Sunday, February 1, 2009

One Man's Treasure

Jay at Happy Harbor really didn't enjoy Final Crisis #7. I mean, really didn't, to the point that I'm actually a little worried about him.

He started a thread at Canadian Geek, in which he expresses his disappointment, ultimately declaring that either the series was lousy or he's dumb, while projecting a motivation for FC writer Grant Morrison that I don't believe is supported by the available evidence (though in fairness, I don't think Morrison's defensiveness during his Final Crisis Exit Interview at Newsarama didn't do him any favours when it comes to PR.)

In any event, at some point in the thread, Canadian Geek Man Swamp made a comment that I just had to respond to. Both the comment and the response are below.

[quote="Man Swamp"] if you need an essay to even [i]understand[/i] a comic, it's rubbish.[/quote]

I challenge this notion on the same grounds I'd challenge someone telling me Picasso's Guernica is a rubbish painting or David Lynch's Lost Highway is a rubbish film.

Taking the latter specifically: I watched Lost Highway a half dozen times; always enjoyed the experience; and couldn't make sense of it as a story. Same goes for Mulholland Drive, though I didn't like it as much or watch it as often.

One day I got it into my head to do a little reading on Mr. Lynch's films online. After reading a few articles and posts from people who are REALLY into Lynch, I discovered both LH and MD actually did have (mostly) linear plots. These were stories I might have been able to grasp independently, if I'd applied myself. But I didn't, not because I was lazy, but because I enjoyed the experience of watching them regardless. That said, I wouldn't hold someone not enjoying the experience against them--tastes vary, as do expectations.

Jay didn't enjoy the experience of reading Final Crisis, for much the same reason I didn't enjoy my experience reading Infinite Crisis--for whatever reason, the execution of the books didn't appeal to us and eventually we stopped caring. And expressing our disappointment at having something not appeal to our sensibilities--that's fine. In the same way that a lot of people look at Jackson Pollock's paintings and see nothing special, our frames of reference in regards to those particular series didn't align with the creators', at least not enough for us to enjoy them.

That doesn't mean that either of them is bad. In our post-modern culture, I don't know that there is such a thing as a comic being objectively bad anymore, anyway. Between sales and critical reception, there are tons of comics I think are awful on almost every front that are terribly popular (emphasis on the "terrible"). Meanwhile, some people don't think Jack Staff's the best superhero book going. There's no accounting for taste.

Or maybe there is. When reviewing a book, I always attempt to establish what it is the creators were attempting to achieve, and base any critique on my perception of whether or not they achieved it. Which means I could, in theory, end up giving a positive review to something I didn't enjoy (in theory because nobody puts a gun to my head and says I *must* review something--if I didn't enjoy something, I don't see myself expending resources giving it a positive review even if it did achieve its creators' goals.)

For whatever reason, every review I've read of Final Crisis #7 (mostly at Newsarama, Comic Book Resources, and The Savage Critics) has been generally positive. I don't believe all these people are pretending to enjoy something because they're afraid they'll look dumb if they don't. I'm also not convinced all of these people are entirely, 100% clear on exactly what actually happened, in plot terms. They enjoyed Morrison's fragmented spectacle style of storytelling, or the metacommentary on imagination and storytelling, or Batman killing the personification of evil, or whatever, to the point that they could forgive Morrison's deliberate deviation from the traditional North American superhero comic storytelling style.

At the end of the day, Morrison was trying to do some things wildly different from what's usually in the pages of a North American superhero comic. I admire him trying something new (as I usually do with Morrison), I don't know if it really worked, even judged by the writer's own criteria (I usually don't with Morrison), and I'm really not sure if this was a huge, universe wide crossover was an appropriate place to blast sequential narrative into pieces--from a business perspective, if nothing else.

I will say this: while not understanding Final Crisis doesn't make someone dumb and not enjoying it doesn't make someone dumb, at the same time having a significant number of people not understand or enjoying Final Crisis doesn't make it a bad comic. Too many people enjoyed the experience of reading it for me to believe that.

For myself, I'd take Final Crisis over Infinite Crisis, Civil War, or Secret Invasion (or Invisibles or The Filth, if it came to it). And that's even though I don't really understand what happened, something I'm going to blame on my trying to blast each issue in ten minutes before my shift started...hopefully, when I read it collected, it'll work like Seven Soldiers and the whole will prove greater than the sum of its parts. Even if it doesn't...well, I'd rather read something that reaches high and misses the mark than aims low and just fills the requisite number of pages.