Tuesday, December 24, 2013

L'Esprit D'Escalier, Final Crisis Edition


Over at Phil Sandifer's always-interesting blog, guest writer Andrew Hickey has written (in the words of the Young Ones) "a highly articulate outburst" relating the generally poor reception of 'Final Crisis' and the subsequent launch of the New 52. And while I think there is something to be said for connecting those two dots--let's face it, a big part of what people complained about with 'Final Crisis' was that they were looking for a grand, Wagnerian finish to the 73-year long story DC comics had been telling all those years, and instead they got a longer version of 'Rock of Ages' that somehow managed not to tie in to 'Rock of Ages' (the JLA storyline that Morrison wrote, that is, not the musical) and that almost certainly sparked the idea of blowing everything up and starting over in Dan DiDio's brain--I nonetheless think that Hickey extends the idea too far by suggesting that DC made a wholesale rejection of quality because they gave their readers the bestestest thing ever in 'Final Crisis', and they didn't like it so DC decided its readers must hate things that are good.

For one thing, he mentions the tie-ins and promotional efforts for 'FC' as though they were some sort of unfortunate summer storm, an event outside of Morrison's control that wrecked the lovely picnic he had planned. Whereas the truth is...look, I try very hard not to swear on my blog, but it is hard to think of the events leading up to 'Final Crisis' without using the words "unprecedented clusterfuck". Nobody working for DC seemed to have the slightest clue what anyone else was doing, and in fact the only thing they did seem to share was naked contempt for each other and their audience. Morrison was out doing interviews where he openly insulted people who thought that Barry Allen's death should be permanent, because death in comics never was and only pathetic fanboys gave a toss...while that same month, DC was marketing the first issue of his new epic with the tagline, "WHERE WERE YOU THE DAY THE MARTIAN MANHUNTER DIED?" Dan DiDio gave months and months of interviews, talking excitedly at conventions about how 'Final Crisis' was the culmination of everything the company had been planning since 'Identity Crisis'...only to have Morrison explain later that nobody had told him any of that, and he'd just been planning to write a fun little story about Darkseid, and 'Final Crisis' just meant that it was the last crisis he was planning to write about, and people needed to either just get over it or stop buying comics if they were going to whine about every single story they didn't like. And that's not even counting the weekly interviews about 'Countdown to Infinite Crisis' with editor Mike Marts on Newsarama, which started out as a fun promotional exercise (a la the interviews with '52' editor Steve Wacker on Newsarama) and gradually devolved into an exchange of insults between an interviewer who patently did not understand how DC could publish such unreadable garbage and an editor who didn't know why he was bothering anymore.

In short, everything about 'Final Crisis' was practically designed, by everyone concerned with the creation of it even tangentially, to make it impossible for the story to live up to anyone's expectations of it. And that includes Morrison, who pretty much threw everyone under the bus including his fanbase in the course of his interviews by suggesting that he just came up with the idea for the story and then went off into the cloisters to work on it for a year or so, like some sort of Zen comic book warrior monk, and came back out utterly flabbergasted that they'd screwed it up so badly. The sad part is that this could very well have been true--goodness knows that DC was inept enough for me to freely believe that they weren't talking to Morrison about their plans for the series he was writing--but Hickey seems to feel that Morrison should be held blameless for never talking to his editors, never reading any industry press about the series he was in the middle of writing, and never thinking to get involved with the PR in any way shape or form until all the money was spent and it was time to start apportioning blame for who was responsible for essentially defrauding comics fans of a couple hundred dollars of their hard-earned money.

Which is something that I think Hickey, and quite honestly most of the people who write about "angry fanboys" miss. We spend our money based on what we are told about these stories. Most comics stores, in the immortal words of every comic book store owner ever, are not libraries. Fans have to rely on what they hear about the series ahead of time, and the marketing strategy ever since 'Crisis on Infinite Earths' has been to tell fans, "You really can't miss this one. So much important stuff happens in it that you'll be totally lost if you don't buy it." And that's worked for a long time, because 'COIE' really was so important that it could not be missed. Fans have been conditioned to believe editors when they said that a storyline was a really big, huge, important development in the metastory, and that they had to read it even if it wasn't that great. (Well, they never said that last part. But it was sometimes implied.) And 'Final Crisis' was the point at which fans realized, en masse, that it was all just a big con to take their money. There was no grand plan. There was, it seemed, no plan at all. To discount that anger, or even to underestimate it, is to completely miss why 'Final Crisis' was so hated when it came out. It wouldn't have mattered what it was, because what people disliked was what it so tangibly wasn't.

Instead, Hickey goes with the tried-and-true sneering disdain for anyone who disagrees with him, the old "Well, it tried to make readers think, and all the people who disliked it were really just stupid and didn't get it." Which, while obnoxious and smug, is really just the flipside to the equally obnoxious disdain for anyone who did like the series, most of whom used the classic "You didn't really understand it either, nobody did, it's just that you're pretending you did so you can act intellectually superior to the rest of us" tactic of disingenuously dismissing their opponents' criticisms without engaging them, so I can't complain too loudly because nobody involved in that discussion ever came out looking very good. (In case you couldn't tell here, I don't actually have a lot of patience for debates about the quality of 'Final Crisis'. I didn't read it myself, because I gave up on DC in general about the same time Hickey gave up on 'Countdown', but I do find the haters and the defenders of the series equally meretricious.)

And so Hickey moves to the ultimate conclusion I mentioned at the beginning. Having misread the reason for the backlash against 'Final Crisis', and having taken as an a priori assumption that the series was flawless, he proceeds to the only answer he can under the circumstances. DC must have decided that it wasn't worth their time doing good comics, and went to the utter clusterfuck that was the New 52 on the grounds that the only thing that mattered was getting buzz in the industry media. Whereas in fact, when you examine the entirety of 'Final Crisis' in light of the year's worth of stories leading up to it, the story was at best an accidental aberration in a sea of editorial ineptitude whose only goal seemed to be getting headlines on Newsarama, and the thing that connects 'Final Crisis' to the New 52 is that they are both the products of a company that is, fundamentally, not very good at its job. The New 52 is a change in direction only cosmetically. The actual direction DC Comics has taken has been unchanged since DiDio took over--wandering randomly, spinning their wheels, and ultimately going nowhere.


Michael Healy said...

I disagree that DC is going nowhere. Driving full speed off a cliff is still going somewhere.

Aleph said...

"...the thing that connects 'Final Crisis' to the New 52 is that they are both the products of a company that is, fundamentally, not very good at its job. The New 52 is a change in direction only cosmetically. The actual direction DC Comics has taken has been unchanged since DiDio took over--wandering randomly, spinning their wheels, and ultimately going nowhere."

I think that hits the nail on the head right there better than any defense or condemnation of any given project does.

Anonymous said...

I really like the point that you're making here, John!

I *loved* FINAL CRISIS, both on its own merits and as part of a larger tapestry with Morrison's work with SEVEN SOLDIERS and BATMAN around it. However, I was confused and felt betrayed in the wallet when it became apparent at the end of COUNTDOWN where things weren't meeting.

The irony is that there were parts of that debacle that I still enjoyed. Starlin's DEATH OF THE NEW GODS, for example, can't live alongside FINAL CRISIS in a strict continuity and is a very different book, but it's still a mini that I actually enjoyed (much as with Morrison, it was a case of seeing a writer I loved playing with his take on the Kirby Endgame that I enjoyed, I imagine).

I think Andrew speaks well, both on the Eruditorum and elsewhere, about what was *good* about FINAL CRISIS -- he along with Time Callahan have done wonders with examining what Morrison did and how -- but I think his look at the climate and results are off, as you say. And I think the financial part on the readership is a huge element that hasn't been taken into account.

As a man who stopped reading DC upon the New 52 for that very financial reason -- I was broke and the end of "my stories" gave me a jumping-off point, I can understood fully well the issues here, especially given how much COUNTDOWN and its myriad tie-ins & minis cost us all to follow.