(These are reposts of a 'discussion' I originally begun on July 22, 2009. Aztek is something of the black sheep of Morrison's DC superhero work, not getting much love, so I thought it worthwhile giving him a bit more exposure on the old webz. It's also a part of our Morrison Readthrough. This discussion originally got zapped when the specialised Morrison discussion forum here got rationalised away.)
Aztek, written by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, pencilled by N Steven Harris and inked by Keith Champagne, only lasted 10 issues. After that, he appeared several times in Morrison’s JLA until he met his fate in the very millennial World War III storyline of that series.
At the time he originally appeared (1996-97), I wasn’t too interested in Aztek. For one thing, the art was woefully of its time. Reading it now, perhaps an argument could be made that the smudgy and ambiguous etchings of N. Steven Harris reflect the hard-bitten emotional lives of the beleaguered inhabitants of Vanity City. You could make that argument, ... or you could say you don’t like it, and leave it at that.
For another, Aztek had no connection whatever to anything that had been done before in the DCU. I had no reason to buy into the series. My appreciation of Morrison then was just beginning to develop and he was still classed in my mind at the pretentious end of the spectrum. Aztek wasn’t someone like Hawkman or Powergirl, who had a pre-existing fanbase (or at least presence). Nor was he like Animal Man or Starman (or again, Hawkman), whose pedigree stretched back through DC history.
The disadvantage at the time, of the character being such an unknown property, strikes me now as a huge advantage. He was something new in the DCU and it’s too bad the fans (including myself back then) didn't make the market more favourable to original characters like him.
Actually Aztek’s originality (or at least disconnection from anything else in DCU’s history) is something I’d like to look at. Here is another example of Morrison seeing what the zeitgeist of the time was and finding a way to go completely against the grain of it, as he did with Animal Man nearly 10 years before this, and he’d do so exasperatingly with Final Crisis and his Batman 10 years later.
So what was the zeitgeist of the mid-90’s? What age were comicbooks in then? What was the next in the sequence of Gold, Silver, Bronze? Perhaps an argument could be made for the ‘IRONy’ age. Very 90’s and Alannis Morrisette! But we won’t go there.
At this point I’d like to defer to someone who’s given it a lot more thought than I have and come up with something I think is very insightful. He’s right on the button as to what has been happening in American mainstream comics over the last 15+ years. He glories in the delightful pseudonym ‘Botswana Beast’ and is one of the ‘Mindless Ones’. His name for the age we are currently living through is the Prismatic Age, and here is the essay where he states his case.
The Prismatic Age.
It’s long and closely argued, but I think it’s a seminal text on modern comics, if there is such a thing out there on the webternet. I’ve been meaning to bring it up for discussion on our board, so realised this was as good an opportunity as any. (Presuming anyone’s reading this of course, ha ha!) It's well worth a read...
I’ll try to tie the notion of the ‘Prismatic Age’ into my commentary on Aztek after I go off and give the essay another read myself. No point going into this half-cocked…
Here goes again…
Regarding the ‘long line of heroes'/legacy thing, I guess the ultimate antecedent for all of them is my old friend the Phantom. Before that I can’t think of any fictional case of the different people continuing a legacy of adopting the same persona or role down years.
Other than Mr Walker, I can only think of the historical cases like Kings and Popes and the Dalai Lama!
Border Mutt said:
I think more comics don't use text pieces because to get them to hit the right key is pretty time consuming. Can you imagine if Bendis had to do text pieces too... he'd never get 8 comics out a month.
They would indeed be time consuming. I think the two obvious reasons they are here, apart from simply fleshing out a new corner of the US in the DCU.
1) They replace the letters pages, which don’t usually turn up until issue 3-4.
2) the extra lead-in time for the first few issues of a series gave M&M more time to work on these text pages than they would have when the grind of monthly comics production set in.
Normally this lead-in time is used for a star-artist to provide really slick work, the quality of which usually lasts for about 2 and half issues. I like how M&M here use it to add depth to the background of the world they are creating, and I like how it goes beyond just notes on this fictional world, to actual documents from within that world written by the fictional characters. That’s a level of immersion you don’t often get, and it accords well with Morrison’s theories of this time of bringing fiction to life.
The book review is not a bad piece of literary ventriloquism, and presents us with the forces that are vying for control of Vanity in onion layers. It’s clever, and there are a few hints in there of future storylines already mapped out.
There’s the urban myth of the original Vane character in suspended animation under the city and we also get the first hints of Bruce Wayne’s organic involvement in the fate of Vanity and Aztek himself. Batman isn’t just being tacked on as a sales gimmick here, but he’s part of the whole story as mapped out at the start.
Given that Lex Luthor will turn out to be a major player moving from behind the scenes into the foreground as the story continued, it seems that the biggest loss to DCU fans when the series crashed and burned was that Aztek’s pages were going to be the battleground where DC’s two great corporate beasts Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne were going to clash for the souls of Vanity and Aztek himself. Their clash in JLA: Rock of Ages was a bit of a crowd-pleaser, but was only a teaser when viewed in the light of what might have been in a continued Aztek series.
From JLA, Issue 11.
Batman does appear in an upcoming issue. Given that a new DC series will usually have Batman make a guest appearance in its first year, to help establish sales, (just as Wolverine would perform the same function in a new Marvel book) I think it's another example of M&M putting some thought into making a convention work for them organically within the story, rather than just tacking the guest appearance on.
And no, I don’t see the likes of Bendis providing text pages that are as well integrated into a longer plan, and this well executed, anytime soon.
Of course, Alan Moore provided a slew of them for Watchmen, but then that’s Moore for you.
[Another post form the beforetime...]
Aztek # 4 & #5
Enter Mark 'The Lizard King' Millar...
Actually I don't have any proof that this is where Millar takes over as main writer, but it certainly feels like it. There is the little pointer that Millar's name comes before Morrison's in the credits for the first time with issue 4, but with this issue, the cynicism, nihilism and meaningless cruelty are all turned up to 11!
The plot of issue 4 involves a decent Christian single father and his daughter being held captive and drained of all that makes them good - in a creepy dirty makeshift laboratory - and then housed in clunky low-tech robots to go out and kill Aztek and steal his helmet. Aztek actually disembowels the father within the robot suit before her realises that there are humans inside the machines.
I don't know much about Millar's work, except that it is often typified by this kind of moral void, where the rights and wrongs of things don't have any bearing on how they play out. It's much like in our own world, but it's very unsettling to read of it in our 4-colour funnies.
Issue 5 has Morrison once again at the top of the credits, and we have a more traditional showdown between the hero and the villain. The villain of the previous issue comes out of the shadows to confront Aztek directly and he calls himself the Lizard King. However a lot of the story elements would seem to have more of a Millar than a Morrison flavour. Although I like that Aztek prioritises finding an old lady’s beloved pet lizard over hunting down a stolen priceless diamond, Aztek discovers when he eventually returns to the old lady with her missing friend that she has tried to slit her wrists in the bath. Then we discover that the Lizard King has been keeping Aztek’s work colleague and potential love interest in one of his machines so that by the time Aztek rescues her, she is a wizened and shrunken mindless little humonculi.
Reading Aztek this closely, I would have liked another couple of dozen issues. There is good back story in this issue. We see that the helmet of Quetzlcoatl that gives Aztek his powers is passed on from specially chosen warrior to warrior down through the ages. As with Green Lantern and Buffy, the chosen one might be pure of heart, but there seems to be all kinds of failings and corruption in the system overseeing the process. Aztek’s dad was gotten rid of somehow and the helmet was seemingly rushed to his son, cutting out his father’s partner, who went on to become the jealous ‘Lizard King’.
And then we hear of Aztek’s own partner in the monastery back in South America. It would be nice to find out more about her. The glimpses we see of the group overseeing Aztek don’t look like a group of Andean monks at all, but more like businessmen sitting around a conference table. One of them happens to be bald…
Tune in to the same Aztek channel, at the same Aztek time for some very special guest stars in our next couple of entries!
Aztek issue 6 - Joker's holiday.
Of course, Aztek didn't make a great mark on comics history, and isn't remembered fondly by many fans. This issue is as good an example as any to explain why.
The art was probably a turn-off for most potential readers. It’s not as clean cut as classic superhero art, but the roughness suits the setting and the brave attempt to update the superhero for the 90's. Without looking up anything about him, I'd guess that this is very early work in Harris' career. It's just got the feel of a talented but unseasoned artist’s self-published comics. He doesn't have a huge repertoire of 'Aztek flying' poses for instance. He does make interesting choices regarding 'camera angles'- eg often using 'up the nose' shots, but they are more distracting than a service to the story. The panels are busy, often with lots of background detail, but again they don't 'frame' the action the way a more experienced artist's might.
I suppose it's a good thing that the creative team is the same throughout. The whole run has a consistency at least. The inking is by Keith Champagne, whose profile has risen considerably in recent years. The shadows of Vanity look appropriately grubby, and he seems to do justice to Harris' pencils. I have a huge problem with the colouring choices though. The palette is mainly a collection of murky pale pastels, as odd as that sounds. Then the panels are filled in with areas of these colours irrespective of elements being completely different from each other and obviously meant to be separated in the panel. For instance, everything is pale blue in the middle panel of page 1, the cars the bus, the street… Also, all of the background is pale blue in p2, as are the two foreground figures in panel 2, p3. I could go on, but a quick flick through the book will illustrate my point just as well. It’s a shame, as the pencils and inks aren't bad, but the colours drag everything down. I don't know what the editorial team thought of this. Perhaps they thought it was arty or helped evoke the dreary misery of life in Vanity.
In any case, I see that the palette has been livened up by the last few issues and the colouring stays within Harris' lines. Mike Danza is the one responsible for colours throughout. Not sure how he has fared since. Well, I hope!
Perhaps I'm being overly critical? Perhaps Aztek has daringly different, Indie-ish artwork? Perhaps I'm just too fond of bright, clean superhero art?
Having said all that, I have to admit that I'm not really an 'art' sort of fan. I'm more of a 'reader'. I'd probably be happy with stick men in my comics, so long as the story was well plotted and dialogued. (Slight exaggeration!) Slick eye-catching art is always helpful in bringing in new readers though. For my part, although I was loving JLA at the time, I felt no urge to buy Aztek back then. I can't remember, but I wouldn't be surprised if a flick-through hadn't contributed to my decision.
Aztek #6 - 7
So much for the art. The other thing Aztek has going against it is the plotting. Issue 6 and 7 form a two part story where Aztek first has to match wits with the Joker on his own and then Batman arrives to help Aztek solve the Clown Prince’s fiendish plan for Vanity.
We learn that the Joker likes to take a holiday now and again in the world’s ‘trouble-spots’ – ie genocidal hellholes of the mid-90’s like the Balkans and Rwanda. This time he’s picked Vanity, reinforcing the idea that Aztek's adopted home isn’t a very nice place, really. The plotting is either Morrison’s sans media res (copyright Alan M.) technique taken to a ridiculous extreme, or just bad plotting by Millar (or bad plotting by Morrison even!) The amount of gaps in the story are staggering. ‘The attacks make the letter A on the map’ Aztek is told by the police, but we don’t know what attacks they mean. According to the actual page layout, the Joker has just arrived in Vanity and wouldn’t have time to put such a complex plan in action yet, especially as this issue follows on directly from the last, which we know because Aztek is still on the verge of collapse after his duel with the Lizard King.
Armed with the clue about the letter A, Aztek checks out several spots, but encounters the Joker at the Vane Power electricity station.
No, I didn’t get it either.
As the Joker says, A means “Eh?” as in “What is that awful Joker up to now, I wonder?” Then the Joker tells Aztek that he has planted little dancing crickets all over town, that can send people into murderous hallucinatory episodes with the sound of the little tikitikitikitikitak of their tap-dancing feet.
The dancing crickets are actually fantastic. They all dance arm in arm like tap-dancing Busby Berkely performers. Perhaps all the dodgy plotting is worth it for the mechanised dancing crickets. They reminded me of the great little walking pipes from the first issue. Both sets of automata are crushed mercilessly during their respective stories. "As playthings to the gods are we..."
Aztek flies around Vanity finding them and destroying them. We’re not told how he does this. Due to the unspecified capabilities of his helmet it would seem. It’s definitely a drawback to the series that Aztek has these kinds of catch-all powers. Morrison has rightly gained praise for his handling of Superman and Batman over the last 20 years, but they are the two characters that are allowed to do this kind of thing. Superman always finds a way and never comes up against a foe or trap he can’t beat. Batman similarly plans for everything, and obviously knows way more than any comics fan, so he’ll always have a way out which we accept, even if we don’t see how. “Hey! He’s Batman!” But using this approach for a 19 year old neophyte like Aztek just comes across as laziness.
Speaking of Batman, he turns up as the special final-page entrance of issue 6. He’s come to Gotham to bring in the Joker. Again the plotting of issue 7 is hard to follow. The Joker is caught and arrested by the police, more or less off-panel, leaving the makeshift dynamic duo to work out what the Joker has prepared to happen next.
My favourite scene of the book happens when Batman and Aztek are driving around discussing Aztek’s mission and the case in hand. The bit I love is very innocuous, but it’s just one of those moments when a comic seems to come to life. Batman spots something as he speeds through the streets and has to reverse the Batmobile. It’s just the little panel where he reaches his arm around behind Azteks seat so that he can see out the back window to reverse. The artist has just captured that very familiar everyday motion and for a moment you can believe that this guy in the bat-suit is real and he drives a car in the same way as everyone else – but what a car though!
As with Morrison’s Gothic, the story climaxes with a steal from Burton’s 1989 Batman movie. Where Gothic ripped off the confrontation with his old adversary in the unfeasible Gothic cathedral, Aztek issue 7 climaxes with giant floating balloons about to unleash toxic gases on crowds of people. The poster Batman spotted from behind the wheel of his Batmobile was for a big crowd-pleasing fight between Superman’s pal Bibbo and Ted Grant aka Wildcat. Perhaps Batman knows how the Joker’s mind works, or his finely honed detective skills have granted him some intuition, but he realises that the blimp flying around that event will be the key to the Joker’s scheme. All this is hard to get in the first read-through though, and if it was anyone other than Batman, I’d have to declare hogwash, but ...
“Hey! It’s Batman!”
(Incidentally, we are shown Aztek flying past the blimp earlier in the story once or twice, but he doesn’t make any connection. Hey! He’s not Batman!)
Naturally, between them they save the day. Aztek gets the ultimate affirmation that any DC hero can get – kudos from the Batman. “You’re well-trained and you’re intelligent. That’s a rarity in this business, believe me.” (Proof of Aztek’s intelligence is that there is no chin-punching when the two heroes meet. Just a city full of people to save.)
Batman’s easy admission that Aztek is a skilled and capable superhero probably contrasts with the way he treated his own Gotham team in the mid-90’s, but his approach here seems more sensible and level-headed. The finest non-powered crime-fighter would cultivate and encourage good allies rather than turning everyone away from him.
Batman’s respect for Aztek is another little signpost on the way to our hero joining the JLA later, so it doesn’t come completely out of the blue when it happens.
Batman is very well handled as a guest star here. Arguably he is more reasonable and emotionally rounded than in his own comics of the time. As mentioned, however, the plotting of this one issue feels very rushed and disjointed, as if the writers didn’t have enough room to develop anything they are trying to say.
Foreshadowing Morrison’s FC Batman run – and echoing his Gothic storyline - is yet another link between Batman and his father. Alfred reminisces that Thomas Wayne was approached for funding by the same Q Foundation that oversaw Aztek’s training. Again we see that Thomas was getting mixed up in affairs that his son would later be dragged into. The dead Thomas Wayne’s actions and acquaintances keep reaching into the life of his son. Under Morrison’s hand Thomas is a living presence in Batman’s life, rather than just being the ‘trigger’ (so to speak) that set Batman on his path. The father and son’s lives are very much intertwined. This provides another reason why Batman takes a special interest in Aztek and later brings him into the JLA: Bruce feels he is continuing his father’s work in looking after the champion of Quetzlcoatl.
The Joker here doesn’t really come off that well. His big hairdo doesn’t really do anything for him and distracts from the few good lines he gets. The Joker here is pretty much on auto-pilot, and Morrison probably saw that he’d need to do something more drastic with him if he brought him back again. The Joker mentions that he does have these different personas along the way.
“Every day a different head, a different mask. Sometimes a killer, sometimes a clown. Never a yawn”.
This is the key to what Morrison did eventually do with him. In this appearance the Clown Prince is acting out his ‘Cosmic Joker’ persona. Nothing he does here makes any sense – even for him. Just cruelty and meaninglessness for its own sake.
One of the Joker’s games here hearkens back to Morrison’s first Doom Patrol arc. The Joker puts together clues and sentences from randomly assembled words and phrases, but rather tediously, they somehow come together to make suitably portentous sentences.
Which completely negates the randomness of them! The randomly assembled declarations of the Scissormen in Doom Patrol were much more effective in getting across the chilling impersonal randomness of a cruel universe than the Joker’s obviously stage-managed messages. It’s just too heavy-handed; Batman even mentions the “Burroughs-method”. Doom Patrol did it all so much better, and first! Morrison’s Doom Patrol of 10 years earlier is on a different plane to Aztek, alas!
The Joker does give us a last giggling stare when his final message comes together - “He who laughs last laughs longest”, - which might be an indication that he is in on the joke. What seems random in this comic is actually the result of choices made by the creators. It is a stage-show put on by them for us, the readers, which completely undercuts the 'cruel randomness' message that they are trying to get across.
Morrisonian themes maybe, but the execution of them feels half-baked. Great Batman team-up and other little touches aside, these last few issues seem like Morrison brought to you by someone not as good as Morrison.
Which they very well could be!
It's possible that the Wayne/Luthor face-off in JLA #10-15 Rock of Ages was inserted into that story precisely because Morrison and co couldn't show it in longer form in Aztek. The last issue of Aztek came out 6 months before the first installment of Rock of Ages, so enough time to transfer the idea from one series to the other. Or perhaps their clash in JLA was originally supposed to be just a battle in the longer war that the pages of Aztek was supposed to portray.
Ah, what might have been....
[Another repost from August 2009 follows.]
The final 3 issues of Aztek go out not with a bang, but with a whimper - as this thread is about to.
After the sustained succession of life or death episodes, Aztek gets to take some time out to recover back in Peru in issue 8. When he returns to Vanity, Luthor has set up a hostage situation by z-grade criminals which Aztek resoloves easily. It’s all part of Luthor’s plan to make Aztek a trusted hero. We’re not told anything of Luthor’s agenda beyond that he is bankrolling Aztek ahead of the coming of the great adversary.
“I’m a businessman”, he says, “and the end of the world is bad for business.”
We’re reminded of the Q society’s earlier reaching out to American businessmen such as Thomas Wayne. I like the philosophical notion that when you look into the abyss, it looks into you. There is no such thing as a one-way deal, and Luthor has begun using his influence with the Q society to make it work towards his own ends. There is a half-hearted attempt to start a sub-plot about Aztek being corrupted by the gaming consoles and other perks that Luthor lays on, but there is no time to develop it.
Issue 9 is another Luthor-engineered fight for Aztek, this time with the Parasite in Metropolis. As a result of this, Aztek makes connections with Superman. I get the feeling the writers are making fun of the electric Superman that he was at this time. Certainly Millar is reputatedly a great fan of the classic Superman, as Morrison proved himself to be with All-Star Superman.
[There's some gentle fun poked at the gulf between the classic image of Superman and how he was portrayed in concurrent comics of this time - his 'Reddy Kilowatt' phase. Aztek arranges for Superman to talk to a young coma victim in order to revive him, but the super-fan in question gets a bit of a rude awakening.]
Having successfully teamed up with Green Lantern, Batman and Superman separately, the stage is set for Aztek to join the JLA, and issue 10 is the build up to his official initiation into that team. So if his joining the team is writer’s fiat, it’s a very elaborately plotted and thought out one. The last frame has him stepping forward to take part in his initiation.
[We've already seen that several comics have scenes that take place in or around the opening pages of JLA #5, and this is another one. It's a very congested bottleneck of an issue, really! Actually, the running joke we've seen already, regarding how poor the recruiting pool was for a top-grade super-team in the mid-90s is carried over to here, and further is used as part of the justification for Aztek getting his place on the roster by issue 9 of JLA.]
And there we leave him. I got the feeling that the writers knew that the story was over going into these 3 issues and the whole thing runs out of steam. Morrison has said that they were going to build up Luthor as the mysterious benefactor over a longer period of time and show Aztek shedding his innocence while dealng with this, but the early cancelation put paid to that.
Aztek was a worthwhile experiment let down by uninviting artwork, Millar-esque excesses and an unadventurous readership. The character himself was extremely likeable, even if he was something of a tabula rasa to begin with. Along the way he showed that he had good values, saving small animals and able to work with others without resorting to tiresome theatrical punch-ups.
I am looking forward to seeing his storyline resolved in JLA when we get to it. Perhaps we’ll never know if he ever learned to unhook a bra-strap!
[Almost forgot this little aside, from waybackwhen]
Did you know that long before he played House, Hugh Laurie was one half of a comedy double act with Stephen Fry? 'A Bit of Fry & Laurie' would appeal to anyone who enjoys highbrow Pythonesque Brit humour. I loved its mix of surrealism and kittenish wordplay. One sketch opens with Fry playing a middle-aged chap in a very ordinary English suburban home fiddling with a locked drawer of his writing cabinet. Laurie, playing his 20-something son, walks in. The son is, as Laurie's characters often were, not too bright, but harmless and well-meaning enough. When the father asks him for help, he opens the drawer pretty easily. The father looks shocked and asks him if there is anything in the drawer, and the son produces a small penknife from it.
Here the tone of the piece changes completely, as the father explains that the penknife is actually the great sword Berwhale the Avenger, which has been enchanted to pass in the normal world as a mere penknife. Only the Chosen One would be able to open the drawer and extract it. That the Chosen One has been revealed and has gained possession of the mighty sword must mean The Great Conflict is at hand! The father tells him he must flee and go undercover so that Punac the Destroyer doesn't discover him before the correct time. It’s all very Tolkienesque. The son is told he must go to a Saffron Walden and await his destiny, when he will fight to save all mankind. Of course, he will need to survive in the meantime, so he should look for a job, perhaps in a canning factory.
The son is flabbergasted, but is quickly convinced that he must leave straight away.
Once he has left the father's study, the mother enters.
‘I think he swallowed it,' the father says, “We'll get that lazy little sod out of the house and earning his living.'
I was reminded of the sketch when I read Aztek's origin in issue one. He too was sent to a strange foreign city to await the rise of a great adversary.
Perhaps the other monks just wanted him out from under their feet for a while.
[I had to go to the trouble of remembering and transcribing that sketch last time I put it up, but hey, here' it is!]
That was a hoot.
Can you imagine if Aztek had caught on and Morrison and Millar went that direction with the great revelation... fans would have been dispirited, boycotts would have been called for, Final Crisis wouldn't have been Morrison's most vilified work. ;)
As to what's actually in the series, I think you've made a pretty good case that Aztek was set up as a contrarian title vis a vis what was going on with super hero titles at the time. The question I have is, has Morrison ever really gone that route before (or for that matter, since)? As you say Figs, Morrison often goes off on his own tacks, often anticipating (or perhaps trailblazing) changes in the comics landscape but has he (or Millar) ever attempted to create something deliberately contrary to the prevailing comic trends other than Aztek?
I mentioned Animal Man above as an example, but I forget now why I mentioned it! Let's see...
Animal Man, with the clean, open art and Buddy's realtively happy suburban home life, was a throwback to the Silver Age. At a time when the post COIE/post Dark Knight DCU was following Grim and Gritty, realist trends. Sadly realism meant more junkies, pimps and serial murderers, whereas, thank God, I don't come across too many of them in my alledgedly 'real' life.
Like Aztek, Animal Man drew certain things from the Silver Age and seasoned it with certain realist elements. Aztek more deliberately took a hero with a Silver Age morality and threw him into a DCU city at its 90s worst, for the contrast.
When everyone was getting into the post COIE DCU on its own terms, with its new history and timeline, Morrison had the storyline in Animal Man where the Psycho Pirate bewails the loss of the pre-COIE universe, and tries to bring it back. I must admit, I didn't like that when I read it first, as Morrison was showing us behind the curtain and undermining the world-building DC had been doing. That pining for the old DCU eventually became pretty central to stories after JLA began, culminating in Infinite Crisis. So Morrison was both running against the status quo and ahead of the curve with that one.
JLA was determinedly plot-driven, rather than character-driven, right through to the end of Morrison's tenure, which is the opposite of most successful teambooks since, perhaps Fantastic Four #1? I remember prestige JLA books (and other JLA-starring books) by other writers that always set up a conflict with Batman or Wonder Woman, or whoever, as part of the plot.
52 was an in-continuity epic that had no crossovers, no concurrent comics, and virtually no appearances by the major players. The DC was plagued by them at that time, and about to go way overboard with them. It was very much a surprise hit, given those constrictions.
Didn't Final Crisis totally tear up the rulebook as to how superhero stories should be told, at a time when only the cinematic, three-act, heroes journey model was being followed? It also largely denied its readers the 'cool moments' and instead gave us the moments leading up to and away from the crucial points. In the first half of it, there was lots of the team passing the time inoccuously in their laboratory, but little of the big confrontations with evil. I think that was part of the whole point of it. It was a very experimental major crossover, that showed by omission all the tropes that superhero comics were then running on. It broke the internet! In any case, the perceived necessity for the New 52 kind of proved that stories in the pre 52 DCU were completely exhausted by the time of Final Crisis.
I guess going against the grain of current trends wasn't the whole point of Aztek, but its what they ended up doing when they tried to fuse Silver Age sensibilities with 'Dark Age' ones, and tell an original, complete longform superhero tale that was trying to use the exisitng shared universe, and to set things up, in order to surprise its readers down the line.
Just to link to a recent topic I've covered, another example of Morrison choosing to go the complete opposite route to the likely and obvious, is in the two Legion of Superheroes 1,000,000 issues he plotted for Tom Peyer.
The 'Justice Legion L' there are isolationist, inward-looking and peopled mainly by weird beings that are hard to identify with, whereas the classic Legion imagines an integrationist and outward-looking group of basically white suburban teenagers that most of the readers of the time could easily identify with.
On rereading issues 8-10, (and checking out some fo the editorial comments in the final few letters pages) it's probable that Millar and Morrison found out that the title was being canceled later than I surmised above.
What I originally read as the writers running out of steam and going through the motions, can also be read as a short series of lower-tempo issues to give the readers (and Aztek) a breather after several very highly charged issues where Aztek was pushed to the end of his tether. These three issues do fine world-building regarding Aztek's relationships to the Q Foundation, the hospital where he works, and to his new peers in DC's super-powered confraternity. Such world-building would have added to the punch of later more dramatic turns in the story. In that light, the deliberate, careful pacing of the longform tale is another quality in Aztek's favour.
Ah well. What might have been...
BTW - There is an argument out there that the Wachowski brothers 'borrowed' a lot from The Invisibles when they made The Matrix. It's just occurred to me, but isn't 'Uno', Aztek's name when he's at home in the Andes, quite similar to 'Neo'?