Over here at Trash Talk! we’re going to take a look at pop-culture through an artistic lens, more specifically exploring the dichotomy between high-art and low-art in movies, TV, comics, and video games. What’s fine cinema, and what’s trash? Sometimes the line may be thinner than you think.
There’s an old saying, “All good things must come to an end.” At first blush those words seem like kind of a bummer. If you’re enjoying something, guess what, that moment will pass. Which is both true, and pretty lame. Right? There is a flipside to that coin, however. What if some things in life are good because they do have an end?
Superhero comics are notorious for their shaky relationship with endings. Batman and Superman have been dueling with mad men for the better part of seventy-five years, yet if you picked up any of their ongoing books they’re still floating around the age of 30. Spider-man recently lost his marriage to a deal with the devil (literally… it’s a long, king of lame, story) so he could be younged up. And any given character has probably died and been resurrected at least once. Yet last week, after nine years of working on the character, DC super-scribe Geoff Johns brought his run on Green Lantern to an end. Sure, next month Robert Venditti will pick up the reigns and continue the story of Hal Jordan, but for all intents and purposes Green Lantern #20 functions as an ending for GL and his enormous supporting cast. For those of you whose only exposure the character is limited to the disappointing 2011 movie with Ryan Reynolds, in 2004 Geoff Johns revitalized the ailing Green Lantern franchise by diving head-first into the mythology and expanding it in new and innovative ways. He returned Hal Jordan (the most famous Green Lantern) to leading man status after a convoluted fall from grace, and turned him into an A-list superhero while making his book a must read for millions of fans. It’s a shame the film wasn’t able to capture the same energy Johns injected into the book but that doesn’t depreciate Johns’ efforts.
In the book Johns plumbed the depths of Jordan and the supporting cast that he simultaneously ballooned to dozens of characters, and in issue #20 he spends a handful of pages exploring the major characters futures, and gives each a fitting send off. He gives them an ending. This allows the events Johns depicted in his run a new weight. They carry consequence because they carried his characters to natural and earned conclusions. Endings put the events that proceed them into a stark relief. Fittingly a fair portion of this finale issue deals with death. The event that’s haunted Hal Jordan a majority of his life is the loss of his father at an early age. Here he finally comes to terms with this loss, while also taking the personification of death itself and unleashing it on his enemies. Hey… it’s still a comic book.
If stories are culturally important for providing the tools to understand, navigate, and explore life through new prisms, then endings to stories provide a portrait for one of life’s greatest rites, death. Our lives are afforded a great sense of urgency for we all know that at some point they will end, and the ending is definitive. While death is immensely daunting (and, frankly, a depressing topic), the other aspect of it is that it adds a deeper resonance to the gift of life. We value it more because it is fleeting.
Johns’ is not the only one ending a nine-year saga this year. Just a few weeks ago The Office ended its long run. By most accounts it had lost its way in the last couple years, and few would argue that it was just as funny as it used to be in its second and third season, but with a mostly excellent finale it is allowed to live on in the loving memory of its fans (and syndication). It’s ending affords fans the ability to forgive the faults, and revel in the victories. Many serialized story telling forms (be it in comics or TV shows) outstay there welcome, letting the party peeter out instead of ending it with a bang. However, the mostly fondly remembered and cherished stories are ones that knew to leave when the getting was good. I will dearly miss Breaking Bad when it is off the air, but it was a story that had a specific end point in mind, and it’s reached it. Imagine if The Office didn’t have any lean years to overlook.
Meanwhile, another beloved comedy, Arrested Development, may have ended earlier than its fans wanted, but it had strong and beloved run. Now, it has returned after over six years, but reviews (and feelings) are mixed, and the latest season packs the series weakest episodes. I miss the awesome Terriers, but I’d be reticent to see it return. Its run was too short, but it ended on perfect note. Why spoil that? A good ending is hard to come by, and shouldn’t go unappreciated.
Even one of media’s most prominent figures saw recently saw an end to (one version) of his storied career. Last year Christopher Nolan was allowed the rare opportunity to provide a true ending to his Dark Knight saga. Unlike characters such as James Bond (or even his comic book counterpart) Nolan’s Batman is allowed to age, change, and even retire. His story has a true beginning, middle, and end. Not just rare for supeheroes, but increasingly in big tent pole action blockbusters as well. That is one of the many things that differentiated Nolan’s Batman from other summer superhero fare. It was filled with consequence. Each movie in that series ends on a period instead of a comma. Just as in life, things were never allowed to return to a stagnent status quo, and just like in the life, everything led to an inevitable conclusion, and it made those films all the richer for it.
The most primordial elements of any story are that very beginning, middle, and end. Its the natural arc of all fiction, and that last part is just as important (and sometimes more so) than the other two. For a story to stick itself in neutral and coast in the middle is a death of a different kind. Like a zombie, it has movement, but no direction. My Dad would often quote Stephen Covey’s famous phrase to me, “Begin with the end in mind.” I think more media should heed that mantra. Having a goal keeps you from losing your way, and allows any work more clarity. When crafting a story it is imperative to focus on all three main components, beginning, middle, and end.
Endings provide closure, solace, urgency, and meaning. This is obvious, but often overshadowed by the fear of loss. Even if that loss is simply your favorite comic run, or TV series. Instead of lamenting that all good things must come to an end, it’s better to enjoy the moment, for it will end, and hopefully, that end will make the moment all the better. Besides, we’ll always have the trades, and box-sets to revisit. Speaking of which, I think it’s high time I give The Shield another watch through!
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