13 November 2012

the art of the finale

With Marvel NOW! (Don't forget the exclamation point!) rolling into full swing, and lots of Marvel titles getting renumbered and relaunched, of course lots of titles are also ending their current runs.  When DC did the New 52 it felt like most of the pre-52 titles ended with a whimper rather than a bang, but the staggered way Marvel has done things has been a bit more conducive to giving proper endings to the existing runs.  And as it happens, four Marvel "final" issues recently shipped in the same week, three of them wrapping up lengthy, critically-acclaimed runs on flagship titles.  It was quite interesting to watch four very different creative teams tackle the finales of their respective titles.

Captain America #19 (Ed Brubaker/ Steve Epting) was of course the final issue of what is likely to be remembered as the definitive non-Kirby Cap run - Ed Brubaker put together an eight-year run that, though it faltered somewhat in its later years, was overall nothing short of spectacular.  His original collaborator, Steve Epting, returned to draw the final issue, which was far more a coda than anything else.  Bru tied off one last loose end relating to Totally Loco 50's Cap, but that was really just a framing sequence through which to revisit Cap's long history.  Little of what's conveyed is actually new, and it read as something of a written victory lap.  Bru's sense of melancholy almost seemed to be shared by Steve Rogers himself, and Rogers' realization that Captain America is a legacy - that he's just keeping the seat warm until some inevitable day when it will go on without him - felt a bit like Brubaker pulling back the curtain and examining his own role.  It reminded me a lot of Peter David's final issue of The Incredible Hulk from the 90's, when he closed with "I've said enough".  As Rogers views his role as Cap as a responsibility, so too does Bru convey his own sense of responsibility as a shepherd for the character.

That stands in contrast with Invincible Iron Man #527 (Matt Fraction/ Salvador Larroca), though Fraction took a similar "coda" approach.  The 86 part Mandarin story wrapped in #526, and the final issue was devoted to tying up loose ends and bringing Stark around for a last goodbye.  Fraction's final scene, though, can't help but elucidate what a flawed character Tony Stark really is.  It feels like we've been here before, over and over again, with Stark apologizing to his friends for some screw-up or another, and promising that things will be different in the future.  Larroca re-uses shots and facial expressions so often, it even LOOKS like old scenes.  This final issue also, almost as an afterthought, reveals how the Mandarin was able to control Tony during the recent 86 part story, and while it ties Fraction's run together very elegantly, it just reinforces that basically everything that goes wrong for Tony Stark was caused, in some form or fashion, by Tony Stark - with his friends and associates too often collateral damage.  Where Bru's Cap finale elevates the character, Fraction's Iron Man finale condemns Stark to a degree.  It's equally meta, I think - are Bru & Fraction essentially doing the same thing but evaluating themselves in opposite ways?  Perhaps.

There's little of that kind of self-evaluation present in FF #23 (Jonathan Hickman/ Nick Dragotta), though there's still some of the meta.  Hickman closes his run with a smaller tale featuring Future Franklin Richards.  (The time-traveling adult versions of Franklin & Valeria Richards have been regulars in the book for most of his run.)  Again it's a single-issue tale tying off a loose end from a larger epic, but this time with an unabashedly fun, positive approach.  Is Future Franklin a stand-in for Hickman here?  Maybe - one could make a case, I guess, as he runs through saying his goodbyes to the various other characters.  There's little in the way of meta-commentary, though - more just a victory lap, and a really cool one.  Hickman's run occasionally got mired in byzantine plotting or weird tangents about the Inhumans or whatever, but overall it was extremely satisfying, and this was a heckuva conclusion.  Easily the best, most readable non-Kirby FF run aside from Waid/ Wieringo.

Incredible Hulk #15 (Jason Aaron/ Jefte Palo) was more a straight-up conclusion - Jason Aaron's run has been enjoyable but will probably be little more than a footnote in Hulk history.  It just started a year ago, after all.  Bits of the run were very uneven but it came together nicely in the end, and this last issue features Bruce Banner equipped with Hulk Hands, which is kind of amazing.  The run really could have used a consistent artist, though Palo did a nice job on the final arc.  Anyway - that's over, too.  Not as big a deal as the other three finales, but an ending nonetheless.

So definitely FF was my favorite of the bunch, and by a wide margin.  Bendis' Avengers conclusions still loom, along with the "end" of Dan Slott's Amazing Spider-Man.  That seems like a huge cheat, though, since he's still on the book.  I did kinda dig the fact that all these series came out at once - it was a nice turn-the-page moment that, as noted, we really didn't get when DC did it.

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