Five years ago, Grant Morrison co-created (with three of the best artists working in comics) three three-issue miniseries for Vertigo, DC’s ‘mature readers’ imprint. One of these, We3, co-created by Frank Quitely, was a huge success (in Vertigo’s terms) and will soon be a film. Another, Vimanarama, with Philip Bond, was a magnificent attempt to create a 70s Jack Kirby story set in Bradford, based on mythology from the Indian subcontinent, which almost everyone seems to have completely ignored.
And then there was Seaguy, the critical hit, created with Cameron Stewart. Seaguy was not particularly successful in terms of sales, but it has caused far more discussion than either of the other two. Much of that discussion, unfortunately, has been instigated by people who can’t actually read, calling the series ‘incomprehensible’. In fact, it’s one of Morrison’s most straightforward works, a lovely little superhero story equally influenced by Don Quixote and The Prisoner, set in a world where the superheroes have destroyed all the evil in the universe after a battle with the Anti-Dad, and so nothing could possibly go wrong, could it?
The only actual difficulty – if difficulty it is – is that it uses such basic techniques as metaphor and symbolism – things that people who can read without moving their lips have mastered by about the age of eight – and these don’t come with great dangling signs all over them saying ‘this is a symbol!’, or an explanation as to what they ‘really mean’, so Seaguy has a reputation as a ‘difficult’ work.
In fact, Seaguy seems to be about a few subjects that almost everyone can relate to – growing up, a sense that there’s something going on in the world that you don’t understand but which will affect you, and a sense that the workaday world has dulled us to the true marvels of the universe. On top of that, it appears to be a mild critique of Fukuyama’s idea of ‘the end of history’ at just the point that even the media were having to admit that he was flat-out wrong, as well as an examination of the superhero genre.
But the important thing about Seaguy is just that it’s a fun comic – clever, witty and enjoyable, and made by people who clearly want to be doing it. So much so that they wanted to do two sequels, but DC wouldn’t commit to it due to lack of sales. However, Morrison effectively held DC’s flagship series 52 to ransom, and the first issue of Seaguy: Slaves Of Mickey Eye came out yesterday.
The first issue parallels the first issue of the original series very strongly, but in this case Seaguy is older and acting like an adolescent – his new best friend, Lucky El Loro, “lost my power of flight to the vicious jaws of low self-esteem”. (Incidentally, is the parrot in this a reference to the one in the Sandman story A Game Of You or are they both referencing some other thing I’m going to look incredibly stupid for not knowing about?)
Cameron Stewart’s art reflects this change – still as clear as ever, there’s far more use of deep black areas than in the previous series, and Dave Stewart’s palette is far darker than the previous series – where that was all light blues and yellows, this one is all dark blues, purples and oranges. The contribution of the colourist often goes unnoticed in a comic, but in this case it makes a huge difference to the overall look of the piece, and therefore the mood.
While it’s impossible to judge from a first issue, this story is clearly going to be about Seaguy’s adolescent questioning leading to punishment for looking beyond the surface to the real world beneath (it features once again the favourite Morrison motif of the three wise monkeys). It’s difficult to analyse in any greater detail though, not because there’s nothing to say but because there’s too much to say. This is packed with ideas, like the cryptosaurs (fossil dinosaurs with the bits filled in from bits of bike and car found in the same area) – “How about this autoraptor I discovered: A fierce dweller in the chewy deserts of the plasticine era until the oil it ate to survive ran out.” And like the original series it has some strange commercials (or programmes?) on the TV – the ‘half-an-animal on a stick’ sequence is one of the most intriguing sequences in the comic.
The couple of other reviews of this I’ve read talk about these things as ‘mad ideas’ or ‘wacky’ or ‘insane’, but they’re none of these things – they’re worldbuilding, and just show that the world Seaguy is set in doesn’t work on the same rules as the one we live in. We’re not shown what those rules are, and we aren’t given enough information yet to figure out all the rules for ourselves, but that’s how it is in the real world too.
How much of this stuff is going to play out in the rest of the series, and how much is just background detail, we don’t as yet know, and without the context of the rest of the series it’s hard to judge this first issue. At the moment, it seems slightly overfamiliar – it’s very much what I would have expected from a fourth issue of Seaguy rather than doing anything astonishingly new – but it might well be leading to something even better (Morrison says that the ‘Seaguy trilogy’ is his Watchmen and that the closest thing to it in his own work is All-Star Superman). Even as it is, however, this is a work by one of the greatest creative teams working in comics today, and they’re working on something they want to work on. And it is a work by a team – Cameron Stewart recently mentioned on Twitter that he had an argument with a Morrison fan who was convinced he was Morrison’s employee, but while only Morrison could have written this, only Stewart could have drawn it, and he does a superb job.
I hope to write more, and put in more analysis, about the next two issues, as the pieces fall into place, but this issue doesn’t disappoint, which after a five-year gap is all you can hope for.