Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cronin's Final Crisis FAQ is Good

Brian Cronin posted his "Final Crisis FAQ" at Comics Should Be Good today, and besides being an excellent resource for everyone with any kind of questions about what went on in the series, it's also thought provoking.

(By the way, though I agree with basically everything Cronin says -- and he certainly understands "Final Crisis" fully -- I do think Dax Novu/Mandrakk is supposed to be the Monitor from the original "Crisis." Cronin implies that he might be, but I think the connection is much stronger than just an implication. But that's not really the point of this post, so I'll move on.)

Here are some thoughts provoked by the FAQ:

1) Did people really not understand all this stuff that they're asking questions about? (Like who the black kid in the burger joint was supposed to be? Or who actually attacked John Stewart? I mean, that stuff was an ESSENTIAL PART OF THE STORY and fully explained within its pages.)

2) Did they even bother to read "Final Crisis"? (Because some of those questions imply they read neither the words nor the pictures.)

3) Why do readers in the comments section say stuff like "Unfortunately, just the fact that the series needed something like this to make some sense of it, shows how poorly constructed and produced it actually was"? (Brian Cronin obviously didn't need "something like this to make some sense of it," and neither did I, and neither did almost anyone I've actually talked to about the series. YOU needed it, person-who-left-that-comment, but that doesn't mean the series needed it.)

4) When "P_B" asks for "an attempt at tracing Superman chronologically through the whole thing," why didn't Cronin link to my attempt at tracing Superman chronologically through the whole thing? Do you hate me Brian Cronin? (I know you don't, because you linked to the "Final Crisis Dialogues" in a later post!)

The FAQ is really cool, though, and puts the answers all in one place for readers who couldn't make sense out of the series. (Though they might want to practice reading harder. Too snarky? Too bad! Read HARDER!)


Anonymous said...

i think sometimes us adults make the mistake of forgetting that young children and teenagers read comic books and make up a vast majority of the internet community who, at times, fail to understand works as complex, impressionistic, and far-reaching in scope and style as Final Crisis. There is no need to ridicule them, imo. I remember reading Miracleman, Sandman, Swamp Thing, etc. when i was a youngling and forcing myself to reread particular issues and storylines in order to obtain a better comprehension of story implications. I say let the FC naysayers reread the series a few months or years down the road and see how it affects them.

Timothy Callahan said...

I could be wrong, but I don't think the majority of the complaints come from children or even teenagers.

For example, Pops Gustav says, in the comments, "You know a story is over-convoluted if even online summaries can’t explain what the Hell happened…. I’m a 44 year old who still cares about comics, but finds the current state of the DC Universe to be an unreadable ball of utter chaos."

A child, he is not.

Jake said...

I think sometimes we don't understand that a lot of comic book readers are idiots. It's just...true. Were you aware that X-Men Legacy is some people's favorite X-book? It's true, I've seen them. A lot of people like to see THINGS happen in comic books, and it doesn't matter why or how.

pibegardel said...

Maybe most people that are posting "I don't get it" read the comic once, didn't like it, and just gave up. FC should be re-read at least a few times.

Greg said...

I can totally understand people not getting quite a bit. Not the obvious things, like the whole frame of John Stewart, but if you're not a total comics geek (granted, you probably wouldn't be reading Final Crisis if you aren't), why on earth are animals dressed as superheroes showing up in the last issue? There's a LOT that is relatively incidental to understanding the story that might be confusing, because many of us, unlike Morrison, haven't read every DC comic ever published.

Personally, the only thing I really HATED about Final Crisis (I didn't really like it, but I didn't hate it, either) was that Mandrakk showed up out of the blue. Yes, I know he was in the 3-D Superman story, but when the major villain has never appeared in the main story and then suddenly is revealed in FC #7, that's pretty sloppy. Superman Beyond should have been two issues of Final Crisis if Morrison is going to be pulling that stuff.

Anonymous said...

"why on earth are animals dressed as superheroes showing up in the last issue?"

There was a complete Countdown to Final Crisis miniseries based on these characters. Besides, it's completely awesome.

"I know he was in the 3-D Superman story, but when the major villain has never appeared in the main story and then suddenly is revealed in FC #7, that's pretty sloppy."

Superman Beyond will be collected in sequence in the FC trade. DC made it pretty clear that they were doing fewer tie-ins for this event, and that the tie-ins would be more important, especially (and obviously) the issues written by Morrison himself. You may not like it, but there's really nothing sloppy about it, as this is the way Morrison planned it.

Matt Jacobson said...

I think the only thing I was genuinely, totally unclear on was whether the Hawks were dead, and what exactly happened with the whole Checkmate transporting people to another earth deal. I didn't quite get all that, nor do I totally understand who is now on that Earth, unless it's just another alternate earth with avrious random people. I know it appears that the New Gods are alive again on that earth, but that seems really stupid since a major theme of this series was killing them.

This was a deeply, deeply, flawed series and I cannot criticise anyone who wants to throw it across the room in disgust.

Greg said...

Jeff: That's my point, though. I know who Captain Carrot is, but it's not like he's all that famous, so that he just shows up with his cronies might be confusing. If you're reading FC, you need to know going in who the major heroes are, but not necessarily who everyone is.

I'm glad DC is collecting Superman Beyond in the trade, but there was no reason to have it as a separate mini-series. Ancillary mini-series should be just that.

Timothy Callahan said...

I agree that those parts didn't make a whole lot of sense, but I don't mind if those questions are left open for other writers to handle. The series wasn't about the Hawks, or even really about the New Gods -- it was about Batman and Superman overcoming the ultimate evil and the DCU falling apart without them.

People who want to throw it across the room in disgust should probably find something better to do with their time. And what exactly would they be disgusted about?

I'm disgusted by the terribleness of Daniel Way comics, but those are really dull and full of cliches. There's nothing dull about Final Crisis.

Kris Krause said...

If Final Crisis were a movie, it would never have been a company's tentpole summer blockbuster. I loved Final Crisis, but it was clear to me in the first issue that it was not going to be a story for everyone. Again with the movie analogy, if people are going to a Hugh Jackman movie expecting Wolverine, you're going to get a lot of complaints if you give them The Fountain (a movie I love).

Looking at comics, what if Watchmen had been written as Alan Moore originally intended, with the Charlton characters, and DC released it marketed as their big Charlton crossover event of 1986? I may be wrong, but I don't think it would have been as universally loved as it was. Similarly, had Morrison written Final Crisis with his own characters based on the DC mythology like Moore did in Watchmen, I think the reaction would have been much more favorable, though not on Watchmen levels either.

Mainstream, big event superhero comics have never been equated with this type of storytelling. It should have been expected that the first story to attempt it would have been met with a lot of backlash for various reasons, but it's backlash movie-goers and book readers are not exempt from either if you give them something that shatters their expectations so completely from what they thought they were getting into.

Patrick said...

But, there's nothing particularly confusing about the sudden appearance of the Captain Carrot characters, even if you don't know who they are. A bunch of herores show up and these anthropomorphic animals are among them. The experience of seeing these animal characters come out of nowhere is joy enough in and of itself, any connection to continuity is a bonus.

I think people have a misguided need to "understand" everything in a story in a way that's easily answerable like a puzzle, while Morrison's most recent work has been more hazy, with the reader's interpretation of things playing into it as much as the work itself. You have to work a bit, and the more you engage with the work, the more you get out of it. All these questions can be answered by a close reading of the work itself, but people apparently aren't interested in getting anything more out of a comic than just what they get in a quick flip through the issue.

Anonymous said...

It's unfortunate that people will use the existence of that wonderful FAQ to justify their "confusion" with Final Crisis. But that's to be expected.

To this day I simply do not understand what was so confusing about Final Crisis. As far as comic book stories go, it's about as straight forward as you get. There's an obvious contingent out there who decided from issue #1 that it was going to be confusing and never put any effort into understanding them. Let's put those people aside. I think the rest of the people who were confused simply expected that they needed to know every detail in order to understand the essential story. In effect they made the series more complicated for themselves than it really was. As a result they couldn't even bring themselves to believe they did understand it. Anyone else notice how many questions in the FAQ were answered with variations of "you just explained it yourself?"

The brilliance of how FC was written is that it was stacked in layers. If you didn't care about or didn't know all the references & connections and just cared about the surface story, it was there and it was clear and, I think, it was pretty awesome. You don't need an FAQ to understand that, no matter how much you try to convince yourself you do.

But -- here's the brilliant part -- you could dig through and get even more out of it ( f you chose) by exploring all the wonderful "mad ideas." You could go back yet again and follow all the character connections. And then DC Universe references. Each new exploration brings a deeper understanding. This is good writing, people.

I think I'll be finding new things to love about FC for a long time to come. What's even better is that it's so densely packed with DC references that I've already found connections in old DC trades I've been reading... in fact, I can go off on how as a unifying thesis statement for the entire history of the DCU, Final Crisis excels beyond any crossover that just affects current continuity. But I'll stop right there.

Chad Nevett said...

I read some of the FAQ this morning, but quickly lost interest as a result of these very basic questions being asked. I get vague misunderstandings regarding the fate of the Hawks, because that WAS unclear, but, as you said, everything else was pretty easy to figure out. You're also right, the FAQ doesn't exist for us.

What bothers me a bit more is the NEED to have every little detail spelled out when, obviously, some elements of the book are purposefully vague. How does Barry cure Iris of the Anti-Life Equation? By kissing her! Why do you NEED more than that? Batman is hit by the Omega Sanction, leaves a corpse, but also appears in Anthro's cave... why? Because it's a weird beam shot out of Darkseid's eyes... what do you expect it to do? It's the utter lack of imagination and wonder that really bothers me. Well, aside from the lack of ability in reading. That bothers me, too.

Matt Jacobson said...

I enjoyed it, I got it, and I was still mildly annoyed by the whole series. Part of the blame for that can be laid at DC editorial's doorstep - a lot of the questions in that FAQ were asking for clarification as to why many of DC's "support" stories didn't make sense with the main story, which is editorial's fault for not coordinating and supervising properly.

I won't even say the blame in being annoyed with it DOESN'T lie with the reader - it does. But I didn't want this story. I wanted Grant Morrison writing a wonderful, epic, gut-punching superhero story, not The Invisibles. I feel vaguely jipped by the whole thing. I'll read it again in a year and I'll probably love it, but right now, I try to re-read it and it just seems kind of obnoxious.

It's better than Northlanders, though.

andy khouri said...

I knew it! When Cronin asked me to link it on CBR, the first thing I noticed was his answer about the original Crisis Monitor! I was going to say "But I am pretty sure you're wrong about that" but I didn't want to get into a discussion about it. BUT I WOULD HAVE WON!! Dammit!

Anonymous said...

"Were you aware that X-Men Legacy is some people's favorite X-book?"

This is one of the things that mystifies me about the complaints that Final Crisis is too continuity conscious to enjoy- I never hear the same criticism of any of the X-books, yet they contain references to characters and stories from the last thirty years that, if you hadn't read them, are equally as opaque as anything in Final Crisis. (For instance, the seeming appearance of Madelyn Prior in a recent issue of the Uncanny X-Men is analogous as the appearance of Captain Carrot in the final issue of Final Crisis).

And all that applies to people complaining that the Legion of Superheroes is too continuity obsessed to understand as well (who is Cable again? From what future? Who are his parents? How is that any harder than understanding that one Legion is from one future and another Legion is from a different future?) But I digress.

I also felt that some of the nebulous fates at the climax of Final Crisis (the final fate of Mr Terrific and Checkmate) are deliberately left open ended by Morrison for any writer after him to pick the plot threads up, if need be, or abandon them if they don't want to. Something he probably felt necessary to do after the way his ideas and characters were handled at Marvel (yes, No-Vah and Xorn, I'm looking at you, Bendis!)

Anonymous said...

Something that struck me when re-reading Superman Beyond in 3D #2: does Ogama become the 'new' Mandrakk, the one that tells Superman he will return?

I didn't get that impression the first couple of times that I read it, but the last time I did Superman seemed to 'kill' Mandrakk when Ultraman intuits to him that "Mandrakk is anti-life." After that there's the whole bit with Ogama meeting up with Ultraman in Limbo, with Ogama going on about how he has been exiled, mirroring what happened to Dax Novu/Mandrakk. He then bites Ultraman, proclaiming him to be his "first, vampire knight of terror" while seemingly morphing into/becoming Mandrakk. I originally read this as Mandrakk reappearing, but now see it as the Monitor uber-narrative needing there to be a Mandrakk to return, so like Novu became Mandrakk to fill that role, now Ogama does.

Anyone with me on this or should I re-read it again? I like it because Superman puts a definitive stop to Mandrakk on Nil, but then the 'self-assembling hyper-story' reasserts itself to bring back Mandrakk.

Anonymous said...

Slight correction: he doesn't tell Superman he will return, he says he will return in his monologue at the end of #2.

Anonymous said...

Personally I can only echo the confusion some of the posters have expressed over some people's need to understand everything. If you're going to go about your comics that way, where do you stop? How does a Green Lantern ring work? It's will-powered. Yeah, but how does it work?? And so on.
To me, a lot of the fun in reading superhero comics has to do with a certain form of overload-aesthetics, something Grant Morrison is one of the best people at exploiting. I'm fairly new to the DCU and I don't get every reference or the significance of every scene, but that doesn't bother me. In fact, I like it. That means that the more I read, the more the stories will grow together and flesh each other out. This was what I liked when I started reading Marvel when I was seven years old, and I think what has happened with comics these last decades is that as comics audiences has grown older, they've also taken a few creative writing classes and read some screen writing books, so now a large (or perhaps just very vocal) part of the reading audience has very clear ideas about what a comic should and shouldn't be and how a story "should" be told. Which, in large part, goes against most everything that got them into comics when they were kids.
Morrison himself spoke about this in an interview recently. It's the writers' job to decide how a story should be structured. It's what they do. That might sound like a cop-out to some people, but I think it's a very valid point. If what you're after is by-the-book storytelling, I think you could find a lot of reading material better suited to fulfilling your needs than super hero comics.

Anonymous said...

Edit: Upon reading that post, I can see how it can be seen as a defense for sloppy reading. Rather, it was intended as an attack on rigid, reductive schematic read.

Matt Jacobson said...

Re-reading my comment, I didn;t make my point particularly well. Let me try again:

I don't think it's fair to criticise readers for being annoyed by condescension & forced HW assignments when they just wanted a good, fun story. If they bought The Invisibles or Seaguy and then complained it was too weird or nothing was explained, then yeah, they'd really have been reading the wrong book.

But (and this isn't entirely Morrison's fault, another thing I wasn't remotely clear on) this wasn't advertised as a cerebral, challenging series, so a lot of people bought The Invisibles without meaning to.

On a personal level, and this is Morrison's fault, I didn't get the series I wanted either. I was looking forward to seeing the New Gods and Darkseid in their "true forms", their true manifestations on the Earthly plane, and I basically only got that in one panel, and it was something I'd already seen in SS#1. It's a small complaint, because I enjoyed the series I got, but I was annoyed.

Timothy Callahan said...

I don't understand how it's his fault that you didn't get the series YOU wanted, though.

Isn't it your fault for wanting something that isn't there?

Obviously, "fault" isn't really the right word. It's just the difference between expectation and reality.

Matt Jacobson said...

No, because that's the series Morrison advertised in interviews, that's what he got me excited for, that's how I sold it to my occasional-comic book reading brother to convince him to read it. Morrison advertised that.

Timothy Callahan said...

That's interesting. Does an author's promise hold any weight at all then? Is it just another case of the intentional fallacy?

This is a subject worth exploring. Maybe I can get a column out of it!

hilker said...

Matt, you might want to reread Morrison's pre-FC interviews, because I think you may be misrecollecting exactly what he promised in them. In the Newsarama interview dated 14 Feb 2008, he flat-out says that the New Gods are out of the picture. His other comments on the subject in the interview are closer to your recollection, but still not at all incompatible with what he delivered in FC, in my opinion.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

lingGood comments, Tim. Just read through that FAQ last night, a few things I wasn't certain of, and the answers made me slap my head. Yeah, right there, I just missed it. Seriously, after reading each issue a second time, I got it. FC#7 needed a third reading, but that was to really get the whole pages out of order thing. I'm a fiction writer, so I make myself figure something out, just like if I was reading a Travis McGee novel or watching LOST. There's always that "but its only comics" line, but I'll call b.s. on that. Actually, as a comic, you can expect certain aspects to be taken at face value. Its superheroes, not private detectives. As for those who complained about the FAQ, well, why the hell did they even go to it to comment in the first place?

I do agree that at least some mention of Mandrakk should have appeared prior to FC#7, even one panel. Seriously, one mention would have been fine with me. And much of the love it or hate it attitude towards FC seems to be from people who "wanted" something different. I got all so much of the cool Kirby era along with everything else. Doesn't matter what I wanted (or expected), it's what Grant Morrison wrote.

Tim, what you said is something I tell my younger nieces. Read harder.

Anonymous said...

Matt, obviously what you consider fun is totally personal. If you didn't find FC fun, that's your valid opinion. However, I think it really is objectively wrong to suggest it needed homework assignments or was too cerebral. As I said before, and I really believe this, the main story was pretty accessible. Bad guy comes to earth, takes it over, time & space rip open, superheroes fight, the combined effort of our heroes beat the bad guy.

Everything else, all those wonderful layer he piled on, were completely extra curricular. There's no need to explore those if you don't want to do the homework.

I think (hope?) what you're really saying is that it's understandable but unremarkable if you don't do the homework. And that's ok, I can't make you like the main story. I, on the other hand, enjoy it because I want to keep rereading it and thinking about the ideas he presented and digging deeper into it. And I think the main story, without the extra curriculars, is still pretty damn cool.

Anonymous said...

I do have to agree, though, that Morrison was misleading in a lot of his interviews leading up to both this and RIP. I'm not sure if it was intentionally or a not.

Oh, and on Mandrakk: I don't know if I'd feel differently had I not read Superman Beyond but I really do love him showing up the way he did in FC. There's something mythical and primal about arriving at "cosmic midnight," the end of everything and in the blackness finding this great evil. I don't think you really need continuity to understand that concept.

Ok, last thing, really: why has no one mentioned the similarity between the end of FC and The Never Ending Story? Mandrakk is the Nothing, Nix is the Empress and Superman is Bastian, alone in the blackness, wishing the world back into existence.

Jake said...

The "homework assignment" thing is just a terrible excuse. Can writers only use the Justice League? A lot of people were unfamiliar with the New Gods. Isn't the fact that there are great, interesting characters like them just sitting around unused an argument in itself to use them? The FC haters are saying "No." They don't know characters and they don't want to know them. It's like when you were a kid and you didn't want to try new foods. Silly.

As for the Hawk(wo)man ambiguity, I think that was all due to poor illustration rather than poor scripting.

Matt Jacobson said...

hilker: Got me on the New Gods. I was remembering his older interviews on the subject; I was thinking more of Darkseid.

Rolando: I actually have said repeatedly that I thought it was fun, I'm just defending the people who didn't like it and playing devil's advocate, in a way. I'm a counselor by day, I sympathize. I see frpm the third paragraph of your first post that you do get me and you said it well, actually. Thanks.

Jake: I was sort of using the phrase "hw assignment" as a general metaphor. I'm also not sure you totally got my point, but I guess I see what you're saying. But I wasn't referring to the work of figuring out who the New Gods are - I think that was as clear as could possibly be in the story. Just the challenge of deciphering the point of the actual story.

Hey, since so many people have read my comment, can I pimp my blog? Of course I can. Thanks Tim! Maybe I'll actually update it more than twice weekly if people read it.

Timothy Callahan said...

I need to add Matt's blog back to my blogroll! He may not like Northlanders (and he may think Mike Carey writes good superhero comics) but has plenty of smart things to say about other stuff.

Also, and I know this wasn't what you meant by "homework," but how can anyone legitimately GO ONLINE to complain about having to look up Shilo Norman on Wikipedia? Is looking things up online really so hard, especially when you're so willing to go online to gripe about it? I find the whole thing odd.

Chad Nevett said...

Tim, I'm always telling my girlfriend the same thing since anytime I wonder something these days, I look up. Like, last night, we're watching reruns of Criminal Minds and I wonder why Mandy Patinkin left the show, so first commercial break, I look it up. Why? Because knowledge is good. Learning new things is fun.

...I'm a dork.

Matt Jacobson said...

I only liked legacy for the first 6 or 7 issues, actually. I was a little too quick to praise it. It's been pretty shitty for about 6 months.

Anonymous said...

As any fool knows, the internet is for posting uneducated, poorly written rants on hopelessly obscure subjects. Who needs knowledge?

Never Ending Story's influence is more strongly felt on the original Crisis, the book having been translated into English a couple of years before the maxi-series came out.

Anonymous said...

Here's my theory. Many people who are drawn to comic books were not strong readers as children. The fact that comic books had pictures as well as words made comics a less-stressful form of entertainment than a novel or magazine. The fact that superhero comics were easy to understand and lacked ambiguity (Good guy punch bad guy) further endeared the artform to these low-level readers.

As adults, these same readers can't stand ambiguity in their superhero stories and need everything spelled out explicitly. Ever notice how poorly worded most of these anti-Final Crisis rants are, and how many spelling and punctuation errors they make?

Superhero fans= short bus.

Rev Sully said...

I cringe when I hear respected contributors to this cherished DC Overstory such as James Robinson throws a fellow writer under the bus...when Robinson at recent panel made a joke about Final Crisis being one of the Seven Words You Can't Say. Bad taste.

Hey...I got a review for Final Crisis.
I liked it.
But now it's time to read something else. A lot of this negativity and intrepoop community backlash is turning me off to blogging about comics. I'm getting scared off in a way.

Grant made an honest attempt at something good with the big DC Overstory. He did not fail. Neither did he fail with his New X-Men years as well because the following regime feels as though they have to clean his mess instead of dip in the hottub. Dirty pool, man.