Friday, October 14, 2005

Those Four Little Words

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but apparently Infinite Crisis is here. I’d understand if you’d missed it; it’s only been built up to for the last two-or-so years, and mentioned by name in multiple comics for the last six months. You’d think they’d, I don’t know, put some advertisements out or maybe give some interviews online or something. Books can just disappear in this market, these days.

I should warn any of you who haven’t read Infinite Crisis #1 and don’t want to know what happens in it to stop reading now, because I’m going to spoil it for you.

Golden Age Superman, Lois Lane come back at the end of it, along with another Superboy and Alexander Luthor, none of whom anyone had expected to see again after they’d disappeared at the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths.

What, you thought I was joking about spoiling it for you? For shame, dear reader.

Obviously, I was being unfunnily facetious about the lack of hype. A funny thing about Infinite Crisis is that I’m already feeling pretty good about it just because it’s finally started. After all of the Countdown and the Prelude and the miniseries that didn’t make any sense or actually end - and Gail, what was that at the start of the last issue of Villains United? Two of them? Where did that come from? – and the emails that DC send you every Wednesday that counted down on your behalf (“Seven Days until Infinite Crisis!” Because that’s what you long to see in your inbox every morning, let me tell you), I’m just grateful that all of the goddamned prologing is finally finished. I’d never expected to be so happy to see those four simple words: “The Countdown is over!” Really? Promise?

The comic itself, though, is just weird. I’ve talked to a few people about it, because I’m a geek and I do things like that, and what’s been interesting is that I seem to be the least cynical person I know about the whole enterprise. Okay, I mean, I know that it’s one “event” in a series of “events” that solely exist to try and artificially manufacture buzz and increased sales. And, sure, I know that – on the basis of the Countdown miniseries and first issue - it’s a storyline based upon plotlines and characters that are over twenty years old, and therefore entirely impenetrable for new readers. But nonetheless, the first issue of the miniseries was not only not what I expected, it was not what I expected in such a way as to actually make me look forward to the rest of the series.

(Not that the series of marketing driven event books, nor the plots that are constructed purely on and for the warm and fuzzy nostalgic fanboy glow are things that I support, I should add, but I kind of figure that they’re almost a given in the current state of the American superhero market that it’s kind of pointless to argue against them. They’re just going to be there and have to be worked around the best you can. When it’s done very well, you get Seven Soldiers. When it’s done less well, you get House of M.)

The two things that stand out for me about Infinite Crisis’s first issue are that it seemed so incredibly old-fashioned, and yet also kind of postmodern. The old-fashioned quality came from the illusion of quantity in the book; in one issue (albeit an extended, 30-page issue), it felt like a lot actually happened, from Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman having a pointless argument and then a pointless fight with a supervillain, to some random superheroes getting killed by a supervillain army, to the Spectre being very large and screaming in Gotham City, to the above-mentioned return of refugees from Crisis on Infinite Earths. Like I said, it’s an illusion of quantity; not that much actually happens, plotwise, but it feels like a lot. Everything’s written in a strange melodramatic style that reiterates the old-fashioned feel of the whole thing, too. And that’s great; it’s the kind of thing that I love about big, overblown, series like this. It’s not just that the universe might end, but we’re also getting to watch people have smaller arguments that are treated with as much dramatic weight.

The second thing that stands out is the thing that really makes me want to stick around and see what happens. At the heart of the first issue, you see, is this strange meta-commentary on the current version of the big DC icons. It’s not even a subtle commentary. The narration that runs through the book comes from the original version of Superman, although that’s kept from us until the very last page, so we’re left with some unknown narrator giving us lines like “I’m beginning to see it. This is what the world does to legends. It corrupts them…Or it destroys them” and “We’ve given them a gift they’ve thrown away. We sacrificed everything for them.” It’s unnerving, in a way. Who does Superman Mark 1 (Oh, alright: Superman of Earth-2) represent when he’s saying these things? The audience? The writer? Are we supposed to, all of a sudden, feel reassured if we’ve been thinking that Superman’s been a bit whiny lately and not so Super, because the original version of Superman thinks it as well?

It reinforces the strange feeling I got from when I read Mark Waid calling the current version of Batman a dick. On the one hand, sure, I agree. But on the other, dude. He’s a fictional character, and you’re one of the people who’s got editorial control over him these days. If you really think he’s a dick and you think that’s a bad thing – Me, I think the idea that everyone in the Justice League thinks that Batman’s a dick and bitches about him when he’s not around is kind of funny – then you can just tell everyone to stop writing him as a dick and move on. You don’t really need to reinforce the dickishness by making it into a plot point and having everyone comment on it.

Still, that appears to be where Infinite Crisis is going, some new form of auto-critique superhero comic. We know, from various comments made online and at conventions and in small scale venues like the New York Times, that the real purpose of the series isn’t any of the traditional lines like “to tell a good story, period”, but instead to refocus the DC Universe line and brand for the next few years, and that kind of thing makes it interesting to me anyway, being the process junkie that I am. But when the series that you’ve created to do that refocusing is so blatant in its complaints about the current version of the line, then you have to wonder whether Geoff Johns, Dan DiDio and the rest of the current DC reshape team are either geniuses or whether something is about to go really terribly, horribly wrong.

If only they’d managed to tell more people about it, somehow.