Monday, February 02, 2009

Stuff I Read

Final Crisis #7

It's not merely disingenuous, it's downright repellent to insult your audience for not getting the book you wrote. Sure, I can understand, it might feel nice to vent if you've been writing comics for a couple decades that a very vocal majority of your "fans" very vocally do not / pretend not to understand. You might start to feel like everyone is a whiny crybaby diaper butt who just needs to grow up and learn how to read. But the moment you break down into ad hominem attacks on the people who, either directly or indirectly, pay your bills and put gas in your Hummer, you become a dick-hole. Sorry, Charlie: not even Lou Reed can pull of being a dick-hole without coming across as, well, a dick-hole. Just because you wrote "Sweet Jane" doesn't mean you get to be an asshole without everyone else calling you on it, and you certainly don't get to be an asshole just because you wrote All-Star Superman. Of course this isn't the way the world works, but you know, just once, I'd like to see one of these guys come out and say something as simple as, you know,
"I'm very sorry if you didn't like my book. I worked hard on it but if it's not your cup of tea please accept my apologies. I hope you like my next project better."
End of quote.

OK, let's put aside the canard of audience expectations. Sure, there are a lot of people who just didn't like it, who didn't think it was all that much of a stretch to think that a book whose primary selling point is its ostensible connection to the pre-existing Crisis brand would, you know, resemble anyone's expectations for a Crisis-type book. There are many out there who will scream "foul", pointing out, perhaps justifiably, that audience expectations have no place in the realm of Pure Art and Platonic Forms, and that Morrison's super-epic should be judged solely on its own merits, separate from any other considerations than what is specifically on the page. OK, let's through Levi-Strauss under the train, let's get out our Scottish decoder rings. Forget all the churls who insist that not putting all the pieces of the story actually, you know, in the story is somehow a betrayal of trust with the audience. If they wanted the Final Crisis experience, they should have bought all the Final Crisis books, despite the general trend in recent years for both DC and Marvel to put out increasingly tangential tie-in books that can either be read or not read according to the reader's whims. (Sure, you may say, it works better that way to create stories that you can actually put between two covers in a hardcover spine, in such a way that should some intrepid explorer ever find a copy of Civil War in their local library they might, you know, actually have a very distant chance at deciphering the strange pictogramic communication on the interior pages.) How many of these complaints would have been alleviated if they'd just put all the relevant Final Crisis shit in the actual Final Crisis book, instead of praying that readers would be smart enough to sift through a couple dozen books and be able to figure out which was which? While Rogues' Revenge and Revelations and Rage of the Red Lanterns are - regardless of their various individual, ahem, "virtues" - absolutely superfluous to the ongoing Final Crisis saga, Resist, Superman Beyond in EXTREME 3D and, oh, these two issues of Batman which were also technically an epilogue to another storyline that was itself not originally solicited as a tie-in, are totally necessary to understand all the main plot points of the series' climax. That's so easy to figure out, someone who's been reading comics for over two and a half decades could do it!

So of course, here's the complaints, to which I'll be a good sport and cede: don't couch aesthetic criticism in business terms, because, man, your totally squaresville Daddy-O graphs and pie charts are totally alien to picking up on the vibes that MorriSonofGod is putting down. OK, fair enough, I'll cede the point. But man, here's another downbeat to squelch your vibe: Ang Lee's Hulk. Sure, some people like it, a lot of people will crawl out of the woodwork to defend it. After all, for it's flaws, it's still the work of a conscientious auteur trying to stretch the boundaries of what can be done within a limiting milieu. But you know what? It fucking sucks as a Hulk movie. It killed the Hulk's chance at being an A-level film franchise, which is why Marvel (now that they're in the driver's seat of their movie future) will never again make the mistake of letting an artiste drive one of their A-level franchises off the cliff in the name of Art. In that respect, I'd say that regardless of your feelings on the movie, Hulk failed both commercially and creatively because it closed a shitload of doors for future opportunities. You may love the movie, but especially if you love the movie you should be sorry the movie had to basically screw everything up for all the other potential smart nouvelle vague superhero action films that could one day have been born. Forget the fact that that, of course, wouldn't have happened, that even if the first film had been a huge blockbuster, Hulk 2 would probably have been directed by the guy who farted out Timecop 3: Squatters in Bohemia, because Ang Lee had better things to do, i.e. follow up a commercial failure with one of the best mainstream American movies of the decade, Paul Blart, Mall Cop.

Still: the only thing that results from noble failures is retrenchment and a recommitment to "core values", which in this instance is grasping sub-sub-mediocrity. You can argue, and maybe even successfully, that Final Crisis succeeded "on its own terms" (whatever that means), and even say that Secret Invasion hardly created a sensation of fabulous buzz for Marvel, either. But even if Secret Invasion didn't end by setting the world on fire, it at least kept the home fires burning and didn't result in any marked decrease in fanboy goodwill. Final Crisis has already proven itself to be the most controversial superhero comic of the year - and it's only February. And not controversy in a good way, controversy in terms of the fact that anywhere from 60-75% of the audience feels cheated and the other 25-40% of the audience is responding by calling the other segment idiots. Not the buzz the company wanted to lead into Blackest Night, eh? (And good job spoiling those plot points in the toy catalog, guys!)

Even Morrison admits that in terms of influence, Final Crisis will almost certainly be a crushing failure. It must suck to go to editorial retreats and sit on convention panels with people you hold such contempt for, who you can't even trust to be able to write a God-damned Sonny Sumo comic book without wanting to fill it up with pictures of the Rainbow Raider getting raped by Mopee. It must make holiday parties pretty awkward, to hate your peers for being bumbling mediocrities, and then go say as much in public interviews. Sure, they are bumbling mediocrities, but I don't want to see how sausage is made. At least let me pretend all the elves are happy in Santa's Workshop.

So, yeah: Final Crisis will not result in more comics like Final Crisis, it will result in more comics like Secret Invasion. Because ambition is expensive, and there is something to be said in an extremely conservative market for a piece of dog crap that nevertheless comes slathered with enough high fructose corn syrup that is sort of is edible. If you're hungry now you'll eat the dog shit because by the time the truck with the White Castle slammers gets here you'll be dead. And it's not even that Final Crisis was that late as these things go, it's that Marvel's big series was extraordinarily punctual (only missing a couple weeks with the very last issue) and extraordinarily consistent. Sure, the consistency was baby diarrhea, but it was nonetheless consistent. (And man, why is it that we are never far from fecal jokes? Are they unoriginal, do they betray a lack of imagination on my part? And why is it that, like "bureaucracy", I can never remember how "diarrhea" is spelled, no matter how many hundreds of times I type it.)

So, finally, it's not that Morrison overestimated my intelligence - me, specifically, as a reader. It's that he overestimated my ability to care about putting together all the pieces when about half the comic was missing. And I'm not talking about the parts that were in crossovers, I mean the pages that must have fallen out of my issue that told me what the fuck was actually going on. I'm not stupid, but you know, I just don't feel like I want to exercise the same set of muscles on Final Crisis that I do for Absalom, Absalom. If you want to do that, fine, but I just don't want to do that. Some people live to put up long annotations of these comics, and God bless them, I wouldn't have understood Superman Beyond if I hadn't spent a couple hours piecing together the commentary. But, really, why? No more wire hangers, dammit. I'd rather just go read Absalom, Absalom again, instead of reading someone else's doctoral thesis on the metafictional narrative superstructure of DC Comics. Read some Foucault, don't tell me about Teh Day Evilz Won until you've got Discipline and Punish under your belt. I can guess you haven't read it because it doesn't have magic mushrooms or ominous pyramids with mystical third eyes on the cover.

See what I did there? That's an ad hominem attack.

Someone's got to call bullshit, so it might as well be me: Bullshit, Grant Morrison. Grow the fuck up, you smug middlebrow Scottish mediocrity. You're almost fifty, for God's sake.

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