Monday, October 16, 2006

DC One Million and What Makes Crossovers Good

In honor of the fact that Brad Meltzer is boring the pants of anyone with sense to see it over in the self-importantly titled Justice League of America and that Marvel is apparently working double time to alienate as many readers as humanly possible with Civil War, I spent some time this weekend rereading a collection from the unarguably last truly great massive crossover event. Naturally, this event just happened to coincide with the arguably last great run of the JLA. Astute readers will have guessed that I speak of the unparalleled DC One Million.

Rather than get deep into the story and possibly ruin all the great twists and turns it takes, I want to point out the things it does RIGHT when it comes to crossovers.

First of all, it was giant, crazy, sci fi fun, like a Silver Age story seen through a Modern Age lens (not unlike All-Star Superman or Earth 2). The story felt huge and not just because it impacted every single DCU title (which it managed to do in a significant way, but I’ll come to that). It also felt big because the danger was epic, the characters were epic, the entire concept of a Justice League from 830 centuries in the future is epic, everything is simply HUGE. Not “widescreen” whatever the hell that means, but everything had import and the pace never slipped in the main miniseries. It was a breakneck pace punctuated by moments of radness that added to the overall experience but weren’t the main point of the overall experience.

Second, this wasn’t a crossover focused on “fixing things” or retcons and had nothing to do with the past at all, it was fundamentally about the FUTURE. Not only within the actual narrative, but by creating a whole slew of new concepts for writers to play with in future stories. A Superman Dynasty? Marrying into the Fifth Dimension’s royalty? Solaris, the Tyrant Sun? Although nobody has had the guts to touch Morrison’s shiny new toys, the beauty is that SOMEBODY will. They’re just sitting there, waiting. One of the best (and worst) things about comics is that we NEVER throw anything away. Bottom line, the whole crossover hung together in a clever way that didn’t feel forced at all, it was simply a story big enough to involve everyone in the DCU.

Incidentally, as a corollary to the above, there were a ton of small ideas thrown in there as well. Mentioning how long Steel’s armor survived and who wore it, the idea of some Starmen being very evil because of Jack Knight’s dalliance with the Mist and a thousand other small (in comparison) ideas that could be used in a big way.

Third, this crossover had moments for second and third stringers that didn’t involve getting their heads blown off or being struck to death with a bolt of lightning. The reason I give a crap about reading Huntress in Birds of Prey is because the JLA showed how she could save the day even though she’s kind of a tool on the streets of Gotham. Barda kicking Wonder Woman One Million all over the Watchtower showed that Barda is a warrior sometimes softened into a woman while the Amazons are women sometimes toughened into warriors. Oracle held the whole damn world together when it was going absolutely mad (which she would do AGAIN in Infinite Crisis). The Resurrection Man is the most valued member of the Justice Legion of the future, how cool is that?

Fourth, the story totally held together. The core story had about fifty characters between heroes, villains and those in between and was spread across 830 centuries and still managed to make complete sense in the end. What’s more, it managed a Shakesperean or Greco-tragic moment when the JLAs of two eras were forced into making the most difficult and costly decision they’ll ever have to make because it affected not just their own two times, but all the centuries in between.

Fifth, there were no Red Sky tie-ins. Every single DCU title gave a glimpse into the 853rd century. Granted, some were more interesting or well crafted than others, but nobody had to wonder how this issue of Supergirl or Titans or (believe it or not) Hitman tied into the overall story. Not every title was essential to understanding the bigger plot, but every issue added color and depth.

Sixth, this gigantic company-wide mega-crossover event was done in a month. One. Month. No four monthly lead-ins and 7 months (if it was on time) of core crossover or putting your entire line on hold so that the timing will work out. In four weeks, every corner of the DCU was affected by an epic storyline, we all had a great rollercoaster ride, and then it was over. No fill-in artists or host of inkers (and One Million still looked great, BTW), no glossing over backgrounds, in short, no half-assing. My socks were thoroughly rocked for a solid four weeks and then it returned to my regularly scheduled programming. Whoever thought of that ought to get a medal and a handshake from the President.

I tried to keep this mostly positive, although some stark contrasting had to happen to drive home my point. One Million was great, it deserves better treatment than a single volume printed on toilet paper that you can buy at your LCS, but if that’s all you can afford, get it. If you want, try for whole runs on ebay or go through the dusty back issue bins of every LCS you come within a five mile radius of or try and fill it in at cons. If you have adaptable ethics, there are ways to read every single issue of it on the internet. Whatever you have to do, ignore insulting do-overs of crossovers with marginal quality in ridiculously over-priced collections, ignore an attempt to apply super-heroics to “ripped from the headlines events” and go on a trip to the 853rd century. You won’t be disappointed.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

This Quote Came from Earth-K!

Heroes isn't that bad, but after two episodes it's really starting to reek of the unearned self-importance that only big-network TV can deliver. But I'll still watch it.

Zac Beverage,
Friend of Tate and the man that made up the Nike Swoosh

Monday, October 02, 2006

This Review Came from Earth-K! V for Vendetta...the MOTION PICTURE

I finally saw V for Vendetta this weekend. I didn’t rush right out to see it in the theater or immediately rent it because the Wachowskis are, at best, hit and miss; and that’s taking into account that I’m the only person in the world, it seems, who thought the first Matrix was crap. The other reasons I didn’t see it were From Hell (the movie), LXG (and if the fact that this film was renamed LXG doesn’t tell you everything about the process of the book’s adaptation, then there is little hope for you) and the fact that Alan Moore didn’t want to have anything to do with it.

I don’t worship at Moore’s altar, but I do think he does good work most of the time. The first League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a lot of his super-hero work, From Hell, Tom Strong (and the majority of the ABC line) are all really great reads that often have additional layers of either meaning or metafictional goodness, but they don’t mean he can do no wrong. Similarly, the fact that he’s done some stuff that is virtually unreadable (Promethea) and is now making forays into depicting child (and adult, to be fair) pornography as art doesn’t mean he has lost all ability and credibility. That being said, I do think it means something when an author says he doesn’t want to have anything to do with adaptations of his work. Be he prima donna who doesn’t like his vision to be futzed with or an indignant artist who feels his work is being manhandled, you make the call! Frankly, I think Moore is both…that’s how even-handed (fence-riding) I am.

The movie is watchable. I’m not willing to give it much more than that. Natalie Portman once again hands in a performance that makes me wonder what the hell she was doing when she was on screen in the Star Wars prequels. In other words, it was good to the point of amazing whereas she could have been replaced with CGI in Star Wars, and that C stand for cardboard. Hugo Welling does an AMAZING job of creating V through voice alone and left me wondering how he managed to make me think the Fawkes mask looked sad at times. The rest of the cast does their jobs well and the art direction/set design is very visually interesting.

The film wasn’t without problems, however. Moore’s book very starkly placed fascism and anarchy at two ends of the political spectrum, having the government decidedly fascist and V blatantly working towards anarchy. The movie has a totalitarian government with fascist overtones, but doesn’t really make them ideologically fascist. V, on the other hand, seems to be focused on freedom as opposed to anarchy, but the two aren’t remotely the same thing. This isn’t the only place that the movie diverges from the book, but it is by far the most problematic. I’m prepared for changes in narrative and characterization (like giving V a characterization, for one thing), but what we have here is a total transplant of ideas and concepts into a very similar story. America worships freedom as the ultimate end and the only thing we should be focused on, but that isn’t nearly the same thing as the anarchy that V espouses in the book. The ideological transplant ends up being something like a decent but noticable nose job. Each piece looks good on its own and they fit together reasonably well, but it isn’t a perfect match.

This leads to another chink in the armor. Alan Moore was a disenfranchised Englishman making political commentary about Thatcher-era England by setting his story in a dystopian UK. The Wachowskis are apparently disenfranchised Americans who don’t have the balls to do a political commentary on Bush-era America set in America, so they co-opt V for Vendetta and let the framework of the story and England do the heavy lifting. It makes the use of the phrase "Uncompromising Vision" on the above poster a little ironic and annoyed me the longer I watched. I desperately wanted them to tell me a story where America’s current situation was taken to a logical extreme and have it make an impact on AMERICA. The whole thing feels like a giant copout and I’m surprised I didn’t hear more about it when the movie first came out.

While the set dressing was very nice, there were a couple of serious disconnects for me. One was every time the Chancellor addresses his cabinet from a 70ft screen. It is a great visual, very Orwellian (a literal Big Brother), but not even remotely realistic. I mean, seriously, if I were elected President in ten years and started telling my cabinet and the Congress that I’d be addressing them only from some hidden location and instead of a serviceable big screen television, they’d have to look at a face 70ft tall, there is no way the press wouldn’t find out about it. Even a press controlled by the State wouldn’t be able to suppress fun facts like that and I would instantly be seen as a super-villain of some sort. Nobody besides world conquering megalomaniacs would relate to people this way!

My final analysis: watch the flick, but be prepared for a C movie with some A+ stuff that nets it up to C+ or B- if I’m feeling generous. The messages and themes get muddied up something fierce and nobody is really quite the same as they are in the book, but its still entertaining. In fact, if you are a lover of the graphic novel, I think you’ll probably be unhappy about the adaptation, so you should probably just save yourself the heartache. Instead, be happy that you can now buy a really nice Guy Fawkes mask from DC Direct.