You know, sometimes Grant Morrison knocks me right out.
If his career ended today, he would already have left behind a large-ish collection of scenes in comics — just scenes — that are as good as most of the good comics I have ever read. But the really weird thing about this is, that so many of these scenes occur in what you’d call your sort of straight-up old-fashioned running-out-of-gas superhero comics.
These may be the world’s simplest stories, by now; and yet they’re dangerous as hell for being overcharged with crappy nostalgic elements, like so many jars of hydrazine with rusty lids. But Morrison not only handles the jars so lovingly that he can do terrifying things with them and live, but so deftly (it may be the same thing) that he makes what’s simple look complicated. Before he shows it as simplicity again.
So…is it Pop Magic?
Oh, I think so.
In Seven Soldiers, Zatanna reaches up to find the S.U.M. looking down — “Zatanna, you’re something else” — and Shilo escapes the Life Trap…and there is no earthly reason why these things should pack the punch they do, but they do, because it may not be pity and fear but something important’s being purged here: because these are not just the people you meet in dreams, they’re the reasons you meet the people you meet in dreams, and Morrison doesn’t just want to free those people, he wants to free those reasons…
And if that ain’t magic, I don’t know what is.
Superheroes. They just shouldn’t work anymore at all. Just about all the people who used to know how to install and service them are retired, and those that are left have mostly become crank niche-hobbyists, kit-builders who carelessly slop around the hydrazine on their clothes, on the carpet, everywhere. A few still run shops out of their own garages, neat and tidy and up-to-code, with clean coveralls and shiny, spotless tools, but the market’s shrunk so much that by and large there just isn’t any mainstream joy left to be found in that business. It’s all about the collector trade now. You see one of those machines on the street and think “wow, I remember those days”, but you say that knowing they haven’t come again, and they’re probably not going to.
But then every once in a while you get a thing like All-Star Superman, don’t you?
And then everything changes for the better.
Morrison has gone at this all backwards, or at least he’s gone at it radically out of order: trying to chart the course of his career from promising novice to brilliant journeyman to self-possessed master is just like following one of his beloved multidimensional acid-trip schisnarratives. I mean, surely The Invisibles ought properly to be an old man’s work? And doesn’t We3 or Seaguy or Vimanarama make more sense as the first independent effort of an art-school wunderkind? Really, shouldn’t Doom Patrol and Flex Mentallo have come after JLA and New X-Men, and along with The Filth? In his corporate work he fails utterly to proceed in linear fashion from milestone to milestone as we might expect him to — his masterpiece is delayed and delayed, regardless of Big Breaks. And then it finally arrives — stunningly — with Seven Soldiers: after Seven Soldiers, if you don’t know what Grant Morrison cares about in his own craft it’s because you’re not paying attention, and after Seven Soldiers all comparisons with other writers become superfluous. He graduates.
But then starts right up again, out of order, working on the young man’s game of playing with continuities, and reconciling inconsistencies!
As if the precious graduation had never happened at all!
But then at the same time he shows that it did happen, because he does All-Star Superman.
You can keep your 52s and your Final Crises, bloggers. Enjoy ‘em; get the good from them; I applaud you for liking them. But those are just projects, those are just products, those are just outputs. They’re a little cold. All-Star Superman, on the other hand, is a very special thing that has been made just for you. Like all Morrison’s stories, it’s a simple one: Superman as psychopomp. But, what a world is in that gemlike idea! Pop Magic, indeed!
He simply brings it all back to life, and sets the reasons free. Even now, I think, they are right here in this room.
It’s like a kind of literature he’s made with this stuff. Astonishing. I wouldn’t have believed it possible.
Morrison, you’re something else.