Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Eternal Debate - Part VI : Final Crisis vs. Secret Invasion (The Story)

And by eternal, I mean for the past 12 or so months. You could not go anywhere in the Internet (well, at least the sites I frequent) without finding a conversation about either Final Crisis or Secret Invasion. Or both. This year's events from the Big Two felt incredibly long, by design or by circumstances, but they are now officially over (Legion of 3 Worlds notwithstanding), which allows us to look at both events objectively, or at least as objectively as comic book readers can get.

That is where I come in. I want to look at the different aspects of both events, measure them up against each other and see who comes up on top. To do so, I have chosen several categories (or rounds) which will allow me to compare both sides of the 2008 Special Edition Event Coin. If you have not yet read both series in their entirety, there will be spoilers ahead. Oh, yeah, and the point system may or may not be arbitrary or what most people consider fair. You have been warned.

Secret Invasion is leading against Final Crisis 4 - 2 as we reach the final lap of the Eternal Debate.

The Story

Not to undermine the very talented people that contribute the art to the stories, but for many readers, the story is the deal breaker when it comes to purchasing a comic or not. I have heard from many people that they will put up with insulting art as long as the story is good enough. In this post, I will not be re-telling, summarizing or annotating the totality of what happens in either Secret Invasion or Final Crisis, and I will talk about spoilers freely, so I urge you to go read the stories first (and form your own opinion, hopefully). For the purpose of this review, I will only be talking mostly about the events and writing of the main mini series and none of the tie-ins. I understand that both events benefit from reading the tie-ins (more so for Final Crisis, something that I have mentioned in one of my previous posts), but I feel that to be more objective with my review I must judge this from the eye of a casual reader who will only pick up the main event and not shell out the extra money for the tie-ins that Marvel and DC put out.

Secret Invasion, a story apparently long in the making inside the mind of Brian Michael Bendis, was a very good idea but not properly thought or fleshed out. The main idea behind it is that the Skrulls, a shape-shifting race of aliens, want to take over the Earth because one of their religious books claims that it rightfully belongs to them. To do so, they came up with a new technology that allows them to clone the superpowers and appearances (that no earthly means could apparently reveal) of any superheroes that they could get their hands on, and used it to infiltrate various super-teams and organizations of Earth. The Skrulls' plan, which was planned for years, seemingly fails with ease once Reed Richards is freed and their Invasion only lasts one miserable day. The events of Secret Invasion effectively portray how worldwide the invasion is, we see plenty of places around the world face the alien invasion (albeit briefly), even if the majority of the forces and events happen in New York (the home of most super heroes in the Marvel Universe). The problem arises from the fact that this invasion force declared victory (and announced it to the whole world) way too early, before all the heroes were defeated or accounted for. Bendis did not properly evoke the feeling that the Skrull army was victorious, and the lack of the passage of time only made matters worse (as I said, the mini series took 8 months to come out, but only one or two days passed in the story). There were also problems with the power set of the skrulls: the camouflaging effect wasn't explained in the series (you had to read the tie-ins for that) and just how powerful they were (some supposedly had the power of Black Bolt, which even at a fraction of the original, is pretty damn powerful but they could be taken down by Wolverine or Hawkeye). Additionally, the whole skrull armada fell apart the moment the Queen died, which leads me to believe that every one of the skrulls was a foot soldier and there were no commanding officers (even though some were shown in the series). Finally, the series ends with the President of the United States disbanding SHIELD, a United Nations-sponsored organization that is not controlled by one single nation. The plot holes and mistakes range from rather subtle to obvious, but they are still there and they affect the story that Bendis wanted to tell.

Grant Morrison was at helm of writing Final Crisis and it is very easy to tell. The story picks up on a lot of themes that Morrison has written about in the past, such as the nature of stories and the fourth wall in comics (Animal Man), international heroes (New X-Men) and Superman as a symbol of hope (All-Star Superman). The story is dense and full of details to go over and over, as proved by all the sites that provide annotations for the whole event. To provide a summary of the events of Final Crisis would be beyond the scope of this blog and would take me way too long, so I would recommend reading it yourself at least twice. I originally read Final Crisis in the monthly format it came out in and found it extremely disappointing, but as preparations for this blog, I re-read it and found myself liking it more with each additional reading. To say that Final Crisis is without flaw, however, would be an outright lie. First of all, Final Crisis is as not-new-reader-friendly as events can be: to get a full understanding of all the events, characters, and themes you would need a very good knowledge of the DC universe and a good portion of Morrison's previous work (such as Seven Soldiers, which I have not read and lead to me not knowing what Frankestein was doing in the DC universe). Even long time readers claimed to have trouble following the story, even though events are usually used by the Big Two to attract new readers. The writing style, I've seen it referred as "channel-zapping", is supposed to portray how chaotic the events of this crisis are, but I found to it to be detrimental to the story because of how much information the reader is being bombarded. It just feels that there is too much information and too little space to show it all or expand on what we see (for example, Aquaman shows up for one panel and then we know nothing else about it). As previously discussed, the Morrison-penned tie-ins for Final Crisis are very important, so the events shown on the main mini-series seem disjointed or just missing information (like Superman stepping out on Lois and then showing back 3 issues later).

The obvious allegory between Secret Invasion and Final Crisis is that between a good action movie and an ambitious art film. One is aimed to entertain, especially if you turn the suspension of disbelief all the way to eleven, while the other one is a study of certain topics, characters, or situations by the author, and your enjoyment of it is relatively tied to your interest of the topic. One will have you repeating awesome one-liners ("My God has a hammer" or "Nick Fury was right") with your friends and the other one makes you question the real meaning behind certain scenes (like Batman being hit by the Omega sanction or what Superman's wish for a happy ending really meant). Secret Invasion had a wider appeal and was entertaining for what it was, but Final Crisis is something completely different: Morrison told the story he wanted to tell, and it is not meant for everyone. Like I mentioned above, I disliked it at first but the story grew on me after repeated readings while Secret Invasion's repeated readings led to its misgivings becoming more apparent. Because of this, I feel that DC's Final Crisis, and Grant Morrison, wins this final round.

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