Crisis, What Crisis?

It seems the blogosphere and the buying public have spoken. Final Crisis is incomprehensible and just weird for weirdness’ sake.

This is, if you’ll forgive me, absolute, arrant nonsense. There are a few problems with Final Crisis, but none of them stop it being by far the best superhero comic being published at the moment (other than All-Star Superman of course, which transcends all considerations of genre).

First, those problems. Those who were conned into buying fifty-one issues of the worst comic ever published, in the belief that it was somehow connected to this comic, have an understandable gripe (though why on earth they carried on buying it at all I really don’t understand, unless there are really that many masochists reading comics). This image pretty much sums up the confusion you’ll have if you try to pretend there’s any sort of continuity at all left in the DC Universe. To be honest, though, while that is something for which DC Editorial deserve as much criticism as you want to throw at them, it doesn’t really affect this comic as a thing in itself. Final Crisis will be read in trades for a long time after the awful Countdown has been forgotten.

(What would be really good though would be if someone in the fan community did a ‘Countdown Remixed’ – taking pages from Countdown, redialoguing them, and constructing a new, much shorter story that set up those bits of Final Crisis that actually needed some sort of setup without contradicting them. An explanation of who the monitors are, what happened on the destroyed earth, maybe some other stuff, but none of the ‘Orion dying all over the place and everyone already knowing about it’ nonsense. Something halfway between the 52 Remixed project and Christopher Bird’s redialoguing of Civil War, but shorter.)

There’s also the horrible cover for this issue – Supergirl looking like she’s saying “Oh, I love putting vaguely phallic things in my mouth while exposing most of my body. I’m afraid my finger is the most phallic thing I can put in there right now. Oh, what am I to do?”

This is in stark contrast to the previous two covers, which showed the male heroes in a pose that shows them doing their superhero thing (Green Lantern pointing his power ring at the reader, Flash running towards us) and certainly doesn’t represent anything in the comic – Supergirl appears in two panels in this comic. In one, she is stroking her cat, and in the other she’s part of a gigantic “every second-tier hero in the DCU” page.

(One could make an argument that there’s some very clever stuff going on in the background of this issue about the objectification of women – see especially the very last panel – but I think it would be quite a weak argument).

And finally there’s the issue of the return of Barry Allen, because there simply weren’t enough characters called the Flash running round the DC Universe already. Morrison might go somewhere interesting with this, but it sounds to me a lot more like one of Geoff Johns’ less good ideas.

If these were the things about which people were complaining, I’d have a lot more sympathy. But the main complaint seems to be ‘it’s incomprehensible’, and conflates some of these with the readers’ own lack of reading comprehension.

What’s actually fascinating about this series so far (and this issue especially) is the tension between Morrison’s normal storytelling and the demands of the crossover genre, which ever since Crisis On Infinite Earths has had a very rigid set of conventions attached to it.

Someone – I can’t remember who – recently made a comparison of Morrison’s writing with a technique used by quite a lot of musicians, where you make a record based around a prominent instrumental part, then remove that part leaving the rest of the track (Prince did this, for example, with Raspberry Beret and I think some of his other songs). In the same way, Morrison likes to leave a lot of important details implied.

In Seven Soldiers (and to a lesser extent 52 which looks more and more like a practice run at applying these techniques to more mainstream stories, especially given that two of Morrison’s three co-writers are writing tie-ins to Final Crisis – essentially with FC we’re getting a weekly Morrison/Johns/Rucka written comic, with the odd skip week) we have a gigantic storyline spanning space and time, but it’s essentially in the background, and we only piece it together from hints and small incidents. The foreground stories are about Klarion finding his way in Blue Rafters, about Zatanna getting over her spellaholism, about Frankenstein going from place to place blowing things up.

This technique is remarkably well suited to comics, in that they’re a medium (damn ambiguously-pluralised nouns…) where much of the work is done by the reader in the gaps between panels (just because Scott McCloud said it doesn’t mean it isn’t true…) and so it seems perfectly natural to expect the reader to fill in more of the gaps.

Essentially this is a reverse of the normal Big Superhero Crossover technique, where you foreground one big story (the Anti-Monitor is destroying the multiverse!) and then use a bunch of human-interest subplots (for some value of human-interest) to add flavour. And so as Morrison has been refining this technique, we move towards Final Crisis.

Final Crisis reads, essentially, like Crisis On Infinite Earths would if you took out all the panels involving either the Monitor or the Anti-Monitor, all of the exposition, and the big shots of superhero battles and entire universes being destroyed (yes I know that wouldn’t leave much). You’d have an experimental narrative rapid-cutting from Psycho Pirate and the Flash in a black space to Anthro riding an elephant and have to make sense of it yourself.

Which is not, of course, quite the situation with Final Crisis (though how wonderful if it were – just randomly-juxtaposed panels of Big Ideas – “the comic in which YOU provide the story!!!”). All of the information you need to understand what’s going on is in there, there’s just no redundancy. There’s actually a lot of expositional dialogue in here – not only is it explained quite clearly who Barry Allen is, but we’re even told who Superman is, that Clark Kent is his secret identity, that he’s married to Lois Lane and that he has heat vision.

It’s just we’re only told these things once – Morrison seems to be assuming that the readers will read this multiple times, and actually apply their intelligence to following the story – and we’re told them in vaguely naturalistic ways. Rather than “As you know, Barry Allen, your husband, was the second superhero to use the name The Flash, and we all thought him dead, but in fact he is alive”, this information is imparted in bits over four pages of dialogue, without sounding stilted.

And we’re also not told the things we don’t need to know – for example, we know everything we need to know about Talky Tawny from his couple of panels (he’s a cultured anthropomorphic tiger who wears a suit and drinks tea, but has a jetpack and has adventures) (and incidentally, doesn’t J.G. Jones draw him *wonderfully*?) but we don’t know anything we don’t need to know.

I’ve already written well over a thousand words here and not even got into the review proper, so I’m going to end this here, as I also want to write some stuff about music tonight. I’ll write more on Final Crisis on Monday.

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7 Responses to Crisis, What Crisis?

  1. Ryan says:

    I’m pretty sure “Kiss” and “When Doves Cry” might’ve been composed in this way as well. See also Brian Eno’s “subtractive” production process as used on his classic 70’s albums.

  2. olsenbloom says:

    Yeah – I was pretty sure Eno had done something similar, but not sure enough to mention him. I’ve tried doing similar things with my various bands, but always had the problem of not having enough studio time to get the track interesting enough *without* the basic instrumental track.

  3. Brian says:

    I’m not sure there will ever be a collected version of “Final Crisis” itself, as the story makes no sense without the numerous offshoot miniseries and one-shots that have to be read to follow it. They close out issue #3 telling you three titles you have to read before coming back in two months for issue #4, so it’s an intentional thing. I’m not saying “Countdown” was a good read by any means (it was, as you said, a waste of 53 weeks of comics for those who didn’t give up on it two issues in like I did), but at least it was a cohesive story for the most part. There were a few offshoot stories and miniseries (like Arena and The Search for Ray Palmer), but if you skipped them you didn’t miss what was going on in the main storyline.

    I think “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, for all its fluff sometimes, was at least a complete story in and of itself and had iconic moments that made sense. DC killed a major character who’d been around for decades in the first issue, and they did it in two panels (while telling you to read “Requiem” for the send off), whereas Barry Allen and Supergirl both died in CoIE after prolonged battle scenes that gave them the chance to go out as heroes.

  4. bjooks says:

    re: “Countdown Remixed”

    I’d thought about that just after Countdown ended, how a much tighter book could be put together by selectively editing it down to just a few issues, while including a few pages from the other minis, especially Death of the New Gods, which I thought thematically belonged in Countdown anyway. After all — one basically boiled down to nothing more than rebuilding Kirby’s apocolyptic future, while the othe was about killing off his 4th world. It’s silly they were two separate minis, neither with enough story to fill their pages.

    But now that Final Crisis is out and we realize just how little it all mattered, why bother?

  5. I’m not sure there will ever be a collected version of “Final Crisis” itself, as the story makes no sense without the numerous offshoot miniseries and one-shots that have to be read to follow it. They close out issue #3 telling you three titles you have to read before coming back in two months for issue #4, so it’s an intentional thing.

    This is errant nonsense though; what, the marketing man told you? To my shame, I stole/read Requiem which was pretty much an abysmal sop, a clip-show – and I like J’Onn; one that added absolutely nothing worthwhile to the series. This insistence on ratifying everything has been killing DC, over the piece, for nearly a decade to the extent I actually wish I knew less about the boring midden that presently is the DC Universe so’s to better enjoy Final Crisis as a comic in its own right. Which I absolutely could – it’s very fastidious in creating an internal logic and introducing all the cast so far.

  6. Man would I ever love to read the Morrison written event comic “in which YOU provide the story!!!” — in an ideal world it would be drawn by Brendan McCarthy and it would come out once a month for the rest of time.

    I wrote the post that compared Morrison’s current writing style with Marnie Stern’s approach to songwriting, by the way (that sentence sounds way more egocentric than it’s supposed to — sorry!).

    It occurs to me that Final Crisis is the most extreme application of this form yet — Batman, Seven Soldiers and 52 all hint at a bigger picture that is just outside of the reader’s perception, but they have clearer focal points for reader identification (Animal Man, Will Magnus, Batman, any one of the Seven Soldiers). So far Final Crisis has taken the decentred madness of Seven Soldiers #1 as its starting point and went nuts from there. I love it, but I can see why it’s not for everyone…

    Also: thanks for linking to my posts on The Filth! I’ve officially started to doubt my own sanity wrt that project, so it’s good to know someone’s reading all those dirty little words!

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