- Posted by Johanna on June 13, 2008 at 7:50 am
- Category: KC, Superhero Reviews
- CREDITS: written by Grant Morrison; art by J.G. Jones
- PUBLISHER: DC Comics; $3.99 US
Review by KC Carlson
DC Comics has two new mega-events rolling this summer: One is a cosmic event that promises to recalibrate the DC Universe yet again (Final Crisis — “That trick never works!” says pint-sized skeptic Rocket J. Squirrel), and the other is an exploration of the core DC hero dynamic, running once a week for a year (Trinity). Both events spur further thought on the current superheroic environment in terms of publishing and the real world. Here I cover the first; watch for my review of Trinity coming soon.
There’s a great British phrase that reminds me of about half of the current crop of superhero comic books: “too clever by half.” Roughly translated, it means “to be too confident of your own intelligence in a way that annoys other people.” Sadly, Final Crisis #1 falls into this category, and I really wish it didn’t.
I really enjoy these superhero cosmic “let’s change everything (but not really)” smash-your-head-against-the-wall epic saga thingies. I liked them so much, I even edited one of them (Zero Hour, 1994), although I came to regret much of it later. I don’t really care much for the more recent ones, however. Mostly, because I can’t understand what’s going on in them any more. Which brings us to another well-turned phrase: “It’s not on the page.”
A large part of this is in the way that comic book storytelling has evolved over the years, eliminating some of the very tools that serve as the basics of communication. Footnotes are now extinct. Thought balloons were removed completely, replaced with way-overused first-person narrative or color-coded or iconic captions that you have to stop and graphically decipher. (Let’s not even talk about Bendis’ ballyhooed return of the thought balloon as a gage for how horny each of your characters are. How we have progressed!) And Kirby-forbid if the writer should actually deign to refer to his characters by name (or even by caption) somewhere (anywhere!) during the story.
I had to learn elsewhere (Newsarama) that the caveman wearing the preppy sweater in the opening pages of Final Crisis was Vandal Savage. Vandal also appears later (and is identified by name), as a part of the supervillain group that is meeting with Libra, but there is no indication anywhere that the two characters are one and the same and that he is immortal (although implied in dialog). I know this because I’ve been reading DC comics for 45 years and have read many stories about the character. Lord help the person who, attracted by the glossy bookstore-style design of the Chip Kidd-styled cover, is picking up their very first comic book.
And then we come to the Human Flame, a loser villain who is apparently instrumental in killing the Martian Manhunter. Although Libra actually does the dastardly deed, indicating his obvious “control freak” tendencies, while poor ol’ Flamey is left to snap the death photo on his cellphone. What, you’ve never heard of the Human Flame before? Why, he was the first supervillain MM ever met (as we found out in the previous week’s “cover-your-butt” Justice League of America story). In neither comic do we learn that the Human Flame last appeared in Detective Comics #274 (December 1959), which probably no one on earth either read or remembered until it was recently reprinted in Showcase: Martian Manhunter.
The less said about the Martian Manhunter’s death, the better. Other than “yawn” and he’s been dead before…
Unfortunately, the book is full of yawn moments: the New Gods as gangsters, whatever the hell is going on with the Monitors (who just, and always have, look boring), and the whole scene with “Man” (oh, sorry, Anthro) and the other long-haired kid (Kamandi), who thankfully brought along his handy Statue of Liberty from his first issue cover to help identify him.
Not everything here is disappointing. J.G. Jones’ art is as beautiful as ever, although his continuity chops may be a bit rusty as a few storytelling choices seemed a bit flat, especially for the Martian Manhunter’s death scene (or maybe I was just expecting something more iconic or memorable?). Grant Morrison’s reputation as an “idea factory” is largely upheld here, with dozens of new concepts on display, although one wishes a bit more information. Or clarity. Put it on the page, please!
I had to find out from the internet what Anthro was drawing in the sand, and it’s a good thing I did, because I also found out that the story really ramps up in its third issue! Meaning I have to be 12 bucks into the story before anything exciting happens?
Plus, there was the Newsarama interview about why the the New Gods continuity was all screwed up. Writer Morrison’s explanation: He wrote it over a year ago and couldn’t change it. Which begs the question about why the DC Editorial powers-that-be didn’t do anything to make sure that material in Countdown or The Death of the New Gods didn’t contradict any of Grant’s stuff. Maybe they just didn’t care.
If they don’t care, why should we? And why should I have to have a computer handy just to enjoy a comic book story? Consider this, publishers: if your comics can’t be understood without resorting to the internet, don’t be so surprised when readers decide to stop buying the book and just download it. And you pointed them at the tool to accomplish this.