Saturday, June 28, 2008

Final Crisis #2

Timothy Callahan: We both liked Final Crisis #1, but I got the feeling that we were in the minority--or at least the minority of loud internet voices. And then when the sales figures came out everyone made a huge deal about it selling less than Secret Invasion--a lot less--even though the numbers reflect the amount of issues ordered by comic shop owners and don't correspond to actual sales. All of which led the internet to call for Didio's head. It's been one of those hot topics, this Final Crisis. So, here we are, looking at issue #2, and wondering--what was the uproar over issue #1 all about? Why didn't people like it? Is issue #2 going to remind people that Grant Morrison does actually know what he's doing?

Your thoughts?

Chad Nevett: People were expecting a big event book and got a Grant Morrison book. I noticed some criticism, but not a huge amount, but that could just be the blogs I read. I figure the fault lies with DC marketing and editorial for people's expectations not being met. If you're familar with Morrison's work, Final Crisis #1 came as no surprise and did exactly what was expected: a smart, slow-building story that is actually far bigger and more expansive than most event books, but doesn't seem like it is. And, issue #2 didn't really deviate from that path except upped the amount of bad things happening. In the first issue, the Martian Manhunter was murdered and that's about it. Here, the JLA is hit harder and may provide some sense of dread for the average reader that the first issue lacked. Also, the stuff involving Anthro and Kamandi wasn't well-received, so the lack of them (aside from one panel where the focus was elsewhere anyway) should help, too.

As for the sales of issue one, Steven Grant said it best: Final Crisis #1 still sold the second-most issues of that month, so why would anyone be mad at Dan Didio? It was still a wildly successful issue, selling nearly one hundred and fifty thousand copies--seriously, why would anyone be upset with him? Or, as you even said in your review of Final Crisis #2 (or was it your blog post linking to the review?), it seems weird having to defend DC's top-selling book.

Issue #2 was a great comic, wasn't it? Big surprise for us to really enjoy a Grant Morrison comic, I know, but this issue contained from where the first left off while expanding the scope of the story even more. Yes, it's a slow build, but that means the pay-off should be even bigger. I'm enjoying Secret Invasion, but it's been in a sort of holding pattern since the first issue where the beginning of the invasion was the climax of the story almost. That hasn't happened here and won't for a while. Morrison seems more inclined to write a cohesive overall work that will stand up to repeated readings rather than a "tent pole" event book that everyone will forget in six months. Neither approach is wrong, they just have different goals in the short- and long-term.

TC: Final Crisis #2 was excellent, yeah. I thought it was terse and powerful and sinister. Just like it needed to be. I have no idea what's going on with Darkseid and the evil New Gods, other than them inhabiting the bodies of humans--Turpin is in particularly dire straits--and there's plenty of mystery with the Libra character. There's far more mystery here than in Secret Invasion, which should more accurately be titled Quite Public Invasion, Seriously, Have You Seen All the Skrulls? That would be harder to put above the title on the crossover books, though. And geez, talk about crossover books. Marvel's got a million of them, and as I think you alluded to in a comment on my blog, even Bendis can't keep his own Skrull invasion timeline right, as he directly contradicts the events of Hank Pym's Skrully replacement in two comics that both came out this week. I'm enjoying the wacky fun of Secret Invasion, because it is just a wild ride of Super-Skrulls smashing into people and buildings--and it's kind of fun to play along with Bendis as he reveals, "oh, that's why that character was acting weird in that issue last year," except even those revelations seem a bit inconsistent. Maybe they were all planned, but he's the guy who changed Ronin into a girl just because the internet found out about his plans, so I have a feeling that he hasn't necessarily been planning every beat of this story for years.

Final Crisis, though, is so Morrisonian--and count me as one of the readers who does not mind AT ALL that Countdown ended up being inconsistent, even though I bought and read every damn issue--and so tightly constructed, and so self-contained (now, although with the spin-offs and one-shots it may get messier) that we can really get an event book that makes sense. I'm going back and rereading Crisis on Infinite Earths right now, because my son really wanted to read it, since he's becoming interested in more and more DC characters--so we read one issue each night together--and even though Marv Wolfman was the architect of the whole story, and the crossovers were tangential, the twelve issues don't really make sense. Monitor has to die, why? Because of some vague need to transfer his life energy into saving Earths 1+2? Really? Or was it because Wolfman needed a dramatic sacrifice at that point while the rest of the early issues were just pages of rallying troops? More likely the latter. And Harbinger's whole character is just a giant plot mechanism that shifts and changes as needed. No, it's not a very good story. Final Crisis might end up being. It's certainly good so far. It's a real story that just happens to be an event book because it takes place on a huge DC canvas.

What about this complaint, though: Final Crisis, like many DC books, is just about the DC Universe and that's it? It doesn't relate to real world problems or fears the way Secret Invasion does? It doesn't have the human drama of the Marvel books? It's just cosmic characters having a bad week? Any validity to criticisms like that?

CN: At their core, how are these two stories that different? In one, we have aliens pretending to be people in a calculated invasion to take over the planet and, in the other, we have evil gods possessing the bodies of people in an effort to take over the planet. Um, how is Secret Invasion more relevant other than being more obvious about exploring the same themes and ideas as Final Crisis? Hell, Final Crisis is the true "Secret Invasion" if you look at it the right way. The heroes don't know it's happened yet! They don't know that there was a battle in heaven and evil won, and, now, evil is about two steps away from having Earth, too. How is Secret Invasion not just about the Marvel universe when half of the tie-in books show flashbacks to comics from years ago? Or when one of the big surprises in Secret Invasion #1 is a ship full of Marvel heroes from the 1970s? When you look at both books, you realize the differences lie in the ways the stories are told, where the emphasis is placed, not the actual plots, because they're remarkably similar in many ways. What's the different between watching the Young Avengers in action or seeing the Super Young Team hanging out in a club, setting up their eventual (I assume) foray into the action? How many people are actually familiar with the Young Avengers or the Initiative in any way, really, but give those characters more slack because they're appeared in titles before, albeit ones not read by anywhere near the majority of the Secret Invasion audience? What's the difference between a brand new character and one that's been around for a couple of years but you've never actually read about before, really? There is none, except weird biases some readers have--and the ways in which the stories are told.

So, no, I don't see any validity in that argument.

TC: Maybe DC should promote Final Crisis as "Even more secret, even more invasive than that other event." There's definitely a bias against Final Crisis and I'm not exactly sure where it's coming from. Maybe it's just that kind of over-reactive fanboy bias that pops up all the time on the internet, but why did it sell considerably less than Secret Invasion at the retailer level? Surely the Morrison name draws more readers than the Bendis name, but maybe not. Maybe everyone's all Crisis-ed out. Just to get some background, I dipped into a CBR thread, to see what exactly people were complaining about, and here are some examples:

Lt. Marvel says, "I also like the storytelling in which characters are mentioned by name. I don't know all of the Titans that were defeated, for instance. Back in 1985, if you had read Brave and the Bold/DC Comics Presents for the obscure characters, a Roy Thomas Earth 2 book, and Swamp Thing for the mystics, you could easily follow every scene."

So I guess he wants every scene to read like Crisis on Infinite Earths, where every line of dialogue is like, "Blue Beetle, come over here," and "Okay, Katana, I'm on my way."

bjtrdff, in response to someone who says Final Crisis #2 wasn't hard to understand, says, " Are you Grant's grandson, or did you just do cocaine before posting? It's not a matter of knowing who characters are, or that things are unanswered. It's the layout of the entire book, and the transitions."

Are these legitimate complaints? Do things need to be more clearly labeled? Are the layouts and transitions problematic? Do people who like the comic do a lot of coke?

CN: I can understand having problems with the transitions as is pacing here is very similar to that of Marvel Boy and the JLA story "Crisis Times Five," which most attribute to his working on 2000 AD where the page demands forced him to develop a very quick pacing that jumps from scene to scene and relies on the reader to fill in some blanks. I had some problems with those stories at first, but I got over it. I improved my reading ability and didn't blame Morrison because he was writing faster than I could keep up. And, before anyone says anything, I don't do cocaine.

As for the first complaint, would he have liked Final Crisis more if it had a page at the front like Secret Invasion that told you the name of all of the characters, which is all well and good but doesn't really tell you anything that meaningful? What does it matter if you know the name of a character appears for a couple of panels and is dispatched or if you don't? Does it make that big a difference? Does your reading enjoyment hinge on that small insignificance? That is a very, very, very stupid complaint. I'm sorry, but it is.

I am actually having a hard time with the complaints I read, because I've seen complaints where people attack the pacing or use of characters, and it's a case where what they say as a negative, I was about to say as a positive. It's like if you have two guys, one who likes girls with glasses and one who doesn't... there's no way one is going to convert the other to his way of thinking. Do we really need to be apologists for this book, Tim?

TC: On some level, I suppose we do, not just because of this particular comic, but because these complaints represent a frustrating level of ignorance about basic storytelling methods. I don't think it's purely just a matter of never-changing taste. I think it's a matter of certain readers not being patient, or certain readers not looking at what actually happens in the comic. I read a dozen comments speculating on which New God might be inhabiting Turpin's body, even though the story clearly indicates that Darkseid has taken Turpin's body after the events at the end of issue #1. Now that might be a misleading bit of suggestion in the comic, but that's the clear suggestion, and one character says it explicitly. Some readers still didn't know. So for me this is about helping people realize that a comic, even a superhero comic, might require a little tiny bit of effort to read, and that's not a bad thing.

I don't think the girl with or without glasses analogy quite works. It's more like someone thinking Saved by the Bell is better than The Office or something like that. That's not taste, that's just plain wrong. Okay, it's not that bad. Secret Invasion is maybe the best Marvel event ever, so I shouldn't criticize it just because some readers like that and not Final Crisis, but it chafes me when readers are both loud and ignorant. Although the reviews of Final Crisis #2 have been far more favorable than those for issue #1, so maybe the tide is turning.

CN: Firstly, which version of The Office and which version of Saved by the Bell?

Secondly, as I've said, I haven't seen as many negative criticisms of Final Crisis as you have since I insulate myself in a lovely little bubble of blogs of like-minded individuals. What I have noticed is that issue two has indeed been received more warmly, suggesting that the slow build is working. The consensus still seems to be "good Morrison comic, bad event comic," which I don't necessarily agree with, but I think is still a valid comment.

Thirdly, yeah, we really should make it clear that we like Secret Invasion and don't mean to slam it in an effort to defend Final Crisis. It's not an either/or choice with those books, which is what I think is partly fuelling some of the negative criticisms directed towards Final Crisis. What I want to know is why anyone would want Final Crisis to be more like Secret Invasion? Do we really need two identical books (despite quite possibly being about the same basic ideas)? Wouldn't people rather have two distinct books that tell the stories in their own distinct ways as the stories demand?

TC: I'm pretty sure any version of The Office is better than any version of Saved by the Bell, by the way. Unless you have different kinds of Saved by the Bell episodes in Canada.

I would think people would want two distinct books, and maybe they do and there's like six guys on the internet whining about "not getting" Final Crisis #2. So, I'm going to move on to a plot point question: Do you assume, like I do, that the bullet in the final image--the one Barry Allen is chasing (or being chased by--although I read it as chasing)--is the one headed for Orion in the past? Or do you think it's destined for a different target?

CN: We actually do, it's called Degrassi...

But, I didn't assume either possibility as correct, I just figured it could be either one and I'd wait until future issues to explain that. My first instinct was to assume it was heading for Orion, but since the other possibility is just as valid, I'd rather wait and see. I'm also unsure about the chasing/chased, but that's because the perspective on the art is unclear.

Is that, perhaps, a key to liking this book, that willingness to not get everything and assume that answers will come later? I think that goes hand-in-hand with being an attentive and careful reader, because not everything is meant to be understood right now. Some fans want it all right away and that causes problems for them, do you think?

TC: Probably. The ones who complain are the ones who, when you take them to a movie, constantly turn and ask, "who's that guy? What's he doing?" and you yell at them and say, "watch the damn movie and you'll find out!!!!" I think we all know people like that.

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