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.