Thursday, November 10, 2005

Infinite Crisis #2

[Note: This post contains spoilers for Infinite Crisis #2.]

The second issue of Infinite Crisis is largely an infodump synopsis of the Crisis On Infinite Earths and the history of the DC Universe since then. I don't think I've read Crisis since it's release, and I'm holding off to read it again until that Absolute Edition appears under the Christmas tree, so the refresh was greatly appreciated. It's an awful lot of exposition, but Johns does an impressive job of keeping it moving along at a good clip, and Jimenez is a master of the detailed collages that help to tell the story. There are a few scattered bits of new plot development, but this is pretty much the explanation of the last issue's shock ending. I'm starting to become less convinced that all the threads will get tied together, but I guess it's still early.

And that is about as far as I can get before getting to the "spoileriffic minefield of spoilerosity" that is pictured to the right. Just like the first issue, the last page packs a punch that will get people talking. Maybe I haven't been following rumors close enough, but I didn't see this one coming. Destroy the DCU as we know it, and put Earth-2 in it's place? (Not Grant Morrison's Earth 2, the old one.) Beyond the shock value, beyond the continuity repercussions, Geoff Johns is playing an interesting game here. Taken out of context, the words that end this issue are those of a villain: "This corrupted and darkened earth must be forgotten as ours was so that the right earth can return." Face it: destroying "our" reality and replacing it is the kind of plan heroes like Superman fight against, not for. What pushes this beyond the overused and hackneyed "Hero Turns Villain" trope is that I'm not sure that Johns disagrees. Or that we're supposed to.

Just as Superman smashed down the walls of the crystalline prison that kept him from the DC Universe, he smashes down the "fourth wall" here, commenting on the darkening tone of comics over the past few years. It's a complaint that's resonated throughout fandom, and he's giving a voice to those who believe it's gone too far. Johns has put Superman and the whole Infinite Crisis in a moral grey area: the story seems clothed in the trappings of a standard "good vs. evil" superhero tale, but we're identifying with the badguy. There's no way to avoid the air of pretension here, so I'll come out and say it: verfremdungseffekt. Bertolt Brecht used various techniques to expose the workings of the theatre, and to ensure his audience was "distanced" or "alienated" from the characters. Once the romantic identification was disrupted, the audience could then enter a debate on the thoughts and ideas being presented. Johns is insisting we question our natural empathies by placing the words of the fan (and perhaps of the author) in the mouth of the villain, and clothing the villain in the garb of the very definition of the word "hero".

Who are we rooting for? Why are we rooting for them? Once our emotional attachment is short-circuited, we start looking at the real debate here: are comics too dark, and can we go back again?


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9 comments:

Anonymous said...

My gut instinct response to this was to think of the end of Kingdom Come #1, in which Superman has just pulled off this incredible rescue and the viewpoint char thinks, hey, it's gonna be all right.

And then he realizes that Superman isn't the solution...he's part of the problem.

I think you hit the nail on the head, though...just think what the people inside the DC universe would think of Wolfman and Perez for writing/drawing Crisis on Infinite Earths...they annhilated infinite lives. Sure from our perspective those lives are imaginary, but who knows how people on higher levels of reality than ours would view us...
(Assuming such levels exist, would we not be like fictional characters to them?)

Iron Lungfish said...

Speaking from my firmly post-Crisis perspective, Earth-2 Superman can shove it, and I think that's more or less what's going to happen to him if his plan really is to wipe out one universe and replace it with another (Hal Jordan tried pretty much the same thing while cementing his "crazy villain" status).

I don't know what message Johns is trying to send so far (it depends to what degree Johns himself sympathizes with Kal-L's perspective) but I'm not buying it.* We're getting a lot of big talk about how foul and degraded these superheroes have become from one of the linchpins of the effort to befoul and degrade them. Is Johns just hypocritically manipulating the put-off fanboys, giving them the "goodbye to ass-rape" message they want to hear while the Freedom Fighters' corpses are still getting nailed to the Washington Monument? Or is he actually pulling a fast one by feinting in one direction ("We'll make it bright and shiny like it was in the Good Ole Days") and charging in another (whatever the hell he, Waid, Morrison, and Rucka are coming up with)?

The latter seems more likely than the former, but either way it's not that pleasant and not at all laudable. This is mere hucksterism in four colors.

*In fact, I didn't buy it - I flipped through it in the store.

joncormier said...

I'm kind of creeped out by the way the "hero" is talking about the DCU like it's a cancer ridden body that needs to be cut and killed off. I think this is a set up for the "good" hero to realize that his survival was a contributing factor to the way the world is.

Jim Roeg said...

Excellent reading of this issue, Mark. Infinite Crisis #2 is comics metafiction done right (Brian Bendis, take note!) and I can't wait to see where Johns takes this "are comics too dark, and can we go back again?" debate. Johns is a Hegelian at heart, voraciously consuming contradictions and raising them up to a higher level of synthesis, so my guess is that the series ultimately going to steer a middle path between these alternatives. It will be interesting to see what form such a path takes, whether it will be through splitting (reinvented multiverse) or through synthesis (realigned single-universe continuity).

Greg said...

No, and no. To be flip. Comics are not "too dark," and we shouldn't go back again. This whole thing makes my head hurt. I haven't been reading the mess, so I can't comment on that, but it's funny that the same people who are commenting on how dark comics have become are the same people who helped make them that way. Bah. Comics are comics, and this Infinite Crisis thing seems less of an honest critique of how comics could or should or will be and more of a cri de couer by damaged fanboys who cried when Supergirl and Barry Allen bit the big one. Nuts to that. I will read them, eventually, but it seems to me that if you want to write comics that are "less dark," then do it. Don't whine about it and go all meta on us and comment on it. Look at Dan Slott, just to pluck a name out of thin air. The man writes the extremely dark Arkham Asylum mini-series, then goes and does the Human Torch/Spider-Man goofball fest. He doesn't gnash his teeth and rend his garments about "dark" versus "light," he just writes stuff.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

I was on the fence after #1, and I'm still there now, even though I enjoyed this issue a bit more than the first. (Jimenez is really impressing me with his artwork.) I think the main problem here is what usually happens when an intriguing idea springs forth from plot-by-committee strategizing instead of organically from the actions of the characters.

The end result was determined first, and now Johns & Co. are manufacturing the journey to get us all there. "Plot hammering" is my new favorite term, because "the plot" takes center stage in almost every significant story that's led up to this big event. Max Lord put a bullet in Blue Beetle's head because somebody had to be sacrificed to get this story started. Wonder Woman was put into position to kill Max Lord because that act was crucial to the plot. Batman's inexplicably become a paranoid asshole simply because he had to in order for old school Superman's observations to ring true.

Over the 2+ years they've been working up to Infinite Crisis, you can see the frayed puppeteer strings in almost every significant plot development, and the store brand band-aids attempting to mask some of the inconsistencies they've had to whitewash or outright ignore to make it all work.

Like House of M, Infinite Crisis may end up being a relatively entertaining read, but I doubt it either has any real legs to stand the test of time. Like pre-fab homes, they're functional, but not much more than that.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Greg. Comics aren't too dark.

I started buying DC books again with Identity Crisis. I loved how dark and gritty that book was. Depending on the outcome of Infinite Crisis, I got a feeling that I'll stop reading DC books again if the tone gets too light...

Anonymous said...

"Comics aren't too dark."

You're not burning them right.

collectededitions said...

It is something of a strange debate that Johns is setting up here. I was more uncomfortable with it during Infinite Crisis #1 -- Geoff Johns writes the Earth-2 Superman complaining about the darkening of the DCU, specifically Identity Crisis and OMAC Project ... items that were created with Johns & co.'s input. So it's a reductive, perhaps, argument -- Superman is complaining that the DCU is darkened, but the DCU was darkened so that Superman could complain about it. It's a cheap shot, essentially. Only in issue #2 did I begin to grant that the argument had value (even if I didn't agree) when The Death of Superman, Knightfall, and etc. were referenced. Though I think that's a somewhat limited view of DCU history, but at least the argument works a bit better now.

I'm interested to see where this goes ...