Novelist, comic book writer, and also comic book reviewer for www.BrokenFrontier.com, also website marketing coach for the Online Marketing Solutions company Push Traffic dot com. Incidentally, I am also the worst writer in the world.
Final Crisis #2 Review by Dave Baxter, posted June 30, 2008
Words: Grant Morrison Pencils: JG Jones Inks: JG Jones Colors: Alex Sinclair
Story Title: Ticket to Blüdhaven Publisher: DC Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: June 25, 2008
“It shames us that the noble calling of the superhero has become just one more gimmick!”
It difficult to tell if Morrison was talking about his own writing with that line, a line plucked directly from the third page of Final Crisis #2.
“When will he realize that being fantastic is a superpower in itself?”
Well, if ultramodern comic writing is anything to go by, the industry realized it somewhere between releasing The Authority and The Ultimates, Morrison’s own run on JLA and The Invisibles. The ultimate result of which is a Crisis threequel that is nothing like its forebears, but instead is everything like every other book on the stands today: a muddled, mired, thematically insincere mess.
But being fantastic sells books to an audience long since jaded, convinced that there is nothing left to explore in traditional storytelling. So everything’s been redefined: what is a character? A character is someone fantastic. What is a plot? A plot is something super-cool. What is dialogue? Dialogue is a word or words formed together to act as properly quotable signatures on message boards. What is theme? Theme is something that can be condensed into the above definition of dialogue. What is dramatic? Dramatic is creativity, unbridled. What is a big crossover event? A big crossover event is all of the above.
So what we get in Final Crisis are fantastic people facing a super-cool situation spouting quotable theses on the writer’s chosen subject matter all the while wading through an overabundance of new things. Honestly, it’s pretty cool. Super -cool, in fact. The new New Gods begin to emerge as quirk-tastic underbelly-of-society villains, Libra proves that he's one bad-ass villain, a single-page funeral for J’onn is held, and then a major DCU figure returns, seemingly for real and for good. That’s all fun stuff. It’s not terribly coherent, and lacks nuance and dexterity to its execution (it’s page after page of sledgehammer shtick), and while its chock full of details and little things, there’s only one flavor, one tone, and one level to the proceedings at all times.
What’s truly a shame is that, while this is an entertaining yarn in its own way, it just doesn’t cut it as a “Crisis”. All that super-coolness floating around and ultimately this is a pretty tiny story. It’s being dressed up and told as though it were “HUUUUUUGE!!!!!”, but when put down and thought about, it’s no bigger than any other DCU mini of the past year, like Death of the New Gods, Countdown to Adventure, Lord Havok and the Extremeists, etc. Those were all fine comics in their own right, but you’d think the big payoff, the big Final C, would top them, all, and not just by a hair. Countdown, though a far worse comic than FC, was still technically the bigger, more grandiose story.
Part of the problem is, of course, that all the build-up of the past year wasn’t build-up at all. Sure, bits and pieces from past series are cropping up in FC , but overall Morrison’s version of a "Crisis" has near nothing to do with any of them. The New Gods and the Fifth World were perhaps the only major follow up. Beyond that, FC just sort of begins, and will end five more issues from now, and that’ll be that. It’ll be super-cool, and fun, and lots of “BIIIIIIG!!!!” moments, but moments like that, when they come from out-of-the-blue-nowhere, always stike as false, like an artist's rendition of a sales pitch.
Speaking of which, JG Jones is a phenomenal artist, but he’s only so-so on this series. His layouts are superb but his final pages are muddier than I’d expect. He captures a solid noir atmosphere in FC #2, but otherwise the final effect of Final Crisis’ visuals is lacking. To be fair, he hasn’t really been able to cut loose yet, but even the final page splash, which is meant as a dramatic, cosmic-type shot, looks inexplicably awkward.
So Final Crisis is here! I’m looking forward to some of the parallel minis, like Legion of Three Worlds, but otherwise I can’t wait to just get on with the DCU. It’s suffering from trying to build a future on storytelling that’s a little too of-the-moment, and arguably even of-the-day-before-yesterday’s-moment. Morrison works best when he’s working on a raft floating in his own pool, off to the side and doing big things in small ways, like All-Star Superman. He’s always had difficulty with true-blue dramatics, in the old-school sense, or anything besides the Nuevo super-cool sense. And any “Crisis”, in my book, needs some old-school stuff, the test-of-time stuff, at least as a ground floor foundation.
When the solicitation for this issue boasted: “Witness the new status quo for the X-Men that will define their future!”, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one wondering how one-half the team in Russia battling Omega Red and the other in San Fran wading through a hippie groove-centric altered reality would in fact lead to a changed status quo. Perhaps they’d remain in Russia and in hippie dress, respectively, for the foreseeable future? But no, this issue reads as decompressed as the last four, with minimal panels per page, a sparse count on dialogue, and very, very little in the way of actual happenstance. Omega Red is fought. The X-Men in SF fight each other. Things get resolved. The End.
I can’t say the two parallel yarns that made up “X-Men: Divided”, even for being two completely separate adventures, required five whole chapters to see them through. While the general events were a blast, and definitely the kind of pulp whimsy that only comics can capture and platform well, Ed Brubaker seemed merely spinning wheels with this one, unsure of what else to do until next month’s big anniversary ish. Had he injected a little more into each story, plied for a greater depth of character impact, interaction, and intervention, this would have been a worthwhile read.
But as it stands, Brubaker’s script, especially in this particular issue, is serviceable at best. Because it's lazy; no attempt is made to give the events serious drama, not even serious by spandex standards. The comedy is even half-hearted and fleeting, which is a shame, because the subject matter was unique, especially the remade hippie world. So much could have been explored and played with, but in the end all we got was: X-Men turn into hippies, this makes them fight, then they fix things. Essentially and almost literally that is all we got.
The Russia excursion is slightly better played, though again it boils down to a fight and a return. There is, however, one single event at the end that announces a new status quo. It’s a single panel, one person plain-speaking-ly saying it—“Here’s the big change everyone’s been dying to know! Isn't it cool? Isn't it big?” Again, it’s exceptionally lazy storytelling, but the change is very, very cool. If Fraction helps Brubaker not to slack off on scripts as woefully as he did in "Divided", great things should be in store for issue #500 and beyond.
On the art front, Mike Choi illustrates the fight with Omega Red and guest artist Ben Oliver steps in to wrap things with the hippie plot. Personally, I’m gonna miss Choi, and while I’m one of the dwindling numbers that still loves Greg Land, I think Choi is far the better team-book artist. He can make the X-Men’s world truly detailed, colorful; he can work gritty dark as well as silly spandex neon light. In fact, by comparison, Ben Oliver, who usually is a fine artist, comes across as unpolished and overly sparse. Choi’s work on the hippie universe was superb, and while Oliver finishes things satisfactorily, it doesn’t capture that same overblown silliness of previous issues.
So “Divided” is over, now new stuff begins. Land may yet prove a solid choice, due to the nature of the big twist. The X-Men’s world may be taking on a bit of political and realistic polish, similar to what Iron Man underwent when it became Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and so the photographic quality to Land’s work could gel with this. And while I’m fast feeling that Brubaker’s Uncanny is a ship without a rudder and definitely without a crew that gives a &*$#, he and Fraction together make things far better than either are capable of solo. Here’s to better things!