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Monday, October 27, 2008


A few weeks ago, Nintendo released a brilliant movement game on WiiWare: Art Style: Orbient. It's six dollars, it lasted me many hours, and I'm sure I'll pick it up again every now and then. But beyond the value, it's a great game. It's not like anything else I've played before. You play as a planet, and the only way to move is by either pulling or pushing yourself from other gravities in the vicinity. You try to get smaller planets into your orbit, you try to get yourself into the orbit of bigger planets, and you try to absorb planets your size so that you get bigger. It might sound confusing, but once you pick it up you understand it perfectly. It fits the ideal of movement games, as I see it: it gives me a new kind of existence to experience, one that entirely revolves around the concepts of orbit and gravity.

Something that I particularly admire about Orbient is its purity of vision. There are no elements tacked on. There's no story, there are no cutscenes, there are no minigames, there are no boss battles. This game is a 100% pure movement game. They got 50 challenging, creative and distinct levels in without ever losing focus or breaking their own rules. This is a game where you start playing as soon as you go in, and keep playing as long as you're there, without ever having your time wasted.

This is surprisingly rare. Possibly the most acclaimed game from last year was Portal, a puzzle game which thinks it's a science fiction comedy action movement game. I recently played that on Eli's computer. I did have fun with it. But it's not a very intellectually stimulating puzzle game, it's not a particularly intense action game, its controls are too focused on functionality for it to be a good movement game, and its science fiction story isn't exactly on the level of standard TV. I'll give it the comedy, though- it was funny. See, that's the problem with trying to do everything: you end up achieving very little.

(The way to make Portal work, I think, would be to de-emphasize puzzles so that the game becomes complex, and then to take away rigid structure and have gameplay pop up however it serves the comedy.)

It's common practice to give lots of little subordinate elements lots of attention, without paying any attention to primary content. So I come across metaludes (The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass) and action RPGs (Okami) which put lots of effort into repeating gameplay systems but very little into plot. (Naturally, I have not finished either game and don't plan to any time soon.) And I come across… well, hm. I really don't play many games these days, do I. Well, I'll probably run into something similar next time I play a big-budget game of some sort.

In the meantime, I'll be playing Nintendo's upcoming Art Style games on WiiWare. Art Style: Cubello was surprisingly addictive and engaging despite its extremely simple premise (shoot cubes, connect four cubes to eliminate them), many flaws (including frustrating endings and a very confusing way of organizing the levels), and repetitiveness. I would curse the game for making me lose after a ten-minute game, and then head right back for more. The gameplay has problems, but it's fun and pure. It doesn't waste my time with random nonsense. I'm sure I'll be going back to that game over and over, just like Orbient. So Art Style games are pretty much "buy on sight" for me now. And anything else -even unanimously praised games like Portal or Okami- I need to take caution with. Most gamists just don't know what they're doing.



I think you would enjoy the Xbox 360 arcade title Geometry War Retro Evolved. It is simply you versus thousands of little shapes trying to hit you. No story, no levels, just an ever increasing difficulty. The controls are great, the graphics are exciting.

The only issue is the difficulty does plateau at roughly 7 million points, however that is also my highscore, so it doesn't really matter.

I found the sequel to it to be annoying because it did lack the purity of the original game. They decided to pack in 6 different minigames instead of simply perfecting the original.


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Thursday, October 23, 2008

No work done.



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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

All-Star Superman

Note: The first section was posted on 24/9.

There are few comic book writers held in as high esteem as Grant Morrison. He always writes big and outrageous plots, with aspirations toward being high-quality literature. He is praised for playing with continuity in clever ways, for expecting the reader to be intelligent, for demonstrating to the world how it is that a writer is meant to write. Listening to interviews with him, it's hard not to see why his work is so well regarded. He's deconstructing myths and messing with narrative structure and pushing boundaries and all that good stuff! And then I sit down, excited as a little kid, and actually read the thing.

And every single time, without fail, I find myself horrified at just how astoundingly bad his writing is. I have tried reading his Batman, I have tried reading his Seven Soldiers, I have tried reading his Final Crisis, I have tried reading his New X-Men, I have tried reading his We3. Without exception, every single issue I have read by Grant Morrison has struck me on almost every page as a mediocre story incompetently told. And I'm doubly frustrated, because it's supposed to be something wonderful. On the internet I hear nothing but praise for Morrison's work, and I recognize the ambition, and I say to myself, "I want to read something by that genius!". I fall for the hype no matter how many times I have been disappointed, no, downright offended by the quality of his writing.

So take the case of All-Star Superman. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more universally-loved comic book. It's won awards, it's dazzled critics, it's even sold well. Every review I see mentions that there's nothing that could possibly be said by a lowly critic which could adequately encapsulate the pure perfection that is All-Star Superman. They just released the twelfth and final issue, and already it's being called an enduring classic, one of the best comic books ever written, etc. etc. etc. And I desperately want to believe them, because as much as I'm comfortable standing out I enjoy a good story more. There really shouldn't be any reason to dislike it- it's considered the most accessible of Grant Morrison's work, after all. A timeless masterpiece, that's what it's supposed to be.

That's what it most emphatically is not, and yet even as I think back to the issue I just read a few hours ago (#1), I'm trying to spin it in my head into something I can admire. I had no such reactions as I was actually reading it. I got one, overwhelming emotion from it, the same one I get from everything Morrison writes: agitation. That was it.

Why did I even bother reading it? Because I said to myself: "Surely you're wrong. Surely you just haven't taken the time to appreciate it properly. Surely the brilliance is like that of Metroid Prime, which you only get to see once you've spent some time with it." And so I decided (with no irony) to read the entire series, basking in its brilliance, at the end of which I will be enriched and enlightened and understand that Grant Morrison is not a worthless hack after all.

I still intend to follow through on that commitment. So here is what I'm going to do. I'm going to keep adding bits to this post as I read through each issue. I'm going to force myself to endure the agitation to find the good that may or may not be there. I'll start by rereading issue #1 again, now that I know exactly what to expect (and therefore can't be as horrified as I was earlier today), later today.

When I read a story, I'm not concerned with the specific details of the plot. It's easy to take for granted when you read a lot of competent writing, but underneath all that is a sort of music which gives the experience value. There are crescendos and diminuendos, accelerandos and ritardandos. There are shifts in tone, and comfortable harmonies, and dissonance being introduced and then resolved. Everything that happens leads naturally to the thing to follow. I read a story because I want the experience of reading- I want to get caught up in the atmosphere and the emotions and the flow of the story.*
(I have trouble keeping track of too many details. So I don't enjoy reading prose, which tends to get bogged down in long descriptions. I find myself re-reading the same paragraphs many times to absorb them on even a basic level, which means I'm not getting the real experience. That's why I stick to comics, where all descriptions are visual and separate from the text.)

The series starts with what is possibly the shortest, most efficient retelling of Superman's origin story ever. It uses only four, unremarkable panels, each one bearing two words of explanation: "Doomed planet. Desperate scientists. Last hope. Kindly couple." The emotions behind this origin story have been played out many times, by many writers: a profound loss, a new home. Morrison is not interested in that. The four panels, as I said, are remarkably unremarkable. The first planet shows Krypton's city from a distance, so you shouldn't get a sense of its grandeur (and care about its destruction). The second panel has Superman's parents' faces obscured by an unfortunately-placed shadow, so that you shouldn't get a good sense of their emotions and humanity. In the third panel we see the alien-looking exterior of the spaceship rather than the baby within. In the fourth panel we see two strangers discovering the baby in the moment of initial shock rather than any moment of acceptance.

The issue's title is appropriate. Grant Morrison is telling the story quickly, while refusing to pause at any moments that make the story worth telling. This is plot without the music.

The set-up of the issue's plot is similarly concise: There are a bunch of people in a spaceship by the sun, the evil Lex Luthor has somehow gotten a monster on board to sabotage them, and Superman happens to be nearby to save them. There is very little explanation of what they're doing by the sun, there is no explanation at all given for why Superman's there, and as far as I can tell there's no conceivable explanation for how the monster got there. All this I respect. It doesn't really matter how it all got that way, it's just a big space story of the sort Superman does everyday. What does matter, and what completely undermines the potential of the scene, is that Morrison takes away any possible reason to care about the scene. The people in the ship, we are informed, were artificially "grown with zero fear genes", and the one person there who can be scared proclaims: "Fear is the sauce on the steak of life!" So the creation and resolution of tension, like you'd get with a musical cadence, is absent.

To add insult to injury, the panel placement pretends it is going for an emotional reaction, by making the panels increasingly lopsided. But then, on the very next page, as I was expecting a continuation of the cadence, it sticks a perfectly centered big panel of one of the aforementioned emotionless people. It's like Grant Morrison (and his artist, Frank Quitely) knows I'm expecting emotion, and is deliberately preventing it. "Here, have some emotion- whoops, none there! I didn't think you'd be a sucker enough to actually try to care! Ho, ho." On the other hand, it might not be malicious at all. He might just have no sense of how to tell a story.

Because if you're not going to put emotion in, then what's the point? The point of having Superman save anyone is to get a progression of emotions: a build-up of tension as the villain sets up his plan, a climax when he seems to be winning, then relief when Superman shows up, then increased tension when Superman fails temporarily, and resolution when Superman saves the day. But enough about this. You're an intelligent person, you know exactly what I'm talking about. So let's move on.

When Superman flies in, there is a zoom-in not on his struggling face, but on his chest's "S" symbol. This, in a nutshell, is how Grant Morrison thinks of Superman and the rest of his characters: they are not people we should care about, but archetypes to be pondered. No one in the issue is given any believable motivations. For instance, here is main villain Lex Luthor, explaining why he does what he does: "I'm getting older and… pauseand he isn't. So if I want to die happy, it's time to get serious about killing Superman." That's the motivation on top of which (I imagine) a large portion of this series is going to be built- petty and implausible jealousy. I've seen jealousy played more convincingly in comics from the 60's. But again, Morrison isn't interested in making you care. He's just hitting all the expected notes as quickly as he can.

..and then he tries to make up for it by being confusing and pretentious. Which I guess must be pretty hard, considering how simple the plot is. He must really work hard to seem "intellectual". He cuts away from the space scene -jarringly- before it can reach any emotion. (This had me shouting angrily at the comic.) And then the creators demonstrate their brilliance by somehow managing to make a simple journalism scene into something almost unreadable. The dialogue is deliberately unclear, and whereas most writers would use visuals to complement the text and make it clear what's going on, here the pictures focus on things that are completely irrelevant to the story. It has someone talk from off-panel, then shows someone who is not the speaker. They're talking about something ambiguous, and then there's a zoom-in on something they're not talking about. It's like a deliberate effort to confuse the reader! And even after that, some of the dialogue just doesn't make any sort of sense to me. Try this line: "I'm right here with a heart that's true." What the heck does that mean? This is the way Morrison has his ordinary people speak, so that we should be confused and disoriented and say "Wow, Grant Morrison must be so clever this is going right over my head!".

And the pretentiousness I mentioned? Well, when the story finally gets back to the rescue, the monster starts spouting: "You have no right to limit my ambitions, fascist! No right at all to stand in the way of my self-realization!" It's the sort of thing that might seem like some deep criticism of society unless you think for even a second about what it's trying to say, and realize there's nothing there.

The rest of the issue isn't even pretending to be trying to be pretending to be doing anything. It's pointless stuff- artificial superpeople, people turning against Lex Luthor, Clark Kent being clumsy, all without any hint of music to it. And then there's one idea, which I take it will hold the whole series together, and it's a good idea. If you gave it to a master storyteller like J. Michael Straczynski or David Mack or Jeff Smith, you'd have one heck of a story. In the hands of Grant Morrison, I find myself wondering why anyone would care. The idea is that Superman is dying. And the reason this is utterly pointless (except as a way to get to the next part of the mechanical plot) is that we never get a sense of how Superman feels about this. Is he afraid? Is he confused? Is he angry? Is he depressed? No, he's just Superman. An archetype, a little action figure Grant Morrison is moving around from plot point to plot point.

The issue ends with Superman revealing his identity to Lois Lane. And since this ought to be an emotional moment, of course we don't see either of their faces as it happens. We see more inanimate objects and symbols. The next issue could start with the huge outburst of emotion you'd expect to get from a moment like this. But I'm not counting on it.

Cool, I was wrong!

This issue is a charming little dance between Superman and Lois Lane. It's very simple, and it's played perfectly.

The story has Superman taking Lois Lane to his Fortress of Solitude, and the two of them hanging out there. The previous cliffhanger, where Superman revealed his secret identity, is played in an unexpected way that absolutely meets the hopes I had. Basically, Lois doesn't believe him. The issue starts there, and ends with Lois confronting Superman and being shocked by what she finds out. So there isn't a huge range here- it's all shades of distrust. What makes the issue work -and I imagine it must have been harder to write than it seems- is the slow build-up. You see Lois gradually get more and more scared and paranoid as the issue progresses, making the story feel dynamic and engaging even though it is all resolved in one image at the end with no consequence.

The Fortress seems to be an endless well of creativity. On almost every page, there's at least one new idea thrown in, the sort of big idea that other comics might use once per story arc and call it a day. To give you an illustration of what I mean: Lois comes in her car, which Superman carries on his back across the world. The Fortress is just a huge mountain with a little S-marked door, the key to which is tiny but super-dense so that only Superman can lift it. As they walk in, they are greeted by a group of friendly Superman-robot butlers. As they service Lois's car, Lois and Superman keep walking while making smalltalk about Superman's latest adventure with Batman. The ideas only get more fantastic from there on.

Interestingly, Lois isn't dazzled by any of this. She has apparently been Superman's girlfriend for a while, and takes all the craziness for granted. But it's clear that she doesn't really understand Superman, she never knows what he's thinking or what his intentions are. She keeps surprising Superman by misunderstanding his gestures. They're the most bizarre couple, and I think it's great. I always love seeing two worlds knock into each other, and that's exactly what this is.

Having the issue be about distrust is a good way of illustrating the relationship in emotional terms. The way the plot creates this distrust is by introducing a room Superman doesn't want Lois to go into. Lois is disturbed by this, and we get ominous narration: "But now we come to the part of the story of my life where things go wrong." It's clever, actually- the narrator seems to be all-knowing, but it's lying to the reader. It's a way to get us to buy into Lois's paranoia, irrational as it might get. Of course there's nothing remotely dangerous in that room, and Superman has the purest of intentions. But who am I to disagree with a narrator?

So there's this rising level of paranoia, as I said, increasing with everything Lois sees, until she attacks Superman. In one page all suspicion is then resolved, and on the final page we see what was in that mysterious room: It's a birthday present for Lois, and it's the coolest present ever. Just the sort of out-there thing you'd imagine Superman would get his girlfriend. (Though I wouldn't have thought of it.) And that's the cliffhanger for the next issue.

So I have now read an excellent issue by Grant Morrison. I wonder what the next one will be like.

This is a direct follow-up to the last issue, in much the same spirit. It's about Lois's birthday, and for some reason she's got it in her head that the best way to spend that birthday is to tease Superman by flirting with other guys. Y'know, just for fun. My understanding is that Morrison's basing this on the themes and spirit of old Superman comics. So I think it's probably a reflection of how the original writers felt about women in general. What I see here is that Lois Lane is no less an archetype than Superman. She's not just a woman, she's a symbol for women in general, as seen by a bunch of male writers who don't understand them.

As the birthday takes a detour thanks to a reptile invasion of Metropolis, two superheroes pop up and instantly fall in love with Lois. While Superman just wants to have a quiet romantic day with Lois, these two propose a challenge to decide who should get to spend the day with her: "It's simple. We'll each of us perform a super-feat of strength in honor of Lois Lane. The most incredible feat wins her company."

I wonder what a more fun writer like Jeff Parker would have done with this silly set-up. I can just picture it: each page is a different competition, each one more ludicrous than the last, with Superman always doing best but still always failing to capture Lois's heart. And then the pages run out, there's some sort of punchline, and nothing's resolved. Most likely the old Superman comics were something like that, in which case maybe I should seek out old Superman comics.

What Grant Morrison does is less fun and less classic, but it's not bad at all. He's dealing with Superman's jealousy, his fear of losing Lois (which comes out in a standard life-or-death riddle). And in one moment, he even gets in the more-subtle idea that Superman is jealous of the men Lois will love after he's dead. Bravo. Still, there's a lot of idle teasing between the characters and not a lot of substance. The actual competition is just two pages toward the end, really. It's an arm-wrestling match. Guess who wins.

We're seeing it from Superman's perspective, from which it seems like a bit of a wasted day. Lois's party is skipped over entirely, and by the time Superman has Lois alone and is trying to have a real conversation, she's fallen asleep. Ah, women. You just can't talk to them. But still, before she falls asleep Superman does get his full-page kiss with Lois, so I guess it was all worth it.

This is good old-fashioned storytelling, with no fancy gimmicks at all save for two bizarre panels that mess with the flow of the reading. I could overlook these if the first weren't the end of the main plot and the second weren't the end of the issue. Oddly enough, they both use newspaper headlines to imply plot points. The first one I've read over and over and I still can't make heads or tails of it. So when I read this comic, the three-way competition feels unresolved even though the story jumps forward from there. The last panel of the book is a punchline, of sorts, but it only works if you know that Superman has X-Ray vision and think back to an earlier throwaway scene and connect that with another throwaway scene. And even when you recognize the joke, it adds absolutely nothing to the story and just distracts from what should be a more resonant final page.

Grant Morrison obviously can tell a story. This has been two good issues in a row- that doesn't happen by accident. So for most of this issue I was wondering how he could be so clearly competent, when I know from issue 1 and other comics that his storytelling tends to be a mess! The end of the issue gives me the answer I was looking for: He loves feeling clever. If he sees a chance to do something "sophisticated" that only a handful of readers will understand on a basic level, he'll always take it. Even if the alternative, which would be clear to everyone, would work better for the storytelling! (I'm guilty of similar self-indulgences. For instance, I wonder if anyone but myself would derive any meaning from "In Darkness".)

The two panels are nitpicks, really. It's a good, if unspectacular issue.

I've never read a Jimmy Olsen story before. I hope I don't read a Jimmy Olsen story again.

He's a collection of negative characteristics: He's arrogant, obnoxious, perverted, whiny. For his newspaper column, he takes insane risks, and then expects Superman to show up and save him. (He always does.) Here's a line that pretty much sums him up: "Doomsday! See, that's the kind of excitement I need for my feature!" And he's not being sarcastic there.

After all of Lois's hostility, and now Jimmy, I wonder when Morrison will get around to giving us a character who isn't a simple jerk. Well, at least there's Superman. As unapproachable as he is, at least he's a good guy. I can still feel sorry for him when these awful people take advantage of him. So of course Morrison turns him evil.

The rest of the issue is about fighting a mindlessly destructive Superman. (yawn) Who talks like this: "You and they point dumb gun at me! Say bye-bye hand!" Seriously, that's what he says. I couldn't make up something this stupid.

By the way, this is the point Morrison chooses to finally give Superman some clear emotion about dying. -------
Me am die now? No die! Me scared…
He waits for the moment where you can't relate to the character on any level to stick in an emotion you might want to relate to! Crazy.

There's really nothing else to say about this issue. It's a waste of time.

Oh joy, another annoying character.

Morrison wants us to laugh at Luthor. Ha ha, that stupid villain. So he sets him up as a straw man. In the first two pages, we're told that he thinks of Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Al Capone, and Adolph Hitler as "heroes and role models", he tells us that he's been evil because "Superman made me do it.", and he's given the death sentence. And we're meant to cheer.

But only an idiot would cheer. His character is painted in terms that are so artificial, so blatantly designed for the specific purpose of being broken down, that the denouncement is utterly meaningless. It's like a schoolyard bully laughing at a kid for nicknames which the bully made up himself. In other words, it's pathetic.

For comparison, there was a scene in Dan Slott's She-Hulk series where he had the title character denounce Iron Man. Up to that point in the story Iron Man had been painted as charming, well-meaning, professional, respected, etc.. But She-Hulk lists his offenses and tells him he's become a fascist dictator! That moment had power, because there was something there to break down. Iron Man's a hero character, a guy who's been built up as a man of some integrity and idealism. He's a character which many fans (myself included) were still rooting for every step of the way. So when She-Hulk eventually beats him up in her righteous anger, it means something.

Lex Luthor is a house of cards. It is made very clear that he has no achievements to his name, that he is despised by all, that he has not a single thought less flimsy and shallow than the most insufferable teenaged girl's whining. And then Grant Morrison sets up a plot which exists for one purpose: to convince the reader that Lex Luthor is a moron. Cue rapturous applause.

Clark Kent visits Luthor in prison, writing up his thoughts for an article. So we get page after page of what you'd get if Lex Luthor (God forbid) made a blog: "Oh, Superman's so horrible. He makes life not worth living. I'm the greatest guy alive, did you know? Not like that Superman. They all love him, that pretty boy. But he's a poopy-head. I'll rule the world. Superman. Superman." And then a monster breaks out, so that Morrison can get to the bit which he thinks is oh-so-clever: Clark Kent discreetly saves everyone with his powers, while Lex Luthor obliviously continues to bad-mouth Superman and do nothing. Ooh, a metaphor! Fancy.

There are two clever panel layouts here. I'll give them credit for that.

But the writing is just sad.

When I sat down to read this, I was feeling a bit sick. I'd left the games night early, thinking it was almost over, only to learn later that there'd been more games after that. So I was disappointed about that. And I was particularly grumpy, since I'd just had to clean up some puddles of Fudgie's vomit (after accidentally stepping in one).

I'm telling you all this so that my biases will be clear. I was hoping this issue would be bad, so that I could have the fun of writing up this post in a particularly angry manner. But this issue is a classic. So far I'm not seeing any reason for this series, as a whole, to be remembered. But this particular issue, separate from the rest of the story, I hope they're still reading many decades from now.

Normally I wouldn't spoil this, but it's right there on the cover and in the title: This issue goes back to the day Jonathan Kent, the man who adopted Superman, died. It's mostly disconnected from the larger story of the series, which is good, because it means I can recommend this issue without recommending the series as a whole. The Superman here is still living in Smallville, still helping out on the Kent's farm and still a relatable character.

The story keeps cutting between the human and the fantastical. From Jonathan Kent's humble thoughts, to Superman flying through space with his superpowered dog. From the young Clark Kent hanging out with his friends and considering his future, to Superman teaming up with a bunch of "Supermen" from the distant future to fight a time-travelling monster. The purpose of these juxtapositions is made clear on the last two pages: first we see six Supermen all from different time periods, making grandiose implications about Superman's long-lasting legacy. And then the last page is a single moment in time- Superman at his adoptive father's grave.

This comic paints all the Superman comics which have ever been written, and all the Superman comics which have yet to be written, as Jonathan Kent's legacy.

And I find that interesting, because there's really nothing special about the guy. From what little we see of him here, he seems like any other random guy. He's proud of his son and he thanks God for his blessings. That's pretty much all the characterization he gets here. We can't really tell from the scenes he's in what his values are. But we see his humility, and that's the important thing. Apparently that quality rubbed off on Superman.

This is unrealistic, I think. Jonathan tells Clark at the beginning of the issue that he was a gift from God. Now, I can see Jonathan's humility there, but I think Superman's most likely to get an over-inflated ego from remarks like that. A Superman who thinks he's God's gift to the world would help no one but himself.

But still, I see what Morrison means to say and I do like it. It's a really good issue. Again, it's simple. But more so than the other issues this says something worthwhile about Superman comics in general.

Morrison only uses one of his trademark disorienting transitions here, and while usually they only serve to confuse, here it's used for dramatic effect. Superman flies toward his dying father, yelling: "I can save him! I can save everybody!" And then we cut to him standing over his father's coffin in the funeral.

And then for a two-page spread he speaks of Jonathan Kent's values. This is a good choice. For Superman's story, it doesn't matter who Kent actually was- it just matters what Superman learned from him. So we get characterization from Superman's account, and the actual man is left more or less a cipher.

An inspired comic, this.

Page 1, panel 1. Oh, some abstract purple thing. Hello, abstract purple thing! Wait, is that a face on it? It seems it is. Is it a creature? No, there are bricks all over and there seems to be a pillar going straight through its stomach. Or is that a stomach? Maybe that's its neck. Seriously, what is this thing?! Is that fabric, dangling from its middle? Ah well, I guess Quitely (the artist) will get out of this extreme zoom-in for a wider view, and then it'll be clear what the heck it is I'm supposed to be seeing here.

Page 1, panel 2. Two people are in a vague cockpit-ty area which seems to be disassembling itself. One talks about "bizarro technicians" and "micro-singularities". The other says "Thrilling, isn't it?", and I'm glad he did because frankly I had no idea. And then he says they need to be "scaled up" or they're gonna die. Or something. He helpfully refers to the abstract purple thing from the first panel (at least, I'm guessing that's what he's referring to) as "one of those bizarre structures". Thank you for clearing that up. Apparently this is Surrealistic superhero comics.

Page 1, panel 3. Oh good, a slightly wider view! Now I can see it so clearly, it's a... a.. a. What is it. It's a sort of purple thing. Is any part of this thing the thing that I saw in panel 1? No, it's no- wait! I see a little pink speck in the right corner! That must be the thing in panel 1! It all makes sense now! The dialogue tells me that this is the underverse. I always wanted to see what that was like. I think I'd like to go home now.

Page 1, panel 4. Ooh, an even wider view! I can see the whole abstract purple thing now. It's obviously origami, with some sort of zombie limbs coming out of it. It doesn't look anything like panels 1 or 3, so I guess those were the other side. Or something. There's the Earth behind it, in all its purplish glory.

Page 2, panels 1-4. New scene. Good, I was getting bored of that one. This one's much cooler, with Superman in space fighting some sort of abstract… black… thing… Or is he fighting? It looks more like he's just sorta floating there, until he leaves. Good thing there's no dialogue- this is so cool already, dialogue would be overkill.

Page 3, panel 1. Why is Superman scared, as he looks back at the abstract black thing? Actually, maybe he's not. That look could just as easily be friendly. Oh, how sweet, the abstract black thing seems to be waving goodbye! On second thought, the last page might have been Superman hugging the abstract black thing. He found a friend.

Page 3, panel 2. Superman looks forward with a blank expression. [sniff] It's so beautiful!

Page 3, panel 3. Planet.

Page 3, panel 4. Planet.

Page 3, panel 5. Monsters.

Pages 4 and 5. Earth-cube. Oh no, Superman! Don't fall onto the Earth-cube!

Then it switches scenes. The Daily Planet guys hang around and talk about the true meaning of Christmas. Then a bunch of monsters fall from the sky, they touch them, it sort of has this zombie-ish infection thing where anyone touched says "Me am Bizarro!", a Superman monster shows up to kill people and says indecipherable gibberish like "Want all you am no want Bizarro!", the Daily Planet guys act annoying, there's babbling about "planet eaters" and "infra-matter" and it just goes on and on and on dear God it never ends!

This is crap. This is complete and utter crap from cover to cover. Grant Morrison should have been ashamed to write it, and Frank Quitely should have been ashamed to draw it, and the DC editors should have been ashamed to publish it.

Reading this issue is like sitting in a microwave. Reading this issue is like clawing out your own brain with a toothpick through the ear. Reading this issue is like eating an entire dumpster and its contents in ten minutes. This isn't just bad, it's ambitiously bad. I could almost believe it's intentionally painful. And you know what that would make this? Still crap.

Here is the plot: Superman is stuck on a planet of morons. He meets a copy of himself who is intelligent. Superman gets the morons to work for him and escapes. The End.

There's a passable metaphor here, the idiot monsters symbolizing the people of Earth. And I do feel a bit sorry for the Superman-copy. But that's not enough to justify spending twenty-two pages on one gag. There's lots of talking and padding, and very little story.

That's all I have to say about that.

Two new characters are introduced here, Kryptonians who've taken over running the Earth while Superman was stuck in the silliness of the last issue. Presumably the title is referring to the way they are clumsily written out in the last third, and they're meant to represent all the other decidedly-temporary replacements for Superman over the years. That makes this the third title in the series to suggest that poor storytelling choices are deliberate, after "…faster…" and "Being Bizarro". (That last one possibly implies that we're meant to understand from the insanity of the reading experience what it's like to be insane.) But it doesn't really matter one bit what the intentions were- stupid is as stupid does, y'know?

Regardless, this is very good. Thematically this is following directly from the last issue: the new Kryptonians see themselves as being above the lowly humans, and think Superman is disgracing himself by lowering himself to our level. It also ties in with most of the earlier issues in one way or another: there's Superman's jealousy of these "replacements" mirroring issue 3, there's the whole Daily Planet cast, there's a return of the Fortress of Solitude from issue 2. That last bit deserves special mention. Continuing a gag from that issue, the Kryptonians were able to lift the key to the Fortress and let themselves in. That's cute, and I like that Morrison's making the replacement more personal. It's one thing to take over a job, it's another to take over a home. In the end, though, I don't think he did enough with it. The unwanted guests didn't do anything particularly destructive while Superman was out, so it doesn't feel like much of a threat.

Speaking of which, their power level is really played up at first. They use Superman as a punching bag and do all sorts of crazy, Superman-y things. And then in the end they suddenly and awfully conveniently go blind and weak, so that we can get to the inevitable ending. Morrison plays their farewell for some emotion, but I think it's the wrong one. He emphasizes the two characters' love for each other, when he should really be giving us a reason for casting them away. He should have emphasized their character flaws in the end, made those their undoing, so that we could see how Superman is better. Y'know, twist it into a statement about Superman, rather than a random story about two characters we don't really care about. What he does do is repeat the idea of Superman's human-taught humility, refusing to impose his will on others. There are a few good exchanges between the two sides on the subject.

Any problems I have with this issue are nitpicks. It's very good, it's clearly told, it's got plenty of emotions, it's got a few excellent layouts.

I'm surprised by how often I've been saying this, but this is excellent. Committing fully to the dying Superman story, this shows what Superman does in one of his last days on Earth. He saves lives, he gives hope to the hopeless, he gives an entire civilization purpose. And all I do with my day is entertain myself.

I love the way this is told. It's totally nonlinear, jumping backwards and forwards through the day wildly with little captions saying what time it's jumped to -------
7:02 AM…11:25 PM…10:25 AM…12:01 AM…4:35 PM…11:00 AM…1:36 PM…
, but it's not intrusive. You don't need to pay attention to what order the events happen in. The story works well even if all you understand is the vague sense that it's not linear, because each plot thread makes sense on its own. What the nonlinearity adds is that Morrison can jump back and forth between stories as is dramatically appropriate. I think the difference between this (which I enjoy) and issue 1 (which drives me crazy) is that none of the scenes absolutely need to be followed up on. There aren't scenes where what's going on is unclear, there aren't any especially tense scenes. So I never minded putting a scene down for a minute, though I didn't know if I'd see it again.

There's one particular use of nonlinearity that I found so impressive, I'm going to single it out. As Superman talks to Lois in a straighforward scene, two small single-panels are inserted, set later, where Superman reacts to what was said in the conversation. So you have a clear causality at work, even though there are hours between the cause and the effect. The future panels are smaller than the others, so that their separation from the main flow of the scene is visually obvious. And it's made even less confusing by the fact that both panels are continuations of other plot threads which were already introduced. But I think there's a principle of storytelling here that could be applied more generally, still without causing confusion. A self-contained one-panel comic can add interesting commentary without being intrusive. (Everyone has time for a single panel, even if it comes in the middle of something they're more interested in.) The writer needs to be careful to have the separate panel add something clear to the story. But anyway.

The different storylines (by my count, there are nine) unfold as the issue progresses, with one in the center- a story that ironically takes less than a second from start to finish. It is that story that provides the climax of the issue, which all the storylines feel like they're building toward. I will not spoil the moment, because it's very clever, but it basically reaffirms Superman's importance to the world.

There's also a little visit from the future, when everyone speaks in a language derived from internet acronyms. That makes me shudder every time I read it, because I'm not sure it's not possible. Anyway, I don't really see what the point of it was so I'm assuming it's setting up the next issue.

This issue exists so that Grant Morrison can move the pieces around the board to where he wants them to be in the finale. The most exciting thing that happens is Superman in a costume that obscures his face fighting alongside a bunch of robots and the possibly-friendly black thing from issue 7 against a space robot possessing no motivations who no one could possibly think would accomplish anything. Also, Lex Luthor gets superpowers. Sure, whatever. The issue is redeemed by Quitely's artwork, which makes everything look much more exciting than it actually is.

It ends how you'd expect it ends. Superman easily beats Lex Luthor, surprising no one. He sacrifices himself for humanity, surprising no one. He doesn't really die, also surprising no one. Morrison gets in a few more incomprehensible scenes, surprising no one. And finally, it should come as no surprise that in the end, there is no point.

In the first issue I didn't care about any of the characters. In the last issue, I still don't care about any of the characters. They're paper-thin stereotypes, intentionally left unrelatable to the very end.

There is a surprising amount of good stuff in the series (though not in this issue). Morrison is apparently capable of telling stories that aren't pointless and annoying. But it's just not worth sifting through all the crap to find it.



Thanks for a pleasant read. :) Some of that stuff could actually have made it into the rant machine - the idea of you shouting angrily at a comic book was really funny. :D Keep up the good work.

Have you ever talked about Watchmen? I haven't read many comic books before it and am finding it immensely enjoyable.

Sorry, I've never read Watchmen. I'll get around to it some day.


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