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?)

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