Saturday, May 31, 2008

Final Crisis #1

Chad Nevett: Well, Final Crisis #1 has finally shipped after an entire year of build-up in Countdown along with DC Universe #0 and the sketchbook from a few weeks back. It has been a long, long wait for the reuniting of Grant Morrison and JG Jones to deliver what we hoped would be one hell of a crossover event. Now that it's here, what did you think, Tim? Was it worth the wait? Did it deliver? Are you anticipating the second issue with bated breath?

Tim Callahan: I don't know that I've ever anticipated a comic with bated breath. Except that Captain America Annual where he fought Wolverine. When I saw the Mike Zeck drawing for that cover, I could not wait to buy that comic. And, guess what, I never saw it in the comic shop! I have still never actually seen that comic, although I think the story is included in some Wolverine hardcover that I own, so I did eventually read it. But I have never seen the floppy version, and after all those years of anticipation and then disappointment--and when I read the story, I was even more disappointed, because it sure didn't live up to that Mike Zeck cover--I think I've become to jaded to bate my breath for anything. (Although I am unusually excited when I see that a new issue of Morrison's Batman is coming out, so there's some bate for you.) So, no, I won't be anticipating Final Crisis #2 with bated breath. But I did like the first issue quite a bit.

Here's what I liked about Final Crisis #1: the scope. Morrison is great at the huge, cosmic stuff, but he's also great with the small, street-level scenes. I like that this comic features both the Rene Montoya Question, Guardians of Oa, and the Monitors, all without feeling like one of those late 80s, early 90s crossover events where the characters all just hung out together. Like, here's Vigilante standing next to Firestorm getting ready to punch Time Travelling Robots from the Future. That may sound cool in theory, but those crossovers didn't make much sense for the characters. Morrison has each level of character maintain his or her own plane of existence withing the DC Universe. The Question talks with Dan Turpin, the Green Lanterns talk to eachother, the lame super-villains fight the lame super-heroes. The Monitors hang out and observe. Everyone has their place, and Morrison moved deftly between each layer. The layers may begin to overlap as the series moves forth, but I still doubt we'll get a scene where Rene Montoya punches a Monitor in the face. That's not what Morrison seems to be setting up here.

I also like that it's basically a detective story at first. And seeing the Green Lanterns actually acting like the space-cops they're supposed to be is a nice touch.

I also like that Morrison has made the Monitors more interesting, and more dignified, in just a few pages, then we saw in the entirety of Countdown.

And J.G. Jones's art was nice, especially in the opening sequence. But it looks a bit sloppier in the middle, doesn't it. Compare the Secret Society pages to the initial Anthro pages, and it almost looks like a different artist. Still good all the way through, but not as great as the opening.

Did you like the first issue as much as I did? If not, what's wrong with you?

CN: Of course I liked it. I liked it quite a bit, actually. It was exactly what I was hoping for: a Grant Morrison comic that uses the entire DC universe as the backdrop. I mean, this guy goes from the Stone Age to the last guy on Earth! He has the Guardians of the Universe and the Monitors of the Multiverse with everything between thrown in. As you said, he moves within these layers with ease, just dropping little bits of story on every page that will no doubt accrue over the course of the series.

What particularly impressed me was how unlike most big event books this was. I've read a few things online taking it to task for that--that it isn't new reader friendly or doesn't match up with continuity or relies on Seven Soldiers for a plot point or two... but since I am not a new reader, someone who cares much about recent DC continuity or ignorant of Seven Soldiers, I don't care. And neither does Grant Morrison apparently, because all he wants to do is tell a huge story of some sort that, let's be honest, doesn't require you to know all of that stuff anyway. Do you absolutely need to know who Anthro is? No, because that knowledge doesn't really add much since the important information is obvious: yeah, he's a caveman. End of lesson--and if you couldn't figure that startling piece of information out on your own, there's no helping you. Hell, Morrison does a better job at getting across who everyone in this story is, at their core, than I've seen in recent history. What better way to tell a new reader that the Green Lanterns are space cops than to have them ACT LIKE SPACE COPS? Or to get across the idea that the New Gods are very big, very important and much more powerful than regular superheroes than to have the superheroes treat them as such? The more I think about it, the more I realize that this is a very new reader-friendly book--it's just that the average fan knows too much and, weirdly enough, having too much knowledge gets in the way here. You have to accept what Morrison tells you rather than enter with your own preconceptions. Wait... did I just say that knowing too much hinders your reading of a Grant Morrison comic? What?

I am going to disagree about the art... except for the way Lex Luthor looks in the first panel he appears in. That is sloppy, but that's all that's sloppy by my eye. Although, those opening pages are gorgeous. That double-page spread is beautiful.

What did you make of the death of the Martian Manhunter? I thought it was a great match with the death of Orion, the "Dog of War" (although, Morrison casts him as the god of war, really) since Mars is also the Roman god of war. I wonder if we'll continue to see such doublings as the series progresses.

TC: I always get annoyed when people evaluate a book negatively because it's not something else. It's not "new reader friendly," and that's bad? Says who? New readers? I don't think new readers are saying anything, although I would like their opinion out of curiosity because, like you, I don't think it's new reader unfriendly anyway. And the Martian Manhunter death is getting flak on the internet because it wasn't a majestic enough death for such an important character. The death happened, "off-panel," some critics have said, and the Manhunter deserved better. First of all, I don't see how his death happened off-panel, since you can see him impaled by a flaming spear pretty clearly. Second, just because he deserves better doesn't mean he's going to get it. He's killed by SUPER-VILLAINS, not nice, sweet, kindly old farmers who care if he deserved better or not. His death is disgustingly under-emphasized because these guys don't value human life. Maybe instead of criticizing Morrison for under-playing the scene, readers should think about the effect of his under-playing it. What does it mean in the context of the story? Third, does anyone really think J'onn J'onzz is dead for good? Come on! He'll be back in a different form by the end of the series.

So, my recommendation to everyone is to read and interpret what's on the page, not to speculate on how it "should" have happened. Of course, I only really apply that approach to a few creators, but Morrison is definitely one of them, because I trust that his decisions have meaning and are not just examples of bad storytelling.

And I wouldn't be surprised by more doubling, of course, since we've seen so much already: Orion/Martian Manhunter, Anthro/Kamandi, Turpin/Green Lanterns, even Oans/Monitors, and the implication in DC Universe #0 that Libra/Flash are somehow doubled. Doubling? You bet.

What do you make about the Seven Soldiers connection? How does this story fit with what Morrison did in Mister Miracle? Do you think that contextual knowledge, while not necessary, would help figure out what's going on here? What's the deal?

CN: I saw those complaints about the Martian Manhunter stuff as well and immediately thought that had Morrison shown the entire death on panel, those same people would be complaining about another long, drawn-out murder of a superhero--the sort of complaint Geoff Johns gets a lot. But, people love to complain... I'm just always surprised when they complain this much about a well done comic.

I do think knowing what happened in Mister Miracle #1-4 and Seven Soldiers of Victory #1 helps, but isn't necessary. It is nice to finally see Mister Miracle make a bit more sense, though, as it was, by far, the least important of the Seven Soldiers series, and didn't tie into that story that much. It established the conceit of the New Gods manifesting themselves on Earth in the bodies of humans, which we see here. Seven Soldiers #1 shows where evil--Darkseid--actually won, but it's a subtle win and not required to see. As I said earlier, though, Morrison makes it pretty clear what's happening in Final Crisis, so I don't think Mister Miracle is absolutely necessary. At least, not yet.

To test my theory that this is new reader friendly, I gave this comic to my roommate, Adam, who reads comics from time to time. He's not a DC fan at all and hasn't read a DC comic in ages, but he's familiar enough that he seemed like a good test audience. Yeah, he had no idea what was going on. He followed some of the stuff well enough like the Orion scene, the Green Lantern scene, and the Justice League scene--but, the stuff involving Anthro, the Monitors and then Kamandi really threw him off. The Anthro/Kamandi scene especially had him wondering what was going on. And, some of the recent changes in DC like the Martian Manhunter's costume change or even the reintroduction of the multiverse did not make it easier for him. However, the Justice League scene that has people bitching over Morrison's little mini-revamp of the New Gods' role in the DC universe did go over well and established the New Gods as very powerful, mysterious and badass according to Adam. Some of his problems are problems he has with superhero comics in general, but, he did say, he would not buy the second issue. He also really, really hated Morrison's writing of the cavemen stuff since they were shown in camps with tools, but no fire--which is apparently very, very inaccurate. So, I guess I was wrong.

TC: You were, and so was I, because I read it to my son tonight, and he had no clue what was going on without me explaining everything (and saying "orrery" out loud repeatedly is pretty difficult!). So, it's not new reader friendly at all. But that's okay. I want stuff targeted to me anyway. I'm the one reading it, and your roommate and my son would never have picked it up without us saying, "here, try this as a guinea pig." I asked my son to rate it after we finished reading it, and he gave it 3 and a half stars out of 5. But, he gives everything 4 or 5 stars, because he's a little kid and lacks critical discernment.

I don't have a problem with the cavemen having tools and no fire, because it's not real cavemen. It's DC Universe cavemen, and the rules don't apply to them. They are above the laws of anthropology.

How do you think Final Crisis compares to the other big event this summer: Secret Invasion?

CN: Good question as I've been enjoying Secret Invasion quite a bit. But, that's also based on the Avengers titles that Bendis is writing, as well. It's really given the even more depth than it would have were I just reading Secret Invasion. It also has a couple of months on Final Crisis, but were I to compare the first issue of each... I'd have to say that Secret Invasion is a better event comic, but Final Crisis is just a better comic period. As you said, it's nice to have a book whose target audience seems to be me. Final Crisis is Morrison being Morrison without much attempt to pander whereas Secret Invasion is much more basic and easy-to-get-into. Adam, for example, read my copy of Secret Invasion #1 and had no complaints about not getting anything. It's a better book at being for everyone, while it seems from our experiences and the reactions online that Final Crisis is more for us Morrison fans who have read everything he's written for DC and a lot of his interviews, so we really get where he's coming from, what he's building upon, and what his intention is. I enjoyed Final Crisis #1 more than I enjoyed Secret Invasion #1--but Secret Invasion seems a better event for the masses.

Does that make sense and, more importantly, do you agree with my assessment?

TC: I do agree, and everything you say seems to perfectly encapsulate the differences between a Morrison comic and a Bendis comic. Bendis can wallow in self-reflexive dialogue and a lack of plot progression, but his stories are always simplistically structured and accessible. Morrison plays with structure and subverts expectations while molding traditional superhero tropes to fit his own personal concerns. I like Bendis, but I can't say that rereading Bendis's work adds anything that I didn't pick up the first time. Morrison, on the other hand, writes stories that work on multiple levels and reward a second or third reading of his entire run (on whatever). Secret Invasion is also more fun: Dinosaurs! Skrulls! Jive-talking Luke Cage! Mockingbird! And feels more like a summer movie. Final Crisis feels more like Watchmen. Not that it aspires to be Watchmen, or that it comes close to mimicking it in any way--but it has a gravitas to it, and it has a tightly-wound structure (and a murder "mystery") at its core. I'm just going to read the heck out of both series, and pretty much all their spin-offs too. I'm on the event train this year.

CN: Me, too, which is weird. How did Marvel and DC so capture the imaginations of two readers such as us? I never thought I'd see the day where I was reading both summer event books and really liking them. Who'd've thunk it?

TC: Either they're doing something right, or we have become soft in our old age. Probably both.