Friday, October 14, 2005

Infinite Crisis #1 - Critiquing a Lunch Box

Infinite Crisis #1 came out Wednesday, and I am sure that folks come by comic blogs expecting for SOME reaction to the issue, so I figured I might as well serve you up some thoughts on the comic.

First off, I did a bit on the preview of Infinite Crisis #1 a few months back, and it is really remarkable how, once again, everything that I thought was happening in the PREVIEW was, well, what happened. The first three dozen times someone said, "You can't really tell until the full product is out," I thought that there was something to it. Now? Not so much. There is just too much of a "tell" (to use gambling parlance) with these stories. Like I wrote in the bit, as soon as you saw lower-tier characters show up, of COURSE you thought that they were going to be killed off, and - shock of all shocks, they were! As an aside, being stabbed through the chest by Deathstroke or being drawn by Chuck Austen? Which event was the low point of Phantom Lady's career? I am torn.

However, when it comes down to really reviewing the comic, I find it really is not all that doable. Sure, I can point out the rampant "outside writing," like the exchange where Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman take positions just because the stories needs them to take these specific decisions. Or how odd it was to see Wonder Woman act like she now has a taste for blood. Kill ONE dude, and now suddenly, she's Wonder Punisher. Or how disturbing it is to see Bizarro used the way he was used in this comic.

But really, there is no point.

As this is really not a comic book.

It's a lunch box.

It's a pair of pants.

It's a toner cartridge.

It's a shoe horn.

It's a staple remover.

It is not a comic book, it is just a tool. A tool to get us from Point A to Point B. To "achieve goals." Therefore, critiquing it seems almost to be a fool's errand.

A pal of mine is really happy about Infinite Crisis, because finally, he feels, DC is acknowledging the Multiverse. This guy is not some nut, he isn't all "Wah! I want the Multiverse back!" He knows the Multiverse is gone, and heck, he is cool with that. He just wants some recognition of the past events. That's all. Which, I think, is not an unreasonable request. In fact, this current plot point of Infinite Crisis, you know, the unresolved plot point that Marv Wolfman left open in Crisis on Infinite Earths #12 and Geoff Johns has now picked up, is something that this guy has been begging DC to address for years.

And now he's gotten his wish.

Which, hey, to me, is fine.

But there has been a very specific reason why comics, in the past, have not been wrapped around an unresolved plot point from a comic book that came out in 1986, and that is the fact that any such story would not be about the STORY, it would just be about addressing that plot point. For years, no writer would go out there and write a story like that. Now we have Geoff Johns.

This is not to say that it is WRONG for this story to be made. It is not my cuppa, but I can understand its purpose, and indeed, if the resulting "new DC Universe" is as fun as some of the projects sound, then hey, I cannot really begrudge them it. I, of course, have severe doubts about everything post-Crisis not written by Grant Morrison, as quite often, what these folks SAY they're gonna do is a good deal different from what they ACTUALLY do, but that is something to be seen later. For now, I'll allow them some optimism on my part.

So yeah, I can understand the purpose of Infinite Crisis, but it really is not a comic book. It is a tool. A plot-driven tool. Which is great when you want something achieved, like carrying your lunch. Not so great when you want to critique something.

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29 Comments:

Blogger kelvingreen said...

Good critique. Spot on.

10/14/2005 07:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Paul Newell said...

But there has been a very specific reason why comics, in the past, have not been wrapped around an unresolved plot point from a comic book that came out in 1986...

Happens a lot more than you think. What was the original Crisis on Infinite Earths but a story spun from an unresolved plot point in Green Lantern #41? :)

10/14/2005 08:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Kelson said...

Conversely, what does it say about today's comics industry and comics readers that we require something to get us from point A to point B?

If the DCU is broken, why not just fix it? Why does changing history in comics require an in-story reason to change it? In 1956, no one thought there was a need to explain why the Flash was suddenly Barry Allen instead of Jay Garrick, or why Green Lantern was now a space sherrif instead of a guy with a magic ring. Granted, these books had been out of print for 5 years or so, and granted, most of the audience had probably turned over in that time.

But really, why not just say "We're revamping the DC Universe, some things are going to be the same, some things are going to be different, and we've got all kinds of new ideas?" You know, like Marvel did with the Ultimate line, or DC has done with All-Star.

Legion of Superheroes has been rebooted at least three times in my memory, and each time they wrote a story to explain it. Back in 1990 or so they had Mon-El kill the Time Trapper. In 1994 they used Zero Hour. Last year they did that Titans/Legion crossover. And this is for a book that takes place in the distant future! Its past is constantly changing -- it's called the present!

Arrgh, sorry about the rant.

10/14/2005 10:47:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"
Happens a lot more than you think. What was the original Crisis on Infinite Earths but a story spun from an unresolved plot point in Green Lantern #41? :)"

Actually, you're spot on, Paul.

I MEANT to write, "But there has been a very specific reason why comics, in the RECENT past, have not been wrapped around an unresolved plot point from a comic book that came out in 1986, and that is the fact that any such story would not be about the STORY, it would just be about addressing that plot point. For years, no writer would go out there and write a story like that. Now we have Geoff Johns."

Clearly, before Crisis, there was PLENTY of comics that existed just to address plot points. I mean, Roy Thomas, anyone?

It's just that, since the first Crisis, that type of story has severely decreased in frequency, and when it DID occur, it was seen as an aberration (the notable exception being Busiek's Avengers Forever).

10/15/2005 03:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Paul Newell said...

But really, why not just say "We're revamping the DC Universe, some things are going to be the same, some things are going to be different, and we've got all kinds of new ideas?"

People need closure for some reason. Don't forget that DC tried what you suggested recently, with Doom Patrol, and look at the outcry that created.

10/15/2005 05:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Paul Newell said...

It's just that, since the first Crisis, that type of story has severely decreased in frequency, and when it DID occur, it was seen as an aberration (the notable exception being Busiek's Avengers Forever).

Hmmm...I don't know...I need to think about it more but I'm sure its still been a regular occurance in the Post-Crisis DC as well as Marvel.

I mean, just off the top of my head, you have things like Geoff John's JSA run which has had many stories based on unresolved plot points from Infinity Inc. and Zero Hour. Heck Zero Hour revolved around it as well. Identity Crisis appears to go back to the JLA mind-wiping the SSoSS in the old title. I'm sure Grant Morrison picked up on a few old plots in his run. I know Hourman definitely did...Particularly when it dealt with Snapper Carr coming to terms with his betrayal of the League.

As for Marvel, well Avengers Disassembled and the Clone Saga I can think of that mined old storylines.

Whether the results were successful or not, I think its been a staple of comics the last twenty years, I guess it just comes down to how well the writer succeeded in getting a good story out of it.

10/15/2005 05:47:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

I mean, a story devoted entirely to resolving a plot point.

Like the issues of Thor where Gruenwald and Macchio spent two issues explaining how Thor no longer had time travel capablilities.

Or even the thing that Marvel used to do where they would spend issues just wrapping up cancelled titles.

The story was secondary to the purpose of the story, which was to resolve the issue.

I don't think Identity Crisis, Avengers Disassembled, Clone Saga, etc. are the same thing.

However, you're right, I have (how, I don't know, as I give him a hard time so often) overlooked Johns' many examples of this. Good point!

10/15/2005 05:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Paul Newell said...

Ah! OK then, I'll think some more. I'm sure there are examples.

Would stories such as John Byrnes stories in Wonder Woman count? Such as the Donna Troy and Golden Age Wonder Woman fixes count?

10/15/2005 06:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Iron Lungfish said...

Don't forget that DC tried what you suggested recently, with Doom Patrol, and look at the outcry that created.

If the new Doom Patrol had been a critical success done by a currently-revered creative team with a large fan base - as opposed to a aging workhorse whose detractors far outnumber his fans - that outcry would've been a lot smaller. A lot of people would probably buy Alan Moore's Doom Patrol, regardless of how it treated past continuity.

10/15/2005 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

I think a large reason that Avengers Forever was not regarded as an abberration was that, while the rationale behind it was certainly to clean up various messes in Avengers continuity, Busiek managed to make it into more than that, by introducing themes of fatalism and free will, and basically turning it into a saga of one man (Kang) fighting against a future he sees as unacceptable. And giving us a cast of Avengers tailor-made to have all sorts of drama issues to fill subplots didn't hurt either.

Contrast that with the average Roy Thomas or Geoff Johns "explanation" story. Is there any emotional weight to it? Does anyone learn anything, or at least have the opportunity to do so? Do the events of the story *matter* to anyone? Are any of those questions not rhetorical?

The sad thing is, most writers who compulsively pick at the scabs of continuity are doing themselves a disservice, as they're quite good when they're not doing that. Remember JLA/JSA? It certainly drew on past stories (bringing back Johnny Sorrow and Despero, the trip to Limbo), but it wasn't obsessed with fixing anything, just telling a big fun yarn, and it did. I wish I got to see more of that Geoff Johns.

10/15/2005 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger Graeme said...

You know I started putting this blog on my RSS feed because it was funny and smart, but I keep feeling like any superhero book not made by Grant Morrison won't get a pass. The snark level is really high, and I just don't get it. I don't think Geoff Johns is a genius of the medium-- but then I don't think Marv Wolfman is either and he still provided me with most of my enjoyment in my dreary adolescence. They produce good, solid comic books with emotional resonance that are popular in the market that at least care about the past.

I don't think Infinite Crisis is about resolving an unresolved plot point, it's a sequel. Nobody begrudges George Lucas for 'resolving plot points' by putting out prequels to movies made twenty years ago (they begrudge that he's become disastrous as a writer and director, but that's another story). Infinite Crisis is like The Two Jakes, or Revenge of the Sith, or Texasville, or Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan or any other twenty years later sequel. None of them are a patch on the original, but they're all interesting in their own right. And I think that's the case here.

I don't think Geoff Johns is doing this series out of an obsessive compulsive need to resolve something. I think he's writing a sequel. Issue 1 of Crisis on Infinite Earths was big and grand and apocalyptic and so is this. There were shocking deaths of characters you didn't think you'd identify with, same here (though this time a spurious Freedom Fighters replaces the Crime Syndicate of America from Earth 3). The difference is that I think here there's character-driven motivation that is at the same time a critique of Post-1985 comics: have the heroes proved themselves worthy of the universe that was created for them through sacrifice. Issue 1 says no, but will that be the case by issue 7, well, obviously yes, but what's the road that's going to take-- that's going to be the fun part.

(And to put my biases on the record, I thought getting rid of the multiverse was a bad idea back then, but I think putting it back into place now is a bad idea too and I hope that's not where it all is leading.)

My initial reaction to reading Infinite Crisis 1 was "wow, looks like the 80s are back"-- superheroes failing to make the grade, gratituitous deaths (my biggest peeve with comics critics and message boards is no one has said how incredibly and deeply disturbing the wiping out of the Freedom Fighters was) and big spectacle. And, you know what, that description more or less suits the original Crisis on Infinite Earths too. I have no problem with that.

10/15/2005 12:07:00 PM  
Anonymous thekamisama said...

I am a fan for "Good stories". I don't need continuity, multiverses, or hypertimes to tell me the book I read was a "real fake story".

Needless to say, I feel like I was ripped off by being suckered into this book. What can you call this? They are not breaking the fourth wall per se, it is more like they are building a pre show rock festival stage off to the side instead.

10/15/2005 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

I can't believe I'm saying this, but...I thought it wasn't that bad. Maybe its because my expectations were so low, but compared to Countdown and any Rucka-written tie-ins, this was a masterpiece.

johnnytriangles.blogspot.com

10/15/2005 03:26:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

What I find kinda funny is that, to be honest, this was me trying NOT to be too snarky (except for the Austen line, that was pure snark).

I am basically trying to say, "This is a tool, meant to take the DCU from Point A to Point B," so I do not think it is worth it to really rip the book.

10/15/2005 06:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Nitz the Bloody said...

The sad thing is that Infinite Crisis' arch-rival, House of M, is no better. I haven't read Infinite Crisis, but House of M is proving to be nothing more than a weapon to kill off Marvel's mutant population. The story is superfluous to the mission, which is to bring the Marvel Universe back to a Silver-Age status quo in regards to the homo superior community.

Dammit, I thought that if DC sucked, Marvel was supposed to be good, and vice versa. What is this shit with both companies trying to one-up eachother in crappy crossovers?

10/15/2005 07:43:00 PM  
Blogger Joe Rice said...

Anybody that thinks this is snarky is sensitive like nipples during menstruation.

And if superhero comics not written by Grant Morrison seem to be looked down upon, maybe it's because they're not good enough.

10/16/2005 02:59:00 AM  
Blogger Marionette said...

A lot of people would probably buy Alan Moore's Doom Patrol, regardless of how it treated past continuity.

Anyone remember Swamp Thing? Alan Moore took a failing comic and retconned it into something special without invalidating what had gone before. And the retcon story was one of the most exciting comics I ever read.

but I keep feeling like any superhero book not made by Grant Morrison won't get a pass.

I can only speak for my own contribution but I'm no great fan of Grant Morrison. I like some of what he does, others not so much. But I also don't tend to write about new comics unless they have engendered an emotional response, and sadly the majority of such responses lately have been negative. I'd really like it if I was so excited about a comic that I had to tell everyone about it, but superhero comics like that are few and far between.

10/16/2005 07:01:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

"my biggest peeve with comics critics and message boards is no one has said how incredibly and deeply disturbing the wiping out of the Freedom Fighters was"

Then you haven't been visiting the same message boards and listening to the same critics that I have.

10/16/2005 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger T. said...

"Then you haven't been visiting the same message boards and listening to the same critics that I have."

Which ones?

10/16/2005 12:20:00 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

CBR, mostly. Although you'll have to search outside the actual Infinite Crisis Board, since the moderators there are quite adamant about preventing all discussion about the elephant in this particular living room.

10/16/2005 12:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Iron Lungfish said...

Alan Moore took a failing comic and retconned it into something special without invalidating what had gone before.

My point wasn't that Alan Moore would discard old continuity on a similar Doom Patrol relaunch. My point was that if he did, people would still buy the book, and, I expect, in droves.

People weren't pissed at Byrne's Doom Patrol just because it claimed in some way to make the old stories "less real." They were pissed because they didn't like Byrne or Byrne's writing. Fans invoke continuity all the time, but I expect more often than not they'll take a really good story over devotion to what's come before.

(And while Alan Moore's Swamp Thing retcon was a great story that lead to other great stories, it was hardly gentle - it inverted the original premise of the comic.)

10/16/2005 05:38:00 PM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

Graeme:
Nobody begrudges George Lucas for 'resolving plot points' by putting out prequels to movies made twenty years ago (they begrudge that he's become disastrous as a writer and director, but that's another story).
Actually, I do begrudge the fact I paid good money to see Episode II: The Origin Of The Dad Of The Guy Who Sold Han Solo To Jabba In Episode VI. That really was my biggest problem with the film. Moreso when it turned out that it had no bloody relevance at all.

...my biggest peeve with comics critics and message boards is no one has said how incredibly and deeply disturbing the wiping out of the Freedom Fighters was...
I've said anywhere that'll listen (not many places) that I found the idea of Bizarro beating someone to a bloody pulp to be highly disturbing and possibly inappropriate. It still creeps me out, and not in a good way.

10/17/2005 12:38:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

By the by, for what it is worth, from this very entry..." Or how disturbing it is to see Bizarro used the way he was used in this comic."

10/17/2005 02:40:00 AM  
Blogger Jeff R. said...

Seeing Bizarro used in this way stuck me as a deliberate 'Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow' beat in the same sense that the Mongul scenes were a deliberate 'For the Man Who Has Everything' beats.

10/17/2005 02:23:00 PM  
Blogger E. Burns said...

As for me? I was horrified. I didn't think I could be horrified any more, not at the current state of comics, but I was horrified.

Uncle Sam, face down in a pool of his own blood.

Phantom Lady, dead with a sword rammed through her chest. I wonder what Wertham would have made of that.

The Human Bomb, beaten to death by Bizarro's bare hands.

The Batsignal flashing over a burning Gotham, while Batman sat in the ruins of the disbanded Justice League watchtower and debated philosophy.

Wonder Woman not only a murderer, but alchemically transmuted into her Kingdom Come incarnation in sixty seconds flat. And proud.

The comparison was made with the Crime Syndicate, but the CSA died being heroic for the first time in their lives. There was a sense of purpose to it -- not just elevating the stakes of this series, but of ennobling even the ignoble. Universes were dying, but the best was being made of them.

This? Was gratuitous. There is an ocean of difference.

And it followed months of all the light heartedness in the DCU being systematically raped, murdered and brainwiped until there was nothing left but darkness. Blue Beetle? Shot in the head with a bullet that made the entire Giffen/DeMattias run of Justice League a bitter lie. Sue Dibny? Raped and murdered. Even 'light hearted' villains like Doctor Light proven to have been horrifically changed -- they weren't really light. (No pun intended.) No no. It was the bad old Silver Age Justice League, stealing plot points from Squadron Supreme.

Maybe all of this is to get all the 'mature,' 'adult' and 'graphic' elements of superheroes out in one last cathartic orgy of violence and death. Maybe. All I know is, the strategy of marketing superhero comics to adults in lieu of kids isn't doing comics any favors, and this series is the abject culmination of it. Can you imagine letting an five year old read it? As a responsible adult?

When did Superman become inappropriate for five year olds?

So, yeah. I'm in the camp that says all of this turned out to be even worse than I'd feared, and I didn't think that was possible.

10/17/2005 03:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Widgett said...

A few quick responses to your well-written post on INFINITE CATHARSIS and some of the comments that follow.

First, yes, the Freedom Fighters getting whacked all but for Ray was gratuitous and unnecessary. I mean, fine, kill them, but do we have to SEE Phantom Lady get impaled or WATCH Bizarro beat someone to a pulp? It's sad that this is what has taken the place of good storytelling: rapes, murders, brutality, and betrayal. Oh, and brainwashing and revealing that all the stories I grew up reading had darker, more sinister underpinnings. Not saying that I don't appreciate betrayal and whatnot, but it has to be used in the proper context of a GOOD STORY. As has been pointed out in the comments, a good story will help readers forgive just about ANYTHING.

Second, I was so hoping that we'd get thrown a curve and that the shadowy figures talking about busting out and saving the world would be, you know, somebody like the Zoo Crew. Or, even more impossibly, Harbinger. Or even more impossibly than that: the heroes of the CrossGen universe, and we find out that DC bought the rights to finish the Negation War. Or, even stranger and more surreal: the Superfriends.

Third, I find that it's much easier to think about this garbage as a shoehorn. So many thanks for the appropriate context. I feel better already.

10/17/2005 03:31:00 PM  
Blogger Matt Brady said...

The commenters at Howling Curmudgeons (http://www.whiterose.org/howlingcurmudgeons) seemed very disturbed by the destruction of the Freedom Fighters. They even get into some discussion over what they perceive as the symbolic rape of Phantom Lady. Just for the record.

10/17/2005 03:32:00 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

"Seeing Bizarro used in this way stuck me as a deliberate 'Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow' beat in the same sense that the Mongul scenes were a deliberate 'For the Man Who Has Everything' beats."

Yeah, that was another thing I noticed: A *lot* of the points in this comic were riffing off of points in 20-year-old comics. Setting yourself up to compete against nostalgia is rarely a good move.

10/17/2005 06:19:00 PM  
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