Final Crisis Aftermath
Anyway. I've been pretty vocal about my love for Final Crisis. Others didn't like it so much--they felt that it was too complicated, that it wasn't a suitable story for a big event, that it didn't have a traditional narrative. I guess I can understand those, to a degree. It was a complicated story--but really, by now readers know what to expect from Grant Morrison, this shouldn't have been a surprise. And since when is complication bad? It wasn't your typical crossover event--but it wasn't actually a crossover, either. It was a single story, with a few selected tie-ins, meant to conclude both the story of the Multiverse, as it had been portrayed thus far, and the plot points and themes that Grant Morrison had developed over the past twenty years working at DC. And no, it didn't have a traditional narrative--I believe Morrison used the phrase "channel zapping", seeing only the key moments instead of everything that lead up to those moments. I found this approach refreshing, a far cry from the decompressed style that writers like Brian Michael Bendis and Geoff Johns use, and I thought that it added to the sense of heightened insanity that the characters found themselves thrown in.
This is not a post for me to talk about Final Crisis. I was tempted to do one--I just finished reading (or rereading) everything that Grant Morrison wrote for DC comics, from his early Batman works (Arkham Asylum, Gothic) to this. The only thing I skipped, to the best of my knowledge, was All Star Superman. I'll get to that at another point (as well as, I suppose, Doom Patrol, which I consider more in line with his work on Flex Mentallo and The Invisibles than his traditional DC work). After going through all of this, though, I needed a bit of a break. These were some great comics--some of the best, even--but they were also very intense. I could've analyzed them, but instead I chose to go for more traditional superhero fare.
After a bit of that, though, I turned towards the four titles DC published recently--the Final Crisis Aftermath titles. There were four books--Dance, Run, Ink and Escape. While Grant Morrison laid to rest, for now, the stories of the Multiverse and the New Gods, he'd set up more than a few possible stories for other writers to explore. That's the job of a good writer in a shared universe, after all--to not just tell a good story, but to lay the groundwork for any writer that may follow. It can be argued, unfortunately, that DC didn't properly capitalize on the success of Final Crisis--they were instead reveling in the success of the Batman: Reborn relaunches, and the lead-ins to Blackest Night.
So for a lot of people, these four books may have been under the radar. I actually put off on buying them--the comic shop closed, and I changed my buying practices in the wake of that. Less individual books, more collected editions. Because of that, I've only just now gotten around to reading these books. And I have a few things to say about them.
Let me first be very clear--I think that DC made a huge mistake, going with non-all star talent. 52 was spearheaded by some of the biggest stars in comics, and was huge. Final Crisis Aftermath, on the other hand, had only one huge name--Joe Casey. And even he wasn't the bankable talent that DC might have needed. Perhaps as a result, these books slid lower and lower on the sales charts. That's actually, for the most part, a shame.
I'll begin with the first of the four books that I read--Run. Each of these stories have a simple high concept, spinning out of Final Crisis. Here, we see the Human Flame--a forgotten villain, thrown into the spotlight with the death of one of DC's greatest heroes, now trying to get away from everyone that wants to find him, heroes and villains alike. Inspired by the smallest of victories, he decides that he's to do everything he can to stop running. He's going to become powerful, for once in his life. The story pairs him with several of DC's...less prestigious villains, and ultimately leads him to an encounter with the Justice League of America. And at the end, for once, he stops running.
Unfortunately, this is the only one of the four books that I did not enjoy. Matthew Sturges and Freddie E. Williams II have both done some impressive work--I enjoyed Sturges in Shadowpact and House of Mystery, and have heard some great things about The Web, and the pages I've seen for JSA: All Stars really made me a fan of Williams--those were some ambitious layouts. But despite that, I just can't help but think that they weren't a good fit for the series. They didn't give you anything to actually root for, here. The Human Flame is a horrible individual. He is disgusting, both in personality and appearance. You don't want him to succeed--and yet, he's the protagonist. There's just...nothing redeeming about him. Even with titles like Secret Six, you want the bad guys to win, but here? I just wanted the story to be over. There were some funny moments, but ultimately, this is the one I wouldn't read again.
If you weren't scared away by that, though, you're in for a treat--the remaining three books were all pretty great. From there, I moved onto Dance, by Joe Casey and Chriscross (both big talents in the industry). I should mention that frequently, Grant Morrison develops concepts and hands them off to other writers. Sometimes this results in good stories (The All-New Atom, Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters), but usually, it's a recipe for disaster. Casey is one of the very, very few writers who I feel could comfortably play in Morrison's playground. The premise for this book, like the others, is simple--the Super Young Team went from being media darlings to actual superheroes during the events in Final Crisis. Nobody cares. What do they do next?
The characters here are all believable, in their own cliched way. After all, they're living cliches--they're the characters we've known for nearly a hundred years, boiled down to the basics and thrown into a blender. They're hyper-sensationalized icons. The stories in this book play off of that--the characters are inconsequential, and so the situations they face are ultimately inconsequential. All of this builds their frustration--they want to be actual superheroes, but nobody is willing to take them seriously. With guest spots by classic DC characters like the Rising Sun, I was very pleased. This is a book about interpersonal relationships, but it's also a meta-examination of what it means, and what it takes, to be a famous superhero...when you aren't Superman or Batman. Of the four titles, this was the one I looked forward to the most, and I'm very glad it came out. And those covers by Stanley "Artgerm" Lau, one of DC's newest cover artists? Gorgeous. DC had better keep him around, and if he hasn't at least been offered a shot at interior work, someone needs to step up and do so.
Ink came next, and although this was one of the books I didn't see the need for, I'd heard some very good things about it, so I was pleasantly optimistic. This was also the only title to actually earn an ongoing sequel, with the revamped Titans series by the same creative team, so obviously they did something right. The premise: During Final Crisis, the Tattooed Man was made an honorary member of the Justice League. A supervillain became a superhero. How does he cope with that? How do people react to that? I've never heard of either member of the creative team before, but they did some very good work here. This is the most traditional of the four books--you have a character with a clear character arc, antagonists who serve their roles, and an instantly fleshed out supporting cast. This book could have actually been an ongoing series on its own--all of the basics were there.
For those that didn't like Final Crisis and want more traditional superhero fare--this is the book for you, easily. That isn't me talking down to you--it's just the truth, really. The other titles, and even Final Crisis proper, were more experimental--this is what it is, and it does it very well. The art is great, and based on the strength of it, I'm actually interested in the new Titans series, which I hadn't actually been before. Unfortunately, because of how traditional it is, I don't know what I can say about it without just recapping the plot.
After the most traditional, I went to the least--Escape. How anybody read through this on a monthly basis, I have no idea--this was one intense book. But as a collected edition? I was pulled in. The premise: the Global Peace Agency replaced the now-defunct Checkmate during Final Crisis, and has abducted the many members of DC's espionage teams. Why? That's for Nemesis to find out. Tom Tresser goes from a supporting role in Wonder Woman to a starring role here, one that ultimately led to his own spinoff miniseries--one that I will be picking up in trade, I believe.
This book was, as I said, intense. Ivan Brandon rose to fame with The Viking for Image, and that book received a lot of critical acclaim. If this book is anything like that, then it's another title I'll want to read in trade--Brandon has real potential, but needs room to work. This one is one series that will benefit from multiple reads, with timestamps and reveals that leave you wanting to search previous pages to see how it all fits together. Marco Rudy is a serviceable artist--competent, but without anything you haven't seen before, and usually better--however, he shines in this title, dealing with more...esoteric scenes with less traditional page layouts, the sort you might see from artists like Brendan McCarthy. It was a nice mix that should appeal to everyone.
These four books all dealt with the fallout from Final Crisis, picking up on what Morrison left and taking them to the next step. I don't expect to see any real follow-up to Run or Dance--but with Titans and Nemesis: The Imposters, we're already getting follow-ups to Ink and Escape. What one did I like the best? Escape, followed closely by Dance, which was followed closely by Ink. Run is somewhere off in the distance, with my old copies of Countdown.