Monday, June 02, 2008

Six Thoughts On Final Crisis #1
(Spoilers, I guess, but if you don't know
what happens yet you probably don't care)

1. Everything everybody has already said about the book is true, except for the people who inexplicably liked it. They're wrong.

2. Grant Morrison is reaching, if he hasn't already reached, the end of his shelf-life. Every writer reaches a point where their accumulated stylistic baggage overwhelms that they know about craft and common-sense. Sometimes it is possible for writers to overcome these problems, sometimes it isn't. Stephen King, to use a contemporary example, knows enough about his own weaknesses as a writer that he works around them: some of his books are less polished than others, and he readily admits that he spends more time and more care on something like Lisey's Story or his Dark Tower books than, say, whatever the last thriller he wrote about a haunted car was called. Conversely, Salman Rushdie seems to have reached a similar point, albeit with less awareness of his own faults than King. I tried valiantly to make my way through a new story of Rushdie's that was printed in The New Yorker a couple months back, and it was an arduous task. All the little stylistic ticks that made his earlier books so interesting have calcified into self-interested mush, and the result - at least judging from the samples I've read - is pretty stifling.

Morrison has reached a similar point as well, but the problem is that whereas at his most logorrheic King is still coherent, Morrison at his most Morrisonian simply forgets to give the reader very important information pertaining to the plot. The result, in Final Crisis, is jumpy and borderline unintelligible. His Batman is even worse. (And the legibility of the book is certainly not helped by the poor-to-bad art he's been saddled with. I have to wonder whether or not the book would read better if they dropped the sub-Image art in favor of an old hand like, say, Eduardo Barreto or Graham Nolan - two good Bat-artists who left superhero comics in favor of newspaper strips in recent years.) The reason his All-Star Superman remains as good as it is - good, but not great - is that Morrison seems to be purposely limiting himself to a relatively conservative palette of storytelling tools. A lot of sophisticated effects, true, but it's all still fairly linear. Writing a big plot-heavy super-hero bruhaha like Final Crisis requires keeping on top of the plot at all costs: mood, theme, even character and setting can be sidelined as long as the plot retains a coherent shape. "Rock of Ages" and DC 1,000,000 were incredibly complex and even innovative super-hero stories in terms of how they approached plot; but most importantly in both instances, the plot was still methodically laid out (if perhaps a bit jumbled, requiring a bit more work on the part of the reader). Reading the first issue of Final Crisis seemed more like proofreading Morrison's shorthand summary of plot ideas than an actual full-formed plot.

3. With that said, it was remarkable to me just how predictable said plot actually was. I'm hardly a DC trainspotter, yet every single significant story beat was telegraphed months in advance, either through Morrison's own interviews and public appearances or online speculation. It would be foolish to demand innovation from this kind of big tentpole product-shifting extravaganza, but the sense of familiarity gives the whole proceeding an air not merely of having "been-there, done-that", but of being almost superfluous, less a comic in and of itself but a series of previously determined story beats that are boring to everyone involved but which are already committed, sort of like the stations of the cross - only difference being, Catholics still care about Jesus whereas most people don't really care about the Martian Manhunter.

4. Jeezum Crow, can we have a moratorium on stories where people sit around tables and talk? This seems to be primarily a DC innovation - the last few years have seen a proliferation of stories featuring heroes and villains sitting around conference tables hashing out boring shit. DC Comics: where boring shit happens, just like your work, only most likely your 10:00 AM Monday morning sales meeting doesn't involve people dressed like Batman. If it does, well, you live a more interesting life than I do.

5. For all his elevated talk, Morrison does seem to have absorbed all the cynical, unpleasant ticks readers more readily associate with a crass journeyman craftsperson like Geoff Johns. The Martian Manhunter's death was obviously supposed to be crass and sordid, but jeez, it's kind of hard to satirize crass and sordid by playing at being crass and sordid, you know? People still talk about how effective Supergirl and Barry Allen's deaths were in the first Crisis: for super-hero deaths, they were both extremely effective and affecting. By killing the Manhunter so casually, they are underlining the fact that they already have plans for his speedy resurrection, maybe even later in the pages of this very series. In comics, death is similar to celebrity rehab: you go in after things have been bad for a while, and when you get out everyone pretends that you're better and different for a short period of time before quickly sliding back downhill. Only, replace "hardcore drug use" with "unpopular with nerds".

6. Darkseid and the other New Gods reincarnated as gangsters and hoodlums?

. . .

Really? That's what you're going with? You can take that move back, I'll give you a Mulligan. Please. I'll turn around.

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