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.