that the most dangerous man in the world is in the building, but I can't say for sure. Then again, it works for me since I have read those other comics.
Speaking of other comics, did the opening of this issue bother you? It obviously references the end of Superman Beyond 3D, which comes out next week. Or the possibility of spoiling the end... kind of... of Legion of Three Worlds?

TC: It does make Superman Beyond seem kind of pointless, since he just apparently hangs out in the bleed for a while and then hitches a ride from Brainiac 5 to get home. I don't think it spoils the Legion spin-off, but who knows.

I liked the Miracle Machine bit.

If you recall, which you probably don't because you are not a Legion geek, Matter-Eater Lad once went crazy because he ate the Miracle Machine, so I can only imagine what Morrison's going to do with it in Final Crisis #7.

So, to recap: I was barely annoyed by the art, slightly annoyed by the spoiling of Superman Beyond, which ties in with my overall great annoyance at the terrible shipping pattern of this book and the spin-offs, and I was not annoyed at all by the Batman death, and I enjoyed the heck out of this issue overall. It felt vast. It had scope. It feels like a pretty big Crisis now, for all those haters in the audience who said it wasn't Crisis-y enough at first. And even though we didn't get nearly enough of the new Nix Uotan in this issue, Morrison has primed us for a big conclusion with Flashes running real fast, Superman real pissed, and the Super Young Team finding themselves useful for once.

CN: I didn't mind the spoiling at all, because the end result isn't of primary importance in a Morrison comic. The journey is almost always much more important. As well, we all expected that little adventure to end with Superman rejoining his fellow heroes, so there's no big shock there. It's really just a sign of DC's bizarre and inept scheduling.

I'm with you, I really enjoyed this issue... but that's not really a surprise since we've enjoyed every issue so far. I love the Nix Uotan two page bit--it was a very inventive layout that worked with his new abilities. There were a few small moments that I don't think worked (the Hawkman/Hawkgirl dialogue, which served what purpose?), but, overall, a standard great issue.

As well, I haven't paid too much attention to the online reaction, but I've noticed a lack of people, for the most part, complaining that they don't get this series. You're much more tuned into reactions from across the internet, have you noticed an altered reaction to this issue?

TC: Not really. The people who don't get it still don't get it, and the people who like it still like it. But there are, of course, people who get it and don't like it, and maybe there are people who don't get it but like it anyway. I'd say that the reactions have remained pretty consistent, which doesn't make a lot of sense, now that I think about it, since the middle issues seemed to be way more in tune with what people said they wanted from issue #1. But there's no pleasing the haters, I guess.

I'm more curious about how Final Crisis meshes with Morrison's Batman stuff. In a recent interview, Morrison mentioned that when DiDio heard about his plans for Batman in Final Crisis (which was proposed back in 2006, I think), and then he heard about "Batman R.I.P." he thought that Morrison should kind of tie them together, even though "R.I.P." was intended to be a "psychological deconstruction" and not a literal death. That makes sense, and it explains why Morrison seemed to go out of his way to show that the explosion at the end of "R.I.P." wasn't Batman's final fate, even though it kind of implied that it was with the Nightwing pose and all that.

And I also wonder why I'm not getting calls from nationally syndicated radio shows this week, now that Batman has REALLY died, instead of just sort-of-but-not-really-at-all died. Don't people care about Batman's REAL, irrevocable, complete and non-refundable (but will probably be explained away within a year) death?

CN : The only thing I don't like about the tying in "Batman R.I.P." with Final Crisis is that they didn't bother to tell anyone until after "R.I.P." finished. That was just total douchebag behavior on DC's part. Otherwise, I think it mostly meshes through that scene in Batman #683 that links the two. Final Crisis is just the next adventure Batman goes on after "R.I.P." Morrison uses Final Crisis as a means to really hammer home the purpose of making every Bat-story in continuity, but, other than that, one is the fake death and the other is the real death. There is a doubling there, and Darkseid is the evil god that the Black Glove hints at, the anti-dad as it were, but that's mostly thematic stuff. Plot-wise, they're just two adventures that happen in close proximity.

TC: What do you make of the "Rock of Ages" recursion in Final Crisis? It was Batman vs. Darkseid there too, right? If you remember it better than I do, you should jump in and contradict me now, or you can jump in and tell me more about the connection, because I haven't read that arc since it first came out (in my attempt to re-read all of Morrison's JLA last year, I couldn't get past Howard Porter's terrible artwork and thus I never made it through "Rock of Ages").

CN: Yeah, I looked it up since Batman saying "Gotcha" sounded familiar, but he said something different when Darkseid's Omega Effect killed him there. And I've been saying since the first issue that Final Crisis is a rewriting of "Rock of Ages," but in that good way. The Worlogog was destroyed since then! It was the key to preventing Darkseid's takeover and it's no more! Of course "Rock of Ages" would happen then! Blame Tom Peyer and his not allowing android Hourman to be too powerful and having to learn about humanity like every other android in comics, so he dismantled the Worlogog and now everyone is screwed, "Rock of Ages" style.

That, and it's Grant Morrison writing about Darkseid's invasion of Earth... why would he leave his awesome plot for some future that never happened? Some imaginary story that only a few members of the JLA remember... Why not turn it into a giant event? But, beyond Darkseid taking over, enslaving the minds of humanity, wiping out or brainwashing heroes, and killing Batman with his Omega Effect/Sanction... what are these other similarities that people keep talking about? There aren't too many ways to tell this story without those things popping up aside from the showdown with the Dark Knight. Although, as I discussed on my blog back when issue four came out, I like the difference between the two Darkseids: in "Rock of Ages," Darkseid IS, while, in Final Crisis, Darkseid SAYS. There's a difference/tension worth exploring at some point. I love that "Rock of Ages" exists as something to compare/contrast with, to see how Morrison handles similar material differently... At least we know in Final Crisis that Orion won't destroy/remake the universe sans Darkseid. No, Morrison took that possibility off the table in the first issue god bless him.

TC: Before we move on to talk about what might happen in the finale/future of the DCU, I'd just like to point out that I absolutely loved the Tawky Tawny vs. Kalibak battle and aftermath. Yes, the soldiers bowing to their new "liege" is a cliche, but it's a fun one, and the straightening out the bow tie was a brilliant little moment as he faced his seemingly-inevitable death with dignity. Great stuff.

But moving on...what do you think of the moving-the-DC-Earth-to-a-parallel-dimension plot? It makes me wonder about the synchronicity of Millar's Nu-Earth in Fantastic Four (and is it Morrison undermining/responding to Millar, or vice-versa, or neither). And I wonder what it will all mean for the expected Fifth World. Any theories on any of that?

CN: Not really, but that's more a symptom of my unwillingness to speculate on where plots are going, which we've established previously. I don't think that's where they'll go for various reasons, mostly just the doubt that they'll move the entire population of Earth to an alternate world. It could provide some interesting story ideas, but even the small glimpses of what's going post-Final Crisis indicate against that. I think it's far more likely we'll begin to see humans becoming superhumans ala the end of Flex Mentallo or Morrison's JLA run. "The age of men as gods" and all that good stuff. But even that seems unlikely... or will be done in a limited way that tries its best not to appear a rip-off of Marvel's mutants, but can't quite get the job done, because it's a rip-off of Marvel's mutants. But, really, I dunno.

TC: When Final Crisis started, or when the first rumors started circulating, or somewhere in between, there was speculation that the DC icons would die and ascend to become the "New Gods" of the Fifth World, right? Then, it appeared that DC editorial vetoed that idea, and then it became Batman alone ascending to the status of a new New God. Now Batman just seems dead. So I have no idea where anything's going at this point.

Clearly there will be some kind of showdown with Darkseid's more elemental form, via the Flashes (since killing the Turpin-body couldn't really have killed Darkseid for real, could it?), and by the end of issue #7, NOTHING WILL BE THE SAME AGAIN. Or, it probably will be exactly the same, but Batman will be sort of dead for a while. Maybe the invasion of Earth by alien forces of evil will end with a reign of darkness of some sort. Or as Darkseid's cosmic form disintegrates, it will fall from the sky, a veritable "Dark Rain."

CN: Who knows? Well, I guess Grant Morrison and a bunch of people at DC know, but we only have to wait two weeks to find out, so it's not so bad. For some reason, I have a feeling that Darkseid will seem to win only to have Mister Miracle standing behind him, having escaped once again and then... well, bye bye Darkseid or something, I dunno. I will bet on Metron's weapon playing a role. Oh, and Kamandi. Morrison promised Kamandi at the end, so I'd expect him to show up. But other than that... dunno.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Final Crisis #5

Tim Callahan: Two of our colleagues over at CBR reviewed Final Crisis #5, and while one raved about it, the other thought it was pretty terrible. How could one comic cause such different reactions? And where do you stand on the greatness/atrocity of Final Crisis #5?

Chad Nevett: I was surprised at the two differing reactions, but also enjoyed each take. While I personally loved this issue, I like seeing what people who disagree with me say, maybe make me see things from another perspective or shed light on aspects/flaws I didn't notice. That didn't happen in this case, because this has been my favorite issue yet as Morrison goes full-on insane with compressed storytelling that enters scenes late and leaves them early. I think we're beginning to see that the slow beginning was very purposeful as the story picks up speed and looks like it will soon go too fast, breeze through events too quickly... which Morrison is known to do at times, but I always love. There's a manic glee in these pages that I can't help but love. Chaos in full swing, Darkseid is everything, and Metron continues to work against him in subtle, secret ways... Lovely. This was a goddamn good comic.

On the other hand, I can see why some wouldn't like it since it is very briskly paced and demands you pay attention, makes various allusions to previous Morrison works and, in some ways, requires that you've read those other works. Which brings me to a question I can guess the answer to: Dan DiDio revealed that Morrison's Batman story really concludes in the pages of Final Crisis #6... does that bother you at all? Since this series and Morrison's work in general already requires a certain amount of foreknowledge and interconnectivity with the rest of his work, is this a problem (or even a surprise)?

TC: I'm not sure I understand what DiDio said about that, especially the part where he described the "reveal" Morrison talked about this summer actually showing up in Final Crisis #6, and that was "the plan all along." Okay, I understand him, I just don't really believe it, because Morrison was clearly talking about the end of "R.I.P." and now his words have been retconned, or something. But I have absolutely no problem if Batman's story concludes in Final Crisis #6, although it seems like a weird place to put it since Batman has played practically no role in the series thus far. He was quickly dispatched in issue #2 and has been locked inside the Lump contraption ever since. I'll reserve judgment until I see how it plays out, but if it does happen the way DiDio says, then it's not like I'd be offended. I read all of Morrison's comics, obviously, and I think everyone else should too.

Final Crisis #5 was also MY favorite issue thus far. I forgot how good this series has been, actually, since the delays have derailed it from my mind, but we've pretty much raved about each and every issue so far, and yet when I read this one, I thought, "wow, I'll have to rethink that Best Comics of 2008" list I've been working on. I didn't even consider Final Crisis in my Top 20 list, but after this issue, I think I have to.

Did you read Jog's review? I think he nailed what's so great about the issue (as he does so often in his reviews of things), but I'm interested in one of the comments on his blog, by "Kenny" who writes, "Every positive Final Crisis review reads like someone already in love with the material speaking to others in love with the material about all the stuff they love with no explanation of why. After every Final Crisis review, I come away more and more confused - what am I missing? What is so obviously good about Final Crisis that by me not immediately grasping it, no one can seemingly explain it?" Now I think Jog does a pretty good job of explaining what's good about issue #5, but I think we should try to speak to all the Kennys in audience. So, if you were at a convention and Kenny came up to you with these questions, and you had a stack of Final Crisis comics handy, what would you show him and talk to him about to explain what makes this series so good?

CN: Of course, I've read Jog's take. His blog is among my usual "just woke up and want to read what others have to say about comics" rounds. Your question is one I've been struggling with for a long time, way before Final Crisis: how to explain something is awesome. I'm awful at that, especially because I always find myself using the same descriptors as those who hated what I so dearly loved. When you both use the same words to describe opposite reactions, is there any way to actually communicate meaningfully about a work?

I honestly don't know what to tell the Kennys of the world. In previous columns, we've discussed the techniques that Morrison uses in this book, which is a compressed sort found in his JLA work (were these people complaining about not understand things then?) plus loads others. The more I think about it, the more I don't see what's so confusing about this series, or this issue, which is pretty damn straight forward in that most of it is the forces of Darkseid versus the heroes. As it continues, it gets simpler, because Morrison reveals more... my advice, actually, is, if you aren't following along by this point, give up. A horribly pessimistic message that shows an odd snobbish cynicism, but we're five issues in and if things aren't making sense, I'm not sure they ever will. Grant Morrison is not known for ending that nicely and neatly tell the reader exactly what it all means. He does wrap things up, but it's in the same manner in which he's told the entire story. So, yeah, I have no means of helping those still lost. Maybe that's why I didn't go into teaching. But, you did, Tim, so do you have any ideas?

TC: Damn you, Nevett and your discussion-akido. I don't think I can really help the Kennys of the world either, beyond explaining the things that we've already explained in previous installments of "The Splash Page," but here's a list of things that make Final Crisis good: The way Morrison pulls in all levels of the DCU, from the street-level to the cosmic; J. G. Jones's almost tactile sense of dread; Carlos Pacheco's fluid panel compositions; Morrison's slow unfolding of the evil followed by the rapid acceleration of Darkseid's takeover of the Earth; the bastions of superheroism forming a resistance; Hal Jordan with 24 hours to save the world; The Super-Young Team's dramatic entrance; Rubik's Cube as Mother Box; Corruption vs. innocence; The way we jump from scene to scene without banal explanation.

These are all things that make Final Crisis work so well, but as you say, these are some of the same things that people complain about. And our sense of reality is skewed, as you know, since we appreciate the fact that this series draws upon Morrison's other work. Does this series work at all as an independent piece of superhero fiction? I've always assumed so, but others disagree. Yet that final page of issue #5 seems like a good litmus test for any potential reader, past, present, or future. If you don't think Nix Uotan's new look on that final page looks exceptionally cool -- and implies more excitement and imagination to follow -- than you probably won't be in tune with this series.

CN: I can't speak to how well this book works on its own since, like you, I've read what's come before. I pick up on the various references to Morrison's runs on JLA, Seven Soldiers and Batman. Would I be lost without that foreknowledge? Nah, because this book isn't half as difficult as some say it is, but I wouldn't be "getting it" as much as I am either. But, what piece of fiction, particularly corporate shared-universe superhero fiction, doesn't rely on what came before and subtle allusions to communicate its ideas to the reader? Unlike other books, this one doesn't just reference other big events or the "main" titles, it references "obscure" things like Seven Soldiers that, yeah, you should have been reading, because it was damn good. However, I don't think the actual plot references previous works to an extent that it actively hinders reading. I think the techniques Morrison uses probably cause more problems than quick allusions.

For the record, I love Nix Uotan's new look. I was wondering when it was going to show up since I flipped through the Final Crisis Sketchbook last week. The Fifth World superhero/god has arrived! I really enjoyed the two pages before that with Darkseid taking over half of the world with a visual allusion to Marvel Boy #2 where Noh-Varr and Plexus took control of the minds of New Yorkers to defeat the final Bannerman... striking with one fist and such. See, I got that, but does not getting it hurt the scene? Not at all! I think people get too hung up on the idea that there is so much going on with fast cuts and short scenes that there must be tons of things shown elsewhere key to understanding what's going on when there aren't. There really are not. I can only think of one: Metron is the guy in the wheelchair who solves the Rubik's cube in 17 moves. I think that may be the only thing that having read previous Morrison work actually provides needed insight. The rest is pretty self-explanatory if you've read the previous four issues.

TC: I didn't remember that it was Metron in the chair when I read the issue, and it affected my reaction to the book not at all. When I later read online that it was the Metron from Morrison's Mister Miracle I just though, "oh, that's right." It is a bit confusing because a dialogue tag seems to be pointed in the wrong direction during the Rubik's Cube sequence, but whether you know about Metron is irrelevant to understanding the plot. The guy has solved the cube in an impossible way, he has broken free of spacetime. Things are unfolding. It's all good. Great, even.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Final Crisis #4 (plus Final Crisis: Submit)

Chad Nevett: What a wonderful week for comics, particularly those who enjoy big inter-company event comics. We get not one, but two Grant Morrison-penned Final Crisis comics with issue four and the Submit one-shot, plus (plus!) Secret Invasion's penultimate issue along with another mediocre/borderline awful issue New Avengers that kind of gives new information but not really. And we're here to discuss them all, compare, contrast, and tell you which event is truly the best one, aren't we, Tim?

Tim Callahan: Absolutely! And why am I shouting?!? I don't know! But I can't stop! No event fatigue from this guy!

By the way, forget about the Marvel heroes vs. the Skrulls. Forget about the DC heroes vs. the Anti-Life. The real battle here is Brian Michael Bendis vs. Grant Morrison, isn't it? The top Marvel dog vs. DC's big gun. And since their both basically telling the same kind of story -- invasion of evil and the rag-tag collection of heroes who fight back against overwhelming odds -- we can see their contrasting narrative styles all the more clearly. It's as if they're two great directors remaking the same movie for two competing studios. Except with comics, and, you know, drawings by other dudes.

We've certainly seen a bit more of Secret Invasion -- or A LOT MORE, if you count all the tie-ins -- but as of October, 2008, I think it's safe to say that in the Bendis vs. Morrison showdown, Morrison is dominating. It's not even really close. Final Crisis is the better series by, oh, I don't know, let's say 1,000%. You're the math guy here, so I'll leave the precise calculations to you. And obviously you and I have a record of raving about Morrison's stuff, so we're going to seem biased, but I think we can objectively prove that Morrison's work here is better than Bendis's can't we? Or are you going to side with Bendis so we can get into an epic brawl of our own?

CN: How about my dropping Bendis's two Avengers books? While the main Secret Invasion book hasn't been horrible, although the quality did decrease there for a few issues, the tie-in Avengers comics have almost killed the whole thing for me. What a bunch of pointless wastes of paper, money and time. Random "See how this character became a Skrull!" issues with the odd Nick Fury and his new Howlin' Commandos one thrown in to tease us with the idea that they all won't suck so hard. Take the latest New Avengers where the Hood and his supervillain pals discover Skrulls are here... and... nothing else. WE ALREADY KNOW THAT THEY KNOW THERE ARE SKRULLS! THEY ARE FIGHTING WITH THE SUPERHEROES AGAINST THE SKRULLS! WHO CARES HOW AND WHEN THEY DISCOVERED SKRULLS? I SURE AS HELL DON'T AND I WAS EXCITED ABOUT THIS STORY WHEN IT BEGAN! NOW, MY ENTHUSIASM IS JUST ANGER AND FRUSTRATION! GAH!, sorry. But, really, does anyone think most of these Avengers issues have been good? Hell, I would almost settle for mediocre at this point so long as there was an actual plot, not one three-page idea stretched out to a full comic.

So, yeah, Morrison wins, because he's only given us one issue like that with Submit. And even it has more plot than most of those Avengers issues. People can argue that Secret Invasion has more of the 'splodey than Final Crisis and that they like Skrulls more than New Gods, but I flat-out defy anyone to say that Bendis has out-written Morrison, except if you're judging by the amount of pages each has turned in -- but it's easy to do that when nothing happens on most of them. How do people bitch about Final Crisis being boring when Secret Invasion has been nothing but showing when someone was replaced by a Skrull and superheroes fighting Skrulls? Seven months so far of this. Seven months. And I really liked what Bendis was doing before this, so I don't want anyone to accuse me of "hating" on him. If I sound like a "hater," it's because of the comics he's produced these past seven months. Tim, you talk now.

TC: I actually thought the most recent New Avengers issue was one of Bendis's better here's-how-this-guy-turned-out-to-be-a-Skrull backstories. It was a huge improvement over last week's Mighty Avengers issue which, as I commented to you on your blog, was one page of story stretched out for twenty-two pages. At least with New Avengers we got to see more of the Hood's criminal empire, and I kind of like the dynamic between the oddball grouping of characters and the Hood himself. But the Skrull Captain Marvel from Mighty Avengers already had an entire five-issue series about how he was, in fact, a Skrull. So seeing him again with such a focus seemed particularly unnecessary. And the art in New Avengers was pretty good. Much better than the art in Final Crisis: Submit. Matthew Clark's a wonderful artist. I followed his work on Inhumans, and I even picked up a few issues of the otherwise terrible Outsiders comic just because he drew them, and the first issue of the new Tangent series was stellar work. On Final Crisis: Submit he either suffers from rushed pencils or poor inking, or both, because it doesn't look like his normal style at all. It looks like a simplified and ugly-fied version of it.

Somehow I ended up taking the role of defending the Bendis comics over the Morrison comics. How did this happen?

I do have to admit that I liked New Avengers more than Final Crisis: Submit this week, but the main titles -- Final Crisis and Secret Invasion, proper -- show Morrison's dominance. There's more complexity and dread in a single page of Final Crisis than in a single Secret Invasion issue. And what has really happened so far in that series? The Skrulls have shown up in New York City. Some fake Avengers showed up in the Savage Land. They have fought. That's it. Seven issues of that, without even much in the way of character bits, ultimately. I've really started to sour on Secret Invasion, and I'm sorry to see that happen. I enjoyed the first half of it quite a bit.

But let's get into the nitty-gritty in the Morrison vs. Bendis face-off. Is it just our preferences, or is there some quantifiable difference between what Morrison does and what Bendis does? Why does one writer's series work so much better than the other's?

CN: Well, for us, I think it's the reason why the general comic reading population is responding better to Bendis than Morrison. Bendis writes a big blockbuster that seems exciting and action-packed where nothing really happens, while Morrison writes a more focused, smaller story where lots of stuff happens subtly. Bendis's book doesn't read as boring despite the lack of forward momentum, while Morrison's reads as boring despite lots of forward momentum. I think. And since we're not the types to prefer flash over substance, we're not going to prefer Bendis over Morrison.

I actually think the key word, really, is subtle. Morrison is much more subtle, so the plot and sense of what's going on kind of sneaks up on you, whereas Bendis just lays it all out and then has six different character tell the reader in their own ways what's going on. There are positives and negatives to both approaches, but I think Morrison's makes for a much more satisfying and lasting read... as long as you get it. It's more challenging and demanding of the reader. Which, as we've both said before, isn't necessarily the best way to go about writing a big inter-company crossover event book, but it sure as hell reads better than one.

As well, I think there's an awareness we have when they're pacing their stories. Where both use quick cuts and short scenes, we know that, in many, Bendis is referencing another comic where you can see that scene expanded upon, while Morrison is purposefully giving us that scene only. In that way, Bendis's writing feel more like a highlight reel of events despite the two using similar techniques in that regard. Maybe if we didn't know about those other comics, we'd be kinder?

TC: That seems true. But I'd also like to give Bendis some credit for his structural ambition in Secret Invasion. I don't think it's entirely successful, but if you look at what he's done in the main title and the peripheral books he's in charge of, he's creating an interesting pattern of layers. The problem is that the layers are all settling on top of one another instead of building outward. He's not really providing many new perspectives on events. It's more that he's continually adding resolution to a blurry photo. Everything comes more clearly into focus as the story unfolds in the different books, but I don't see the added details contributing to the meaning of the story in any significant way. There's a law of diminishing returns and Bendis passed that point a couple of months ago, I think. Yet I do give him credit for trying something a bit different.

Morrison, though, is doing almost the opposite, structurally. He's giving us the rough shape of the narrative at an accelerated pace. Characters come and go, major events occur without much emphasis. In retrospect, the death of the Martian Manhunter was a representation of everything Final Crisis is about. Things are quick and brutal and often not fully explained beyond the initial impression. But that initial impression is so much more interesting than the belabored description. Imagine if the writerly roles were reversed (which isn't all that hard when they're telling the same underlying story). Bendis would spend a third of a Secret Invasion issue and maybe a couple of New Avengers issues just explaining Kalibak's new animalistic form. Morrison gives us the image in a couple of panels, and a few words about it and moves on. Or, to flip it around, if Morrison were tackling Secret Invasion, we wouldn't know all the details of what Nick Fury has been up to. His "Secret Warriors" would be like the Super-Young Team -- a quickly sketched out group who appear briefly and evoke archetypes, not a fully-explained group of characters who we know everything about already.

Maybe the difference between Morrison and Bendis is the difference between an evocative pop song and a Wikipedia entry. Or is that just me being snarky?

CN: That sounds about right and I especially want to agree that I'm not trying to put Bendis down too much, because what he's going for is ambitious. He is doing a decent job, but you're right, the added levels of detail don't add anything to the overall story, which is my main frustration with those Avengers issues.

Like I pointed out a while back, these two stories are the same, really, and even just looking at how the invasion is handled demonstrates the differences between the writers: Bendis has everything out in the open where the Skrulls don't care that the heroes see them coming, while Morrison doesn't really have the heroes realize anything is going on until the Dark Gods have won already. And then instead of dwelling on that, the story just keeps on moving. How much time has passed in Secret Invasion versus Final Crisis? One or two days versus a few weeks minimum... Secret Invasion is almost like "What if Final Crisis took place only on the day that the Dark Gods put their plan into action?"

What does it mean, though, that the Skrulls are obvious and it's a very physical battle, while the Dark Gods take over in a mental way, breaking the will of everyone before engaging in physical combat? Does that difference in philosophy suggest something about these two books?

TC: Interesting. It does fit in with the stereotypical differences between Marvel and DC. Marvel, as fashioned through Stan Lee's "Marvel Method," is based on a kind of physicality through the dynamic Kirby-esque compositions. DC has always been the less dynamic, more intellectual company -- especially in the Silver Age with the science-based heroes -- or so the story goes. It's the difference between characters in motion in every Marvel panel and characters standing in talking in DC comics. Those old stereotypes don't really apply, of course, but they do seem to match up here. So maybe it's just a matter of a Marvel approach to an event being essential different than a DC approach.

But that takes the creators out of the equation, and I think there's an essential difference between the way Bendis and Morrison approach their writing. Bendis seems to start with particular scenes and dialogue, and builds a structure around that. He's notoriously bad at endings. Morrison seems to think of structure and concept first, and dialogue is used to emphasize thematic elements. He's notorious for starting things in a confusing way and wrapping it up with a strong finish.

I can't really think of many similarities between Bendis and Morrison, actually, other than the fact that they both have a distinctive authorial voice.

CN: They both love archery-themed superheroes. I also think they both place emphasis on the small things, the little bits of dialogue, the characters moments. They do in their own ways, but both Secret Invasion and Final Crisis have been full of small moments between characters in the middle of these large events. Things like the dialogue between Ollie and Dinah, and between Luke and Jessica... Those little moments are important to both writers. And, more than that, those moments never feel forced with either, which is a problem other writers have in these big event books. You never get the impression that Bendis or Morrison is including a scene like that to induce a "fanboy orgasm" or anything.

TC: That's true, although the cadence of their dialogue couldn't be more different. But, you're right. They both give us the small little scenes in the midst of the epic, instead of focusing on one endless battle after another. Perhaps that's why I didn't like the most recent issue of Secret Invasion -- it's mostly just a fight sequence and that stuff gets old fast.

CN: It does, but the story also needed an issue devoted to this fight. In a way, that may help Secret Invasion surpass Civil War, which built up to this fight and then just ended, whereas Bendis has given himself a little bit more room. We'll have to see if Morrison will give us a whole issue devoted to fisticuffs. I'm betting... yes.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #1

Tim Callahan: So, Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #1. Any chance that people who say Final Crisis doesn't make any sense will be able to figure this one out? Is it too much of a glimpse inside Morrison's head and not enough of a story? Is the 3-D too awesome?

Chad Nevett: Well, I've read the issue twice with a few skimmings and I think I get what's going on. It's all about technique since the story is very simple--so simple that Morrison tells it without any extra bits to explain it. I've talked about his compressed storytelling showing up in the past (two examples being the "Crisis Times Five" story from JLA and the first issue of Marvel Boy) and here it is again on full display. It's different from the way in which most writers tell a story in modern comics, so it does require a little bit of an adjustment. That said, it's more difficult than any issue of Final Crisis, so, yeah, people not understanding that series will have no hope here. Sorry.

I'm not convinced there's enough of a plot here, but that's because I can't really find a plot per se. Why has Zillo Valla gathered these heroes? To save... something? That part isn't entirely clear, but does it matter? There's an evil Monitor chasing them, they escape for a while, land in Limbo and then are found... and Zillo Valla may be evil herself? There's a very clear echoing of the quest Metron sends Green Lantern, Flash and Aquaman on in the "Rock of Ages" from Morrison's JLA run (Final Crisis is a retelling of it in many ways). There are references to his Animal Man run... and there's the story of the Ur-Monitor and the Ur-Superman that hints at the concept of Hypertime and the problem of continuity... the story is more commentary and allusion than plot, but it's still entertaining, I find. Granted, we can recognize the various allusions and what Morrison is commenting upon whereas the average reader may not, so I don't know how entertaining they would find this comic.

Then again, it's big and dramatic and full of wild concepts... isn't that what people want from Grant Morrison? I could do without the 3-D glasses, but Alan Moore did it, so Morrison has to follow suit...

TC: Yeah, let's discuss that last point. Morrison has a history of responding to Alan Moore through his comics -- the anxiety of influence is strong. His early Animal Man work -- issues 1-4 -- were direct pastiches of Alan Moore's style of comic book storytelling, which he will admit to. When I interviewed him about it, he mentioned that he knew that's what was expected of a British writer at the time. Basically, to be an Alan Moore duplicate. But he went his own way starting with "Coyote Gospel" in Animal Man #5. And by the end of that run, he's basically mocking Alan Moore with the line about using literary quotes to "dignify some old costumed claptrap" (I'm paraphrasing.) Now, in Superman Beyond, he's not only doing the 3-D bit in a fashion similar to the way Moore used it in the "Black Dossier" (although Morrison uses it more extensively), but he's got the Captain Adam character who is clearly a Dr. Manhattan analogue, and the character is ridiculous in relation to the other Supermen. Poor Captain Adam, with his observations about quantum mechanics, isn't very useful as a hero.

I'm sure I'm forgetting other instances of Morrison responding to Moore through comics, but I'm reminded of an anecdote a British journalist once told me: early in Morrison's career, he attended an Alan Moore reading and he heckled Moore from the front row, laughing at his self-importance. The journalist explained that Morrison sees himself as such a punk rock guy and Alan Moore as such an old fashioned hippie, and Morrison just laughs at everything Moore takes seriously. I don't know if that story's true at all, but there's no doubt that Morrison is well aware of his role in the comic book world compared to Alan Moore.

CN: I've yet to read Promethia, but, apparently, Seven Soldiers: Zatana is a pretty obvious response to Moore's magic-based work. There was also Owlwoman, the Earth-2 member of the Justice Legion A that Morrison introduced in the DC One Million 80-Page Giant special, as her costume was a take-off on Nite Owl's rather than the Owlman we know from the current DCU. There's also a strange relationship between Morrison's Hypertime and Moore's argument that The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen contains every fictional story ever written, but Morrison beats out Moore there. So, maybe it's not all one-sided... although it really looks that way.

I noticed the visual allusion to Dr. Manhattan, but missed the commentary about him being a pretty useless superhero. There's a deeper commentary there, too, though: the violent, physically active superheroes are more useful than those who don't fight. The two most effective heroes in this book are Superman and Ultraman, two characters with opposite goals, but similar means. Now, this goes against Morrison's general pattern where physical violence is rarely a solution, but that doesn't seem to be the message here. Or, am I getting it wrong?

TC: No, I think you're right. It's nu-Morrison. And given that the Superman in the comic is the most closely related to the "form" of the Superman, and Ultraman is his direct opposite/doppelganger, it makes sense that they would be the ones with the most power. The other Superman are more distant permutations, and therefore less potent.

It is a far cry from early Morrison, when every hero would be a total screw up or barely accidental success.

Getting back to the actual comic, you know what I couldn't help but think about as I read the first handful of pages? The "Superman 2000" pitch that we spent all those weeks dissecting on our blogs. Didn't it remind you of the way Morrison and company planned to end the Kent/Lane marriage, with Lois on her deathbed and Superman trying to save the world (or multiverse) and his wife at the same time. Here's the relevant excerpt: "Luthor trips triggers he’s had in place for years, all while pitting an ever-weakening Superman against a phalanx of his greatest foes while the Man of Steel wracks his brain trying to figure out not only how to save Earth but how to get his--and, more importantly, Lois’s--life back." Obviously Luthor's not involved, but it's similar, no? Do you think it's at all possible that Final Crisis will end with a reset of the Lois and Clark relationship? Would DC dare to do such a thing? Do either of us care?

CN: I know I don't care, but after "One More Day" at Marvel, I highly doubt DC would try getting rid of Lois and Clark's marriage. It didn't really occur to me, but that similarity is there. For all we know, that "ultimate medicine" Zillo Valla promises Superman could somehow affect Lois's memory... I doubt it, though. Why risk such a huge backlash at the end of this event similar to the one Marvel experienced?

I have a feeling Final Crisis is more about establishing the "trinity" as important, ur-heroes almost. Superman's place is established here and Morrison is working on Batman in that title, but promises that Final Crisis also concludes the current journey he has Batman on. As for Wonder Woman, I don't know what Morrison has planned, but I assume she will play a big role considering the sliver cover of issue one, which featured cave drawings of those three logos. Now, do you "buy" Superman as the ur-superhero Morrison presents here? Or even those three characters as some sort of special "trinity" in the DCU?

TC: I really don't buy that Wonder Woman is an equal part. I think that's a relatively recent invention on the part of DC to try to make the character seem more important than she has been, historically. She was continually published, along with Batman and Superman, true, and that does show the strength of the character, but look at how she was portrayed throughout those early eras, and even in the JLA comics. She was second-rate. I think it's smart of DC to try to make her an equal part of some kind of essential trinity, but I don't think they've ever successfully pulled it off. There's never been a great Wonder Woman story, really. Not even George Perez's first 20 issues post-"Crisis." I like those issues a lot, but they aren't to the level of the best Superman and Batman stories. And if you think in terms of characters who inspired other characters, there are a million Superman rip-offs and nearly as many Batman copies, but how many Wonder Woman-like characters have emerged since the Golden Age? A handful? Not nearly as many.

And, you know what, every comic book called "Trinity" has been pretty bad. The Matt Wagner series was some of his worst work ever, and this new one by Busiek and Bagley is mediocre at best and dreadful at worst.

As a concept, the trinity is a good idea. It hasn't been pulled off yet. And I'm not sure that Morrison's even headed in that direction with Final Crisis, seeing as how he was so quick to eliminate all three of the characters from the side of the heroes. Batman's incapacitated, Wonder Woman has been corrupted, and Superman is on his multiversal sailing trip.

Speaking of Superman's trip, what do you think about the use of Limbo here? I was actually excited to see it. Gleeful even, because the Morrisonian Limbo, with Merryman and all, has always been one of my favorite DC concepts, and Superman is a VERY different character than Animal Man. Seeing Superman try to deal with the concept of obscurity was a lot of fun. AND when Merryman says, "I have a real talent for gritty drama" it made me laugh out loud because when I was about 18, I actually wrote a pitch for a grim n' gritty revamp of the Inferior Five. It posited that the characters were actually actors playing the roles of these incompetent heroes in the DCU and now they've been brought out of retirement to complete one last mission (this was probably around 1990), only the new "management" of the team--the ones hiring them to play the roles, wanted to update them for the new era and all I can remember about the details is that Dumb Bunny was updated into a dominatrix. I have no idea why a team of actors had to complete a mission, but it was obviously a brilliant pitch from my teenage brain. I can't imagine why DC never responded.

CN: I definitely agree regarding Wonder Woman. I've always seen the "trinity" of superheroes being Superman (the god), Batman (the man) and Spider-Man (the man who becomes god), which could be where DC is going wrong. A hero like Flash or Green Lantern might be a better fit by that schema...

Superman's reaction to Limbo is... I want to say very typical, in a way. He reacts the way he always reacts to a new place: with a strange combination of understanding and curiosity. He doesn't get hung up on the details, he just skims the surface, sees the lay of the ground and proceeds as such. He quickly realizes that this is where certain heroes go, that they lose memories of their past and that he should act quickly to avoid becoming like them. I much prefer the reaction of Animal Man... Superman's confidence almost makes his reaction boring.
Your pitch sounds similar to the sort of ideas I had when I was younger. Morrison's portrayal of Limbo is always one of hope, I think: that these may be forgotten characters, but they have potential, they could be stars or supporting players again... while, at the same time, gently mocking the characters. Unlike the trip to Limbo in Animal Man, we don't get much interaction with the residents here. I wonder, did Morrison feel a certain fondness for the characters forgotten in the late '80s that he doesn't feel for the mostly-'90s creations here? A lot of "Bloodlines" and "Zero Hour" creations in the mix here, which I can't see Morrison wishing would return any time soon.

TC: I'm curious about how Morrison even knows about some of these "Bloodlines" characters. Did he actually read those comics? I can't imagine that. I can't imagine anyone reading those comics without throwing them across the room. Those were the days when superhero comics were at their absolute worst, at least in my lifetime. But those 90s characters are certainly not portrayed with any affection here, not in the way that the forgotten Silver Age characters were portrayed in Animal Man.

I'm exceedingly curious about the Earth-20 that we get a glimpse of in this issue. Morrison apparently has an extensive backstory worked out, and this is the first time this alternate Earth has appeared, and all we get is a Doc Savage-ish Dr. Fate and his sidekick, Lady Blackhawk. But that one images evokes so many possibilities. Then again, I like these quick, imaginative glimpses far more than the extended looks we saw in the Countdown crossovers. Man, stuff like Countdown: Arena really sucked the joy out of the new multiverse really quickly.

How do you interpret the stuff with Mandrakk? He's clearly the ur-Anti-Monitor, but is he also tied into Darkseid? Is Darkseid a manifestation of Mandrakk? And why do you suppose Morrison named him Mandrakk? What do the "mandrake" connotations mean to you?

CN: I love alternate realities, but find they work best in limited exposures, mostly because of the unseen possibilities evoked. There's a mystery to alternate realities that is very intriguing--as long as some mystery is maintained by the writer.

I'm not quite sure how to interpret Mandrakk, but he could be a representation of Darkseid in the way that the Monitors are gods much like the New Gods of Kirby's Fourth World. Morrison has stated that the relationship between the DC heroes and the "gods" is one of the major ideas of Final Crisis. It's no coincidence that the evil Monitor is returning and will seemingly be victorious at the same time as Darkseid is taking over Earth. Whereas Darkseid takes over one Earth (and Morrison suggests crises on every alternate Earth, so a variant of Darkseid could be active on every Earth), the evil Monitor looks to take over the multiverse. The macro reflects the micro, I suppose? "Mandrake" has a few connotations, the primary one being the plant, which is a healer, an aphrodisiac, and a killer at various points. I can't see a clear link, but Morrison could be going for the vague allusion--or is referencing something else entirely.

TC: Maybe this connotation, via Wiki: "It is alleged that magicians would form this root into a crude resemblance to the human figure, by pinching a constriction a little below the top, so as to make a kind of head and neck, and twisting off the upper branches except two, which they leave as arms, and the lower, except two, which they leave as legs." As in, the Mandrakk becomes molded into humanoid figures -- the Anti-Monitor, Darkseid? I dunno. Something like that, maybe. Because Mandrakk seems like a name that's too specific for Morrison not to have any meaningful connotations. He could have named it something more vague and mysterious like he often does. But he didn't.

The more I think about this comic, the more I like it, but I do so hate the 3-D look, and I do think that the complaints about Final Crisis (which, in general, make little sense to me) would actually apply to Superman Beyond. It does jump around, it is full of Morrison bits that make little sense out of context, it is a bunch of ideas at the expense of story. But I don't find Final Crisis like that at all.

CN: I think it will work better when we get the second issue, particularly since it was originally written as one 60-page story instead of two 30-page issues. Since it takes place outside of Final Crisis proper, I also think that Morrison didn't necessarily feel the need to work as hard to be easily understood. This was his chance to just let go and do his thing with Superman--a nice contrast to the more focused and "tame" All-Star Superman, in my opinion. But, yeah, the more I think about and discuss this comic, the more I like it.

TC: All-Star Superman is tame? Well, it is compared to this comic, you're right. But I'll take All-Star Superman over Superman Beyond any day.

I may reverse that opinion once I see issue #2. No I won't. I freakin' hate 3-D!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Final Crisis #3

Chad Nevett: A week late, but Final Crisis #3 has arrived--along with the "director's cut" of the first issue. Quite the week for us Morrison lovers, eh, Tim? Lots happened and I'm not sure where to start, so I'll begin with the cover. I remember reading an interview with Chip Kidd, who designed the trade dress for the series and him discussing how the logo will change over the course of the series. Well, it's becoming very apparent (at least on the sliver covers, which are the ones I've been getting). The red is growing darker, the white font becoming rougher and falling apart. I don't really have a comment beyond "That's kind of cool." I can't remember the last time I saw a book with an evolving logo/trade dress. It's just that kind of "crossover event," I guess.

Tim Callahan: Is that what's happening? I much prefer the "iconic pose" covers, and I've been buying those instead. I prefer a higher ration of image to words on my covers, I guess. I do love Chip Kidd, though. But I'm not feeling the red sliver covers at all.

I'm sure we have some things to say about the content of Final Crisis #3, but let's talk about the "director's cut" of issue #1 first. It's the first of these so-called "director's cut" things I've ever bought--or even bothered to flip through. Have you ever picked one up before? Are they all like this, with the black and white art and the script and some commentary?

Anyway, I thought I'd be buying it just for the script and commentary, being a Morrison completest and all. (In San Diego, I even came close to buying Morrison's "MBX Sketchbook" for $25, until I flipped through it and saw very few sketches and very little commentary from Morrison. It was not worth even a fraction of that price--even for me, and when they marked it down to $10 on the last day of the convention I still passed it by. But trust me, my obsession almost got the better of me.) But, getting back to the Final Crisis director's cut: I was surprised how much I liked seeing J. G. Jones's black and white art. It really looked clean and seemed to make the story easier to follow. Less muddied by color, I suppose, even though I tend to prefer color in my superhero comics. (I cannot read the Essentials or Showcases when I have the option of the far more expensive Masterworks or Archives--the stories are so much more readable in color, usually.)

But I did find the script interesting, as Morrison lays out exactly what's going on in issue #1 in such a way that it makes it pretty clear that people who had trouble following certain parts (like the identity of the character who wakes up at the end) were having trouble with Jones's art, really. As a writer, when you say, in the script, that the character is clearly supposed to be a Monitor with the same "distinctive hairstyle," and the artist doesn't make it totally clear--well, I guess in the old days they'd solve it with a caption: "Nix Uotan, former Monitor, wakes up in the body of a BLACK YOUTH!" I'm glad he decided not to go that route, even when the art was a bit unclear.

CN: I love the sliver covers. I'm a sucker for design stuff like this, though.

I've gotten... three of these "director's cut" issues before, all from Marvel. The first was Avengers vol. 3 #1, which was the Kurt Busiek/George Perez "Heroes Return" relaunch. It had the complete issue with just Perez's pencils and then Busiek plot (since it was done Marvel style). I found it worth it for Perez's uninked, uncoloured pencils, plus it was cool to see a plot for a comic issue. By that point, I'd seen plenty of full scripts, but never really a plot. As a writer, it was interesting to see how Busiek described the story, how Perez interpreted that description, and then how Busiek dialogued it. The second was for Nextwave #1, which was the full issue as previously released with Warren Ellis's script and initial pitch. I got that because I'm a sucker for scripts. The third was for Captain America #25 and that was because I couldn't find any other version of the issue, so I went with the "director's cut." It was like the Nextwave one in that it was the same comic, but with the script added (plus maybe a sketch or two and some commentary?). So, I guess the only common thread is the inclusion of the script or plot.
As for this one, I haven't read the script through fully, but I did find the commentary lacking somewhat--something that almost always happens, though. There were a few interesting tidbits thrown in, but mostly just a lot of "Oh, I really liked this!" and "Wasn't that cool?" I don't regret buying it since, as you said, JG Jones's art with just inks is fantastic to look at, scripts are always fun to read through, and the commentary did provide some insights... I guess I always expect more from commentaries, whether on comics or DVDs, when they usually wind up just having people go "Yeah, I really enjoy this part" and stuff like that. So, I blame my heightened expectations for any feeling of disappointment I may have suffered. Although, I do think the commentary suffers from being about the first part of a seven-part storyline that's still in progress. Morrison obviously tip-toes around some plot stuff that, if the entire story were out, he could discuss more freely--which, of course, makes the commentary seem rather silly.

TC: Yeah, it's definitely not a spoiler-filled commentary, that's for sure. But there were some interesting tidbits there and in the script, indeed. Like the way Morrison describes Turpin in the script as "getting on now but he's hard as nails, like a Frank Miller hero." Or Morrison's repeated use of incredible: [from page 15, frame 1]: "Cut to the Guardians of the Universe -- and incredible shot of three of them standing together in a green-lit chamber with an incredible view of the center of the galaxy where there are thousands of suns, radiating an incredible brightness."

That's just daring your artist to screw up, right? It's like, "draw this, and make it all incredible, all the time."

Or the entire description for the most controversial panel in issue one, a terse three words: "The kill shot."

In general, the script is rather short on complex descriptions, and if you compare the style of this script to the one from Arkham Asylum, it seems like two completely different writers. Do you think that's just maturity and confidence on Morrison's part now? Or do you think he's just less invested in Final Crisis and doesn't worry too much about fancy panel descriptions because of that? Obviously, we'd just be speculating, but it is quite a difference, no?

CN: Well, the styles are different because Arkham Asylum wasn't exactly full script in that it was description and dialogue with no panel or page distinctions. I think that allowed Morrison to meander a bit more whereas the full script format for Final Crisis is more rigid. It's very much geared to "Here's what happens in this panel and then here's what happens in the next panel and here's what happens in the next panel" without any real allowance for tangents and meandering. Also, he's worked with JG Jones before and knows he can trust him--in fact, I'd say that's part of maturing as a writer: Morrison knows to trust the artist a bit more and not be a dictator every step of the way.

One thing I noticed was the omission of the first panel of page 10 in the script here, which showed up in Morrison's script when Entertainment Weekly previewed some pages: "Panoramic Manhattan city shot -- including all the architectural projects which were imagined but never put into practise in the real New York. Wind blows, birds rise up. Debris is torn from rooftops." If you compare the script included in the "director's cut," it appears that Jones added an additional panel to page ten where really instead of following this description, he drew a lovely shot of Detroit's skyline, which makes more sense considering after the above panel, the action moves to Detroit immediately. I'm rather amused/mystified as to why this panel description was left out of the script here, though. Part of including the script is to highlight what Morrison wrote and what choices Jones made as the artist, and here, he clearly thought including one lone panel of New York wouldn't make much sense. Seems like a cheat to me. If the point here is to illuminate the process, I really can't understand why the script included would be altered to reflect the art more closely.

TC: I suspect that the script has been edited more than that for publication here. It's probably not the "shooting script." It's the "sanitized for your protection script." When I've written comic book scripts, I find myself putting in descriptions of certain things and emphasizing something and then giving the artist a heads up on why it's important--giving some info about an upcoming plot twist. I don't know that Morrison did that in the real script for this issue, but he might have, and DC wouldn't want that information leaked through this director's cut, right? So, yeah, I doubt that this is the word-for-word script Morrison gave Jones, especially since you've already shown some changes that must have occurred.

What about the commentary? It has some interesting bits too, like when Morrison says that page 4 has "the big clue to the end of Final Crisis." It's the page where Metron gives fire to Anthro. What could that possibly mean? That Anthro will burst through from the past and kick Darkseid in the head? That everything will burn? Any guesses?

Also, there's the overt mention of Bludhaven as a New Orleans, post-Katrina, analogue. And the references to David Lynch. A summer crossover event that reads like a David Lynch superhero story? No wonder the internet didn't know what to make of it!

CN: Well, the "big clue" is even referenced later in the issue when Kamandi shows up and wants the weapon Metron gave Anthro. It seems to me that it will probably be the key for humanity (or superhumanity) to take that next step and become the gods of the Fifth World or something similar. The essence of the Fourth World gods, perhaps? I mean, what can beat a Fourth World god like Darkseid? A Fifth World god! I could be wrong, but that seems as likely as anything else I've read/heard.

But, let's not put the cart before the horse... Darkseid has just won. And, wow, evil won rather easily, didn't it? It wasn't much of a fight at all. Morrison always writes his villains as more intelligent than the heroes in that they always seem to win before the heroes even knew they were there. It's an effective trick as even though we know the heroes will win, things seem so dire and screwed up, it's hard to imagine how they'd win. I mean, at the end of Final Crisis #3, Earth is Darkseid's and our only hope are two guys who can run really fast? Somehow, I don't see them even taking out the now-evil Wonder Woman let alone saving the world completely... But, we also don't know who else is still free and willing to fight. We can probably assume Mister Miracle, Sonny Sumo and the Super Young Team are still around, but who else? Does that seem like a group capable of taking on Darkseid? Then again, Green Arrow and the Atom didn't seem like a likely duo to kill him in "Rock of the Ages" either, so... I have no idea where I'm going with any of this. You talk now.

TC: My impression of the Flash's role here, and I think Dan DiDio said something along these lines in an interview, is that Barry Allen isn't going to come in and save the day. He's just more of a messenger. A Mercury figure, who will point the way to victory or maybe guide the heroes toward something that will help them.

I do love the team-up of Sonny Sumo, Shilo Norman, and the Super Young Team. They're like the Legion of Substitute-Heroes, not quite the laughingstock of the superhero world, but a group that's not taken seriously by their peers or by the audience. But when the chips are down, they will kick some ass. It will be interesting to see how. That's where the fun comes in.

It's typical Morrison, too. He tends to show the "powerful" heroes as ineffective in a lot of his work. Think the Justice League standing outside the Painting that Ate Paris, completely useless. Or the X-Men needing help from the ugly and misshapen new recruits. Or Connor Hawke rescuing the JLA. Early in his career, Morrison didn't seem capable of writing effective heroes at all, and now he still seems to prefer the outsider types. The losers. Who doesn't though? Who wants to see Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman saving the day all the time? There's a reason Trinity is one of the dullest reads this summer.

What did you think about how everything was explained in Final Crisis #3? I understand the need for it. I understand why he had to show the bullet going back though time to kill Orion. Or an explanation of the Atomic Knights. But to me, this was actually the least interesting issue. I still liked it a lot, and I know that this issue fits into the overall scheme and I'm really enjoying the way the story works as a whole, but this one seemed more conventional than the previous two.

CN: When I reread Morrison's JLA last summer, I was surprised to find that nearly every story was resolved by characters without superpowers. One of his major themes is the idea that humanity is capable of saving itself and transcending beyond its limitations. I'm partly expecting something similar to the end of Flex Mentallo and the JLA "World War III" story at the end of Final Crisis. A bit obvious and repetitive, but it would certainly fit with Morrison.
I thought this was a decent issue. It dragged in some parts, but still had enough bits of madness. The first few pages are absolutely wonderful with Frankenstein, the Question and Nazi-Supergirl. The superhero draft is nothing new, but it's also expected in this sort of story--and its use here is wonderful as we see this build-up of heroes, but never see them in action and, then, the bad guys have won without much of a struggle. He really undercuts the convention by showing how predictable the heroes are. Mary Marvel acts as his mouthpiece, in a way: the heroes lose because they're so easy to predict. They always do the same things the exact same way, so they lose quite easily here. The book reads as a critique of this sort of story and Morrison's attempt to try something new with the "Crisis."

TC: Have you been reading any of the spin-offs so far--like the "Requiem" one-shot or the "Rogue's Revenge"? The "Requiem" book was obviously directly related, since it expanded upon the death of J'onn J'onzz. I don't think it was necessary, but it was a nice little story that has a heavy emotional core. "Rogue's Revenger" seems quite unrelated, at least so far, and Scott Kolins is churning out some really atrocious art these days, so you aren't missing much if you skipped that.

But I'm looking forward to a lot of the skip month spin-offs, definitely. Especially Morrison's 3-D Superman thing, and, of course, "Legion of Three Worlds." That's got me jazzed. I'm guessing you won't get them all. How do you decide what to buy and what to skip with something like Final Crisis?

CN: I'm only buying the Morrison-penned tie-in books. I figure those will be worth reading since he's writing the main series. The Geoff Johns stuff doesn't interest me at all, mostly because I don't like his writing. As for the others... what else is there? Some Greg Rucka stuff involving the Spectre, right? I really don't care about that, either. There's that Brad Meltzer one-shot and I'm strangely tempted to get it. I can't explain why--maybe rereading Identity Crisis a few weeks back has me wanting to give him another chance after his god-awful Justice League stuff. I may get that "Resist" one-shot since it's the other side of Morrison's "Submit" one, but we'll have to see. When it comes to crossover events like this, I usually stick as close to the core book as possible, only buying tie-ins if they're by the writer of the core book or have other interesting allures. Like with Secret Invasion, I'm buying the main book, Bendis's two Avengers titles, Captain Britain and MI:13 because it looked interesting and has turned out to be absolutely wonderful, and I may pick up Secret Invasion: Thor because Matt Fraction is writing that. Besides that, I don't think I've gotten anything else... Oh, I got that "Who Can You Trust?" one-shot for the Noh-Varr bit. And, if any of the books I'm already reading have tie-in issues, I'll get those. But, yeah, since I'm usually buying the main book because of the writer, tie-ins not written by that writer have to look very good for me to touch them. Although, I admit I'm that special sort of sucker who says, "HA! You won't get my money with your stupid little tie-in books!" and then buys a five-buck "director's cut" of the first issue... after already having gotten the sketchbook, too...

TC: Well, if you miss anything good in the Final Crisis tie-in books, I'll let you know, trust me.

(By the way, the Jason Aaron-penned Black Panther tie-in with Secret Invasion is definitely worth getting.)

I'll be buying all the Final Crisis books, no matter who's involved. Not because I need them, but because I buy so much anyway, what's a couple more books? I am a sucker who will one day pay the price for his suckerness. (Like when my house collapses under the weight of crappy back issues.)

One more thing I'd like to add before we conclude: Final Crisis is really, really good. (And maybe the tie-ins will be good as well?)