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.