Sunday, May 14, 2006

Infinite Crisis: A Review of Criticism

In a recent article at the always splendid PrettyFakes, Prof. Fury challenged me to unleash some deadly postmodern jujitsu on Infinite Crisis #7 and prove that “this is the greatest thing ever instead of the worst.” Oh God, Professor. The pressure!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I loved Infinite Crisis for the most part. But as I look back over the series with a more critical eye, even I have to admit that by any reasonable aesthetic standards of storytelling, Infinite Crisis is a bit of a mess. Heck it is a mess—so much so that any straightforward defense of the series on aesthetic merits alone is pretty much a nonstarter.

The by-now-familiar critique of the series goes something like this. All together now: Important episodes and clarifying details are missing from the miniseries itself. It was necessary to read (and thus buy) many costly countdowns, prequels, and specials to “get the whole story.” Even when you opened your wallet wide and dug through the couch for loose change to feed your pathetic fanboy habit, the story itself still wasn’t fully told—not by a long shot. A detailed knowledge of the past twenty or more odd years of DC continuity didn’t hurt—though in many ways, it didn’t help either. And to add insult to injury, the story we do get in those seven issues is a disconnected assemblage of money shots, plot-hammers, and non sequiturs, strung together not so much in a narrative as in a kind of postmodern pastiche. In the end, the best metaphor for the storytelling strategy of the series might be that ubiquitous inter-dimensional crystal barrier whose shattering sets the whole Crisis in motion and upon whose fractured surface disconnected images swim in often jarring juxtaposition.

No one has eviscerated the series with more panache or gleeful malice than Evil (Genius) Robby Reed, who makes similar points and many others in a spectacularly baroque (and often hilarious) takedown of DC’s mega-event makeover. But other readers have been pretty handy with the hatchet too. Pól Rua of Comics Should Be Good has a scathing review that depressed me when I first read it, but that I now find myself agreeing with—at least in part. Brian Cronin, also of CSBG, provides one of the most balanced critiques of the series but still concludes with a damning: “Not Recommended.”

As all of these reviewers point out, in one way or another, the problem with IC as a story is that it provides only a simulation of narrative logic rather than the real thing. Its plot presents itself as character-driven when, in fact, characterization plays second fiddle to a ruthlessly story-driven “collection of scenes meant to ‘get something’ done,” as Brian puts it. What is Crisis “for”? To tweak the tone of the “new” DCU by symbolically (and permanently) removing the Golden Age Superman and Lois Lane from the canvas while setting up the premise of 52 and OYL by sending friends-again Bruce, Clark, and Diana on sabbatical. The result, as Pól Rua rather brutally puts it, is “a series of still images [that] flash[ ] across your eyes at high speed, with a couple of crowd pleasing group shots amateurishly scrawled by a series of fill-in artists to keep people from realizing that there’s no story.” Wonder Woman’s almost completely unmotivated killing-is-bad “epiphany” in IC #7, which Brian cites in his review, exemplifies this subordination of characterization and narrative logic to the mercenary presentation of plot-points. Echoing Robby Reed’s broader diagnosis of the underlying malady afflicting the series, Prof. Fury puts it best in his own searing review of IC #7 when he blasts DC for “settl[ing] on a publishing ethic characterizable only as pomo-funhouse capitalism, in which every book is merely an advertisement for a bunch of other books that are themselves advertisements for other books” and charges that “Infinite Crisis, ultimately, takes place in a catalog.”

Yowch! And here I thought that Geoff Johns was the idol of millions…

When I look at IC in the cold clear light of day—that is to say, now that the series has wrapped—I can’t really argue with any of these critiques. At least, not very vehemently. With varying degrees of vitriol (just saw V for Vendetta again—sorry) they are all pointing to genuine weaknesses of what should have been a much better series.

Moreover, like most readers, I’ve accumulated my own list of petty personal gripes and disappointments. The pious group-hug that opens Infinite Crisis #5 was a low point for me, no matter how much principled atheism the truly terrific Mr. Terrific brought to the proceedings. Like Brian Cronin, I was also irked by the way that, after all the initial fanfare, Donna Troy just sort of faded away—most likely because the reception of her Return was so chilly.

The real aesthetic catastrophe of these seven issues, however, was Alexander Luthor’s giant hands—quite possibly the lamest embodiment of cosmic menace ever produced in a comic book event of this magnitude. Yes, I get that they’re referencing Krona’s big blue paw, but I’m sorry: they just don’t work. Evil Robby’s side-splitting (and spot-on) parody of the, er…earth-grabbing scenes pretty much says it all. But the awfulness of the hands was brought home most painfully to me in IC’s version of the clichéd scene that is a fixture of every cosmic crossover ever written. You know the one: all the heroes who can shoot rays out of their bodies pool their energies into a giant power blast to beat back the bad guy.

The preposterous amputation of Luthor’s giant index finger in IC #6 attained a level of unintentional self-parody that is pretty hard for even the staunchest series-supporter to forgive.

And yet…

Apart from those risible golden hands, none of this really affected my enjoyment of the series while it was underway. I see the faults, I really do. But I see them the way a smoker sees the warning label on his package of DuMaurier Kings—which is to say, as a sort of surreal, misplaced, grimly amusing public service announcement that surely doesn’t apply to him!

What does it mean to see the lameness and love it anyway—to really love it, not as camp or cheese, but with sniveling unrepentant sincerity? Why do I feel the urge to defend Infinite Crisis, even now? And more to the point, on what basis could so doubtful a project even be attempted?

Well, for starters, were things really so bad? Most of the apologies I’ve read online are level-headed, if slightly sheepish, defenses by degree. They usually point out that, on balance, the plot holds together more effectively than detractors have claimed and that, on balance, the abundance of good scenes outweigh the few truly cringe-inducing ones. Many bloggers have already made this case admirably, eloquently, and with the kind of touching futility that I aspire to in most of my posts here at Double Articulation. I’m fully of their party, but the truth is that this line of argument isn’t likely to convince anyone who’s not already on side. This very post was originally going to be a gushing tour of my favorite IC moments, but this ground is already so well-trodden that I think I’ll content myself with merely mentioning one. Okay, two: the Chemo attack on Blüdhaven (holy shit—that’s the Brotherhood I remember) and Connor’s perfectly pitched half-page death scene. “Isn’t it cool?” Yes, it truly is.

A second possible defense of the series is not aesthetic but thematic—and this one just might help me make good on Prof. Fury’s pomo-jujitsu challenge because it actually makes a virtue of one of the series’s most serious and peculiar narrative flaws: its shoddy treatment of the Golden Age Superman.

Back when this all began, I made a bunch of rash speculations about multiplicity that haven’t exactly been borne out by the story’s conclusion. Nonetheless, I’m relieved that the series at least makes a show of repudiating a return to the simple 1950s values the Earth-2 Superman represents, even if this repudiation remains partial at best. From where I sit, the series’s ambivalent treatment of the Golden Age Superman—particularly his undignified death—is one of its most fascinating features. I’d even go so far as to speculate that many of the story’s aesthetic failings and incoherencies are merely side-effects of the deep-seated ideological discomfort that its author has with the Golden Age Superman—the iconic but profoundly conservative character from whom, as Alex Luthor coyly puts it, “everything comes.”

The problem with the original Superman for contemporary liberals, leftys, and zany radicals, of course, is that he has become synonymous with a vision of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” that seems increasingly untenable as we watch its consequences play out around the globe. This puts (liberal?) Geoff Johns in a rather uncomfortable position if he wishes to both pay homage to the founding character of the DCU and subtly repudiate this character’s symbolic political legacy at a fell swoop. The result, as we’ve all just seen, is vexed and—in narrative terms—unsatisfying.

For most of the story, Earth-2 Superman is cast in the unflattering roles of fascist villain and idiot/patsy, after which he is hastily (and unconvincingly) redeemed, only to throw a punch at Doomsday and then be unceremoniously dispatched by snot-nosed brat, Superboy Prime. If Superman’s perfunctory death scene is hollow and hardly touching, it isn’t because they were running out of pages, but because Johns’s heart just isn’t in it. Make no mistake: the real villain of Infinite Crisis—the villain that cannot be explicitly acknowledged as a villain because of his hallowed place in comic book history—is the Golden Age Superman, not Superboy Prime, who is merely a convenient proxy or doppelganger for the elder Supes.

It is, of course, on this note of bizarre irony (Superman as villain) that the series begins, and for some readers, the series’s barely disguised contempt for the original Superman has been an unforgivable insult—a violation of the sacred trust of childhood fantasy. But for Johns, who is a relatively young writer—part of the generation that grew up on Wolfman and Perez’s New Teen Titans, not Siegel and Shuster’s Action Comics or its Silver Age heirs—there is no such sacred trust to recognize: the Golden Age Superman is just a symbol for him (as he is for me), and if the extraordinary abuse that Supes takes in Infinite Crisis is any indication, a fairly pernicious symbol at that.

The speech that “our” Superman delivers in the climactic scene of IC #7 nearly makes this ideological struggle explicit: “It’s not about where you were born. Or what powers you have. Or what you wear on your chest. It’s about what you do… It’s about action.” These remarks—which plainly reject the stagnant and antiquated authority of tradition, power, and symbolism in favor of a kind of situational ethics—are of course addressed to Superboy Prime, not to the Earth-2 Superman. But if you buy my argument that Superboy is really just an authorially-displaced version of the former that allows Johns to tell us what he really thinks of old-school Superman, then it isn’t hard to see their relevance: this is Johns’s last word on how the current Superman differs politically from the Golden Age progenitor—a progenitor, I might add, that it is the story’s job to bury once and for all. The death of the Golden Age Superman at Superboy Prime’s hands in Infinite Crisis #7 is thus not a murder so much as a sort of dramatically externalized “suicide” in which the now darkened image of the original Superman tears apart his and earlier, nobler self-image, thus retracing the historical trajectory of the late twentieth-century’s increasingly troubled reception of the Superman mythos.

Why all this fuss to distinguish the new Superman from the old? Why now? Obviously, it makes a strong statement about the new DC. There’s nothing like (the simulation of) a clean break with the past. But Johns is a topical writer, as his Khandaq stories show, and the fact that the values associated with the “old” Superman have enjoyed a dangerous and disheartening resurgence in recent years surely plays a part in how Johns’s treatment of the Earth-2 Superman unfolds. My own feeling is that the basic conflict of Infinite Crisis (like so many pop productions these days) is very loosely conceived as a satire (or perhaps simply a parody) of contemporary American foreign policy. Overgrown child Alexander Luthor’s absurd quest for “the perfect earth” and his violent smashing together of different worlds in his cosmic “Petri dish” to achieve this Quixotic end by force, all remind me of another overgrown and equally sinister child whose actions on the world stage are no less careless, cynical, or destructive.

Naturally, the series performs various plot contortions to disassociate the Earth-2 Superman from Alexander Luthor. But, like this Superman and Superboy Prime, their valuations of simplicity in the moral/political sphere are not fundamentally different. Of course, such parallels and thinly veiled satiric barbs are not really the “point” of Infinite Crisis, and I would hardly characterize the series as a political allegory; nonetheless, I don’t think the resemblances between Luthor’s apocalyptic machinations, Superboy’s deadly tantrums, Superman’s nostalgia for a supposedly simpler time, the Bush Administration’s rhetoric, and the overseas adventures of the American war machine are entirely coincidental.

Thus, for someone like me who gets a kick out of cheap political shots at people and policies I don’t like, Infinite Crisis works as a diverting, if not particularly deep, satire of current politics—regardless of how clunky a resolution of the plot we’re subjected to in issue #7. Beyond this, and more subtly, Infinite Crisis is also fascinating as an example of how contemporary superhero comics are wrestling with the conservatism of their legacy in relation to the obscenity of the current political scene. From this point of view, what makes Infinite Crisis interesting are its flaws—especially those moments when conventional story-elements like the death of a founding patriarch fall flat, when wished-for pathos degenerates into bathos, banality, or even a kind of pop-sadism. This is precisely what we are witnessing in the story’s inability to genuinely mourn the passing of the Golden Age Superman, the hero from which, for better and for worse, “everything comes.” I find the story’s failure in this regard heartening, but only a little.

The fact that the story can’t really commit to its only political subtext, that it must still make the gesture of paying respect to the figure it secretly despises, that it is still intent on recuperating the promise of moral simplicity he represents, despite the remarkable degree of contempt it manifests for this very morality, attests to the intrinsic limitations of mainstream mega-events like Crisis, whatever their satirical overtones. Contrary to my initial hopes, what Infinite Crisis ends up representing politically is how easily an already vague satirical subtext is dissipated by the series’s logistical and corporate concerns: the need to go on, to perpetuate the brand, to “reinvent” by recycling, to “make the lines between heroes and villains in the DCU clear again,” as Dan Didio is so fond of repeating. Thank goodness for Gail Simone’s deliciously subversive Villains United and her forthcoming Secret Six.

But don’t get me wrong, despite getting a little carried away in that wild and wooly debate with Marc Singer a few months ago, I wasn’t expecting Infinite Crisis to provide a profound political justification for its existence. I would have been perfectly content with fun and pretty, so everything else was gravy. As it turns out, I relished its satiric flourishes, such as they were. I also ended up enjoying it as a conflicted cultural artifact that provides a revealing of X-Ray of current attitudes and tensions. I’m certainly not knocking it for being politically ambivalent or even, ultimately, vacuous.

And this brings me to my third and last defense of the series. As much fun as it might be for me to mull over its satirical and political dimensions once the dust has settled, this type of intellectual pleasure is mainly retrospective—it has very little to do with the nature of my (almost unseemly) enjoyment of reading Infinite Crisis while it was still unfolding. What’s up with that? How can it be both “the worst thing” and “the best thing ever”? What is Infinite Crisis anyway?

Fortunately for me, Brian Cronin has already answered this question with perfect clarity: “Infinite Crisis was never about telling a story.” Matthew has answered it too, in the comments thread for Brian’s article: “So maybe it wasn’t a good comic. Was it a good Big Event? Very possibly. I think it positioned DC very well to make better comics in the future. Of course, they still have to go do it.” And so has The Fortress Keeper: “Infinite Crisis was less about weaving an intricate plot with stunning art and rich characterization than delivering the requisite number of ‘popcorn’ moments and setting the stage for future storylines.”

Infinite Crisis is not a story but an event. That sounds like a bit of a cop out since there’s no reason why these two categories should be mutually exclusive: is a well-written “event” really so inconceivable? But, for me, and I think for these other reviewers, the point isn’t to defend IC on the basis that it is “only an event” and thus (?) the rules of good storytelling need not apply—not exactly. Rather, it is to try to account for why, as readers of comic book “events,” so many of us are prepared to overlook the narrative flimsiness of the actual products.

So, how can such “events” be both “the worst thing” and “the best thing ever”? For me at least, the answer is that I don’t actually “read” them in the conventional sense all—and I don’t really think I’m meant to. Brian is exactly right when he says that “Infinite Crisis was never about telling a story”—in fact, virtually no corporately-driven “Big Event” is—and the corollary of this simple fact is that, as a reader, I bring a different set of expectations and reading practices to this kind of text than I do to my usual monthly comics. Big Events like Crisis are not so much stories as Acts of God: we can marvel at them but when Wonder Woman has a spontaneous change of heart, it’s almost pointless to ask “why?” Formally, they are not narratives but gestalts or force fields—they hold everything together with a kind of self-generating magical causality. One doesn’t read them so much as surf them, looking for familiar faces, promising encounters, surprising juxtapositions, important plot-points, and “popcorn moments.” This is the mode of nonreading that the original Crisis taught me, and frankly, every now and then, I like it. Would it have been nice to have a better story? Of course. This isn’t (just) another Jim Roeg-style apology for bad art. The Fortress Keeper’s point that “Infinite Crisis’s failure…to string much of a plot together robs otherwise emotional scenes of their gravitas” is irrefutable. Nonetheless, there really is something special about Event comics like Crisis, even when they fail to deliver on everything they promise.

The “something special”—and the reason why so many of us enjoyed the series, warts and all—is not just that it contained so many great moments but that, as Matthew says, “it positioned DC very well to make better comics in the future.” It’s impossible not be a little bit cynical about this kind of consolation. Of course DC wants us all to take out second mortgages in order to buy more comics, and in this regard Prof. Fury’s diagnosis of the situation as “pomo-funhouse capitalism” is bullet-proof. But it also tells only part of the story. The embarrassing truth is that—for me at least—the pomo-funhouse capitalism of DC’s latest Big Idea really is fun because it overlaps with the pleasure of narrative incompletion in a uniquely powerful way. What we buy when we shell out $5 for an issue of Infinite Crisis isn’t a story—and many of us are not disappointed because that’s not what we’re looking for anyway. What we’re buying is something like the promise of futurity—a promise that inheres in all serial narratives, but which is particularly acute in Big Event miniseries that are by definition transitional and which exude futurity like an aura. In Joseph Conrad’s classic modernist novella, Heart of Darkness, the unnamed narrator famously remarks that, for the story-telling seaman Marlow, “the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine.” This characteristic bit of Conradian obscurantism is about as close as I can come to naming my sense of the peculiar way that Big Event comics function at the level of readerly affect and why they’re able to satisfy fairly primal narrative cravings, even when their execution is mediocre.

At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. When all else fails: modernist-jujitsu.

20 comments:

Ragnell said...

Oh, man, I can't remember the name of the guy who said it, but it was about Green Lantern: Rebirth and it applies to Infinite Crisis:

Continuity Gymnastics.

It's not about reading a story so much as watching an artist (a writer) take a pile of chopped, frayed, discarded plot threads that seem to clash colors in the pile and weave them together into a pleasant tapestry with a clear picture. The lead up mini-series? Those started with previously woven tapestries that were haphazardly sewn together, the build up to IC was the unweaving of those tapestries so that they could reweave them as one coherent universe.

As a writer, Johns isn't a storyteller. His boss has an idea of what their fictional world should look like, and he dabbles in what it was in a way to make it look that way.

This way, the tapestry's rewoven in a way that makes sense to the regulars, and it's clear to weave siultaneously forwards and backwards to accommodate the newbies.

Whether or not that goal was accomplished, well, I'm not ready to say yet (haven't seen enough), but I'd say it's unfair to approach something like this as a "Story."

Its got the trappings of a story, but really it's just Continuity Weaving or Continuity Gymnastics. A Spectator Sport. The enjoyment is in wondering whether or not the writer can pull it off, and watching how he does. It has nothing to do with the actual plot.

*Stands back and squints at the metaphor mish-mash* I sincerely hope that makes sense to someone else.

Tom Bondurant said...

I said "continuity gymnastics" with regard to GL: Rebirth, but I probably wasn't the only one.

Geoff Johns is a mystery wrapped in an enigma to me. He seems to ascribe to his villains aspects that commentators see in him. Zoom torments the Flash to make him a better hero, Per Degaton uses the word "retcon," and the apparent allegorical uses of Kal-L, Superboy-Prime, and Alex Luthor.

I did a post for The Great Curve recently that lamented the fate of Superboy-Prime, because he represented us Earth-Prime readers, but the more I think about it, he is just a tool, and any allegorical significance he might have is probably accidental. Surely Johns doesn't mean to suggest that we readers, our minds warped by decades of grim 'n' gritty, have "killed" the values of the Golden Age, from whence all our heroes have come? Surely that can't be part of DC's pandering to aging fanboys like me who remember three decades' worth of stories?

Jim, I'm with you -- these Events aren't meant to be read as standalone stories, they're supposed to be experienced in real time. They're like sporting events -- by and large, we don't watch the entire game over again, we just enjoy the highlights on SportsCenter.

Prof Fury said...

Jim, thanks for this thoughtful and persuasive essay; it's an even more adept form of pomo jujitsu than I had been expecting you to deploy! You've convinced me that series like this one have to be taken as a breed apart from regular superhero comics, a different genre with different expectations.

In fact, this essay made me cast my mind back to the first Big Even that I read in real-time, DC's 1988 series Millennium. I remember almost nothing about the series itself, but I do remember that it introduced me to Suicide Squad, Justice League International, and a host of other DC titles I would never have otherwise read. And for that, whatever its other failing may have been, I'm thankful to it.

But I'm not sure it's the sort of series I *need* anymore; like most comics geeks, I'm on the internet and have access to the months of hype that precede every new title, every change in writer or artist, every shift in editorial direction. I don't need a Big Event to introduce me to a company's New Direction, and since I don't need it--since, for me and for most readers, that function is pretty superfluous--I'd love it if it could be an enjoyable story on its own merits. So it may just be that BE's aren't for me, though I do love me some futurity also. And you know, I liked 52 #1.

More on this after I've turned in my grades for the semester, perhaps...

joncormier said...

I've been chewing on the idea that Old-Supes and Supe-Prime represent different times and encapsulate the ideals or the remembered pop-culture notions.

I find it interesting that the embodiment of the '90s grim 'n gritty comics beats the memory of the orginal to death. It basically kills him and we remember that more than the original. Sure, older supes lived in time where right and wrong were easily defined although we know differently since we see the assumptions he operated under. Superboy-Prime is pretty much the same thing representing a different time with different ideals. You got it done because you were right and damn the consequences. Which is surprisingly similar to one another the more I think about it.

But where does that leave "our" Superman. I thik he, more than the other two is meant to represent our world (not Prime). His failing is that he thinks about his actions and consequences. IT turns him immobile but at least he thinks about it. It allows him to take action. Oddly, I see him as a philosopher king.

Mark Fossen said...

One of the early lessons I was taught in dramaturgy/criticism is that you need to evaluate was something is, not what you wish it would be. To slam Infinite Crisis for its Plot Hammers, Jumpy Characterization, and Giant Hands is like attacking Mission Impossible for its explosions. It's not Watchmen, and wasn't intended as such: Watchmen did a crappy job of rebooting the continuity of a shared universe.

Infinite Crisis delivered what I was expecting: a massive cast, a huge scope, and plenty of widescreen moments. The fact there was actual human emotion at times (unlike the original Crisis) was just butter on the popcorn.

Jim Roeg said...

ragnell - very well said--makes sense to me! Especially this: "The enjoyment is in wondering whether or not the writer can pull it off, and watching how he does. It has nothing to do with the actual plot." Some postmodern fiction writers (like Martin Amis) tackle crazy projects like writing a novel in which time moves backwards and every event takes place in reverse (Time's Arrow) and the reader is more concerned with how he will continue to pull off this amazing technical feat than withthe story. But as you say, it's really in media like comics where the "will the writer be able to rise to the challenge?" becomes a more crucial component of the reader's pleasure. Love this point--thank you!

tom - thanks for that link, and btw, I can't get that "real time"/sporting events analogy out of my head. That's EXACTLY what the experience of reading these miniseries are like for me: they produce all the involvement and "highs" of a sporting event and then...suddenly it's over and we're on to something else. When I go back and browse through the original Crisis I don't usually read it--I just look at the "highlights." Interesting theory about Superboy Prime/Golden Age Supes, too--I think you're onto something. Johns is such a thematically-oriented writer that I'm sure his Superboy/Superman fight does at least parody how "we readers, our minds warped by decades of grim 'n' gritty, have 'killed' the values of the Golden Age, from whence all our heroes have come?" In fact, the more I think about it, it's almost as if the evil Superboy is Johns's nasty (but to me hilarious) satire of what could be called the "Rob Liefeld moment" of the 1990s. And there he is at the end, trapped in his cell, but threatening to come back! (Or maybe, he's just every fanboy's repressed id...!)

Prof. Fury - my pleasure--and thank you for the witty and very kind provocation that got this one rolling! I've been wanting to sort out my thoughts about IC for some time and your post really made me think. I can definitely see why Big Events aren't for everyone, especially in an internet age. As you say, we don't really "need" the series when we have the online hype months and months in advance, and the series, as you argued in your post, really IS just a kind of extended embodiment of that hype--a narrative advertisment. But omg, as is now obvious, do I ever enjoy THAT. Which means, perhaps, that certain types of comics have something interesting (or depressing, depending on one's point of view) to tell us about the pleasures of capitalist consumption: how that nexus of seriality-(non)reading-repeat buying feed into each other. Wednesdays--and that moment of walking into the comic store and buying my stash--still produce a physiological experience of euphoria for me, and in some ways, that long walk home (or busride) with a bag full of unread comics can be more exciting than the actual reading experience itself. (Though of course it shouldn't be!) How's that for scraping the bottom of the barrel in search of a "futurity"-fix? Sheesh.

jon - fantastic reflections. And you raise a great question about "our" Superman. I didn't mention it in the post, but the forthcoming film should be extremely interesting in terms of how it deals with this issue. Will Singer's Superman be a Philosopher King? I don't know, but the first "teaser" preview (Superman-Christ) suggests that the film could go in either direction. So much of its aesthetic is pastoral (for which I have a weakness) that I fear it may end up being the guiltiest of pleasures--i.e. a "Return" of the 1950s nostalgia that Superboy bludgeons to death in Infinite Crisis. I guess we'll find out soon!

mark - ha! So true--my favorite reviews are always those that take genre fully into account. I agree with everything you say about the buttery popcorn...except for the giant hands. I mean, giant hands, mark! (And it didn't help that the comic was released around the same time that the Scary Movie 4 ads parodying War of the Worlds were out. I could not get that stupid image out of my head long enough to take those hands even as good popcorn--but maybe that's just because have a juvenile sense of humor.) You have also made my day by saying that you found this Crisis had more human emotion than the original--I though I was the only one who thought so. The original Crisis had one or two unforgettable moments and real emotional payoffs, but because of the foregrounding of the Superman/Lois Lane/Superboys/Trinity characters this time around, I felt like there was more to grab onto emotionally in this series, despite its flaws.

Mark Fossen said...

In fact, the more I think about it, it's almost as if the evil Superboy is Johns's nasty (but to me hilarious) satire of what could be called the "Rob Liefeld moment" of the 1990s.

Holey Moley ... you're dead on. Had Liefeld redesigned Superboy in the 90's, he would have ended up looking just like Anti-Monitor Superboy!

Nobody said...

I haven't read IC word for word, but from skimming each issue in the comic shop for the last seven months one of my least favorite parts was Wonder Woman's sudden conversion (or re-conversion?) to killing being always wrong. Greg Rucka had been talking up at convention panels that WW was not going to regret killing Max Lord and that he was (I thought) going to give her at least a credible position, which seemed like it would give her an interesting relationship with Supes and Bats. Oh well.

I don't think the political subtext is strong enough to justify Infinite Crisis as an interesting story because from your description it doesn't seem that IC is about Bush any more than any other perceived or real dictator. I'd say the President Luther storyline has a stronger claim to implying the devious mastermind interpretation of Bush. Admittedly I dislike contemporary references in my comics, whether to pop songs or presidents, because they forever date the stories (do I have to explain to my kids who Hanson are?), so I think IC is stronger for not having too obvious political parallels. (Of course I might change my mind once I read it closely.)

So for me the strongest defense of IC as an interesting story is still the metafictional interpretation. Since Superboy Prime is from our world he represents the editors and writers at DC, if not Johns personally. The way Prime sees things in Alex's heaven is as disjointed scenes replayed simultaneously and endlessly, just like you and I can re-read the same comic books over and over, and also experience different points in the DCU timeline simultaneously. So appropriately it is Superboy, like us generally and the editors in particular, who changes continuity with his punches of frustration.

Furthermore, even though Kal-L has not been active in the DCU for 20 years, it is Superboy Prime who, like us, has continued to live with the Golden Age Superman in his/our consciousness (if not conscience). Finally, I think the most interesting feature on this reading is that Superboy is the ultimate, acknowledged villain of the piece. Perhaps a Morrisonian influence?

Still, my theory isn't airtight yet; for example, who would Alex be? His Machiavellian control over the events in Villains United, OMAC, Day of V., and Rann-Thanagar to create the conditions necessary for his scheme (revealed in IC #4?) naturally resembles the macro-editorial process in the DC offices to set up the event of IC itself, through those very miniseries. Their deus ex machina activities are unavoidably correlative. Alex is also the true editor (in the practical not executive sense, like a copy editor or film editor) who picks and chooses the bits he likes and pastes them together.

It seems fitting, since the comics industry is probably the most metatextual of all story-telling media. Daily interviews with writers and artists mean that more is said by creators about their stories, before they are published, than is contained in the stories themselves. (Imagine novelists discussing the details of their unpublished work and interacting with their readers to the same degree.) We know so much about each issue in advance that after the climax of the release date, reading the actual comic becomes merely the denouement. And the actual story is seen through a double vision that takes into account what we already know about the production of the text while we are reading the primary (?) document. Just like the Conrad quotation at the end of your post: "the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out."

Sorry this was so long but your post got me thinking! Actually, I think it would be more accurate to say that Superboy is only us readers, while Alex is the DC editors who are on our side, trying to fix what we ask them to, but who just screw everything up in the end. So that's why I think Infinite Crisis might still be an interesting read hereafter, though it is not really different from interpretations of the original Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Jim Roeg said...

nobody - those comments are real food for thought--thanks for taking the time! I really agree that "IC is stronger for not having too obvious political parallels"--though I can never resist teasing a few contemporary parallels out of stories about devious (though simple-minded) "masterminds," tendentious though they might be!

I love your metafictional theory of Luthor/Superboy, especially your reading of Alex Luthor as the DC editors. To build a little on the point brought up earlier about the Superboy/Liefeld connection, maybe what we're seeing here (in the conflict between Alex and Superboy) is a wry dramatization of approaches to continuity-tweaking: Superboy is the brutal, bull-in-a-china-shop ret-conner of yesteryear, while Alex Luthor (who literally embodies the will of the DC editors) is the new breed of continuity re-arranger. The fact that they're both villains is hilarious. As you say: "Alex is the DC editors who are on our side, trying to fix what we ask them to, but who just screw everything up in the end"!

Ah, but I love 'em all the same.

EVIL Robby Reed said...

Political symbolism? You're giving this dreck pile WAAAAAAY too much credit. But thanks for the kind words about my review ... ass wipe.

Jim Roeg said...

You're welcome, evil robby! I think!

Shane Bailey said...

I read IC thinking the different Superman figures were Fandom at different stages. There's the old Superman set in his ways and unabel to change and adapt to a new world, wanting things the way they were. He had to be put to pasture so DC can form a new world. Then there is the childlike Superboy who thinks he's grown up and knows what he wants, but he causes catastrophy and violence wherever he goes with his childlike wants and needs. This kind of fits the fans of the lat 80's and 90's that fan is still around, but he wants more of the same and DC doesn't want to give it to him so he's imprisoned ("forced to stick around and complain because he'll never grow up"). Then there is the new Superman, the only on left to his own devices, to grow and change, to inspire and wonder again. This is the new fan that DC wants to bring into it's new world. The one with the weakness to magic, the flawed one, the human one. The one we can identify with these days.

Shane Bailey said...

And next time I promise to write my thoughts in well formed paragraphs and sentences instead of stream of consiousness typing. My bad. :)

Jim Roeg said...

shane - stream-of-consciousness typing is welcome here anytime! And I really like your reading of the Supermen as three generations of fandom, especially the part about Superboy as the permanently disgrunted 90s fan stuck in adolesence and wanting more of the same. This also works really nicely with evil Superboy's carving of the bloody "S" into his chest at the end of IC: a nice symbol of turning inward and refusing all change! Nice characterization of the new superman to, especially his vulnerabilty to magic--we all have that vulnerability, don't we?

Btw, if I haven't mentioned it already, Shane, the new design of NMH kicks ass. Really crisp--I love the colors and that rocketship.

Nobody said...

Have to say I miss the old design of NMH, but I'm still a fan!

I was just reminded of your political allegory, Jim, while I read the new softcover of the first half of Azzarello & Lee's "For Tomorrow" arc in Superman. Though I was skeptical of the American foreign policy angle in Infinite Crisis, it is admittedly explicit in For Tomorrow.

The rest of my comment on it here became rather long so I thought it would be best to just adapt it as a post on my blog. Comments are welcome if anyone has further thoughts of course.

Jim Roeg said...

Interesting post, nobody! I responded over at your blog, here.

Shane Bailey said...

Thanks Jim!

Nobody, If you liked the old design, I'm sure I'll be switching to something new in a while. I'm always fiddling around with it.

I'll be checking out your blog too.

The Fortress Keeper said...

Thanks for the links to my Infinite posts. Your interpretation eloquently summed up the concepts I was attempting to grasp - mainly Infinite Crisis as a "meta" event rather than a conventional story.

Although the plot fell out the window by the third issue, I was fascinated by the seeming dialogue Johns was engaging with readers throughout the series. I love the idea that Superboy-Prime represents the Image explosion of the 90s.

I saw the political parallels as well, and I posted on the three-part Superman/Action arc as an allegory of "Red-state" Superman (the Golden Age guy, natch) vs. "blue-state" Superman ("our" guy.)

And, on a fanboy level, I was just happy to see Wonder Woman reinstated as a founding member of the JLA and the return of Joe Chill. Lame, perhaps, but these are the sort of things longtime comics fans live for.

(Just wish the Battle Of Metropolis had lived up to the advanced hype...)

Does this mean I'll buy the trade? Probably not. But I feel Crisis got the job done, as I'm enjoying many OYL titles and love 52 so far...

Thanks again for a thought-provoking post!

Matthew E said...

Holy moley! I got quoted here--twice! Score!

ASK said...

I enjoyed reading this much more than I ever enjoyed reading IC. Thanks.