Thursday, May 8, 2008

DC Universe 0

DC Universe #0
by Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns
DC Comics, 2008

Hillary Brown: So, um, why do you hire Martin Scorsese to direct your trailer? That is what this is, right? A bunch of two-to-four-page ideas of what will be happening in some stupid cross-comic event designed to sell more DC stuff? I hate this. I don't hate the comic so much as I hate the idea. Crossovers don't have to be bad, but thinking about having to follow a story through more than two books stresses me out. And considering trying to figure out what the heck is going on in all of them without knowing what's happened? Ugh. It all seems very much for the benefit of loyalists, who probably would have bought the comics anyway without the event. 

This style of writing (it's almost "in a world..." but less clear) also does not point up Morrison's strengths. One of the reasons I'm not fully on board with the dude is that he has a slight tendency toward pomposity, which can bring benefits (a great sense of the gravity of events and the greatness of superheroes, which is why it works very well in All-Star Superman) but also can seem puffed up. That is, when he starts making obscure pronouncements from the POV of the universe (that is what's going on here, right?), I start to lose interest. I know that being willing to go big is where you get really great art a lot of times. And I certainly know that my heartthrob Joss Whedon has this tendency as well. But Whedon puts more jokes in. Morrison totally couldn't have leavened DC Universe #0 with humor. It would have been completely inappropriate. But the whole picture--the heavy nature of the script, the packed frames, the number of comics this event appears to be covering, the history one seems to have to know--ends up being a turnoff and, really, a great stand-in for the way comics in general can seem. Not that everything has to be accessible to everyone--not at all--but even the cover of DC0 suggests both the potential and the intimidation of the medium.

Garrett Martin: I'm honestly not trying to make you hate superhero comics in their uncollected form. DC advertised this as a good jumping-on point for new readers, which it obviously isn't. Unless you're a nerd who spends half his workday reading comic websites (um, like me) you'd have absolutely no idea what's going on in all but maybe two of these vignettes. And even I'm completely baffled by that Green Lantern thing. So it's pretty much a complete failure in that regard, which sucks, especially since it starts off really well. Those first three pages, where they quickly introduce the concept of the multiverse and the previous Crises and the Justice League, etc., should've been a blueprint for the entire comic. Even that section foreshadows how widely the book'll be missing the mark, though, by failing to name any of the secondary Justice Leaguers. If the book was honestly about expanding the reader base, they should've put little name tags next to secondary / tertiary guys like the Atom and the Elongated Man, and the fact that they didn't was the first sign the book wasn't going to fulfill its supposed purpose. But, still: as a collection of trailers directed to confirmed comics readers, it's not that bad. And if DC had marketed it as such, and gave it away instead of charging 50 cents, I'd have no problem with it at all.

I don't think all your criticims are necessarily valid, although, again, you might have to be a longtime fanboy well-versed in pointless bullshit to realize that. The narration isn't from the universe, per se, but from a guy named Barry Allen, who was the Flash from the '50's through the early '80's, before sacrificing himself to save whatever etc. etc. during DC's first huge crossover thing, the Crisis on Infinite Earths. The big hook of DC Universe #0 is Allen's return, which is hinted at but maybe not shown. Understanding Allen's death, his dispersal across the universe (or whatever), and the similarity between that and the apparent death of the character Libra (who also reappears in this issue's final vignette) blunts some of the pretension of that narration, I think. And you're right, Morrison couldn't really fit any humor into this comic, because there really isn't any room for it, but it's not like he never has humor in his comics. Would you rather he be quippy and "witty" like Whedon or Brian K. Vaughan, both of whose dialogue and humor are often as annoying as they are funny? Also, keep in mind Morrison didn't write the entire comic--Geoff Johns gets co-credit, and I wonder what input Gail Simone and Greg Rucka had on the previews for their comics. And finally, according to DC (and granted they're not the most reliable source of late), the main Final Crisis series by Morrison and JG Jones will be a complete story that doesn't require any crossovers to understand. They're actually being somewhat restrained with Final Crisis, keeping the tie-ins to three spin-off miniseries and (potentially, they're being kind of cagey on this) Morrison's Batman RIP arc.

But so, I totally see how a comic like this would be completely impenetrable and exclusionary to a non-reader. Did any of the individual trailers interest you at all?

HB: I like quippy and witty. So, yes, maybe? Vaughan really probably is my favorite guy working right now in mainstream comics. He knows how to keep a narrative going without bogging you down, and he can do pretty effective drama too. The climax of the first big Runaways hardback is super impressive. Whedon's TV work is better than his comics work, but, yes, he also manages to balance humor and drama. I shouldn't characterize Morrison as humorless, though. If he were, I wouldn't like him at all. I just think he should sometimes bring it down a little more to the human plane (something he does really well in Animal Man).

So, which of these am I interested in? Prime Evil seems to have a little much going on. Batman R.I.P. seems to be full of oblique chatting. The Wonder Woman book seems maybe too simple, but it is pretty. Mostly, it's too hard for me to tell if I'm interested or not. I'd rather read a single book of each than decide based on a few pages full of callouts to superhero mythology I may or may not know. Honestly, I can't even tell exactly what's a book and what's not. Is Show No Mercy the title of a book? Is it a series within a book? Again, I'm not necessarily saying they need to make it clearer for me--I'm just saying it's not working on me and that may be my fault as much as anyone else's.

You're not making me hate superhero stuff, by the way. I'm still willing to read pretty much anything.

GM: Vaughan and Whedon have written some great comics, but they don't grasp and exploit the medium as thoroughly as Morrison. Every thing I've read by the former two writers could easily be transposed to TV or the movies, whereas Morrison's work often focuses squarely upon the foundational elements of comics in ways that wouldn't make sense or even be possible in other media. Vaughan and Whedon write enjoyable, funny stories with slightly idealized but believable dialogue that often happen to be told via comics, whereas Morrison at his best transcends and redefines what a comic can be. Yes, that might sound naive, and infinitely fanboyish, but it's also totally true. I have probably just embarrassed myself.

Anyway, I don't have my copy of DCU #0 on me, but I don't think the titles after each trailer necessarily correspond with actual story names. I don't remember what Prime Evil or Show No Mercy are--maybe Johns' Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds tie-in, and Rucka's Spectre series Final Crisis: Revelations? Both are among the "official" Final Crisis tie-ins, all of which are written by Johns, Rucka, or Morrison. The Wonder Woman thing is apparently unrelated, so it really makes no sense to bring it up in this comic, especially considering how unexceptional it looks. But yeah, there must've been a way to work these glimpses of the various tie-in series into a satisfying, unintimidating whole, but Morrison, Johns, et al, totally bungled it.

Only the first three pages and the last three pages worked for me. That final preview, for Final Crisis itself, is easily the most successful of the bunch, both as a prologue and on its own merits; still, though, as often happens with Morrison's comics, it's clearly a part of a greater whole, and hard to evaluate in isolation. But even with only three pages it hits on many of the primary themes that have appeared throughout Morrison's career: superheroes literally becoming modern-day gods; attaining self-awareness; contrasting the two dimensions of a comic book with the three of our real world; etc. Morrison claims that Final Crisis will be the summation of his work within the DC Universe (even though he'll be continuing on Batman indefinitely), and that all along he's been trying to turn the DCU into a sentient, living being; that sounds ridiculous, but with this preview you can kinda see where he's headed, and he might actually pull it off.

HB: That's a somewhat fair distinction, but it also doesn't change my mind. I'd certainly put Morrison in the upper echelon of comic book writers, but he hasn't made me constantly hungry for more, either. I also think that your take on him is more popular than mine. Or maybe I just don't care about history as much as people who love Morrison. He can occasionally be the comics equivalent of the kind of concept art where you have to get the concept to appreciate the art. You might need to know some Renaissance tropes to appreciate Milton fully, but it's awful pretty even if you don't.

I would agree about the first three and last three pages, though. Even if I'm often mystified by them and a little annoyed by the two pages of thin, vertical strips of images, they do kind of capture my imagination. My guess is that I probably won't pick it up as it comes out, and I'll be skeptical even when it's collected, but I wouldn't be opposed to reading it if it just showed up in front of me with no effort on my part. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but I'd sort of rather read Spiderman Loves Mary Jane.

GM: I think that's a fair assessment of Morrison, and probably the main reason he doesn't get the same mainstream love lathered all over Moore, Gaiman, Miller, etc. 

And man, Spidey Loves Mary-Jane was great. It's a shame McKeever left for DC. It's also not quite as diametrically opposed to a Morrison comic as you might think; the love both have for comics and its history is palpable.


Smoggo said...

as a guy who was completely obsessed with Crisis on Infinite Earth (ehough to try explain the plot to my unimpressed mother), i am so uninterested in this.

hillary said...

Because of this issue? Why? I'm curious.

garrett said...

I'm interested solely because of Morrison and JG Jones. I've never read any of the previous Crises.

Jerkwater Johnson said...

me too. i am a morrison zombie. i could even go so far as to say i don't really even like comics - i like morrison.

final crisis? what the fuck is that? i hate the "big event" books. i agree with hillary's assessment of dcu#0, but i'll be buying each issue of this solely because of morrison.

Paul L. Pedersen said...

While not completely sold on Final Crisis the creative team is pretty bad ass. Also, Geoff Johns' Blackest Night preview gave me an erection, but I dunno how much Green Lantern you've been reading. That whole 2 page splash of the spectrum could be a little jarring if you have no idea what the fuck is going on.

But seriously, it was only 50 cents and it was at least as good as half of the other crap that came out that week.

hillary said...

Booo. Higher standards!

Karate Media said...

Morrison's work often focuses squarely upon the foundational elements of comics in ways that wouldn't make sense or even be possible in other media.

His Pop Art Exhibit issue of Batman (656?) is a great example of this. Some of the most fun I've had reading a comic book in recent memory, even if just for the "BLAM" when Batman fires the grappling gun.

Paul L. Pedersen said...

Higher Standards in what? Comic books? Come oonnnn! Not everything can be Seinfeld.... sometimes I can appreciate a little Everybody Loves Raymond.

smoggo said...

i hate the whole boring "infinite crisis" nonsense....
no opinion of this issue though, seeing as i haven't read it...

smoggo said...

do like the perez cover.
is that reverse flash and captain cold?

and morrison is awesome...wasn't his "seven soldiers" a lead-in to this infinite/final crisis/52 weeks things?