Monday, June 28, 2010

Final Crisis and the Triumph of the Human F$@#ing Spirit

I picked up a trade copy of Final Crisis at Ed Mckay's a while back. I had read it before and responded with a resounding "meh". I reread it a bit back and realized that it's actually pretty awesome.

It's much more than just CROSSOVER!!! It's a complex story about human existence and the end of all stories. This is not a bunch of heroes running around doing cool things, but an epic about what it means to be human and life itself.

Human nature, as believed by pretty much every non human in the DC universe(s) and the monitors is to essentially be complete assholes. We are nothing but hopeless barbarians on a primitive mudball who kill each other for no good reason. Humanity and super-humanity is about rising above that primal nature, to be a beacon of hope and fight against the darkness that inhabits our hearts. The anti-life equation of Final Crisis lists the evils of humanity : prejudice, oppression, hate, and ignorance, yet we continue to fight against what is perceived as the essence of our being. Dan Turpin sums it up in Final Crisis #1, "Fire was our first mistake. Like everythin' else the sad stinkin' human race ever thought of, we take a good idea and use it to kill ourselves."

Dan Turpin is a cynic, a pessimist cop who ends up harboring the consciousness of Darkseid. He fights against anti-life, but eventually wanes ("How can I fight if there is nothing to fight for"). He gives in and Darkseid takes over. He and the 3 billion enslaved in anti-life fight against the heroes and villains resisting. Darkseid represents the easy way out. Giving in to him represents giving in to the perils of humanity and anti-life.

The only protection against anti-life is a glyph symbolizing freedom. We have the choice to be more than just hairless apes. Our will allows us to overcome our so-called nature. Even though life is hard and the world sucks a lot of the time, we can press on towards a brighter day. People have terrible, animal flaws (as seen by many evil gods taking somewhat animal forms), but to get all Talmudic for a second, "In a world where no one behaves like a human being, you must strive to be human!"

Anti-life is easy. Living is hard.God help us if we ever give up and give in. Everything ceases to be. The Final Crisis is not just Darkseid, it's the end of all stories because of the ever-constant monitors being effected by our world. The monitors, a race of pan-dimensional beings that feed on the "bleed" between universes make contact with our "germ worlds". They take on all the aspects of humanity, betraying and conspiring, but also loving and feeling. As always the negative shows up with more gusto, and two monitors fall from grace and give in to what the perceive as their nature: universal vampires. Superman, in exchange for bleed to save his dying wife, goes to fight against him alongside Ultraman, Overman, Captain Marvel, and Allen Adam (read: Dr. Manhattan with clothes).

Superman, of course, is the one who ends up fighting Mandrakk the Dark Monitor, and in a beautifully written scene, displays his undying hope and unyielding belief in the innate good. He refuses to give up on anything. He is the best we have to offer, and no matter how much cooler Batman is, Superman is the living embodiment of human good. His story is simple: that of ultimate good versus ultimate evil. He is the only one trusted with the design for the miracle machine, and uses it for the best of the universe. He wishes for a happy ending. The Final Crisis is supposed to be the end to all stories, but as Superman engraves on what was supposed to be his tombstone: To be continued.

To be continued. Earth endures. The true triumph of humanity is our persistance, that despite every crisis, every failing, every war we still endure. Grant Morrison has it right, "This world , these amazing people, have faced alien invasions, natural disasters, quakes in time. And always we recover... we rebuild... we continue. Earth endures. It's as if we don't know what else to do."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Calvin: Boy Wonder

I saw a comic called Calvin Minus Hobbes a while back and it got me thinking about the general theme of Calvin and Hobbes: imagination and childhood. It's a comic that has been lauded for it's philosophical and whimsical nature, as well as just how hilarious it is. I would say it's the best comic of all time. It is pure and beautiful.

Sorry. Fanboy moment. I'll try to keep them to a minimum.

The real debate about Calvin and Hobbes is if Hobbes is actually real. Is he an actual tiger or is he a figment of Calvin's imagination? Are the crazy things Calvin does (going back in time, transmogrifying, going to mars, etc) real or are they simply the fantasy of an obviously lonely young boy.

It doesn't really matter, because all these things are real to Calvin. Calvin believes Hobbes is real and that they have wacky adventures. Calvin may or may not have serious mental and social issues, but that's not the issue at hand. What's incredible about this strip is just the sheer power of imagination. When you read Calvin and Hobbes it's very easy to forget that Calvin is only six and that the stuffed tiger is just that. It's an odd place to find depth and meaning, and yet never seems out of place.

But again, not the issue. What I keep coming back to is just the crazy imagination of Calvin. I think about playing with my legos when I was a kid (read: last week) and never came up with anything like that. Calvin does not have a lot to work with. He has a tiger and his head. He has very generic education-minded parents who did not want him to rot his brain with things like cable tv. Calvin has crafted a world for himself that is pure fantasy and unadulterated awesome.

It's a good lessons for kids today who grow up with thousands of action figures that talk for them, shrieking video games, and hundreds of channels. That kills the imagination. Why write a story when one is written for you? Calvin is a kid who is 100% imagination. Granted, a child psychologist might diagnose him with ADHD or ADD, but those people are cynics. Calvin just loves to pretend, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Bringin' this back to the start. Calvin minus Hobbes is a rather douche-baggian view, one that we seem to love to have, which sucks all the fun out of the wonder of childhood. I know that's the point, but I'll be damned if I like it. I refuse to be cynical on this. Hobbes may be a stuffed tiger, but if he's real to Calvin, he's real to me.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Brightest Day #4

First off, the title is a lie. I read the whole thing and not once did I see Black Lantern Firestorm, just Ronnie Raymond passed out drunk in contrast to Jason passed out studying. I know this is all building somewhere, but this storyline has the attention span of a hummingbird.

So- things that are happening [spoilers]

-Deadman is getting jerked around by a white ring
-Aquaman is summoning dead sea life
-Ronnie killed Jasons girlfriend while he was a Black Lantern
-Martian Manhunter is not alone
-Hawk is angry (suprise, suprise)
-And Hawkman and Hawkgirl are embroiled in some weird plot with their arch-foe and are now on Pandora or something (complete with hovering rocks)

That's a lot to follow, and not a lot gets covered every issue. Blackest Night had an obvious thesis statement: Zombies and how to kill them with emotion-powers. This is just, well, confusing. I guess the heroes are confused and if Geoff is trying to recreate that for us, good job, but it's not the good type of confusion where I'm worried and wondering what will happen to characters or anything. I just want answers so we can move on.

Brightest Day #4 is good but nothing special. I've not really been disappointed with anything in this arc except the lack of focus. It just keeps bouncing from cliffhanger to cliffhanger with little actual progression save people getting more and more confused and leaving me with and confounded look on my face. I am interested to see where this goes and how it all fits together, but I'm still wondering how they are going to wrap this up in a nice big bow. Blackest Night was good in the sense that it slowly revealed things and had a discernible dramatic structure. There was action and a climax a resolution. Brightest Day just sort of feels like a denouement where everyone is standing around awkwardly standing around wondering what to do.

It's been 4 issues and nothing has really happened in terms of rising action. I'm going to keep reading because I'm already halfway in and I want to know what's going on, and if I don't keep up I'm going to be way out of the loop, but I'd be really happy if Geoff would get to it already.

In short- buy it if you like DC comics and knowing what's going on. It's nice vignettes that may one day become a full fledged story. It's going to get there. I hope.

Float Out, or ZOMG FIREFLY

I'm going to go ahead and get this out there. I love Firefly. It is a brilliant show with a vibrant universe, powerful writing, and amazing characters. It is witty, moving, and just honest-to-god wonderful. I know it was only one season, but I have watched that season over and over again.

Well, after it got canceled, the insa-, er, devoted fans of Joss Whedon nearly rioted, and so the made a movie, Serenity, which was also awesome. After that they made some pretty good comics, just like Buffy: Season Eight, which were set before the movie, because [spoiler alert]- Wash dies. It's the worst thing ever.

Float Out is a group of new people christening their Firefly and remembering wash, who they all happen to know. They each tell a story about Wash, and then christen their ship. It says it's a one shot, but I kind of have my hopes up for a series.

The art is great, the writing is great, and it's just great period. That is, if you like Firefly as much as I do. If you have never heard of it or never seen it (HEATHEN!) then go watch the show and the movie and then read this. You will be glad you did.

What's great about this comic is that it actually manages to add depth to a character who has been long gone. It's not HOBAN WASHBURN: REBIRTH. It's better than that. It gives a powerful backstory to a character who did not have much of a described one (though who did on that show?) and makes everything all sad yet warm and fuzzy in the life-goes-on way.

In short- People who love Firefly, you will love this. People who have never watched it- go watch it.

Nemesis #2

So a while back there was this crazy comic called Kick-Ass about a New York City teenager who decides to done the cowl, albeit sans cape. He has no powers or anything, just a drive to do good and kick a little ass. Nemesis flips that around, where some guy has decided to be a supervillian and a total dick in the process.

Mark Millar does a great job of making the majority of his panels mindbogglingly badass. Kick-Ass had it's decapitations and it's headshot kills, but Nemesis ups the ante with, and I am entirely serious here, with Nemesis doing a backflip on a motorcycle and taking out a helicopter. It's pretty awesome. But...

The thing about Kick-Ass that made it different was that it almost seemed possible. It was some kid who just put on a scuba suit and took to the streets. There was a sort of legitimacy in the fact that he got beaten up literally all the time and never really did anything too unbelievable aside from the amount of abuse he took. Nemesis not so much. Remember in The Dark Knight where the Batmobile becomes the Batcycle? That happens. That sort of jerks the realism of a supervillian/terrorist right out of your hands and replaces it with a ten year old boy saying, "DID YOU SEE THAT IT WAS AWESOME". Yes. It was awesome, now give me my realism back.

I like Nemesis, don't get me wrong, but I'm still a little disappointed in the fact that instead of taking the legitimate-story-telling road and instead went for just HEY GUYS LOOK AT THIS HE HAS A MOTORCYCLE. I like to look at cool things, but I expect a little more story from Mark Millar than I've been offered at this point. Eventually nobody cares if you have excessive gore and fuckwords in your comic if you don't have a good story. Kick-Ass? Good story and identifiable characters. Nemesis just seems like it's already been turned into a movie and they've removed a lot of the compelling themes and story elements in favor of explosions and jetpacks. I mean, if you look at our protagonist, Chief of Police Blake Morrow, you can already tell he is going to be played by Harrison Ford.

Maybe it's wrong of me to be expecting depth and an actual plot that doesn't seem like a Die Hard movie or something, but I was just expecting a little more for Mark. He does good work. I like seeing awesome things. It just seems like this is just a loose collection of them strung around a loose plot. I'm going to keep reading and hope a decent story blooms, but until then, I'm just going to look at the pretty pictures.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Time Lincoln!

A while back I had the wonderful fortune to read a comic by the name of TIME LINCOLN, a wonderful little piece so ridiculous that it must be written in all caps. It is utterly, stupendously, and oh-so marvelously preposterous that it makes for an incredible read and I am honestly waiting with baited breath for the other installments of TIME LINCOLN, including the soon to arrive TIME LINCOLN VS MEPHITLER (Yes. That is Mephisto + Hitler, which of course = awesome).

TIME LINCOLN is the story of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, who somehow has harness temporal energy to face off against his nemesis, VOID STALIN and his squadron of historic evildoers including Napoleon (who appears riding a large man in a diving helmet), MEPHITLER, and Mao Tse-tsung and his squadron of "Time Fighters". TIME LINCOLN'S team of historic do-gooders includes Albert Einstein, a psionic staff-wielding Ben Franklin, George Washington Carver and his freeze-ray (he did more than just peanuts), and of course Isaac Newton and his trademark energy swords.

From what little I can gather, anyone with a profound effect on history can engage in time travel given they have the appropriate steampunk gear. Everything is all rayguns and goggles and copper and I honestly could not love it more. It's been a long time since I've seen something this ludicrous and I read Deadpool. Even Deadpool gets swept up in Skrulls and drama and X-factors, and even though he would rather be at home watching Bea Arthur he still has the occasional moment of seriousness. TIME LINCOLN is so over-the-top and deadpan that it comes full circle and becomes pure, unadulterated fun.

What I really love is how the writers manage to say everything with a straight face. I can't even write TIME LINCOLN without giggling to myself about Abraham Lincoln fighting a void-imbued MEPHITLER atop Mt. Rushmore, or, and I quote, defeating VOID STALIN'S trusted leftenant with the "Lincoln back-fist". I spent most of last year swept up in the Blackest Night event, and don't get me wrong, it was good. But it's really refreshing to see something that is so amazingly different and lighthearted.

Different is really good in comics. I think that's why a lot of people, myself included, really liked Kick-Ass. It was a completely separate thing from all the continuity and just something fun to read. Of course Mark Millar had to ruin is by making his main character a stagnant angsty teenage chronic masturbater who is meant to represent the entirety of the comic-reading community and then of course by making his story all serious, just disguised with copious blood and swearing. One of the reasons I really enjoyed the Kick-Ass movie was because it decided to do the opposite of the comic book and grab all that grit and angst, take it up really high in a jetpack, and then let it fall to the earth like an Armenian with a history of mental problems.

Every so often readers need a break from Black Lanterns and Identity Crises and Skrulls. Angst gets tiring and becomes an incredible burden for anyone who actually wants to enjoy reading. I love all that drama and emotion, but I love TIME LINCOLN. It stands out simply because it is a beautiful piece of sheer ridiculous. I am always happy to read into the personal tragedies or heroes and the inner turmoils of villains and all that but it gets old. Thirty pages of Hal Jordan trying to understand basic emotion month after month is great for meaningful plot and character development and all those things that people like me use to suggest that comic books can be put on the same level as actual literature, but thirty pages of Abraham Lincoln fighting Hitler? That's fun.