Friday, May 19, 2006

Crisis-Loading

I thought I would take on a few recent crisis the same way Sgt. Rock takes on Nazis. By faking my death then sucker-punching them in the face and blowing shit up with a bazooka. Sorry, I just traded Sgt. Rock’s Combat Tales for some promised issues of Unknown Soldier so I’m kind of all high on testosterone and aggressive. I’ll try to do my review using only military metaphors.

But before I get to my post about Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis, I wanted to point all your attention to the following couple of things.

I just discovered Sucklord. No I’m not subbing for Dorian. This guy makes his own bootleg supervillain action figures. Oddly enough he has a hot pink stormtrooper called Gay Empire.

Okay second point before I get where I’m going. I’m enjoying 52 because it is the right format for decompressed storytelling. This type of storytelling works if you don’t have to wait 30 or more days between floppies, or in the trade format where you can read it in one sitting (or thereabouts). Note, this isn’t a general proclamation since I think some books work perfectly well as monthly books – Jonah Hex for example. But I think the reason we’re enjoying the Batman/Detective Comics arc is because it’s coming out bi-weekly, more or less. I would suspect the same for Up, Up and Away in the Superman titles. I don’t think this is the only reason for their success, but I do think it plays a big part in it because the audience can remember what happened a lot easier than something over a month late. Just saying.

*****

So I went back and read Identity Crisis, Countdown to Infinite Crisis and Infinite Crisis. It took a bit longer than I thought it would, but through it I persevered. I have to admit, all three parts of this story had one major thing in common. They all start out strong but end kind of weakly. They are the blitzkrieg of comic events, in other words. Big exploding hit you in the gut with a bayonette openings then they just sort of let you bleed to death on the frozen mud-pit called the comic reading front.

Sue Dibny is struck down and burnt to a crisp with a freaking flame-thrower at the same time Luthor’s armour-suit shows up and Bolt is gunned down. It was an exciting scene even if it blew your childhood memories apart like a cluster bomb hitting a department store in Stalingrad. It was good storytelling folks, deal with it. It hooked me and I had no idea who half these characters were (where were Plastic Man’s sunglasses and when did he change his name to Elongated Man? Were my thoughts).

The re-imagined Calculator was a brilliant move as was the cadre of villains. I enjoyed the scenes with Captain Boomerang trying to reunite with his son and the way he stumbled into a situation he just couldn’t manage anymore. Same with Tim Drake and his father. It was hard to read and I remember feeling actual suspense the first time I read that scene. Unfortunately it’s at this point that the story just sort of gives up. After some great character moments and a serious mystery it starts to feel like the story painted itself into a corner.

The rape scene is disturbing and I think it can work as a motivation for the heroes to do what they did. But at the same time I started wondering why none of the heroes were doing anything but arguing. The only heroes I liked were Elongated Man and Robin, although Mr. Miracle showing up every now and again was kind of nifty. Still, when the horrific motivation gets revealed there is no way for the story to be ultimately successful since it can’t allow the heroes to do what heroes need to do – which is overcome all the odds before them in a manner that is above people like you and me. The problem isn’t so much the plot (which suddenly decided to flail about like a man with a gut wound) but the fact that when you introduce too much “reality” to fiction, it can’t accomplish the goals of the form itself. Heroes are meant to overcome the odds and act heroic no matter what – when they don’t, you aren’t reading a heroic tale anymore.

Why would I want to read about people like me?

I do think there was some part of Identity Crisis that was trying to hark back to ancient heroic epics where no matter how great the hero was, in the end he always failed because he had to die. But those stories are about the journey of the hero. Even if we know they are going to die the journey is generally worth it to learn something or to find inspiration through the heroes actions when faced with adversity. Identity Crisis didn’t have that journey. It showed me that the heroes are as fucked up as the rest of us, and I don’t need to spend time reading what I already know. Again, this wouldn’t have been a problem if they managed to overcome it in the end but they don’t.

I could identify with Ralph because he’s lost everything and rushes in headlong because of it. Robin is the only one who really considers anyone but himself, and acts in a truly heroic manner because he needs to explain it to himself as much as his father. The rest of them try to justify their actions and much like Superman E-1 in Infinite Crisis saying the perfect world doesn’t need a Superman, if the actions were justified they wouldn’t need to be explained here.

Then queue the deus ex machina ending and we’re on to Countdown.

I don’t care what you think about this comic I really like it. Yes it serves no purpose except to bridge the gap between one event to a bunch of miniseries leading to the next event but we’re not here to question the motives we’re here to achieve the goals given to us. You follow orders soldier, you don’t give them or question them.

It works because Blue Beetle is a character people can identify with. You like Blue Beetle here because everyone around him thinks he’s a joke and he’s not oblivious to it. He know what they think and how they’re just putting up with him. And he does his best regardless. The reason I like Blue Beetle in this comic is because of the same reason Identity Crisis falls apart. He keeps on no matter what and even though he’s right, he does the right thing in the end and is still killed. Blue Beetle is the ancient hero and he only works, as a character, because he doesn’t live. Knowing where a character is going allows the writers to actually examine him. If he had to live and keep going, then the character moments wouldn’t have rang as true. You’d think he’s just some deluded guy with too much money and a silly costume who got lucky this time. Instead he’s a tragic hero who you want to live. You want him to make it but only because he doesn’t. That’s bloody brilliant.

And voila, the A-bomb of the whole process, Infinite Crisis hits in order to shatter our reality and make it so we can never look at the world the same way again. While I liked it, I liked it less than both Identity Crisis and Countdown. And not just because of the grammatical errors I kept finding. Identity Crisis started strong and created a decent mystery that sort of fizzled out horribly. Countdown was really successful for a comic that wasn’t intended to be a good story but to simply introduce a big event. Infinite Crisis was meant to change reality, and it certainly did that but even after a second reading I can barely remember much of the plot beyond Swamp Thing’s hand appearing in one panel.

I guess Identity Crisis fell apart for me because it didn’t have “exposition guy.” We start out following Ralph Dibny then it jumps around to various heroes like Wally West and Tim Drake. I think it would have been better as a straight up mystery for one character to solve or perhaps a couple working together - even if Green Arrow takes over for a chunk of plot. Countdown had the Beetle, but IC was just big money shot to big money shot showing your favourite heroes and a bunch of costumes you don’t recognize. This in and of itself isn’t bad, and I’m quite happy with most of it but having a plot that requires a bit too much extracurricular reading doesn’t help the story. Yeah I’ll storm the bunker but I shouldn’t have to learn German to do it.

Between issues some major plot points happened which is never a good thing as far as coherence and understanding is concerned. On the flip side I really think the use of the Supermen and the metatextual storytelling was fantastic. Yes, one was a whiny little pretty boy but the other two guys are stand up fellows I’d be happy to have in my platoon. Hey this isn’t the Navy, no jokes about guys in your squad or unit or whatever. Get your minds out of the gutter.

The most unfortunate part about IC is that for something relying on artwork that was meant to cram as much action heroes and explosions into each panel that the production values really went into the crapper in the last issue. When the whole point is to see as many heroes fighting as possible – make damned well sure we can see as many heroes fighting as possible. It’s like Dan Akroyd on SNL trying to sell oily rags as a human torch costume. “Hey we’re trying to make money so just slap some red paint on it and we’ll say it’s an invading sea anemone.” For a shot of random heroes “presenting” themselves fine but when it happens like a dozen times throughout the issue – uh uh, ain’t good. Especially when the whole point is to show heroes punching and posing. Jeez Louise.

Also I had no idea Alexander Luthor lost a finger until I re-read the series. Shows how much I was paying attention to that part. I’m kind of hoping the big petrie-dish hands of space thing gets retconned out of existence in the Post-ICDC. Huh, that sounds like a cool band. “Dude, crank up the ICDC.”

So in conclusion, I like stories with a hero you follow around that allows the hero to be heroic even if its dark and gritty and the hero gets shot in the face. I even like stories about large explosions and heroes punching one another but only when there is a lot of large explosions and heroes punching one another and it looks good. Still, I don’t think Prime is the worst villain ever.
I do think Infinite Crisis delivered what it was meant to but Countdown showed me that even a comic serving no purpose but to start an event can be a good story. Identity Crisis worked best for most of it's "character moments" but needed the JLA to be more than a bunch of character moments. Character moments are great for reintroducing new characters - something Bruce Timm was amazing at with his Bat-villains. They also help focus on the hero or make the villain sympathetic but here it also made the heroes less heroic so DC had to blow a lot of shit up to fix it.

So were they good. Yes I think they were. Countdown was may favourite reading experience here followed closely by Identity Crisis. Infinite Crisis did deliver some great fight scenes and some pretty cool moments. I mean c'mon when Superboy-Prime and E-2 Superman showed up it was pretty awesome - same with Animal Man's face lightning. They all had their moments but only Countdown had a coherent story with a sympathetic hero. To me that puts it light years ahead of the other two stories and smack into what I look for in super-hero comics.

I can appreciate the two crises books for what they are, and while not 100% successful they are both good at what they are.

8 comments:

Chris said...

Count me as one of the few who really enjoyed Identity Crisis. It was the first time in many, many moons that I actually finished a comic and couldn't wait for the next one to come out. I thought it was 6 excellent issues followed by 1 issue that couldn't possibly have lived up to all the speculation and theories dreamed up by the comicsblogoweb/message boards. But overall, I think it worked.

Countdown had a great framing device --- Blue Beetle's attempts to ferret out the mystery --- but on reading it again, the "plot points" designed to tease the 4 miniseries stuck out like sore thumbs. Overall, I did like it; but slightly less than Identity Crisis.

And then, last week, I went back and reread Infinite Crisis, and man... this thing is going to read TERRIBLY in a trade, I think. Roundabout issue 5 it becomes clear that major, major last-minute rewrites are taking place and DC is trying to cram everything in.

Hmmm. And now I shall have to post something about this.

Such is the vicious circle of the comicsblogoweb.

The Fortress Keeper said...

"Dude, crank up the ICDC."

Brilliant.

Your conclusions sound pretty accurate - Countdown was the best "story" of the three, with Infinite Crisis delivering a collection of cool moments rather than a coherent narrative.'

Identity Crisis falls in the same category of much Marvel product - attempts to marry brutal realities with comics don't fully work, as costumed heroes are not realistic to begin with.

Scipio said...

This is one of the best posts I have ever read anywhere.

About anything.

Thank you, Jon.

roel said...

"It hooked me and I had no idea who half these characters were (where were Plastic Man’s sunglasses and when did he change his name to Elongated Man? Were my thoughts)."

You didn't know who Elongated Man was? You didn't know half the characters in Identity Crisis? Really? Huh.

Weird. I guess I can't identify with that perspective because I've been reading comics for so long that everyone has become familiar.

Do you remember which characters in Identity Crisis were unfamiliar to you? Just curious.

If you didn't know the people in Identity Crisis, I don't know how you managed to get through the "roll call" casting of Infinite Crisis.

Thanks and take care.

joncormier said...

Roel, it only lasted for a few minutes. The internet is a great resource for bringing yourself up to speed on the last few years of comics. Sure you have to wade through a lot of the ca-ca but in the end it's very helpful.

I didn't read comics for a while and the last time I did, I was a bit of a Marvel Zombie. I don't know why, I was just young and foolish I guess. I only read Batman from DC, from time to time and an occasional Superman comic.

Chuck T. said...

I really enjoyed Identity Crisis up to the last issue, where the proverbial engine flames out and spirals in.
Countdown would have been a very emotional end to Blue Beetle; if he had died:
a. for something other than a glorified ad,
b. at the hands of a villain that made any sense,
c. with his friends at his side, thus not making the whole DC universe look like a bunch of self-important pricks, or
d. while actually accomplishing anything.
To be fair, I only actually read one issue of Infinite Crisis (for which I paid a quarter!); but I really, really didn't like it. I bagged out from the start because there were too many tie-ins. I tried to keep up on it from the blogs, but at this point exposure to IC is like breathing paint fumes for me.
Why did Donna Troy's crew go into space again? For that matter, what was the point of the Rann-Thanagar War? (When that started up and the blogs were choosing sides, it seemed like that was going to be the best thing ever, didn't it? Now when it comes up, no one makes eye contact and everyone kicks the dirt.)
It's cheap to bring in someone like Judomaster, Looker, or Air Wave; rely on the fans to recognize them, then kill them. Why bother? Bane could break the back of a nobody in a mask: same effect, without ruining a old character for his few fans.
For that matter, wasn't Bane reformed/lost/dead or something? And then he's back out there breaking backs. IC was a series that was supposed to streamline continuity, that has no continuity. The Doom Patrol's back, Jason Todd's back, the Creeper's back (but he wasn't here before!); all because Superboy punched reality?
That's lazy, and weak. Changing the timeline is a staple of science fiction; given fifteen minutes the writers of Charmed could have come up with a better explanation.
I do appreciate what DC was trying to do with all this, and I think they've accomplished some of their goals. I'm looking forward to reading Batman again soon, for the first time regularly in years. Getting there though, was like watching sausage get made...
I also enjoyed your post, and the military metaphors. But no one can convince me any of this Crisis was "good." Sorry for the long post!

joncormier said...

chuck - No problem, the space is free, use it. I completely understand why people would be turned off by the whole thing. I'm not getting Checkmate simply because of the debacle that was the Omac miniseries. I don't care how good it is, once burned, shame on you, twice burned, shame on me. I guess I'm just avoiding matches all together (and I don't care how good the series is, if it's good enough I'll get the trade instead of waiting for the plot to be resolved in, say Aquaman).

I guess I like Countdown for the same reasons you don't. I was expecting it to be just a big advertisement and it does that without being, "And now for our special guest star - the Omacs!" *applause*. I'll freely admit that a lot of the success for me is because I had really low expectations and was completely surprised.

I think that the Blue Beetle died on his own trying to do the right thing and accomplishing pretty much nothing makes him a real tragic figure. It's tragic because it's quite heroic even though nobody is there to witness it and it's by one of his former friends. Kind of like MacBeth, and I know this ain't Shakespeare, but it's pretty damned good. When was the last time you were actually intreagued by a comic that is essentially hype? I dare say I never was before.

Anonymous said...

Initially, I loved the Identity-to-Infinity Crisis mega-story. It was the industry's first MORAL CRISIS. DC's stars had to take a position on the proper/ethical use of power. But IC fell apart.

1. In IC #4, DC shifted from a moral debate to a cliche master villain manipulating the events.

2. Earth 3 Luthor turned villain because he learned that in other dimensions Luthors hated Supermen--therefore he must become the Golden Age Superman's enemy. (Do I need to explain how friggin' STUPID this is?)

3. IC ends without a resolution to the moral debate.

4. DC decideds to copy Marvel's 1980s idiotic decision to skip a year's worth of continuity. After two years of building up to this moment--where the major players must work out their differences; where the frickin' DRAMA actually happens--DC skips ahead a year. DC RAN FROM THEIR OWN STORY.

5. Instead of experiencing the hard times as they happen, we're supposed to read about it as some kind of $10/month flashback.

6. Why should I buy 52? We should be discovering what happened in the "lost year" in the main titles themselves. (It would be BAD FICTION to not let us know anytime soon.) If DC is going to not explain the "time off" in the regular titles, instead making us wait a whole year to learn it in 52, then why am I buying all these irrelevant monthly titles?

7. Infinity Crisis was a great story that hit a wall and became a disaster. I don't even care why there's a one-year gap. I don't care about anything related to this trainwreck. I am holding my nose until the titles I regularly read smooth themselves out and I can put this jacked-up mess behind me.

8. It's 1994 all over again. DC's pushing the "wrong" heroes again. Wrong Hawk"man". Wrong Aquaman. Wrong Atom. Wrong (powerless) Superman. Wrong Batman (he'd NEVER take a year off). The only good is that the Green Lantern book finally has a direction. And Jay Garrick is relevant again, for the moment.