Okay, so the title has absolutely nothing to do with the content, but in these Final Crisis/Batman RIP posts I’ve been using consecutive lines from Batman by Jan & Dean as titles, and I refuse to let Grant Morrison not putting in a scene of Batvillains running away stop me.
Anyway, Final Crisis #6, publisher DC Comics, writer Grant Morrison, artists Hugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble & Grubb…
Firstly, it is, of course, great. I can understand why Jog doesn’t like it, but to me it’s just about as good as superhero comics get, and Kevin Church has accurately summed up most of the complaints people have had about it on message boards.
There are a couple of complaints that *do* have more substance, of course. First is the art – up to now the various people helping Jones with this have done what I consider a relatively good job of blending with his work. Not perfect, but good. But here, for the first time we have some outright sloppiness – which looks like the fault of the inker, but is really the fault of the unrealistic schedule that these comics were originally put on.
A potentially bigger problem is the colouring on Shilo Norman, which some people are seeing as him being coloured ‘white’ (actually his skin tone looks more like the Japanese heroes in the same panel than anything else). My friend Chris Hilker, in an email to which I’ve not got round to replying (so I hope he’s reading this) suggested that the ‘error’ was actually a sign of Shilo taking on a Godly aspect, being something like a halo or spotlight. I’m not 100% convinced that was the *intention*, but it fits with the story, and I like it, so I’m accepting that.
On the other hand, for every art problem, there’s a simply phenomenal page like Talky Tawny (am I the only one who wants a Morrison-written Talky Tawny series?) saying “Do your worst, gentlemen”. That page is just gorgeous, and makes me wish there’d been the opportunity to put this out on a realistic schedule. All the art teams on this, in fact, do great work when they can – just look at the scene with Batman and Darkseid, or the double-page spread just before Superman’s return.
Even at its worst, though, the art does a competent job of telling the story, which is what I’m buying this for, and which is just getting better. All those people who’ve criticised this for being ‘a bit like Rock Of Ages‘ are comprehensively missing the point. All Morrison’s DCU work in the last couple of years (since the end of Seven Soldiers) has been about making the ‘ultimate’ versions of characters and stories. Not in the Marvel sense, but… actually, in some ways it is like the Marvel sense of the word.
What Morrison did with All-Star Superman (and slightly less successfully with his Batman run, though that’s not completed yet thankfully – as he’s confirmed in recent interviews – and an incomplete Morrison work is never an easy thing to judge) is essentially to throw in every single thing anyone ever loved about the character and make the whole thing make sense. If you gave All-Star Superman to anyone who’d read a Superman comic, ever, they would recognise it. I bet you could convince a *lot* of non-fans that they’d read it when they were a kid. It is, in many ways, the quintessential Superman comic.
And in the same way, Final Crisis is the quintessential superhero crossover – even as, just like with All-Star Superman, Morrison uses it to do other things as well. So all the plot elements here – multiverses collapsing, a war between gods, red skies, heroes turned bad and villains saving the day, a hero who can never use their powers ever again, dramatic deaths and returns from the dead, races with death himself, Superman cradling a dead body in his arms (evoking both the cover of Crisis On Infinite Earths 7 and Batman Dies At Dawn, two stories which have hugely influenced the last few months’ worth of stories), all these are things we have seen time and again in superhero comics over the years.
Morrison is neither so stupid nor so modest as to not know that his own big superhero epics of the past need to be thrown into the mix too, and so they are, but the Rock Of Ages parallels are just another of the many, many echoes here.
But it’s the execution of the thing that’s so impressive. Darkseid (and I *can’t* be the only one who’s noticed how much this manifestation of the Dark God of Anti-Life looks like John McCain, can I?) fixing all the continuity fuckups caused by the execrable Countdown (and the Death Of The New Gods series) in one sentence, and doing it in a way that it feels like an organic part of the story and also thematically fits with Morrison’s other work (AND is maybe another shout-out to the Mindless Ones, and the ‘prismatic age’ theory). The way that the whole thing’s a love story, with almost every character in this issue having their own romantic subplot, from the mature married love of Hourman and Liberty Belle to the soap opera of the Super Young Team to the BDSM-tinged relationship of Black Canary and Green Arrow. Pretty much everyone in the story is motivated by getting back to someone they love, which makes sense if, as seems likely, the whole story is a cosmic ‘resonance’ from Nix Uotan being cast out of the world of the monitors.
For someone who’s regarded as a Big Idea man, and who’s pouring every Big Idea he’s ever had into this story – ideas about the superhero genre, the way you can tell stories in comics, the nature of reality, and more – what’s impressive is how well delineated every character is. No character gets more than a handful of panels and a couple of lines of dialogue, but you still get an understanding of who Black Canary, Talky Tawny, Batman, Lex Luthor, Supergirl and so on are – understandings that you often couldn’t get from their comics.
Final Crisis isn’t a perfect comic – far from it. It fails at quite a lot of what it’s trying to do, as at least half of Morrison’s work does. But it fails in interesting ways, and what it’s trying for is also interesting. Even at its worst, its faults are trying too hard, overestimating its audience, and having too much imagination, which are faults I can’t bring myself to judge too harshly. And at its best this is a comic that actually makes a big cosmic Everything Will Change Forever crossover something worth reading for the first time since… well, ever.
I’ll be posting more about Final Crisis when the next issue comes out (and between following up on Batman on Thursday and then getting Superman Beyond 3D 2 next week, I’m tingling with anticipation (and incidentally, everyone, the title isn’t just Superman Beyond but Superman Beyond 3D – because he’s travelling beyond the third dimension…)). But before that I thought I’d post something briefly about Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle as that comic more than any other is the real prequel to Final Crisis.
One thing I was never entirely happy about in Seven Soldiers was the role of gravity in the story. I wrote about this on my old blog, because gravity is so important as a recurring theme throughout Seven Soldiers and the JLA: Classified story that led into it, but I couldn’t see why gravity was being used in such a similar way to entropy, which is an even bigger theme in Seven Soldiers generally. I came to the provisional conclusion that it was being used as a metaphor for the more difficult concept, as well as for the Life Trap, but I felt like I was still missing something. Given that the Mister Miracle story is about a plunge into and escape from a black hole, it was galling that the gravity and entropy themes didn’t fit together *quite* as neatly as they should.
This article has changed that. I always knew, of course, that black holes do strange things to entropy and information (once you’re in an event horizon, you can *only* move towards the singularity. That means that moving forward in time is equivalent to moving towards the singularity. As the ‘arrow of time’ is a thermodynamic one, that means that moving towards the singularity is equivalent to increasing in entropy. That’s a hopeless oversimplification, but it’s sort-of right).
Now, the whole of Seven Soldiers, and Morrison’s work generally, is a meditation on entropy, information and life. Life has been defined by some as localised patches of negative entropy – using energy to create order from disorder. If there’s a real ‘anti-life equation’ then the second law of thermodynamics has a strong claim to the title, because all life is essentially a battle against entropy, and a battle that will always be won by entropy.
But having said that, entropy is the only thing that allows us any freedom at all – entropy is the reason that all iron hands must eventually succumb to rust, the reason none of us can ever be controlled at all. Which is why Darkseid’s search for complete control must go along with his search for immortality – change is both freedom and death.
So I was absolutely delighted to read in the Discover Magazine article linked above that there’s a type of black hole that does even more interesting things with entropy, and that this was known about long enough ago that Morrison may have used it in Mister Miracle. In fact, given that this type of black hole is called an ‘extremal’ black hole, it seems obvious that this must have been the type that Shilo plunged into in his escape act. After all, what superhero comic is going to feature a normal black hole when it can feature an EXTREMal!! black hole?
Now the interesting thing about black holes is that if they’re charged, matter can enter them and *not* hit the singularity (which would again make it the perfect type for Shilo Norman to try to escape from. Admittedly, he’d still be trapped within the event horizon and crushed to death by unimaginable forces, but he’d have room to manoeuvre… ). But even more interestingly (at least if Stephen Hawking is correct in his mathematics, and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on this one… ) , if you have a charged *extremal* black hole… it has *ZERO* entropy.
All of a sudden the gravity and entropy subtexts of Mister Miracle come together – Mister Miracle is the story of someone entering a realm with no entropy at all and coming out again. Keep this in mind and reread Mister Miracle and see how much more sense it makes.
Even more interesting is the result that caused the Discover Magazine article to be published – that there’s a range of spacetime in the centre of those black holes that pops out of existence at the same point the entropy becomes zero – effectively taking the entropy out of this universe altogether and into what the authors of the article call ‘whoville’.
Or, as they put it, the entropy…
I’m not usually a big fan of the concept of ‘extended universe’ stories. These are stories where fans desperate for more of the thing they love will desperately buy entire series of novels about what happened to the third stormtrooper on the left in Star Wars when he was sent to hospital after being hit by Luke Skywalker’s lightsabre, and how he had an affair with a beautiful Wookie nurse, or comic series about the adventures of Spock’s third cousin’s best friend.
These things are rather distinct from the ‘shared universes’ of DC and Marvel comics, in that they serve to close rather than open up imaginative possibilities. ‘Extended universe’ stories are add-ons to a single main ‘canon’ – they’re usually (all exceptions duly noted) attempts to replicate the feel of the original story or stories, but without the lead character that made them interesting. Even when these things are ‘official’, they never really work – all the Star Trek series post-Next Generation are ‘extended universe’ and far more concerned with Ferengi internal politics or the social structure of the Borg than with anything else – rather than seeking out new life and new civilisations, they were more concerned with examining the minutiae of life-forms we’d already seen many times.
The DC and Marvel shared universes, however, seem to be more organic – the characters in them were all (or mostly) created to function as separate ‘story engines’. Superman, the Flash or Green Lantern don’t depend for their existence on being part of ‘the DC Universe’ – but on the other hand, knowing that Sgt Rock, John Constantine, Dream, Detective Chimp, The Forever People, Plastic Man, Adam Strange, Etrigan the Demon, Batman and Krypto the Superdog are all part of the same ‘world’ enriches all their stories – rather than being a bolted-on extension to a single core narrative, the DC Universe (especially – the Marvel Universe was created more intentonally) seems to be more like a hologram created by the overlap and interference of all these different independent narratives (there’s a reason the concept of Hypertime first appeared in DC Comics).
Having said that, I don’t dismiss the idea of ‘extended universe’ stories entirely, and Doctor Who has a richer extended universe than most – bizarrely, given that the primary appeal of the series (to me at least) is its lead character – the perfect combination of Sherlock Holmes and Groucho Marx in one body, The Doctor is to my mind one of the great creations of all time. But there are audio series about Gallifreyan politics (which I actually listened to – it was OK), Cybermen, Daleks and so on, and there are also two ranges of novels based on characters from Doctor Who *novels* (rather than the TV show) – the Bernice Summerfield and Faction Paradox stories. I’m informed these are quite good, but I have only so much time in my life, and I strongly suspect that on my deathbed my greatest regret will not be that I never got round to reading a series of novels about a pagan archaeology professor who once met the Seventh Doctor.
But having just purchased the Davros box set, which includes the four-part I, Davros, I thought I’d give that one a go. I think Davros is a terribly underrated character – the conventional wisdom among Doctor Who fans seems to be that he was a great character in Genesis Of The Daleks but useless in pretty much everything after that, but I think Revelation and Remembrance hold up very well (I’ve not rewatched Resurrection since it was first broadcast when I was five, but I have fond memories of it and plan to watch it tonight). And while Terry Molloy, who played him throughout the eighties and in the audio adventures, is an appaling old ham, there’s a sense of both fun and menace in his performance that I like. Michael Wisher’s original Davros was pure menace and nothing else, while Molloy’s Davros is both menacing and ridiculous, but I’ve always found that a little of the ridiculous fits Doctor Who rather well. Davros is equal parts Mengele and Strangelove, and as such should seem ridiculous – right up until the point you realise that this ridiculous ranting man intends to destroy your entire species.
I, Davros is very consciously modeled on I, Claudius, and tells the story of Davros’ life from the age of 18 until the creation of his first Dalek, a few months before Genesis Of The Daleks. Unfortunately, the I, Claudius parallel causes one of the biggest problems with the series. At least three times in the audio series (Time Of The Daleks, Flip-Flop and The Last) we have seen female leaders who are absolutely insane and end up causing the deaths of many of their species, all of a similar type. They are probably taking this from the TV show, which had ‘Helen A’ in The Happiness Patrol as a very similar character type. At that time it could be taken as a none-too-subtle attack on the eminently attackable Margaret Thatcher (maysherotinhell). Nearly twenty years after Thatcher lost power, however, it starts to look like misogyny.
(Note, I am *not* suggesting that the people behind Big Finish, collectively or individually, are misogynist – just that their portrayal of women can be problematic).
Davros’ mother, Calcula, while obviously based on Claudius’ mother Livia (or at least the version of her that was created by Robert Graves and reimagined by the BBC) , and with quite a lot of the stereotypical stage mother to her characterisation, fits into this type more than is comfortable. She’s a one-dimensional character, only concerned with her own advancement and that of her son, and with no other character traits.
The character of Davros is fleshed out much more – especially his Oedipal relationship with his mother – and it’s strongly implied that he might be gay, although he also seems to have feelings for his colleague Shan (though not enough that he won’t have her killed, partly out of pique, partly out of ambition, and partly out of jealousy). This inconsistency might be down to the fact that the four episodes have a total of five writers (all working from a plot outline by producer Gary Russel), but it might just be down to the fact that real people *are* inconsistent.
But the aspect that comes out most is Davros’ huge survival drive, and his desire for self-preservation (and as a byproduct the preservation of his race). It’s interesting to compare Davros with Darkseid – the two characters are both intent on remaking the universe in their own image, and exterminating every other form of life, so they can survive forever; their villainy comes from their near-infinite survival drive.
The difference between the two of course is that Darkseid already is a god, while Davros is trying to make himself into one, both by creating his own new lifeforms and by altering his own body. (In this context it’s interesting to compare my thoughts on Darkseid, and to remember that the more Davros tries to perfect himself, the more he degenerates, from the healthy teenage boy we see at the start of I, Davros, through the hideously disfigured, disabled adult of Genesis Of The Daleks, to the ranting disembodied head of Remembrance Of The Daleks.)
Both Davros and Darkseid of course were created by men with very vivid memories of World War II – they’re both Hitler-figures – and whether deliberately or not Davros’ family background mirrors that of Hitler, with a domineering father who died while he was still young and a mother who thinks too highly of him. In fact Davros is surprisingly well fleshed-out throughout this series – he feels like a real person, albeit one whose only motives are scientific curiosity and self-preservation and whose only emotion (rarely displayed) is anger.
The plot, of course, is utterly predictable in its broad outlines – first Davros’ mother kills anyone who stands in her way or in the way of her son in their rise up to the top of the political ladder, then when she dies Davros experiments on her body and continues killing anyone who opposes him, however mildly, while performing the experiments that lead to the creation of the Daleks.
The story could have been better done – in particular, it would have been relatively easy to make the story have more connection to real-world issues. Davros orders all babies in the Kaled city to be handed over to the government for genetic experimentation in order to save the Kaleds from the environmental devastation of war by turning them into Daleks – one could, for example, with a few subtle changes make this parallel the question of to what extent government interference in reproductive freedom would be acceptable in order to prevent the environmental damage caused by overpopulation. As it is, these scenes are merely an echo of an echo – Nazi eugenic experiments after a game of Chinese whispers over several decades.
Ultimately, I, Davros is closer in feel to the Star Wars prequels than to I, Claudius – and feels similarly inessential. But it’s still an entertaining way to spend a few hours, and if you buy the Davros box set (and you really should, if you like Doctor Who at all) you should definitely take the time to listen to it.
Next week’s Big Finish A Week will be another actual Doctor Who story though – probably Storm Warning
Well, I’m back… I’ve got a few posts worked up after my absence. Tonight or tomorrow you can expect the second post on Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, tomorrow a post on Master (the first Big Finish I’m going to talk negatively about), and some point soon a look at Final Crisis and its tie ins.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Darkseid recently, partly because of Final Crisis… some of what I’ve got to say here will be familliar to people who’ve read some of my previous writing about the character, but I’m trying to get to the bottom of why I think he’s a great character, possibly the best villain in comics, even though you could count the good stories in which he’s appeared on the fingers of one hand (Kirby’s original Fourth World comics, Rock Of Ages, Seven Soldiers, Final Crisis (and those three are all really ‘Morrison’s DCU story’), possibly The Great Darkness Saga, and that’s about it (I’m not counting his appearances in Ambush Bug here…)).
While I was away in Oxford, I picked up a copy of Michael Bywater’s book Lost Worlds from a remainder bookshop. Bywater’s book is a collection of short humorous essays on things that have been lost from the world, be they meerschaum pipes, Bywater’s maternal grandfather, Proper Doctors or attitudes to life. It seems at least in part to have been inspired by Bywater’s thoughts about the then-recent death of his friend Douglas Adams (who is only mentioned very occasionally, but whose ghost haunts almost every page), and the conclusion it comes to, in so far as it comes to one, is that without loss we would never know true happiness.
That in turn brought to mind a few other things, but it made me think of a book I read a couple of years ago, which I’ve wanted to post a review of ever since, but couldn’t formulate a proper response to – The Singularity Is Here by Ray Kurzweill.
For those who don’t know, the concept of the Singularity has been accurately described as ‘the Rapture for geeks’. The idea is that we are incredibly lucky to live in a time when a bunch of Baby Boomers who are terrified of their own mortality will not have to face it, as somehow just before they would be expected to die according to the actuarial tables we’re going to invent artificial intelligence, life extension and nanotechnology, so they’ll be able to turn into immortal robots and just keep growing and expanding til they become the entire universe.
My first reaction on reading this piffle was “Well, I can see why he wants that, but he’s an idiot”. Immortality and omniscience seem to me like the only rational goals which humanity should be aiming for, long term – to go for anything less would be rather pointless – but Kurzweill seemed both unimaginative (he assumes that ‘intellectual property’ either could or should be protected in a world in which every problem of scarcity had been solved) and, frankly, so blinded by wishful thinking he’s become functionally stupid. In particular, he seems to think that all straight-line trends you can draw can be extended out to infinity, without ever taking account of limiting factors.
But then my second thought (and I *am* getting to Darkseid, I promise) was “WHY do I think this is a rational goal?”
Kurzweill, of course, takes it as read that most people want to become, in essence, gods, but I don’t think it’s true. There are a large number of people – Bywater apparently amongst them – who actually take comfort in the fact that everything is transitory. But in my case, and apparently Kurzweill’s, two realisations caused me quite major trauma as a child. The first was that I, like everyone else, would eventually die. The second – and I can remember exactly where I was when I realised this – was that there was no way I could ever possibly know *everything*. I was about seven, and it horrified me to think that there were things that I could never, ever know.
It’s quite probable that many people have had similar reactions. After all, one of our primary instincts is to survive, and evolution has consistently favoured those organisms that could best process information about their surroundings. But most people have learned to deal with it – either through religion, or through acceptance.
Darkseid, however, (I told you it was getting to him) hasn’t.
To quote from Rock Of Ages – “I will remake the entire universe in the image of my soul, Desaad… and when at last I turn to look upon the eternal desolation I have wrought… I will see Darkseid, as in a mirror… and know what fear is.”
Darkseid has looked at the Second Law of Thermodynamics and thought “fuck that”. Or, more likely, “Bother not Darkseid with your ‘entropy’ and your ‘universal laws’ Obeisance to laws, made by man or nature, is the morality of the slave. The morality of Darkseid is conquest. Darkseid is all.”
Because Darkseid has taken that childish realisation and decided it doesn’t apply to him. He’s going to be everything. Because this, ultimately, is what an attempt to deny entropy means. It is entropy that prevents any tyranny from being absolute – Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety (one of the fundamental scientific discoveries of the twentieth century, but never as regarded as many others) states that control requires as many options open to the controller as there are degrees of freedom in the thing being controlled, so complete control is impossible. This is because entropy always increases – freedom and death are, ultimately the same thing. You can’t have one without the other.
So Darkseid takes this to its logical conclusion. Remaking the entire universe into himself – getting control over every last quark and meson in it – is the only way he can beat entropy, so that’s what he sets out to do. In this way he’s far more direct than the cheap photocopy Thanos – Thanos *sublimates* his desire – he wants to have sex with Death. Darkseid just wants to destroy death, along with the universe itself, and exist alone, changeless and eternal.
(As Woody Allen put it, “Some people want to acheive immortality through their children. I want to acheive immortality by not dying”.)
But of course, existing changeless and eternal, unaffected by time, is the same as death, isn’t it?
Kurzweill talks in his book about how, once the entire universe has been turned into an information-processing machine in service of immortal human intellects, we’ll have to create new universes in order to keep growing.
This is ultimately why Darkseid is such a compelling villain – because he’s so human.