Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hypertext fiction or How to Understand Final Crisis, Morrison and Borges!


Nope. Nothing to do with the Elongated Man. (Although it would have been slightly better in my boo).

To Morrison's dismay, understanding some of his works to the same degree of some by other geniuses like Alan Moore, Moore Gaiman or Darwyn Cooke, can be a lot work. For my two cents, all these comic book writes can be about as brilliant, the only difference is that Morrison is the ikea version of the rest.

Morrison's stories often require putting together a lot of pieces, resorcing to numerous rereads, internet consulting, getting kicked out of an online forum or club reading. Some fans go as far as organizing extensive an even ludicrous rereading lists of his past works every time he's about to publish new material.

Why is Morrison doing that to us? What is his purpose? Is he an evil psycho-sadistic? Is he a sloppy storyteller? Does he think he looks smarter by making ikea-stories? ... Yes and no. He does want ust to work on his stories like puzzles, he might want us to nderrate him and might be teasing us to look like a genius. I'll prove all of that by linking his work to Borges and his hipertext.

On Hypertext

Ok, hyperwhat? To understand Morrison's story strctures, the first thing we need to understand is the concept of hypertext. In normal narratives or texts, everything is linear. The reader is meant to read from start to finish with no major effort than eye movement to follow words and flipping pages. Sometimes, when an index is available, we can navegate through it and avoid a bit of the linear reading, going straight to the body of text that we want or need. As computers were introduced, text started to feature links to other texts, images and multimedia, making networks of information known as hypertext. With hypertext, the reader doesn't have to read in a linear way, he can navigate in any order as he jumps from node to node of media through the links. The two basic elements of hypertext are links and nodes.

A number of authors have used this technology to create hypertext fition and hypertext comics or "hypercomics":

Quote Originally Posted by Daniel Merlin Goodbrey View Post
‘A hypercomic can be thought of as a webcomic with a multi-cursal narrative structure. In a hypercomic the choices made by the reader may influence the sequence of events, the outcome of events or the point of view through which events are seen… it’s that element of reader choice and interaction that makes a hypercomic a hypercomic.’
Here's an example. And then some more. Got the picture, right.

Well, that's where it gets tricky. Hypertext doesn't have to use digital media. It can be done in regular media. For instance, an artist could paint this one on your wall. Boom. You have low a lowtech hypercomic right there. It could even be a painting or a drawing in your favorite gas station toilet. Hypertext could also be done in a book. Just by indicating that chapters 3 and 4 happen at the same time, the reader has a forking point at the end of chapter 2. Things could get more complicated if chapter six followed both 3 and 5, but you only needed 4 to understand 5. Or the writer could rearrange a series of consecutive events so that you have to figure out the order as some sort of puzzle. Another way would be giving incomplete, but complementary descriptions of the same subject in different scenes so that the reader goes back and forth, making a mental map to reconstruct things. 

Well, writers already did that. They started on early XX century with James Joyce's Ulysses (1922) and peaked with Argentinean Jorge Luis Borges's The Garden of the Forking Paths. 

On Borges and Morrison 



So far, I’ve just read 5 of Borges works, and I find the themes and what he does with his stories, strikingly similar to the ones of Morrison, who admits his influence and makes clear nods within his stories. The Scissormen in Doom Patrol are just one step ahead of what the secret society of writers did in Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius. The Book of the Library of Limbo are nods to The Library of Babel and Ts’ui Pên book-labyrinth. 



The Garden of the Forking Paths” is a printed hypertext short story about a hypertext book (yeah, and way before postmodernism and deconstruction were thing). Final Crisis is a printed hypertext comic about a time-space collapse in which the time-space (or the panel sequence that represents time) collapses. Like, TGOTFP, Final Crisis also features, “the book of the Library of Limbo” a fictional hypertext book (“infinite number of pages, all occupying the same space”). Both books are about time, space and represent the universe itself. The difference being that the one from TGOTFP features the Universe as conceived by the author of the book, while the Book of the Library of Limbo is some sort of perfect natural thing (I don’t think so, but The Book of Destiny, perhaps?). The Library of Limbo might as well be a reference to Borges’ Library of Babel.
Ts’ui Pên, the fictional author of TGOTFP, parallels Morrison himself in that they are brilliant men dedicating their times to make labyrinths in a medium that is underrated in their respective contexts; trying to elevate it through the complexity of their work. 

I could explain how TGOTFP, I mean, the short story written by Borges, is printed hypertext fiction… But I think it’s better to leave that for the experts. There’s plenty of literature about that. This one is pretty good. Now, Final Crisis is another case... 

On Hypertext in Final Crisis

There’s not enough information on how does it constitute an example of printed hypertext fiction. Firstly, it doesn’t take much, as I pointed out since the beginning, the simple fact that Morrison has us constantly flipping panels, pages, books or even series back is enough; not even TGOTFP is as forked as some of his works. Yes, this would mean that a lot of other books and comics books and comic book events might be considered hypertext in the degree that they have us flipping and flipping. I’d consider Lord of the Rings an example of the opposite, as long as it is, I rarely flipped (maybe if I forgot a name). In Conan Doyle’s stuff and mystery fiction it happens a bit more often (keep in mind that Borges influenced the generation of the golden age of mystery fiction through the Ellery Queen mag). Borges has us doing that from the first two paragraphs (which are often the most intense), Morrison usually does the opposite, starting very simple and making things very complex as they reach climax. Final Crisis is an example of this, #1 is simple, and street level, with each issue being progressively more complex, until we have the fragmented and cosmic #6. The page flipping starts on #3, and it goes crazy on #7. The first half of #7 have the reader (pp. 4 – 18) flipping within those pages and the rest between that and mostly Superman Beyond. In addition to the flipping, Final Crisis has hypertext structures (something that not even TGOTFP has) on two levels: its format as a series, and fragmented and shuffled storytelling in #7.



Firstly, it constitutes a “hyper series” of sorts (yeah, I’m pretty much making up that term, although somebody online has thought about it first). There’s the main linear structure, issues 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7, and the 3 indispensable structural tie-ins: Superman Beyond, Final Crisis: Submit, and Batman: Last Rites (Batman #682 – 3). There are other tie-ins, but they are not necessary to understand the story (in fact, if read as part of the “hyper series”, they would only wear thin the reader’s attention). By contrast, it’s impossible to understand the ending of FC #7 without Superman Beyond. Likewise, Batman: Last Rites, takes place after Batman is kidnapped in FC #2 and before he returs in FC #6, about which it explains a lot. It also conciliates the ending of FC #6 with the contradictory ending of FC #7. In one ending we see Batman’s corpse, in the next we see him alive, living in the past; Last Rites, is the key. It’s interesting, but by doing this Morrison draws yet another couple of parallels between him and Ts’ui Pên from TGOTFP: 

1. Both authors wrote a labyrinth book (FC and fictional-TGOTFP) about his version of the [DC] Universe. 
2. Along with many other apparent contradictions, in both books a character appears death in one chapter and alive in the other; Morrison also pulled this on Seven Soldiers.

Back to the “hyper series” ( ™ ) structure, each of the 3 tie-ins (a.k.a. “hypertext nodes”) branch out of the main structure at 3 forking points to converge in 3 different ones, each tie-in has progressively less flexibility. The readers’ first forking point would be Batman’s kidnapping in #2, and they have until mid #6 to read it. Then, the second forking point Superman Beyond, is a fraction of a second within the story that branches out of the middle of #3, but could be easily red at any point before #6. Submit it rather an interruption, since it happens after the first pages of #4 and ends before the rest of it. There is how it looks:

Then, we have the other big hypertext structure of #7. I initially thought it was the smallest since I only identified it by the odd panels in p. 16.

Panels present time going backwards and forward in a loop.
By the end of #6, the main villain, Darkseid, has been wounded and is about to confront Superman. His eventual death after the fight is collapsing time and space before and after it. And the story represents the collapse by dividing the sequence of events in 3 fragmenting and intercalating them in a linear narrative:

1. The fight final fight against Darkseid and then, against his “Justifiers” (hypnotized minions, who were half the World’s population by then).
2. The events after the final fight and before Lois Lane starts narrating.
3. Lois Lane’s narration, continued by the final moments with Supergirl and Wonder Woman.

All the 3 develop in parallel. The narration in the caption voices of all of them happens from the third, and what is told and showed alternates between the 3. The reader can choose to read in the order provided by the panel sequence and the narration of Lois Lane or go try to read the events in chronological order. Which creates forking points pretty often. 

This is how it would look in a regular, linear narrative (SPOILER ALERT!!):

Quote Originally Posted by DC Comics Database, "Final Crisis Vol 1 7" View Post
In Command-D, Superman holds Batman's corpse, as Darkseid mocks Superman for failing to defend Earth, and that as Darkseid has becoming everyone and everything, Superman is now the enemy of all that lives. Driven to a rage, the Man of Steel is about to tear the Dark God apart when he realizes that Darkseid is in Dan Turpin. His hesitation allows the Anti-Life infected slaves to surround Superman. Darkseid declares that the Final Crisis is over, and he has won, preparing to fire the Radion bullet which will kill Orion in the past. Speaking through Turpin and his Anti-Life slaves, Darkseid asks if Superman will join Batman in the Omega Sanction, or try and outrace it. Superman refuses to give into Darkseid and tells him its not over yet. Just then, Barry Allen and Wally West arrive, leading the Black Racer to the dying Darkseid. The Anti-Life slaves unleash Omega Beams on the two Flashes, who outrace them, run past Superman (who is naturally surprised by Barry's presence) and vibrate through Darkseid. Having just fired the Radion bullet, Darkseid panics at the sight of the Black Racer, who claims Darkseid's soul, removing him from Turpin's body.

At Checkmate Castle, the Atoms manage to establish a tunnel to another Earth in the Multiverse. However, the stress is far too much for Lord Eye to handle. Additionally, the Justifiers break into the Castle. The OMACs under Mr. Terrific's command are not enough to stop the Justifiers, and Mr. Miracle's motherboxx opens a boom tube to the planet that Checkmate had selected for escape. Unfortunately, their choice of world was poor, as the Checkmate survivors end up on Earth-51. Fortunately, Captain Marvel and the Ultima Thule showed up, and he informed them of Superman's plan to gather the Supermen. Renee joins Marvel on his quest, informing Overman of the death of his cousin.

Back on New Earth, Superman is almost amused by the irony of the situation: by firing the bullet to kill Orion, Darkseid insured John Stewart discovered the bullet, which would make its way into Batman's hands, and be used against him. For all intents and purposes, Darkseid committed suicide. the Female Furies, lead by Wonder Woman, arrive to avenge their master. Superman is horrified at the sight of his best friend enslaved by Darkseid, and Wonder Woman tells Superman that he is outnumbered, as Libra's army of mind-controlled superhumans arrive. However, the Secret Society are now under the control of Lex Luthor and Doctor Sivana. Frankenstein and Supergirl lead the remaining free heroes to the battle, and overwhelm the Furies. Frankenstein is able to free Wonder Woman from the Anti-Life Equation, and she binds Darkseid with the Lasso of Truth, freeing the rest of humanity from Darkseid's control.

Superman shatters Darkseid's essence. As reality breaks down around him and the Earth slowly dies, Superman begins construction of a copy of the Miracle Machine, while Supergirl and Wonder Woman begin shrinking down and cryogenically preserving the people of Earth. Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Supergirl send a rocket through time as a time capsule, containing mementos of their Earth in case the Miracle Machine doesn't work.
As anybody can see, if you know the characters, there's no need to go back and forth to reconstruct anything, it's all made clear non-linear narrative. By contrast, we can reed the original pages of FC #7 and appreciate its non-linear, forked narrative.

Flash, the magic bullet and the Black Racer.

Back to what dragged my attention to this last structure, in p. 16 of #7, in the 4th panel, we have a character catching another that is thrown to her from the 7th panel. Pretty much like the story of the man MacGuffin of the story, which presents yet another hypertext structure…

SPOILER ALERT!!

The story begins with the investigation Orion, of a God who was murdered with a bullet that didn’t seem to be in the crime scene. Green Lantern discovers that the bullet is actually under the floor, and that it has been there for ages. This leads Batman to speculate that the bullet was shot in the future and traveled backwards through time until it hit Orion and then the floor. The Flashes use their speed power to try to stop the bullet and death itself (personified by the Black Racer figure) from hitting Orion in the past but fail. Meanwhile, Batman has the old bullet. He’s captured by Darkseid, but escapes and shoots him. That’s where the bullet ends. It has its origin after that. Wounded and slowly dying, with the old bullet, Darkseid shoots Superman; however, the Flashes have been tracking the bullet, now to its source and not its destiny; so, the time vortex that they opened is what takes the bullet to the past. However, the Black Racer, who has been following them, goes straight to Darkseid, taking his soul away from his body. So, as pointed by Superman, Darkseid lead the bullet right back to himself. Whenever the bullet or the Black Racer appear in the story, the structure forks in 3 paths; the reader can a, just keep reading in regular order, b, go back to the last bullet scene, or c, go forth to the next bullet scene. He story progresses, but the bullet is going backwards in time, pretty much like the panel loop in #7, p. 16.

Conclusion


My verdict? It's awesome. Well, if for some reason I was his writing workshop teacher (I don’t know, maybe he got into a really lousy school), and keeping in mind that workshop teachers are supposed to be jerks, I’d give in an A and I’d tell him how to get an A+ in my book. Firstly, the hyperseries structure needs to be clearer and get a bit more character. Turning Batman #682 – 3 into “Final Crisis: Last Rites” or “Final Crisis: Batman Forever” is a must; Requiem and Resist should be redoe by him and integrated into the structure, a 4th Wonder Woman tie would be seal the deal. All that would make it clearer that it’s a hyperseries that consists of a main storyline in the title book and 6 more nodes. All of it should have the same the same format, slightly different from the other tie-ins. Some parts need captions, particularly #7 and Superman Beyond. The back of each issue needs annotations. A bit more Aquaman, Hawkman and Zatanna wouldn’t hurt. And for Grodd’s sake, he should have done something with the Elongated man.


1 comment:

  1. Did you know you can shorten your urls with AdFly and get money from every visitor to your short links.

    ReplyDelete