Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Miracle Pictographs
    Graphic Novel Reviews by Spencer Ellsworth
May 2009

Somewhere in the Multiverse, Oatmeal Raisin Cookies Taste Good. Also, We All Look Like Pink Walruses.

Secret Invasion/Final Crisis Finale, Best Superhero Movie

I went looking for all the Secret Invasion/Final Crisis comics I bought last summer in order to write this wrap-up article. It took about two hours to find them all. It's been a while since I organized my comics, and the stacks of comics and crossovers by the time I was done were bigger than those sandwiches Shaggy and Scooby used to make.

In case you missed the last couple columns, last summer I attempted to read and keep up with every bit of the Secret Invasion/Final Crisis Marvel/DC mega-event crossovers. At the end of it all, earlier this year, I was a couple hundred dollars in debt, and sick of superheroes.

Grrrr . . .

See, the problem is that these crossovers almost always show an incredible amount of potential, and then, at the end, drop that potential in order to make you buy the next four or five comics spinning out of them. World War Hulk was great. A ton of fun. But in the ending of the series, the Hulk died by a cheesy trick in order to raise questions about the next Hulk series, as well as the two other series spinning out of WWH. Civil War ended with a whimper of oversimplification, and a foreshadowing to Captain America's upcoming death.

And Brian Michael Bendis and Leniel Yu's Secret Invasion ended . . . with big fat product placement. In case you haven't already heard about Marvel's new "Dark Reign" storyline, the keys to the kingdom of superhero national security have been handed to Norman Osborne, the Green Goblin. What, you say? That guy? Crazy guy? Yes. Read on.

Most of Secret Invasion was taken up by a lot of big fat slugfests, with little more character interaction than a lot of characters screaming about how much they wanted to bust the Skrulls in the head. Among all this, the Wasp (a founding Avenger) got blown up, causing lots of consternation from the other heroes, who apparently don't realize she will be back in three years. Also, lots of people tried to get to the Skrull Queen, disguised as Spider-Woman, with their guns, hammers, shields, or whatever. But Norman Osborne, the Green Goblin, got off the killshot.

And thus begins the world's greatest leap of logic, to put Errol Flynn to shame.

Apparently, all because he shot the Skrull Queen, Norman Osborne is now appointed the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury's organization that headed superhero security. Except it's not really SHIELD anymore. Osborne is also granted a technological monopoly over the compromised Stark security technology destroyed by the Skrulls. On the final page of Secret Invasion #8, Osborne is seen meeting with a who's who of the most dastardly folks in the Marvel Universe, including Doctor Doom and Loki, getting ready to rule the roost from behind the scenes, and getting ready for you to buy the new Dark Avengers ongoing series, on top of three other Avengers titles.

Norman Osborne is a convicted killer and known sociopath. And now he's in charge of national security. I'll be the first to say that a lot of crazies have been in charge of this country's security in the past, but they were all smart enough to keep their nuttiness secret. It's just too much of a leap of logic, and too much evidence, after eight issues of meaningless slugfestery, that the Marvel Mega Event will submit itself to any mess to sell comics, and is now determined to sell you lots and lots more comics.

Okay, now, Final Crisis. What are you supposed to think when a comic book requires not just multiple readings, but enough internet research to put SparkNotes to shame? I remember very well the last time I spent this much effort trying to understand something I read. It was Michél Foucault's Discipline and Punish.

Okay, granted, I'm not much of a DC-head, though I did read Infinite Crisis, the predecessor to Final.

Final Crisis scribe Grant Morrison's writing, like Klingon, requires expertise, obsession, and a lot of spare time to decipher. He's following about ten different plotlines, including the return of the original Flash, the fall to Earth of Darkseid, DC's heroes being taken out one by one, the descent of the multiverse guardians . . . Uh, I think there are three more.

So Final Crisis suffers from "packed-itis." It's one of those comics that benefitted from the month-long gap between issues, because you need time to digest and really comprehend all the ideas that Grant Morrison is throwing out. The crazy ideas come like a downpour -- a bullet fired backwards through time -- multiverse guardians falling in love and being banished to a mundane existence as fast-food workers -- and the aforementioned dead gods in a dumpster. When I could follow it, I was having a lot of fun. A lot of time, though, what was on the page took on Flash-like characteristics and whizzed right past me. Final Crisis outdoes Secret Invasion just because it's much more ambitious, but it is less enjoyable in some ways just because it's so dense and impenetrable to newbies.

But ultimately, Final Crisis is not really worth it for the same reason so many crossovers aren't worth it: you have to buy a bookshelf's worth of backstory and another bookshelf's worth of crossovers to understand it. Say what you want to about Secret Invasion -- and many of the best slugfests do happen offscreen in other books -- but one can read the main title without having to know too much about what is happening in the other books. Unless you've read Superman 3-D, there's no way to understand why the vampire of the Multiverse show up in issue 5, or where the machine Superman uses to save the multiverse comes from in Legion of 3 Worlds. The big mega-event crossovers are mostly product placement, it seems.

Brian Michael Bendis, Grant Morrison and Michél Foucault all have shaved heads, by the way. Coincidence . . . crisis . . . or invasion?

So, what's the best superhero movie ever?

The gut reaction, after last year, is The Dark Knight. It managed a complex story, a spectacular villain, and grappled with philosophical weight over whether or not people were basically good.

However, there are a couple of things wrong with The Dark Knight. The major plothole was the Joker's amazing ability to have giant bombs anywhere, anytime. Seriously, that guy must have had a teleporter in order to get so many barrels of fuel into those ferries. But also, The Dark Knight is relentlessly . . . well, dark. And long. Christopher Nolan's desire not to cut any of Heath Ledger's lines was a noble gesture, but it leads to some overly long, overly talky scenes, especially the final scene in which the Joker hangs upside down pontificating to Batman.

X-Men 2 is similar in the sense that it is able to ask deep questions and provide a relentless adventure, but dies on one crucial plothole. The movie ends with Jean Grey, Phoenix, sacrificing her life in order to raise the X-Plane out of the way of a collapsing dam. Only problem is, we've never been given a reason why Jean can't lift an object that she is inside. If a movie is going to be dark and serious, it should take its plot seriously.

Spider-Man, in first but especially second installment, is pure magical fun, with the classic down-on-his-luck nerdy Peter Parker portrayed perfectly by Tobey Maguire. However, Maguire and Dunst just don't have the spark that, say, Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve had, and it shows. And it wears down the movie.

Superman. The original movie is a ton of fun, of course. It's also a big pile of cheese, a little too cheesy at times. What is up with Lois's mental monologue? "Do you know what you do to me?" (I have to confess here that I have not seen Superman II. I got it from the library in order to watch it for this column, and the DVD looked like someone had taken sandpaper to it. One of these days. So I'm going to admit that I haven't considered one of the contenders.)

Batman Begins comes very close. I put it above The Dark Knight not just for the reasons above, but because it is a movie about Batman alone. A more descriptive title for The Dark Knight might have been The Joker. Batman Begins was the only superhero movie I've ever seen that followed the complete development of a complex, larger-than-life character from start to finish.

But again, like The Dark Knight, it's a little too dark to make it in a genre that is, at its core, based on fun. Same for M. Night Shyamalan's masterpiece, Unbreakable, despite its beautiful portrayal of what a real man with powers might be like.

Iron Man is very close, then. With the weight of some moral issues, with a dynamic main character and good chemistry between its romantic leads. The only thing that brings it down is some out-of-place cheeseball humor that is induces more winces than gasps.

What made the winner in this case is the "who loves it" factor. For all that people talk about Watchmen and Maus, the most widely-read and best-loved work of comic literature in the 20th century was Calvin and Hobbes. The art is brilliant, the writing is generally wry and funny, using a child's view to satirize the world around us. The best works in any genre are the ones that are universally enjoyed outside that genre.

Therefore with that added bonus, the best superhero movie of all time is . . .

The Incredibles.

It's funny, it's exciting, and at times it's deeply moving. It skews our view of superheroes without ever giving in to heavy-handed social commentary. And everyone loves it, and everyone can watch it and enjoy it.

Next issue: Superheroes through the eyes of science fiction writers. I tackle the Wild Cards series, and hope that George R.R. Martin doesn't kill me off.

Read more by Spencer Ellsworth

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