Monday, May 25, 2009

This Is How We Do It (DC)
Where: Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #1
When: July 2009 Why: Joe Casey How: ChrisCross

Strength: Razzle 4 (Enhanced)
Intelligence: Most Excellent Superbat 3 (Straight A)
Speed: WS Sonic Lightning Flash 6 (Mach-Speed)
Stamina: WS Sonic Lightning Flash 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Shy Crazy Lolita Canary 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Most Excellent Superbat 4 (Trained)
Energy: Big Atomic Lantern Boy 5 (Lasers)

Math: Super Young Team
Ranking: Draw (Not Ranked)

Longtime readers know 2009 has been something of an experiment for the Infinite Wars, marking the first year we've actually followed the goings on of the weekly shipping list, as it happens [albeit, severely behind update schedule]. In many ways, this has been the concept of the comic book fight club living up to it's claim. In our monthly punch-up updates, the top five has gradually morphed around the biggest hits of each week, creating a reflection on superheroes that's been more topical, if not more accurately reflective of their successes in comics.

Unfortunately, by waiting for the best hits of the week, it means we've all but lost touch with subjects like the 2008/2009 mini-series epic, Final Crisis.

You'll need a good memory to recall just how the hype-bubble of anticipation built around DC's summer epic, only to burst amidst thoroughly disappointing confusion and mediocrity from readers.

A mere storytelling device -- one you would have thought readers from the internet age could've appreciated; rapid fire observation of 'the important bits' -- managed to completely kill the buzz that surrounded unique concepts like; Jack Kirby's returning forgotten hero, Sonny Sumo, and the Japanese heroes with powers of pop-culture, The Super Young Team.

Unfortunately, by not getting past the second issue in our reviews of Final Crisis, we haven't had an opportunity to really dig in to all the wonderful possibilities that the series presented. Sure, we managed to get out some articles about what the Justice League could've looked like post-FC [Justice League: America, Resistance, Task Force, International]; but the passion and excitement the story stirred has somewhat passed us by -- a fact that already speaks volumes about the effect Final Crisis Aftermath is having...

I can't claim to be any kind of expert on Japan, but I know enough about the potential of vague archetypes to anticipate the prospect of any degree of filtered Japanese pop-culture references in "our" Western corporate comics -- particularly in the hands of a competent and mindful writer. Despite the obvious dominance of American super-heroes; there was a wonderful international awareness about Final Crisis, one that seems to be of the many strengths of writer Grant Morrison, who helmed the series, and created the Super Young Team who were actually first divised (apparently) during his time on 52, along with the Chinese super-human government heroes seen in 52 and Checkmate, Great Ten.

What we ultimately got in the pages of Final Crisis was a glimpse -- a tease of a concept that was crying out for elaboration. A Final Crisis Sketchbook gave eager readers the chance to learn more about the story behind the story of the Super Young Team, but it seemed unlikely a corporate company could invest in such a niche concept, let alone find a writer competent enough to carry it off. For the time being, it looked as if the characters would live and die within the span of a few issues, not unlike Sonny Sumo's initial four-issue career in Forever People.

Enter Joe Casey: well-known buddy to Morrison and previously boy wonder to the Scot's stylish 2001 revamp of the X-Men franchise for Marvel ["New X-Men"].

Morrison - described as 'taking a break from superheroes after Final Crisis' - might not have been tackling his creations straight away, but given the past success found with Casey's tandem work on X-Men; not to mention his own penchant for modern writing and referencial story beats; things looked good when DC announced their line of four single-title Final Crisis Aftermath series. Sure, some of the excitement of the initial series has dissipated, but that could always be recaptured by new stories with the characters, right?...

While the passion to articulate the words might have faded, I still maintain that Final Crisis was one of the most significant and delightful series we've seen from DC or Marvel this decade. It played with the superhero platform (super-genre) in so many ways and on so many levels that it really had the potential to be looked back upon as a landmark moment for the industry. It could have been a handbook for what's expected of company comics, providing wholely acceptable and fiction based easy-outs for the the awkward pressures of franchise maintenance, all while embracing, revelling in, and embellishing the superhero concept.

Super Young Team were a part of expanding the horizons of the American superhero, giving it a chance to be reobserved with a double-whammy of outside influence, and outsider interpretation. I would've loved to have been reading a high intencity comic revelling in the hi-tech landscape of Tokyo City, soaking in the bright lights reflected off super-sentai helmets, all while awaiting a cliffhanger ending to a battle with kaiju monsters from space. Concepts as iconic as any Gotham City showdown with mentally ill clowns, but with an extra spice added to our steady consumption of a diet of superheroes.

Alas; while Casey latches on to the vaguely metatextual observations introduced by Morrison across the entire Final Crisis story, it lacks any of the imagination or exotic context to give it an extra spark. Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance goes so far to as actually position the Super Young Team in American management, with American party guests, dancing in their American (styled) headquarters.

Nothing about the energy of the issue -- of which there is plenty to go around -- feels as if it connects with those original concepts. Also disappointing, but not without it's blessings, is the absence of the short-lived fan-favourite and ally of Super Young Team, Sonny Sumo, who seems to have faded back to obscurity after his brief liaison with stardom throughout the latter half of 2008.

Structurally, Casey puts together a reasonably fulfilling first issue script.
I've griped in the past about certain styles and issues that have fallen well below what I would expect of a professionally written first issue, but this one bounces straight into it's ideas with generous helpings of introduction and some action.

On the action front (around which we structure posts on the Infinite Wars) -- the Super Young Team confront their first post-FC nemesis on the dance floor.

While a drunken Rising Sun shouts more [RE: Final Crisis #2] about the virtues of the previous generation and the unqualified power of Generation Y; the super-human promoter of Super Young Team's coming out party starts trouble when he demands unrestricted access to Shiny Happy Aquazon's pants.

As a side-note; before the promoter literally transforms into a scaley-beast, he makes a reference to his opinion that anime and manga as fads are over.
While that might be true to some extent, at least in the United States; it feels like an unfortunate kick in the face of exactly what this issue needed. I can't help but wonder if this was a deliberate reference by Casey to his direction, or just a subconscious attitude seeping through into the pages he was writing.

When the intentionally lame-named Razzle reveals himself to the audience, Shiny Happy Aquazon snatches the liquid from nearby drinks to construct an aquakinetic weapon (that's her power, duh). Before she gets a chance to use it, however, the jealous secret admirer, Big Atomic Lantern Boy, fires off a blast of radioactive energy from his funky chest porthole!

While Aquazon pines about having her moment of glory stolen, the rest of the team leap into the very public display of action. Well-Spoken Sonic Lightning Flash uses his legitimate super-speed to whip Razzle into a frenzy, leading Shy Crazy Lolita Canary to deliver a modulated sonic scream that sets the skeezy villain up for a flying martial arts kick delivered by Most Excellent Superbat.

As you can no doubt tell from the colourful panels above, it's a pretty decent little action scene, far more than we might have expected of the poseurs whose biggest powers in Final Crisis seemed to be being Japanese and having a car.

ChrisCross does a nice enough job with the art, even if what he has to draw isn't terribly exciting in the scheme of expectation. Vast expanses and generic extras are mostly occupied by an a spectrum array of colour provided by Snakebite.
Those (disco) colours, and the haze that accompanies them in some scenes, can be seen in all of the panels above, perhaps most graphically applied to the shots of Big Atomic Lantern Boy and Most Excellent Superbat.

This, by no means, is a bad comic book, but after everything we were inspired to imagine, it inevitably falls flat. Creating superheroes from the familiarity of the medium and the referencial methods we use in comics strikes me as a way of the future, but this is not how you take them forward.

An appearance by the ghostly image of a mythic legacy character - "Ultimon" - is one of the high points that promises something a little more ethnic of the next issue, but there's a danger it only ties back to a more American conspiratory plot-twist. There are clear signs here that the four-issue mini-series has a specific story to tell that will involve conflict around the world, but I'd much rather be seeing an on-going series written by Grant Morrison. Something quite unlikely, should the book fail to sell strongly. Tragic irony.

The Fight: 4 The Issue: 3.5
Winner: Super Young Team
(w/ Shiny Happy Aquazon)

You'll find collected editions of Final Crisis Aftermath and the original Final Crisis series available online at Amazon! These, and collections featuring other issues reviewed in the Secret Archives, are available in our Mecha Magnificent Online Store. By using purchase links provided on the site, you help sponsor future entries in the Infinite Wars.
In coming months we will no doubt return to Final Crisis to elaborate further on issues not yet reviewed on the site. Stay tuned!

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