Thursday, June 19, 2008

A note on Fourth World continuity, plus a contest update

There's been a good deal of chatter about this Grant Morrison interview, in which he addresses the inconsistencies between FC, COUNTDOWN and THE DEATH OF THE NEW GODS. (Worth reading: the Funnybook Babylon commentary, here, and its antecedent, here.) As Morrison tells it, the first issue of FC was written before the other two series were conceived of; the idea was that the New Gods would be off-panel and unlike hepatitis B for a few years (aside from the avatars that popped up in the SEVEN SOLDIERS project), so it'd be a shock to see Orion turn up dead in a dumpster at the beginning of FC #1. TRINITY, as I understand, was initially going to be the weekly series that followed 52; then it was bumped for a year by COUNTDOWN, which was intended to get certain ducks in a row for FC and provide a dramatic build-up to it.

Which ducks? That's not clear, but the non-Fourth World threads we've seen from COUNTDOWN so far are basically just the Monitors in general, Nix Uotan and Solomon in particular, the destruction of Earth-51, and the new background for Kamandi. Evidently, somebody in a position of authority radically misunderstood the premises of the project the whole line has been building up to since at least SEVEN SOLDIERS and 52 (I have a feeling that Montoya finding the Kirbytech gun in 52 #4 was one of the first major tremors of FC), and commissioned a 51-issue series and an 8-issue series to "set it up" in ways that directly contradict both FC and each other. The ducks are not just not in a row, they're randomly scattered across the multiverse. If DC is going to sell a complicated, serialized narrative on a week-to-week basis, it's entirely reasonable for readers to demand that it make sense on a week-to-week basis; it's a bad sign that the people reading the work have a clearer sense of how it's supposed to fit together than some of the people making the work.

Yes, the contradictions can be explained away with some difficulty, in a sort of No-Prize way, or simply ignored, as Morrison suggests. And it's worth remembering that the edges of Kirby's Fourth World canon were frayed from the start, and that by the time he wrote and drew the NEW GODS "conclusion" and The Hunger Dogs, there had already been a couple of other Fourth World series--not bad ones, either. There was a 1977 revival of MISTER MIRACLE, initially by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers, later by Steve Gerber and Michael Golden. The New Gods first reappeared in 1976 in the last issue of 1ST ISSUE SPECIAL--don't ask--and then in a not-bad series by Gerry Conway and the late, great Don Newton that lasted eight issues before ducking into ADVENTURE COMICS for a couple of issues' worth of "the last battle" and "the end of the war of the New Gods". (It's always the end with this crew.) For that matter, one bit of Fourth World mythology that generally gets taken for granted--the Source Wall, seen throughout DOTNG--wasn't even Kirby's: it was introduced in the distinctly out-of-continuity X-MEN/TEEN TITANS one-shot.

(FC and its associated titles, in fact, are something like the third full-scale post-Kirby Fourth World revival. In 1988, there was Jim Starlin and Mike Mignola's COSMIC ODYSSEY miniseries [and the Forever People's six-issue miniseries by J.M. DeMatteis and Paris Cullins], followed by NEW GODS and MISTER MIRACLE series; both NEW GODS and MISTER MIRACLE reappeared in the mid-'90s, then effectively merged into JACK KIRBY'S FOURTH WORLD.)

Perhaps a less frustrating way to deal with the contradictions is not to try to explain them but to accept them as a pesky but integral part of the story, a sort of continuity koan. Continuity is at least sort of mutable--rarely more explicitly so than in Morrison's superhero comics. The prolegomenon to FINAL CRISIS is SEVEN SOLDIERS: MISTER MIRACLE, in which Shilo Norman's many alternate lives both do and don't happen. "Hypertime" is one way of putting it; another is to say that all stories are more or less true, but better stories, more satisfying stories, are more true in the long term.


Update on that contest: I've recently come into possession of a few boxes of good comics from the '80s, many of which duplicate stuff I already owned. The winners of each of the three parts of the contest will get to pick a batch for themselves. Again, the deadline to enter is June 25, and the three questions you're trying to answer most accurately are:

1) How many issues of additional FINAL CRISIS tie-ins will be announced after April 30 but before the end of the series? (Three have been added so far--although neither FC: SUBMIT nor FC: SUPERMAN BEYOND #2 appear on the September solicitations. "Aftermath" titles don't count.)
2) Which will be the first issue of FINAL CRISIS or its associated titles to be released later than its scheduled ship week?
3) When will the final issue of FINAL CRISIS be released? [This contest is now closed.]


rap said...

What's "interesting" to me is that these discrepancies are just being discovered, as if the scripts and art hadn't been looked at and, um, edited.

But I'm with you; Seven Soldiers and the JLA mini are canon, to which I might also add the DC One Million stories.

Or not.

Er, Hypertime! Yeah, that's the ticket.

raphaeladidas said...

I'm gonna nit-pick about your description of the Source Wall as "not Kirby's." Although he never depicted it as shown in the crossover, it is clearly an extrapolation of Kirby's ideas from New Gods #5. The Source Wall would never have existed if not for the first 4 pages of that issue.

JahFurry said...

Don Newton! Good call. Man I thought he did a killer Shazam in those big fat World's Finest from the late 70z. Some of my first comics were those chunky World's Finest and also Adventure ... then Adventure became a pretty damn solid digest anthology---just found a pile of em when i was back at my folk's place for a week after surgery and sayin hi to the stored part of my collection there... also found my cherished beatup Blue Ribbon JLA digest with the entire original seven soldiers multipart jla/jsa teamup story (one of my most read comics,all those len wein dick dillin tales have a certain somthin..

Kiel Phegley said...

Somewhat off topic: for my money, the best of the non-Kirby Fourth World books is Walt Simonson's Orion series, and the Darkseid/Orion fight there is as close to the kind of thing we all hoped Kirby would have had the chance to do.

Jack said...

I can't fathom the mindset of DC editorial sometimes.

Morrison: Okay, for Final Crisis to work best, I need the New Gods to go away for a while.

DC Editorial: You got it, Grant. Now, okay, everyone, here's the New Gods, use the HELL out of them! And hey, maybe we can kill them all off before FC! Someone get Starlin on the phone!

Seriously, what the heck were they thinking? It's not like Morrison was writing this in secret, so how could they not coordinate it better?

And I have to agree with kiel phegley...Simonson's Orion was amazing. Whenever I'd read someone saying the New Gods couldn't be used well, I'd want to drop my complete run of that book on their heads.

zc said...

I have to say, Morrison's original plan to have no New Gods show up prior to FC and therefore have Orion's death come out of nowhere sounds like a much better idea than what actually happened.

Notwithstanding that Trinity following 52 is also what should have happened, both because Countdown sucked and because that succession just makes sense.

Also, my guesses:

1. I'll go with an even 10.
2. Final Crisis #3
3. It's supposed to end in December, right? i'll go with it actually ending in mid-late February. (really I wish it would go later than that, because I really don't want them to bring in fill-in artists like Pacheco... but I know they will, sadly)

Prof Fury said...

Contesty! OK:

1. Seven

2. Issue 4

3. March (if we need to be more specific for tie-breaking purposes, I'll say the first Wednesday in March)

KP said...

hmm...for some reason my comment isn't showing up. maybe that's normal, but as i have 8 minutes until the deadline, let me try again.

1 - 4

2 - #6

3 - january 7

this is kiel phegley.

Dylan said...

Are the bouncers at the club on the first page grey and red Hulks? Cuz it looks like that to me.

xanadude said...

On the discrepancies, esp. between Death of the New Gos and Final Crisis, just chalk it up to the fact that the Gods have always been trapped in an archetypical cycle of death and rebirth, and the FINAL in FINAL CRISES is their honest to god Ragnarocking last hurrah.

And Countdown was all just a Jimmy Olsen/Donna Troy/Kyle Rayner/Jason Todd shared magic mushroom trip.