Final Crisis Should Have Been a Graphic Novel

I’m beginning to think that Final Crisis should have been an original graphic novel, not a miniseries.

I understand there are many reasons to do a big event as a miniseries. People are more willing to spend $3.50 a month for 7 months than to drop $20-25 all at once. And they’re more willing to pick up a first issue to try it, knowing that if they don’t like it, they don’t have to pay for the rest of the series (while with a book it’s all or nothing). It’s easier to schedule tie-ins. Plus it keeps the hype engine going for longer.

But those are all business reasons. Let’s look at artistic reasons. Specifically this one: it’s clear that Final Crisis will read better all at once than in serialized chapters.

After the contention that the series requires the reader to be a walking encyclopedia of arcane DC knowledge (a claim with which I disagree), the biggest complaint about Final Crisis is that it isn’t clear what’s going on. There’s a sense that you need to have read interviews and annotations just to follow it.

It seems like readers want an inverted pyramid structure to their comics. Establish all the players up front, then jump into the conflict. Which is certainly a valid way to tell a story, except that:

  • It’s not the only way to tell a story.
  • It’s not even what comics readers really want.

Movies and novels frequently tell stories where they give you only pieces of information, bit by bit, and slowly assemble them into a whole so that by the time you get to the end, or three-quarters through, or half-way through, you know what’s going on. Before the sequels soured people’s memories of the first film, The Matrix was massively popular — but it takes a long time before Neo — and the audience — find out what’s really happening.

And really, people don’t want everything spelled out ahead of time. They want to be surprised. They want the rush of a cliffhanger ending. And when you spend an entire issue establishing the situation and players, like in Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds, they complain that it’s all setup, and it’s like “reading a Wikipedia article.”

The problem is trying to mix the story structure Grant Morrison is using for Final Crisis with the serialized format.

A movie can spread out the exposition because it’s a whole work intended to be watched all at once. A novel can get away with it because it’s perceived as a whole work, not as series of connected stories. You can pause reading a novel and know that you can read the next part, which might explain more, anytime you want. When you have to wait a week for the next episode of a TV show, or a month (or two, or more) for the next chapter of a serialized comic, waiting for things to make sense can be a much more frustrating experience.

So doing it as a graphic novel would solve that problem. Have the whole thing come out in one volume. People can sit down, read it at their own pace, and follow the pieces as they come together. They can see how the story works as presented on the page, and then if they want to look deeper into symbolism, see how it connects to 70 years’ worth of shared universe stories, or do a literary analysis, then they can look up the annotations.

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12 thoughts on “Final Crisis Should Have Been a Graphic Novel

  1. Rockin' Rich

    Ultimately, it will be, just as Watchmen, Dark Knight et al are now “graphic novels.”

    I’m not dismissing your thoughtful commentary out of hand, Kelson, and may add a longer comment later (I’m at work now), but there are substantial practical reasons for doing it this way instead of as a “graphic novel” first.

    Ideally though, in terms of aesthetics, yes, a graphic novel would be better.

    But then again, ideally, everything should be released that way. As a reader, the floppy pamphlet format has long outlived its usefulness to me.

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  2. Kelson Post author

    Ultimately, yes, but for now we’re stuck with 8 months (or more) of people complaining that things don’t make sense and assuming they won’t be explained at all, rather than simply speculating on the nature of elements that haven’t been explained yet.

    Reply
  3. Rockin' Rich

    I’m trying to think of a successful “event” or other series from DC or Marvel (or Image, DH et al) first released as a GN or set of GNs.

    I got nothin’, which speaks to the maturity of the market. The superhero biz is still centered on the monthly-ish floppy pamphlet, at least for the time being. It’s the nature of the business.

    That’s why something like Final Crisis comes out in this venerable but frustrating and archaic format. It’s the reason that trumps all the others, unfortunately.

    It’s easy to blow it off as “business reasons” but it IS a business, and issues like scheduling, production and marketing will always be part of the equation.

    I’m not privy to the profit and loss (P&L) formula DC uses when they go forward with a project like this, but I’m relatively sure that the floppy pamphlets don’t generate much — if any — profit, considering how crappy the market is. Most of the money comes later, I’d imagine, from compilations.

    But the floppies certainly help amortize up-front costs, which is why you see variant covers and “director’s cuts.” And their promotional value might be analogous to the old “singles” format that used to propel the pop record biz (though that analogy falls apart if you think about it too much, so don’t!).

    I don’t want to write a term paper on this, but there are all sorts of side issues that are also relevant. Like, if you had to wait until all the art was in the house before you went to press, you’d need to add another year or two to the project! At least with periodical publication, you get to see a bit at a time… though not necessarily ON time.

    Of course, a compilation that includes all the tie-ins and other bits and pieces of the story in one place would probably be prohibitively expensive, too. But that’s another business reason, albeit a personal one; how much would YOU pay for The Complete Final Crisis?

    As I said before, Kelson, aesthetically, I’m with you. I’m even sympathetic to some of the comments on Newsarama and other sites by angry and frustrated (and obviously younger) fanboys who’ve been conditioned to try to “figure everything out” as if a literal and linear understanding of art is always the most desirable thing. Sometimes it is, but not always, and that’s part of any art’s appeal.

    I don’t need to know what everything “means” all the time. It’s enjoyable to “understand” things in bits and pieces. Yes, I want to have a satisfying (or something) conclusion to a story, but I’m enjoying the ride and the scenery along the way.

    Morrison is a real character and at times, a bit of a goofball, but he’s also a brilliant and crafty storyteller, and has earned my indulgence.

    He’s attempting something new and different (in a lot of ways), so if it doesn’t all come out on time, doesn’t mesh with Countdown or whatever, I can deal with that.

    Instant gratification is highly overrated, anyway.

    .-= Rockin’ Rich’s latest blog post: Fr@#k MIller =-.

    Reply
  4. Grady Dixson

    I harshly disagree. No way should Final crisis have been a gn, not when it is something that will give bearth to dramastic changes in the Dcu, It would Be a stupid Idea for Dc to do that.

    Reply
  5. Kelson Post author

    @Rich: Thoughtful analysis. Yeah, I can see that, for now at least, the business case for keeping the floppies is stronger than the artistic case for going straight to a bound edition.

    Still, I think that the rise of trade-waiting and the frustrations with delays in “monthly” series will eventually lead to a point where the business case for going straight to a graphic novel is close enough to the case for starting with monthlies that artistic reasons could tip the balance.

    Final Crisis might have been the perfect point to make the switch, because it’s so much more self-contained than most big event crossovers. Except for a few lead-in stories like the “Dark Side Club” and “Sightings” issues, it comes down to Final Crisis itself, the 3 related minis, and the specials. It’s not spilling into the rest of DC’s line at all, and won’t until it’s finished.

    @Grady: Would you care to elaborate? You’ve stated a premise and a conclusion, but you haven’t shown how they’re connected. Why does the fact that Final Crisis will make big changes mean that it would be bad to go straight to book form?

    Reply
  6. Rockin' Rich

    I think we’re basically in agreement, Kelson.

    A Final Crisis GN or series of GNs would have been preferable, though that would probably have added another year or two (or more) to the process.

    Regardless, when the floppies’ sales plummet to whatever the opposite of “critical mass” is, it’ll happen.

    .-= Rockin’ Rich’s latest blog post: Fr@#k Miller =-.

    Reply
  7. Grady

    It would be a bad choice to have it is a Gn both sales wise, and just because it is not a good Idea for anything continuity, ecspecialy of this level, to be made in to sa gn first.
    Final Crisis is roughly going to be the biggest thing that has happened in DCU continuity ever. So it it basicaly saying that to understand the events that will be taking place in the Dcu know, and for likely many years to follow you will need to but this $20 Gn, thats alot of pressure. Even if you are not reading final crisis, chances are over the 8 months it is being released, you will here frome somebody whats going on in a nice slow pace, It is easier to tell you the main points of a 30 page comic, than a 200 page Gn, in a way someone will understand it. Not as many comic readers are willing to run out to the store to buy a complete 20$ story as they are a 3.50$ chapter. What if someone can’t get the gn because its sold out? with comics its not that bad because they can most likely get it in before that next issue comes out. But if you need to order in the Gn because it’s out, you could be stuckk for a week or maybe even two without reading any of your other books because you might not understand or you are afraid it will ruin the story. Last but but not least the DC comics crisises are events, and should remain as such. I want cliff hangars, I want to speculate, I want have theorys about what will happen next, If I read the entire story in a day, I can’t do that. It takes away alot of the excitement, and half the fun of reading an event like final crisis.

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  8. huffa2

    I totally agree that it will read better as a GN.
    But I do love reading it as it is.
    I think that Legion of 3 Worlds will work better as a monthly event as it seems like they have gone the more traditional route of simply setting up the protaganists for a few issues of action – something FC hasn’t really had.

    Reply
  9. Grady

    I do agree though that it will read better as a gn. but thats not realy saying much because everything reads better all together.

    Reply
  10. Wally East

    I would love to have bought two Final Crisis graphic novels with all of the associated stories, Part I in June and Part II in July or August. If it’s June and July 2009, well, so be it. You’d get the benefit of ending on a cliff hanger but you’d also get to move through the story at your own pace.

    .-= Wally East’s latest blog post: Mint Chocolate =-.

    Reply
  11. Gats

    Morrison is brilliant and playful. You feel a joy in his writing that isn’t present in Moore, Ellis, Ennis, et al. Those three (though wonderful writers) have a dour, sour, ‘shame’ of the superheroic. (Maybe less so in Ellis’ case). But Morrison still loves this stuff and that’s what makes it sing. People who can’t get it or actually get angry about it should maybe stick to simpler fare. Morrison still generates real magic and one can actually feel it.

    Reply
  12. Sanoman

    Final Crisis isn’t for amateur or newbie comic readers (like Batman fans) it’s a beautiful and complex scenary that the casual comic industry have forgotten.

    Reply

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