Monday, June 01, 2009

Final Crisis Aftermath Hits THE SPLASH PAGE

Chad Nevett and I have resurrected "The Splash Page" just in time to look at the first issues of the four "Final Crisis Aftermath" series. The first part of the discussion is posted at Chad's blog, and the second half is presented below for your edification and amusement:

Following up on Grant Morrison ideas and characters has always been a tricky/problematic area. If companies don't follow the path Morrison's laid out, we bitch. When we do, they usually can't match Morrison's skill, so we bitch. There's really no winning with us fans, honestly. Then again, I've been saying for quite a long time that the writer they should be tapping to follow-up Morrison is Joe Casey (usually when discussing Noh-Varr) and, finally, it's happened and I was right. Or, look at what Ivan Brandon is doing on "Escape" by taking the very basic concept of that world peacekeeping organisation group on one of the parallel Earths and putting a spin on it that's both reminiscent of Morrison's work (specifically "The Invisibles" and "The Filth"), but still writing it in different ways. It reminds me of adaptations where the worst ones are often the ones that recreate the plot faithfully while getting the tone and feel wrong, while the best ones are often the ones that have no problem changing the plot while maintaining the feel of the original. That's what "Dance" and "Escape" do very well: they share a feel with Morrison's work while not necessarily reading like one of his comics. If that makes sense. Of course, neither "Run!" nor "Ink" seem to attempt to go for duplication of plot or feel, so maybe that explains them.

Ideally, you want writers who will make their own statement and be unafraid to take these characters in different directions, while, at the same time, maintaining some of the feel of Morrison's depictions of them. It's an incredibly hard thing to do, but I think where too many go wrong is getting caught up in the small details or flat-out stealing from Morrison's writings -- a tactic you'd think would work, but doesn't. In that "Secret Invasion: Who Do You Trust?" one-shot, Zeb Wells did a Noh-Varr story that was utterly lifeless despite being filled with elements from "Marvel Boy," and it didn't work because it was filled with elements from "Marvel Boy." It was, on the surface, 100% true to the character, but was devoid of any of the life or energy Morrison gave the character, because it was just a pastiche of pre-existing lines or situations. Christ, I'm just rambling on, aren't I? Help me out here, Tim, and, hopefully, put what I'm saying into words that, you know, make sense.

TC: Well, I think you make a good point, but it's the same point that's made about almost every comic that sucks: "100% true to the character, but...devoid of any of the life or energy." See everyone who followed Jack Kirby for more examples.

So here we are talking too much about Morrison again, but what does he do that stays true to the character but injects energy? And why is it so difficult for others to do the same thing? Why is Morrison's "Animal Man" vibrant, but Peter Milligan's is flat. Why is Morrison's "X-Men" new, while Chuck Austen's is unreadable melodrama? Why wasn't Mark Waid able to pull off "JLA," even though he had the same tools and some of the same concepts as Morrison?

And do you really think Casey and Brandon can pull it off? I like to hope they can, by doing what you're saying: taking the tone and spinning it out in new plot directions, while putting their own personalities into it. I mean, Joe Casey of "The Intimates" and "Godland" was BORN to write the Super Young Team.

Speaking of that -- and to go off on a tangent -- I've seen readers complain about the use of Twitter in "Dance." What's that about? Do you think it's cheesy and too of-the-moment for Casey to have Most Excellent Superbat tweeting throughout the issue?

CN: I honestly think that Morrison's approach lends itself to a certain feeling that's hard to replicate -- Joe Casey and Matt Fraction have a similar feeling at times. Part fun, part "who gives a crap," part "this is the greatest moment of all time," part... I don't know what. The only way to describe it is in contradictory terms, because it's both insanely fun and light, while also being heavy and serious.

I don't understand the Twitter complaint. The only Twitter-related complaint I've thought made sense was a guy who lives in Japan arguing that Japanese teens don't use Twitter, so it's not true to the characters. Other than that, how is it any different from regular narrative captions or excerpts from journals? I think it's very clever, not because it relates to contemporary times, but because Twitter allows him to narrate and comment in a manner that is immediate and, contextually, fits into the book. Sometimes, narrative captions seem out of place and you wonder why a character would be thinking that, but people are more conscious about what's going on when posting on Twitter, so it makes sense for Most Excellent Superbat to say some of the things he says. Twitter is immediate and, at times, random, which fits here. It really comes off as a combination of traditional narrative captions and the infoscroll Casey used in "The Intimates." I never understand people who complain that references that place a work within a specific time is somehow bad. Those people obviously haven't read... well, any book worth reading since they all are products of their time. Is there any way to depict young people well other than placing them firmly within the cultural context from which they've sprung? What else do they even care about?

"Escape" draws me back it for some reason, but, as you said earlier, there isn't a lot there. It's mostly a jumble of images that don't really lead anywhere, so do you think future issues may begin to suffer once the plot becomes clearer? I think that this odd way of doing an issue is what makes it so good, so I'm a little concerned that Brandon won't be able to keep it going once things become clearer.

TC: I know what you mean about "Escape." If its greatness lies in its mystery, and then things start to become clearer and we uncover more and more about what's really going on, then it loses the very thing that attracted us to it. Maybe that's why "The Prisoner" isn't such a strong narrative model, unless the comic book series ends on issue #4 and we never find out the secrets, which would be even more annoying in its own way. BUT, I think that Brandon can use the strangeness and mystery as the hook and then still tell an interesting story as Tom Tresser (and the reader) start piecing things together, as long as the ultimate truth is at least different than "oh, he's in a prison somewhere and he's drugged." If there's an actual story with twists and turns beneath the mysterious exterior, then "Escape" could very well end up being the best of the bunch.

I only have one last question: will you drop "Ink" and "Run" now that you've seen the first issue and just stick with "Dance" and "Escape"? Or will you keep buying all four to see how it all plays out in the end? (I think I know the answer to this already.)

CN: I won't be buying "Run!" or "Ink" again, sticking just with "Dance" and "Escape." Unless I'm buying it for review purposes, I just can't support a comic I know to be bad. I just can't. I assume you'll keep buying all four titles, because you buy everything, right?

TC: I might drop the two I didn't like, but my comic book habit pays for itself these days, so I think I might stick with all four and I'll let you know how they all turn out. Or you could keep buying them too, and then we could come back when it's all over and see if our opinions have changed. Somehow, I suspect they won't.

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