Marvel and DC Comics, the undisputed champs of direct market super-comics, both had fairly huge books come out this week. For Marvel, it was Amazing Spider-Man #583, the guest-star of which helped garner the company a huge media splash, inside the comics industry and outside. For DC, it was the penultimate chapter of their years-in-the-making (and marketing) crossover series Final Crisis #6, which contained what would, in different circumstances, have seemed like a pretty huge development.
As topics of conversation, they were both certainly successes. And I imagine in terms of sales, they’ll also be pretty big sucesses for the two companies. But how are the comics as, you know, comics, to be read and enjoyed?
Well, they’re both fairly terrible.
Super-long, spoiler-packed reviews of each, after the jump.
This issue of Marvel’s flagship Spider-Man comic has been getting a ton of mainstream media attention, and has reportedly generated some crazy eBay sales prices and lines out the door in some comic shops. And no wonder—it features a story about the current status of the relationship between Peter Parker and Daily Bugle staffer Betty Brant!
This is also the Obama issue, although the president-elect is relegated to a five-page back-up by Zeb Wells and Todd Nauck. Six pages if you count the cover separating the back-up from the main story, which is the same image on the Obama variant by Phil Jiminez, a crudely drawn (for Jiminez, anyway) image of Obama giving an idiot grin and vanquished political rival John McCain’s favorite hand gesture while Spider-Man takes a picture of the back of his head. Only on the inside version, there’s a red credits box in the lower right hand corner, and, in the upper left hand corner, another box saying, “Marvel Bonus Back-Up Feature!” Ha ha, the book is actually $3.99, so we’re paying an extra buck for these “bonus” six pages.
Marvel Comics is, of course, a business, and slapping Obama’s image on a variant cover and hastily assembling a five-page back-up—overnight, based on the skill evidenced in the final product—to ship the week of the inauguration was a pretty smart business move. In public relations alone, the move was well worth whatever they paid the creators for it.
But it is certainly crass, and more than a little depressing. Or, as Comicsreporter.com’s Tom Spurgeon noted, gross. I’d encourage you to go read Spurgeon’s paragraph about the book in its full context, but he rightly noted that while it was nice that the company wanted to do a story, it would have been nicer “if a company that has concentrated on story the last decade or so to astounding benefit made a solid comic out of the event rather than a kind of cruddy-looking, cynical one.”
Having read those five pages now, “gross” seems like a pretty good way to sum the whole thing up, and I won’t argue with “kind of cruddy-looing” or “cynical” either.
So, here’s the story: Peter Parker, freelance photographer for Front Line newspaper, visits Washington DC for the inauguration, and just as Obama arrives, a second presidential limo crashes into the first, and out steps another Obama. Holy crap, two Obamas!
Wanted criminal Spider-Man swings in to the circle of blasé, unarmed secret service agents and suggests they ask the two Obamas a question only the real Barack Obama would know. As the Obamas argue, it becomes clear that one of them has never heard of the popular American sport known as basketball, revealing that he thinks it involves a helmet, and is played on a basketball diamond.
The imposter revealed, he transforms back into the Chameleon, and Spidey punches him out, accepts his daps from the real Obama, and then perches atop the Washington monument to complete his photo assignment.
I really like Todd Nauck’s art, but, as I mentioned before, he’s a pretty poor choice for this particular assignment, and his art has never looked worse than under colorist Frank D’Armata, who provides a slick, sick, hyper-real shading that works against Nauck’s cartoonier style.
Wells is a little more hit or miss with me, but in general I’m a fan of his work—he’s got a solid rep as a fun, funny writer, and there’s at least one genuinely clever joke here. But that’s all there really is—a clever joke, a couple of dumb jokes and the end. (I guess I don’t know the Chameleon’s secret origin—is he an alien or something? How come he’s never heard of basketball?).
Sadly, this really seems like a disappointing cash-in from a company that could do much, much better—hell, they’ve assembled some extremely creative and talented individuals who always do better than this—and given that the Marvel Universe has revolved around the policies of their version of the United States’ federal government for much of the last decade, this story seems extremely perfunctory. Obama co-narrated Secret Invasion #8, for Chrisakes…no one could think of anything better to do with him than this?
It didn’t even rate a 22-page story? I suppose there were some timing issues to be considered—Obama only won the election about two months ago—but this sure felt last-minute rather than last-month. A story about Spidey visiting Washington D.C. and foiling The Chameleon’s plot to impersonate the new president could certainly have been started before the polls closed.
As is, this story seems oddly unimportant, a weird little gimmick attached, ad-like, to the back of a normal Spider-Man comic. It’s basically just one of those old Hostess ads that used to run in comics, only five times longer and 500 times more crass and depressing.
Back to the bulk of the book, this is a little bit better than the similarly disappointing Stephen Colbert/Spider-Man crossover, which at least featured a much better cover. That creatively bankrupt, cynical, “Hey media, look at us! Look at us!” story may have featured a much better cover than this one, but it also came attached to the conclusion of a storyline, so newcomers could be extremely unlikely to know or care what was going on.
Writer Mark Waid and artists Barry Kitson and Mark Farmer company’s story isn’t necessarily a great jumping on point, but at least it’s a stand-alone, done-in-one competently accomplished, and unlikely to confuse the hell out of new readers the way a story about Venom, Anti-Venom and the Thunderbolts fighting a bullet-ridden Spider-Man might.
Narrator Betty Brant talks about her friend Peter Parker, and how unreliable he is, because he won’t tell her or any of his friends, family or loved ones that he’s actually Spider-Man (he comes across like a bit of asshole because of his insistence of keeping this a secret, even from his aunt, actually). She takes him speed-dating, and she’s sure he’s planning a surprise birthday part for her the following night, but he’s not.
Waid writes nice Spider-Man fight chatter, and handles the soap opera elements of the plot just fine. Spidey seems like an unlikable dick, but that’s hardly Waid’s fault—it’s just where Marvel wants the character right now. Kitson and Farmer are both quite accomplished artists, and while Kitson’s style has never been one that I was extremely about, there’s nothing technically wrong with it. It looks worse than the last time I saw it though but that has more to do with the coloring, which gives everyone the over-textured look of mannequins squashed into a 2D environment.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go take a shower, as this whole Obama/Spider-Man thing makes me feel really, really dirty.
The story’s not quite over yet, but I think it’s safe to declare Grant Morrison’s big, DC superhero crossover Final Crisis a complete failure.
Too strong? Let’s check out the first page here. There’s Superman in the first panel, carrying on a conversation with one of the at least three Brainiac 5’s in the 31st century. When we last saw Superman, he was traveling through alternate realities with various versions of himself in the Grant Morrison-written Superman Beyond #1. He was simultaneously in the 31st Century in Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds, a story whose only connection to Final Crisis prior to this panel was the fact that it had the words “Final” and “Crisis” in its title.
Superman Beyond #2, which concludes that side story, has yet to see release (its currently scheduled for next week); Legion of Three Worlds is only about half over. This is set after those stories.
I assume your average reader will have no problem filling in the blanks here—I don’t know if anyone following these stories actually thinks that maybe Superman will die in one of those side stories, for example (And if they do, well, that’s kind of adorable, isn’t it?)—and if this were a writer who wasn’t Grant Morrison, then this might not be that big of a deal.
But this is Grant Morrison. He’s the guy who wrote DC One Million, a company-wide crossover that twisted through hundreds of centuries in time and touched every book DC was then publishing in some form or another, the storyline itself wended through many of them, important story beats happening where they were least expected, and the entire, gargantuan thing synched up just perfectly.
He’s also the guy who wrote DC’s Seven Soldiers event, which when read as intended—i.e. as it came out, I don’t think it works as well experienced in trade collections—was a story in which the events, characters, settings and props of seven individual miniseries moved sideways through one another and linked up just so without necessarily demanding you read each one in any particular chronological order. It was a crossover, but it was a very peculiar sort of crossover, a hands-off one where the characters didn’t even really know they were in a crossover, where only the writer and the reader had the full picture, looking like gods down upon a storyscape the characters couldn’t even comprehend because they were so close to it.
In other words, Grant Morrison knows what he’s doing with these sorts of stories, and he’s not doing it right this time. The trains are not running on time, connections are being missed. Is it Morrison’s fault? DC editorial? A little of both?Does it matter?
Not to readers. In final trade format, maybe this will matter less—will Superman Beyond be collected with Final Crisis, though?—but as experienced as a serial comics publishing event, it’s a failure. Hell, it doesn’t even look nice; here the single artist who became two art teams has now become three art teams, all with styles that are less than compatible and aren’t deployed in any logical fashion anyway (I like all three of those teams okay, mind you, but my favorite team was that of Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy, left off the cover credits, who also happen to be the fastest of the teams).
So this is the sixth chapter of the seven-part core series, the darkest-before-the-dawn chapter, and a lot of stuff is happening. There are a lot of cool Grant Morrison ideas in here, there are some fairly bad-ass moments of heroes doing cool things, but it’s all strained through the darkness of a world won by Darkseid which, in different circumstances, might seem a stark contrast to DC Comics in general, but given the dark, dreary tone of the DC Universe over the past two or three years, it just seems stale.
This chapter is exceptionally dark and violent, but DC super-comics have been exceptionally dark and violent for years now; what exactly distinguishes this from your average issue of Teen Titans or Justice League of America?
At any rate, things happen. Braniac 5 shows Superman a god macine, capable of translating thoughts into reality. Supergirl and Mary Marvel-possessed-by-an-evil-New-God fight while arguing over which of them is a slut. J.G. Jones reveals what color panties Supergirl is wearing this issue. Tawky Tawny disembowels Kalibak. Shiloh Norman is a white guy for some reason. Most Excellent Superbat reveals his super-power, and it is awesome. Montoya has bleached her hair light brown and maybe she’s white now too. The Atoms have a cool escape plan. Sivana and Luthor start kicking ass. The Flashes prepare to outrace death itself for, like, the fifteenth time since I started reading comics. Superman goes crazy with the heat-vision. And, in biggest event of the book, we see the promised “final fate of Batman,” the true ending of “Batman R.I.P.” and, well, it’s a whole bunch of Who Cares.
So Batman makes his way into Darkseid-in-Turpin’s-body’s throne room. He shoots him with the god-killing bullet that had previously killed Orion, and then gets struck by Darkseid’s omega effect in a two-panel spread (this scene is fairly reminiscent of Morrison’s own “Rock Of Ages” arc in JLA, as elements of Darkseid’s take over of Earth have been; in that story, a future Batman obliterates Darkseid’s moonbase slave factory in front of the evil god, and gets omega beam-ed out of the story).
When next we see Batman, he looks skeletal and mummified, and Superman is cradling his body.
Oh my God, is Batman dead?! Well, no. DC will do some crazy stuff, but they’re not going to kill Batman off, and there’s very little suspense here, given the circumstance of his death (it probably doesn’t help that he already was seemingly killed twice in “Bataman R.I.P.” and survived both of those deaths just fine).
Those circumstances? For one, Darkseid’s eye beams have various effects, depending on his whim (and that of the writer). They can kill, they can erase someone from existence, they can resurrect the dead, they can teleport, they can transform a person. So Batman’s not necessarily dead just because he got eye-beamed.
The last time a New God got shot with that very same bullet, we were told it warped time, space and, thus, DC continuity. The last time Darkseid died the same thing happened. This is the official explanation for why the continuity between Countdown and Final Crisis don’t synch up. So if Batman was dead for a panel or two, he may not even be dead anymore.
And then the sky here is red and full of Earths, as it was before the last continuity reboot at the end of Infinite Crisis; clearly another continuity reboot is on its way, as all those alternate Earths aren’t going to stay in the red sky of the DCU indefinitely. So, well, you get the idea.
So that’s Final Crisis by its penultimate issue: Off the rails schedule and thus plot-wise, full of great work from three different art teams that nevertheless don’t compliment one another, and distinctly lacking in any sort of suspense or much in the way of new ideas. Again, if this was anyone but Morrison, it might not seem so disappointing, but with over 180 pages finished, the most exciting new ideas he’s offered have been the idea of the New Gods as Catholic conceptions of demons possessing people, and the Japanese cosplay version of the Justice League.
These reviews originally appeared on my home blog, EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com.