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a silent salute: The audience "claps" at Joke Night during Deaf Awareness week. Click Arts&Life for a link to story. / Photo by Leah Lopshire

Today's word on journalism

December 15, 2008

As part of my own personal "war on Christmas" (which a Utah state senator has offered legislation to outlaw), the WORD celebrates the season by going on hiatus until January. May all out days be merry and bright, and here’s to a safe, healthy and saner New Year. HoHoHo!

Empty Minds: "Of all the people expressing their mental vacuity, none has a better excuse for an empty head than the newspaperman: If he pauses to restock his brain, he invites onrushing deadlines to trample him flat. Broadcasting the contents of empty minds is what most of us do most of the time, and nobody more relentlessly than I."

--Russell Baker, Pulitzer-winning columnist

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Review: 'Secret Invasion' vs. 'Final Crisis'

By Mack Perry

November 3, 2008 | Massive, company-wide crossover events have become something of a hackneyed crutch that both Marvel and DC have become far too reliant on over the last couple of years. It's not difficult to see why. After all, they do generate buzz among both mainstream audiences and dedicated members of the fandom just in time for the release of superhero-themed summer tentpoles, when large-scale spectacles are on everyone's mind.

But years and years of "Crises," "Civil Wars," and other events that publishers routinely promise will "change everything" have caused many in the comic book-reading community to suffer from even exhaustion. Epic, line-wide storylines often require readers to purchase a number of additional specials, mini-series, and one-shots in order to get the full story. And exactly how special are massive, "Earth-shattering" event books designed to change the status quo when they are happening all the time?

Luckily, it seems that the creative higher-ups at both of the industry's landmark companies have realized that there are ways to reproduce the colossal scope and serialized excitement of event stories without making readers spend a fortune and without sacrificing that illusive element of surprise. What's interesting is that each publisher has come to a different conclusion about how to address these concerns, and the end result is the release of two series that offer very satisfying, yet very different, reading experiences.

Marvel's Secret Invasion takes the inherently cheesy threat of green, shape-shifting aliens to its full dramatic potential by reimagining the previously ridiculous Skrulls as a terrifying, manipulative cabal of religious fanatics in the same vein as the Cylons from the critically acclaimed reboot of Battlestar Galactica. The fact that numerous Skrulls have been posing as high-profile Marvel superheroes for the last few decades has been utilized to great effect in a yarn that mixes the best elements of a twist-filled espionage thriller and a bombastic, balls-to-the-wall, summer blockbuster film that would make even directors like Michael Bay quiver from the adrenaline rush.

The beauty of Secret Invasion, however, is that a movie adaptation on the same scale as this series would be virtually unfilmable. And it's in this way that the series illustrates one of my favorite things about the comic book medium. Thanks to the tight, sophisticated writing of Brian Michael Bendis, Marvel's go-to scribe for cinematic, character-driven storytelling, and the kinetic, stylized pencil work of Leinil Yu, Secret Invasionhas proven that classic, straightforward event books can still deliver a visceral, engaging roller-coaster ride. Marvel's Invasion also manages to maintain this scope and intensity while being confined to only three monthly books for the most part. "Mighty Avengers provides readers with much of the back story behind the Skrull invasion; New Avengers sheds light on how the invasion is affecting different corners of the Marvel universe while many of the action set-pieces fill out the main title.

While Secret Invasion properly illustrates all of the strengths and merits of more traditional event books, DC's Final Crisis offers readers a refreshing departure from all of that metaphorical sound and fury. What Final Crisisoffers readers is a plot that emphasizes substance over the eye-candy and cheap thrills that are pretty typical for this type of story.

The third and final part of DC's multiple decade spanning Crisis trilogy, the aptly named Final Crisis is a grim, plodding noir tale that serves as writer Grant Morrision's penultimate deconstruction of event books and of superhero storytelling in general. J.G. Jones' gritty, realistic artwork complements Morrison's carefully constructed vision of an unnerving, post-apocalyptic nightmare that has actually delivered on the promise of depicting what the world would be like on "the day that evil won." So far, the story has received mixed reactions from fans due to Morrison's tendency to play up the mystery and keep much of the information about the series' real threat close to the chest. Many have also complained about the series inaccessibility to new readers because much of it requires readers to have a basic knowledge of the Fourth World characters and concepts created by the legendary Jack Kirby.

But, strangely enough, the true strength of DC's latest event comes from the tie-ins rather than the main title itself. While most tie-ins tend to either be shallow attempts by the publisher to cash in on the popularity of the event book or absolutely essential reads that would severely compromise a reader's understanding of the story if they were avoided, the tie-ins to Final Crisis are neither. With the exception of the Superman Beyondtwo-parter, a rare glimpse of Morrison's unfettered imagination and propensity for layered, meta-textual narratives, the Final Crisis tie-ins themselves are only loosely connected to the main storyline and are comprised of compelling, stand-alone mini-series that showcase the talent of DC's finest creative teams.

Writer Greg Rucka's Revelations series is a supernatural crime thriller that further evolves the relationships of characters Rucka developed in works like Gotham Central and 52, while Geoff Johns penned tie-ins like Rogue's Revenge and Legion of Three Worlds"illustrate why Johns' ability to take underused concepts and characters and make them accessible, gripping, and relevant makes him one of the greatest mainstream comic book writers in the industry.

And, although it precedes the events of Final Crisisand it isn't an official tie-in to the main book, Grant Morrison's Batman R.I.P. is one of the best Batman stories of the decade and a riveting read that Morrison has suggested will be resolved in the pages of Final Crisis. Ultimately, whether you're a hardcore fan with Spider-man logos adorning your underwear, a casual fan that departed in the wake of the industry's event overload, or an uninitiated observer curious about what all the fuss is about, Marvel and DC's latest events finally offer something for everyone, and actual relief from the grueling event books of years past.

NW
MS

 

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