Friday, January 30, 2009

Allow me to say a few words on the criticism of Final Crisis

because there is a lot of it, and frankly a lot of it is pissing me off.

I'm going to come out guns with blazing and say this: I think 90% of the people who are saying Final Crisis is the worst thing they've ever read, terrible, trash, garbage etc. simply don't understand it. Furthermore they don't think they should have to work to do so.

This is what a lot of Final Crisis defenders have said and continue to say across the internet, and it tends to get a lot of backlash, but I really think it's true. And before you decide you hate me for being an elitist prick, let me explain...

Final Crisis is a dense book. That much is pretty obvious. I read it, loved most of it, and I still am not sure if I even have the basic plot in my grasp (I think I do, but some of the stuff in #7 threw me). I am going to have to read the series again (plus Superman Beyond, the two Batman issues, and Final Crisis Submit) to get a hold on it, and I will probably have to read it many more times to appreciate most of its depth. And I'm not sure why that's a bad thing. In fact I think it's great. Economically, it makes buying each book a better investment, because I am going to spend hours on every issue of Final Crisis. The same cannot be said of most books on the stands.

So, okay, I like it and I don't understand it. I'm not saying it's great yet, but what I am saying is I think it's interesting and more importantly that I had a damn good time reading it so this book has value at least to me. And I can't stand all the people out there who are completely denying that the book has any merit when they probably haven't thought about the book at all. I would wager a significant portion of them read #7 once, didn't get it, and said "fuck this series, only fanboys would enjoy it." Because you know what, that's just a bad attitude.

Here's the thing: most of these critics seem to think that every comic they read should be accessible... that somehow, they are entitled to a book that they can pick up, get everything they need to out of it in 5 or 10 minutes, bag and board it and put it in a box never again to see the light of day. Why do people think this?

I will guess: because many people do not read comics for artistic exploration or literary challenges... they read comics for short bursts of relatively simple entertainment. And there's definitely nothing wrong with that. The thing about Final Crisis though is that it probably is not for those people.

And I think, because this book has Crisis in the title, people feel more compelled to read it. I would imagine that that's where some of the more livid protestors of the book come from. But that's simply not true. Just because a book is "important" to a comics universe doesn't mean it is a necessary read. No one is putting a gun to your head telling you you have to read this. You can get all the essentials of any of the Crises from Wikipedia, after all. But because it seems as though people feel like they have to, and then don't want to invest the time and effort into figuring out what they've just read, there are a bevy of uber-dramatic overreactions of hatred towards this particular series.

But look, here's the thing. There are very few legitimate critics who would say that a Shakespeare play, a Vonnegut novel, a T.S. Eliot poem or an Ingmar Bergman movie (for instance) is "too dense" and thus "garbage." The complexity of each of those artists' work only enhances its quality. And what I'm saying is, why should a Grant Morrison comic, or any comic, be held to different standards than any of those art forms? The idea that comics, or even the subset of superhero comics, must be accessible and easily understood to be good is clearly wrong, at least if one believes that comics can and should be regarded as art like any other. Which, obviously, I do.

(speaking of Vonnegut, doesn't Slaughterhouse-Five emply a jumbled time effect not dissimilar from Final Crisis? Were the Trafalmadorians secretly influenced by Darksied? We will never know!)

I am not saying that every comic on the shelf should be as demanding Final Crisis. Far from it. There are plenty of quality movies, books, poems and plays that are easily understood. What I am saying is that to go absolutely bananas because a book like Final Crisis would dare present a challenge to a reader... that is silly, and wrong.

And in case you're wondering, yes, I take this personally because I really like this book. I liked the breakneck pace, I liked the character moments thrown in amidst the chaos, I liked the seemingly hopeless odds that our heroes bring us back from, and more than anything else I love the metatextuality of the story, the idea that Superman is so great in the DC Universe and ours because he is the best story. Let me say that again. I love that aspect of Final Crisis. It means a lot to me. For that reason, and many others, I cherish the fact that Final Crisis is in my comic collection.

And the thing about opinoins is it's cool to have yours... if you didn't like it, fine, say that. It's also totally okay to say "I don't have the time or the interest to invest in figuring this book out, it's not for me." You can't argue with that. Where all this criticism crosses the line is when people assume that because they didn't like or understand it, it is poorly written and is no good to anybody. And what I'm saying is, that's patently wrong. It's good to me, damn it, and I'm going to enjoy the many hours I spend re-reading it trying to figure out what the hell just went on.


Anonymous said...

Well, we discussed this at nauseum the other day but I'll remake my points for the people who might read the comments.

I think that Grant Morrison can create great moments, great thoughts, great ideas... but left to his own devices he's too "meta" for his own good. I love complexity and depth in all fiction, but not at the cost of structure.

Astro City, Top Ten, The Watchmen, even RIP was dense, but approachable. Final Crisis had it's moments, but amidst all of it... it was marred with pacing issues, plot holes, and a lack of explanation of events so much so that one needs to reread the series to, as you seem to want to celebrate.... FIGURE OUT WHAT IS GOING ON.

If you find that fun, you might as well read every comic;s last page first, the credits and title, and than each page backwards. You'll get plenty moments, and when you're done... you can read it again and again to figure it all out. That way each book will be THAT much more worth it, AND read just like final crisis did.


Eric Garneau said...

I don't think Final Crisis is jumbled nonsensically though; I think there's a reason why it's presented the way it is, and I just haven't figured it out yet.

But for the record I do agree that there are pacing issues. Plot holes I am not sure about.

Also, I'm not harping on YOU here because I know you gave thought to the book. I just think a lot of people have dismissed it out of hand, is all.

Tom Foss said...

I've got to agree with pretty much everything you said here, Eric. I was a little frustrated the first time I read #7, because I didn't get all of it in a normal quick read. But after reading through it again, I understood how (and why) it gave you just enough of the story to understand it, and left the rest of the details for you to fill in.

In this age of six-issue arcs written for the trade, of rampant decompression and stories that go on two issues longer than they have any right or reason to, I've liked the way Morrison manages to cram large amounts of story into small amounts of space.

I wish I could pull details for this, but the thing I liked most about FC #7 was how it made me want to know more about the story. It left so many openings for so many story opportunities, and it made me hungry to find out more. Contrast that with the tendency to overwrite, to pore over every detail of a story until there's no mystery left.

The thing I liked most about Final Crisis was that, if they wanted to, they could tell stories around, within, and surrounding that seven(ish)-issue series for years. They won't; they'll go back to the conventional stuff, and that's okay, but someday someone's going to mine Final Crisis for all the opportunities it presents.