Ah, the comics blogosphere: Final Crisis #2 came out on Wednesday and already it’s been exhaustively annotated, pored over, dissected, damned, and lauded. The general reaction to the ish has been positive, at least among generally pro-Morrison bloggers like Tim Callahan, Jog, Graeme McMillan, et al.
Gorjus has been less sanguine about the FC’s prospects of not being terrible, though. In a Sparks-fueled e-mail yesterday, he made the very good point that there seemed to be an awful lot of similarities to Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come series of a decade or so back—in particular in the depiction of a young generation of superhumans whose identities seem to be based around celebrity, licensing, and hedonism rather than, you know the classic traditions of selflessness and service. In FC #2, the transformation of the Central City Community Center, the setting for the first meeting of the Flashes of Two Worlds, into a strip club/supervillain HQ underscores the moral disintegration of the contemporary DCU in a manner highly reminiscent of KC.
Except: Though gorjus referred to Morrison’s Kingdom Come allusions as “pastiche,” I think what we may in fact be seeing here is signifyin. That is, the KC references are not pastiche but are actually parodic revisions. Kingdom Come was fundamentally a conservative work (in the broad sense of “conservative”): Every Alex Ross image was an exercise in recouping the iconicity of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and their peers, and Waid’s narrative was an unabashed paean to the generic traditions of an earlier age. For Waid, the flaw in his imagined future was not the tradition itself, but rather that the bearers of that tradition had lost their way and needed to find it again, to teach these shallow young whippersnappers a thing or two about real heroism. Waid really tips his hand in the extra story pages included in the collected edition of Kingdom Come. There, the hope for the future was embodied in Superman and Wonder Woman’s unborn child (with Batman as godfather), thus cleanly leapfrogging over the debased and degenerate “modern” heroes to establish a pure bloodline of classic heroism.
(This isn’t necessarily to knock Kingdom Come for its conservatism. Appearing in an era dominated by poorly executed superhero comics featuring tiresomely grittified versions of familiar characters, Waid and Ross’s approach was exciting and even a little exhilarating—enough so that at least for me it was a while before I began to be a little bit suspicious of it.)
However, it’s important to remember that for Morrison those who praise tradition at the highest volume are always treated with the most suspicion. Recall that during his JLA run, Prometheus infiltrates the League’s Watchtower by posing as “Retro,” whose aw-shucks attitude and humble catchphrase “Today’s Hero, Yesterday’s Attitude” appealed to a vacuous media.
So it’s no surprise that in FC #2,
Rising Sun’s Sunburst’s issue-opening tirade about the posery nature of Super-Kids These Days feels a little like a tantrum; artist J.G. Jones suggests his narcissism through a page layout based on the Japanese flag, with Rising Sun Sunburst in the place of the rising sun, shedding his glory and insight upon the clubbing youngsters.
(It’s also interesting to note that the mighty deed he recounts elsewhere on that spread involves defeating a monster who is “old and tired” and who has come to Tokyo to die. Impressive feat!)
I’m not suggesting, however, that Morrison means simply to reverse the dynamic of Kingdom Come, to satirize tradition-minded figures as irrelevant fogeys and to endorse the younger generation of superheroes as better suited to the postmodern condition. Instead, I think we can safely assume, especially given that Final Crisis functions as a sequel to his Seven Soldiers, that what Morrison is up to is something a little more subtle and complicated: That instead of picking his favorite spot on the tradition/modernity spectrum and arguing that it’s the best and only spot, he wants to take a right-angle leap into a new spectrum entirely, to change—enlarge, reshape—the frame of reference. (Heck, this goes all the way back to his Animal Man, in which AM’s most remarkable power is not his rapport with bugs and birds but his ability to step outside the panel borders of the comic he’s in.)
That tradition/modernity tension has really defined storytelling in the DCU ever since Kingdom Come (at least)—it was at the core of Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis for sure and lots of other work as well. Although I’ll be disappointed if Final Crisis isn’t up to a dozen or so other things, I think one of its aims is to move the DCU into a newer, richer, less thoroughly exhausted context.
Captain America #39. In this issue Brubaker brings out something about the Grand Director/50s Cap implicit in his defining appearance, What If? #44 (a.k.a Prof’s Favorite Comic of All Time): That it’s not simply that he stands for a Bad Version of America, but that he’s kind of an impressionable authoritarian idiot: In this issue, he’s backing the Red Skull’s candidate for president not because he believes in his politics but because “His words have a power in them. You recognize that immediately. You don’t grasp the specifics. All politics blurs together eventually. It’s clear this Senator Wright is a leader. That he’s been chosen for a reason.”
What’s terrifying is that his mindset is not that it’s aberrant but that it’s so thoroughly widespread in the US of A right now—this idea that an air of “leaderliness” is more important than any policy proposal. As in, “I may not always agree with candidate X, but at least I know he stands for what he believes in.” (Leaving aside that no, he doesn’t, by the way.) This is why you see those clips of Bush responding to questions about what he did in response to this catastrophe or that dilemma with the phrase “I lead.”
Dear President Bush:
In this case “lead” needs at the very least a direct object. You should not answer questions about your accomplishments with an intransitive verb of motion for crying out loud.
Immortal Iron Fist #16. And with this issue the Brubaker/Fraction era of Iron Fist comes to a close—too soon, say I! This Fraction-penned issue is an impossibly generous set-up for incoming writer Duane Swierczynski; I suspect it’s a testament to Fraction’s affection for the character that he’s worked so hard to leave readers interested to continue on with a book they probably began reading less for the character and more for the reputation of the creative team.
Young Avengers Presents: Hawkeye. Another Fraction-penned comic this week, this time a spotlight on YA’s new, female Hawkeye, featuring art by Alan Davis. I can’t help but think that this is the story that should have run in New Avengers when original Hawkeye Clint Barton returned from the grave, rather than that weird story about his tracking down and then sleeping with an amnesiac Scarlet Witch. Because that thing was creepy. Fraction nails Clint’s attitude and remembers that one of his defining characteristics of recent years is his willingness to mentor up-and-coming superheroes (as with Firestar and Justice in the Busiek/Perez Avengers.) Also this issue: Luke Cage and Spider-Man play video games.
Thunderbolts #121. For someone who has cultivated a reputation as a guy who hates superheroes, Warren Ellis sure has let the C- and D-listers shine in his T-bolts run (a run which, you may recall, began with Jack Flag kicking ass. Jack Flag!) In this issue: Doc Samson struts his stuff and Robbie Baldwin saves the day by choosing his Speedball powers over his Penance powers. Warren Ellis: You’re just a big softie, aren’t you?