Saturday, August 9, 2008

Final Crisis: Requiem #1 Doug Mahnke & J.G. Jones Covers

So over at ...nurgh... I do an irregular, untimely comic review column appropriately titled Wednesday Is Any Day For All I Care. I spent too many years in retail to "need" comics on their arrival date, and receive mine in a monthly shipment at a heavy discount. Anyway, I finally received my copy of "Final Crisis: Requiem #1," and after dispensing with the more general, minimal spoiler review, I promised I'd inevitably get around to expanding into detailed nitpicking. That time has come. Also, I've noticed that with all the stupid secrecy surrounding Martian Manhunter's death (revealed way back in January by Rich Johnston's "Lying In The Gutters" column at Comic Book Resources,) Google and Yahoo image searches seem to mostly yield only the censored version of the J. G. Jones cover. I figured I'd perform a service for the public by posting both the Manke and full Jones illustrations, then get detailed after the first image appears...

Peter Tomasi is a writer for whom I've yet to form an opinion. I've read his stuff in various places since the mid-90's, some good, some not, but nothing to tip me solidly one way or the other. I'd hoped "Requiem" would decide the matter, but no, not yet. I'm also in the minority in liking how quickly Grant Morrison dispatched the Martian Manhunter in "Final Crisis." Murder is a dirty business, and its victims are rarely given a chance to properly defend themselves. That's largely what defines the difference between "murder" and, say, "mortal combat." This story blurs that line, as J'Onn J'Onzz in no way goes gently into that good night. This was a lengthy, messy, torturous affair that spreads as much blame as possible, while ending in the exact same spot as Grant Morrison left things.

After the deed is done, the rest feels obligatory. There's the gathering of heroes to mourn and swear vengeance, as seen in every other "heroic death" follow-up anyone's read since Jean Grey bit the big one in 1980. With one notable exception, all the attendees are the Who's Who of modern DC Comics, regardless of any actual connection to the deceased. Of course everyone adjourns to Mars, and what an excellent time for super-villains to run rampant, eh? Was "the day evil won" just the length of the interplanetary round trip? Anyhow, that's followed by the flashback montage, mostly to events that took place during the Tomasi-edited "Martian Manhunter" solo series. All pretty by the numbers. I know this all sounds critical, but I don't blame Tomasi. There was only so much room to maneuver, and there were enough nice touches to afford his work here a passing grade.

What makes the book a must read is the art. I've enjoyed Doug Mahnke's work for years, to varying degrees, and this is some of his best to date. A good deal is asked of him, from the sheer number of characters and scenes to a wide range of emotions, and he never missteps. He chose many unusual angles to express the brutality, horror, tension, and peaceful acceptance present in the story, and they work magnificently. Another important element was the finishes provided by Rodney Ramos and especially Christian Alamy. The latter made an impressive debut in American comics with a two-part Joker story over a decade back that showed enormous promise, only to disappear into a series of assignments as an embellisher. Never before have I seen Alamy display the kind of talent in his inks showcased here. Mahnke's pencils are often intentionally angular and rough, but Alamy smooths out the edges with a delicate grace, bringing a tight, sumptuous look I could stand to see in more comics. Additionally, Nei Ruffino's colors were pitch-perfect, making this the total package, and a feast for the eyes.

Final Crisis: Requiem #1 Doug Mahnke Cover




Page 1: Lovely pullback on the serene semi-Natural Martian corpse in classic costume. Tomasi's words ring true.

Page 2: I could devote a whole column to who shouldn't have been here and who's absence is glaring. The splash makes it clear lots of people there aren't going to be visible, allowing for everyone to apply fanwank. I'm just pleased someone who appears to be the classic Aquaman was there. Confused someone who appears to be Gambit of the X-Men is also there, but never mind.

Page 3: I'm happy both Wonder Woman and Green Arrow were spotlighted, as both were good friends who made a real effort to get closer to J'Onn than he'd ever allow. Case in point, why were neither picked to receive J'Onn's memories? Did someone go "oh yeah, Gypsy" midway through, or was her (and a great many others') absence a point in itself?

Pages 4-5: I've always complained J'Onn was "assigned" Dr. Light as a nemesis in old JLofA stories only because he was available and didn't "belong" to any other hero. I guess this marks his official entry, unreserved, into the Vile Menagerie. I'll even throw in Effigy for good measure. It's not like he's got anything better going.

Page 6: Not so Lex Luthor, Dr. Sivana, Ocean Master, and Talia, all firmly in other heroes' circles. They just get Second-Degree Murder and Conspiracy charges.

Page 7: Love the angle on panel two, as well as the morphing.

Pages 8-11: I know he's been away for a bit, and the villains demand an assorted line-up, but Elongated Man? Isn't that a bit telling? Why not Zatanna? Also, the excessive force? Shouldn't Kyle be here? Do note, J'Onn saves Savage for himself, as well he should.

Pages 12-13: Intense! Dug the speech.

Page 14-15: I hate horizontal panel spreads. They confuse me every time. Also, Dinah over Diana I can understand, but poor Ollie just cannot hop on the friendship train, can he? Why is J'Onn such a jerk to him, especially when freakin' Jordan gets called up? Wouldn't Ollie have made a better Bones to Hal's Kirk when Sarek inevitably asks what they did with Spock's body? Finally, I'm really sorry to hear Oracle allowed poor Gypsy to return to Detroit.

Page 16: "Don't grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh..." Okay, I'll stop. Outstanding shot in panel four. Nice texture and color on that web of blood.

Page 17: So Peter Tomasi, writer of Nightwing, feeling graituitous are we?

Page 18: I guess he ultimately didn't like the new costume, either.

Pages 19-20: Backdoor pilot. Might have been nice if some of those true friends hanging on the wall had made a more substantial appearance.

Page 21: Who reopened J'Onn's eyes?

Page 22-27: Clip show. Tell me readers, would you have preferred to see Zook, Justice League Detroit, the Super Buddies, and the Task Force represented? Were you really burning for a detailed recap of Tomasi's three years editing the Ostrander/Mandrake/Barreto run? Was your reading enriched by references to countless ill-considered retcons and team-ups with the Sentinels of Magic and Jemm: Son of Saturn? At least Bette Noir and Headmaster were decent, but they're bypassed for one-miss wonders like the B'ool Sporath and Antares. This was where I checked out of the story, obviously. I'm pretty sure inker Christian Alamy did, as well. That last page was my favorite, since it acurately charts the reasons why J'Onn got killed off.

Page 28: Another solo series reference, but hey look, Gypsy! Yay! Oh, there's Kyle and Guy, too! About time...

Page 29: That book fools no one!

Page 30: For the record, "Oreos" became "Chocos" under Tomasi's editorship. Still, two nice touches to play us out.

Spoilers ov-- er...

That cover's kind of telling, come to think of it...

Final Crisis: Requiem #1 J.G. Jones Cover


Matthew McKinnon-Gray said...

I have to admit, yes, I was burning for a detailed recap of the Mandrake series, if only to know it was still in continuity. J'onn's had so many retcons since the 80's, including some that took place after the Mandrake series (the Guardians created the martians? How does that work when the Martians pre-date them?) it was a relief to see them trying to be consistent for once. You're right that they could have trimmed a few panels to cover older elements like VULTURE or the martian robot space ghost but on the whole I was satisfied by the flashbacks. Of course, I've got a soft spot for that old series so I'm biased.

Thanks for posting the Jones variant cover BTW. Can't wait to see the Vile Menagerie entries on Dr. Light and Effigy. The VM's probably my favorite feature.

Diabolu Frank said...

My scan of the Jones variant came out a bit too dark, but better than nothing, I figure. Glad you liked it and the Vile Menagerie. VM is one of my favorite features to do, so the week long run was a thrill. The problem is they're really time consuming, and I often lack color reference on the Detective Comics villains. I went quite a while without posting any VMs, but I'm trying to get back to doing at least one a month.

Y'know, Stan Lee to a large degree created what we consider to be continuity today, in part because it was easier to write one story if there was another story to prop it up. Since he and his brother Larry were writing pretty much the entire Marvel line in the beginning, it wasn't too hard to keep up with, either. When Stan left his writing and editorial duties in the 70's, one of his successors fretted about how they were going to keep track of all this stuff. Stan basically said look, let the writers use what they like, and ignore the rest.

I used to get really hung up on continuity, and I'm still perfectly willing to use it as a bludgeon against a bad script. In truth though, I came to take Stan's philosophy to heart, and see continuity as one glorious buffet. If I don't like a story, as I didn't with most of Ostrander's Manhunter work, I leave it next to the hummas and asparagus (unless I find myself craving something different.) If I like a story, no matter how many editorial reversals tell me otherwise, I've still got the comics right where I left them in a longbox. They happened, and all words to the contrary are Newspeak.

So yeah, part of the mission of this blog is to cover continuity, but only so far as it remembers good stories, criticizes bad, and hopefully helps prop up more of the former than the latter. I already have a pet idea that "fixes" that business with the Burning Martians without negating the story and while employing previous continuity. That's what I'm talking about!