Here Is Something Special That Is Just For You

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.

12 responses to “Here Is Something Special That Is Just For You

  1. Pingback: Linkblogging for 21/09/08 « Thoughts on music, science, politics and comics. Mostly comics.·

  2. I agree with you completely, especially when you compare All-Star Supes to Final Crisis, which isn’t a bad video-game horror story as big events go but is definitely product compared to Seven Soldiers & All-Star.

    Not too sure what to think about his Batman, to be honest. I love the call-backs to the late-50s, early-60s Batman comics but I’m not sure if I like the direction things are going … that is if I’m even deciphering the direction correctly.

  3. Haven’t read the Batman — I figure I’ll just wait a while.

    By the way, Keeper, you’ve been knocking it crazily out of the park with your scanner lately! Left a comment to that effect on the Hot Wheels post, but for some reason it didn’t seem to take, and I was just too lazy to try retyping it…

    But wow, that Hot Wheels thing. Insane. I love Toth.

  4. I got your comment, it’s just that they’re “moderated” before appearing on the site. I do that more to avoid span than censor anyone though.

    Thanks for the compliment, but I can’t take credit for the Golden Age stuff. Those comics are from the Golden Age Downloads site that I always try to credit at the end of my post.

  5. Great piece Plok! I think you’re particularly right on with your comments about how scrambled Morrison’s writerly “progress” is. The current Batman run — wich I know you haven’t read, sorry! — reads like the work of a young man frantically trying to work out how to do the type of story we’ve just watched him tell so perfectly with All Star Superman and Seven Soldiers.

    but yes, All Star Superman… i’m halfway through rereading the series right now and… I think i might actually have been underrating the book previously… madness!

  6. Yes, David, I’m beginning to think that I should’ve unpacked a couple of my statements up there more thoroughly: how exactly does the idea “Superman as psychopomp” render the supposedly long-lost mainstream joy I was talking about? And how does it all relate to his, ahem, fall backward through the disordered sequence of his own development as a writer?

    Like, it’s all right there in the cover to #1, right? Classic Morrison: Superman is looking back out at us, and we’re looking in past him. Well, he was always a notorious fourth-wall-breaker anyway, and for that matter so were we, but — yeesh, talk about hiding in plain sight! Damnit, but this is all Morrison ever does, isn’t it? It’s really pretty much like a…hm, like an alpha-point to his comics work, I think. I mean, not necessarily a beginning as such, but a gathering of elements into very very close proximity, if not actually unity.

    I’m toying with the idea of using it as an entry to analysis of his entire oeuvre, actually…except I’m not sure that’s not a bit too ambitious for me. Still, it’s tempting: I think the pure themes are right in there, in concentrated form — everything from The Invisibles (which in its rambling, exhaustive form is probably Omega) all the way up to Final Crisis, the superheroes doing their big massive mega-plot detonation thing. All in there: All-Star’s probably the most metatextual thing he’s ever done, and I can’t imagine he’ll ever make anything more elegantly compressed, statement-wise. At least, not for this same big long statement he’s been making all this time. To which All-Star Superman maybe serves as the period? Or is it the capital letter?

    Aaah, who knows. Maybe, though. I mean just look at how much symbolic ascent and descent is driven into the heartwood of this thing — I was just reading the review of it over on Mindless Ones, and whoever it is there nails it perfectly: there’s all this super-vision going on here all the time, Superman looking into Kandor, into Qwewq, into Underspace…right? It’s telescopic vision, for sure. Mindless Ones basically says that’s why Quitely’s so perfect for it, and uh-huh, yeah, wow…what a perfect realization, of course! I definitely think so. And that’s not even counting the upward/outward glances we get out of it…

    Maybe one of these days. Boy that would be a lengthy post, though.

  7. Yikes, look at the cover to #1, it’s even more obvious than I thought, damn that Quitely…

    We’re looking in past Superman to the Sun, for heaven’s sake. They’re sitting across from one another.

    Why in God’s name is Quitely so clever?!

  8. See, that Franky boy… with him, Morrison doesn’t need to go quite so all out crazy to establish his themes. Not that I mind when he does — Seven Soldiers! The Invisibles! — but… just look at We3! Or this All Star Superman comic, with its deceptively gentle tone. Or maybe not so deceptive: amy poodle is right about how important Superman’s way of seeing is to this book. And Quitely’s presentation just conveys that so damned neatly, like you say — he makes so much work look like no work at all. We’re talking like a real superhuman endeavor here!

    The more I think about it, the more Lex’s unfinished epiphany is key to this series. People keep mentioning the end of Millar’s second Authority arc, but I think that this has its origins more in the end of JLA: World War 3, where all of humanity get superpowers and Wonder Woman lays some “this is how Superman feels every day” shtick on them. What a brilliant, optimistic idea — that everyone would be that wonderful if they could only take it all in. It could come off patronizing (“no, but you’d agree with me if you were smart enough”), but it doesn’t somehow.

    Anyway, that’s Morrison’s project, isn’t it? So many of his big works gesture towards a weird sort of pop-magic abstract-prop. Except with Quitely, it stops being abstract, cos it’s all right there in front of you.

    Also: If you ever feel like having a go at reading the Morrison oeuvre through ASS, I will so be there!

  9. Pingback: Topics In Fantasy: Emily Carr, Robert Redford, Steven Spielberg, Los Bros Hernandez, And The Hibakushi « A Trout In The Milk·

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