So last week I read Batman and Robin issues 15 and 16 and The Return Of Bruce Wayne 5 and 6 all within one week. I’ve only just stopped giggling – nobody should get that excited in that short a space of time. The trades will need to come with health warnings, and maybe some sort of eye protection.
The problem is, I’ve tried writing this about five tmes since then, and hit a block. There’s simply too much in these comics to talk about in one blog post, so I’m going to have to write several. This is just the first. Most of the rest will come at the back end of next week – I’ve taken three days off work next week, and I’m going to use them to read Batman comics – but you can expect at least one more between now and then.
You see, this is not just the climax of a story that’s been going on for sixteen issues of Batman and Robin and six of The Return Of Bruce Wayne, this is the culmination (or *a* culmination) of a story that includes JLA Classified: 1-3, all the Seven Soldiers minis, 52, Morrison’s run on Batman, Final Crisis and the Final Crisis one-shots Morrison wrote. That’s something like a hundred and fifty comics, and the story’s not finished yet.
That’s half the length of Cerebus. It’s half again the length of Lee & Kirby’s Fantastic Four run. It’s two Sandmans. But this has gone unnoticed because for the last six years Morrison has been telling his big story across many different titles, rather than a single one. But it’s still one continuous narrative. And it’s made all the stronger by the fact that unlike the creators of those other works, Morrison is having to work with – and against – other creators. Sometimes this has helped (as in the case of his 52 collaborators, who created something genuinely special). Other times (as in The Death Of The New Gods and Countdown) it’s been like five year olds with crayons ‘helping’ Michaelangelo with the Sistine Chapel. (I’ve not yet read the Time Masters mini – I’ll be interested to see on which side of the divide this falls).
Now, it’s impossible to say that a work of this length is ‘about’ just one thing, and in fact this is ‘about’ a whole complex of ideas – it’s about entropy, and information, about freedom, about unifying opposites on a higher level, about multiple viewpoints and multiple realities, about memory, and time.
One big, big theme in all this work is the idea of getting over one’s parents – whether it be Thomas Wayne, or Bruce Wayne as father for his various Robins, or Darkseid as an evil father figure. It came as no surprise to me that Morrison’s own father died in 2004, around the time Morrison started work on this gigantic story (and All-Star Superman, whose most touching issue is the one where Superman’s own father died.)
And this explains why Batman is so cosmically important in these stories – by RoBW 6 the entire universe is revealed to be in some way ‘about’ Batman. Morrison’s been writing, all along, about transcending, about becoming… about breaking through to another level of existence – whether (as in the case of JLA:Classified, 52 and Final Crisis:Superman Beyond 3D) an actual new universe or (as in most of the Batman work, Zatanna and Mister Miracle) a new, more mature, way of looking at the universe – a new mental plane. And of all the DC superheroes, Batman is the one who is most clearly about transcendence. With Batman, there’s a before and an after – his parents dead, and his parents alive. Two states of being. And Batman pushes himself to become more than he was.
Superman, by contrast, was always good, always powerful. He doesn’t have to transcend because he was born transcendent. And most of the other superheroes don’t really change as a result of their powers – Hal Jordan, Barry Allen and so on have had changes in their lives, but those changes are bolted on, not integral to their character. Batrman, *BY HIS VERY EXISTENCE*, is about growing up, about saying “OK, your parents are dead, you’re on your own now, you have to look after yourself” and turning that into a positive, using it to become better.
And that’s the thing that Morrison’s mega-DC-narrative has been telling us for six years – take a sad song and make it better. There are as many perspectives on any event as you can imagine (or at least fifty-two of them) and who you are is defined not by the events you experience but by how you choose to experience them. This is, of course, new-agey twaddle, but it’s also got a kernel of truth to it.
It *is* only a kernel, though, and real life doesn’t necessarily work like that. My wife’s younger brother died, suddenly, around the time Morrison started work on this gigantic story, and she didn’t become a masked vigilante and fight crime – she entered a depressive phase from which she’s still not fully recovered. And that is an appropriate and proper reaction – any newage ‘wisdom’ that says that that could be a positive learning experience is just *wrong* – it’s a terrible thing. That which doesn’t kill you can hurt a *lot*.
But we do all grow up, and we do have to cope, and where we *can* turn those bad things to the good, we should. And this is what Morrison’s recent work has all been about. You only have to look at the use of Black Holes in the mega-story. Early on they’re a trap – the Life Trap, crushing depression, the ultimate destroyer. Nobody can escape from a Black Hole, and Mister Miracle’s whole story is about how he manages to do that anyway.
But look at Return Of Bruce Wayne 6. A black hole is no longer something to escape from – it’s somewhere to escape *to*. An escape hatch for the universe. The universe, in pure information form – the universe as story – is being placed into storage in a black hole at the end of time, so even the end of the universe is only a beginning.
I *must* write about Frank Tipler’s Omega Point stuff here at some point, mustn’t I?
Christ, there’s so *MUCH* to say about just that one issue, Return of Bruce Wayne 6. It’s almost fractal in its complexity, every word containing significance as part of the larger story.
But it all comes down to depression, in the end. And to “Can man confront evil’s challenge? Turn it upside down and end it?”
Bruce Wayne is fighting a “death-idea that never stops”. It can only be defeated by destroying his nervous system. He’s fighting depression all right, and coming out the other side. And that can be a powerful message – it can give hope. I just hope Morrison isn’t also sending the message that those who fight depression and lose are somehow lesser, because not everyone is Batman, and not everyone *can* defeat anti-life.
But as someone who’s had his fair share of depressive episodes, I can say that depression is at least as evil a supervillain as the Joker or the Riddler, and I’m glad to see Batman beat the shit out of it.
More (much more) soon…
“I’ve taken three days off work next week, and I’m going to use them to read Batman comics.”
Congratulations — I think this may be the nerdiest statement I have ever read.
Heh. I’m actually taking them off because I’m hugely stressed, and need to do something completely non-stressful, so it’s not *quite* as bad as it sounds….
Oh, OK, it is…
I am by no means a proper Batman fan, but I do find it astonishing that the character is able to sustain such a huge range of styles and content. From the Boys’ Own origin story and early days (“Criminals are a cowardly, superstitious lot”), and the uber-camp Adam West TV series, via the grittiness of The Dark Knight Returns (which I have read) to the sort of psychological/cosmological storytelling you’re describing here … it’s a heck of a career.
Does anyone know what Bob Kane thought of Dark Knight? According to the relevant Wikipedia articles, it came out twelve years before he died.
Yeah, this is one of the things Morrison is doing in his mega-story, trying to incorporate *all* those aspects of Batman and say they’re all valid, and try to see what a character that had done all that would be like…
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Brilliant, brilliant post, Andrew. I’ve linked to it everywhere I can. Write more now!
Thanks! I expect the next part of this will be over the weekend, as I have a few other posts I want to write. Also depends on my thoughts on the two new Batman titles today…
You will like them; I liked this!
And this, right here, is exactly why I don’t like Morrison’s Batman – well, that and all the killing he did in his pre-RIP run on Batman. Batman is self made – that’s Batman’s entire point. Bruce had a transformative experience and he built on that experience himself. He’s about reacting and building and growing up (on which you were spot on.)
But he’s not – and it’s insulting to his mythos to claim that he is – an inevitable hub around which destiny, narrativium and the universe revolve. He’s a wrench in the works, the victim who stood up in the flow of violence and said “no more”. He’s the very personfication of free will, and RoBW pisses all over that from a great height.
At least, that’s what I think.
I’ll be getting onto the stuff about free will in a future post, because that’s been, I think, a *BIG* part of Morrison’s Batman work, actually. But to a first approximation, I think the point is that Batman/Bruce *made* himself be that important *by* being a wrench in the works. He changed the way the story was meant to go, and made it into a better one…
But this is something I’ll write about towards the back end of next week.
Your enthusiasm is contagious, Andrew!
I don’t know whether I ever will be able to go through the whole “52” project. The art of that series is so crushingly pedestrian! I don’t want to be unjust – under a brutal deadline success probably means less inspired art but rather surviving the ordeal.
If you look online there’s a 52 Remixed thing you can get as torrents, which separates the stories out. If you just read the ‘space’ and Booster Gold parts, you get the stuff that ties into Morrison’s other work, though you miss a lot of fun stuff…
I think you’re really missing the point, Debi. The guy that stood up didn’t just stand up, he stood up, or rather crouched painfully (since the 80s) in a narrative box full to the brim with paranoia, loneliness, anger and miserablism. Morrison has been trying to free the character from that box, and the beautiful thing is he found a way for the character to do it himself
All of Morrison’s work boils down to some kind of transcendence, self-actualization, individuation, whatever one wants to call it. The transformation of a person or world, or the discovery of the self, etc. Self-evolution. Piercing membranes into new universes.
It’s why he’s my fav’rit writer, really, because all of his work is inherently optimistic– except for, oh, Dare. But everything else…!
“Spread it on your flowers, Greg.”
I wouldn’t call The Filth ‘optimistic’ ;)
But yes, I agree…
No, no, it totally is. It just drags its protagonist– and the reader– through the muck to get there.
OK, now you got me interested in Grant Morrison. If I were new to Alan Moore and I asked you what to read, you would no doubt unhesitatingly say “start with Watchmen”. Is there a similarly canonical Morrison book I could buy? What’s his Dark Side of the Moon?
There’s not *quite* such a ‘canonical’ choice for Morrison as there is for Moore. Or rather there is – it’s Flex Mentallo, and it’s out of print, and will almost certainly never be reprinted due to legal problems. Other than that, it’s hard, because his work is so much of a piece – the same themes and ideas recur throughout his work, and later works comment on earlier ones.
Most Morrison fans would point you to The Invisibles. I don’t think you, personally, would like it as much as some of his other stuff, but it’s his magnum opus. If he had a ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ it would be that or The Filth, but I wouldn’t actually recommend either to start with.
But there are two works that I think would fit the bill.
His most touching, human work is probably All-Star Superman, available in two volumes, with Frank Quitely. That touches on all his major themes, and is quite possibly the perfect superhero comic, but is *so* well done it might almost look too easy, if you see what I mean. But to my mind it’s one of the three or four greatest works in the medium. It’s as close to perfection as a superhero story can get.
His run on Animal Man is collected in three volumes, Get hold of volume one and read issue five, The Coyote Gospel. That’s where it starts getting good (it’s where the story proper starts) and is also the full story in microcosm. If you don’t like that, you probably won’t like Morrison. Animal Man is about animal rights, the nature of fiction and whether a God has an obligation to his creations (and if that obligation is the same as the obligation humans have to animals). It also has a number of things to say about the DC Comics Universe, which means it works better if you’re aware of the Crisis On Infinite Earths storyline that happened a year or so before Animal Man started, but that’s not necessary. The one downside of that one is it takes Rupert Sheldrake seriously, which as a paleontologist I imagine would cause you to wince a bit…
If you like those, the next places to go are We3 (a comic about animal rights described as The Incredible Journey crossed with the Terminator, a fantastic formal achievement), Seaguy (equal parts Don Quixote and The Prisoner) and Seven Soldiers (a magnificent storytelling experiment that may be the most formally interesting thing he’s ever done, though it works less well in collected books than it did as a serial).
*DON’T* get his Batman graphic novel Arkham Asylum, from the late 80s. It’s his biggest-selling work by a long way, but it’s not very good at all – the art and the script work at cross-purposes, and while both are trying to do something interesting, it reads like sixth-form cleverness.
Well, that is what I call service! :-)
Seriously, many thanks for these recommendations. I’ve ordered both volumes of All-Star Superman, which I will arrange for my in-laws to give me for Christmas. (I always like to get some comics for Christmas.) [While I was at it, I also ordered Red Son, which I’ve wanted to see for a while.]
Having devoured Watchmen, Vendetta, Swamp Thing, and (with progressively less interest) Extraordinary Gentlemen, I feel like I am about done with Alan Moore (having no interest in Lost Girls). I’m ready for something new. Hopefully this is it.
As far as Moore goes, you should probably read at least From Hell as well, before giving up on him – it’s one of the very best things he’s done. I also like Promethea and A Disease Of Language.
Just looked into Promethea … I have to buy FIVE books? Seriously? I guess I will wait for day when they make a collected single volume.
That’ll probably never happen – if nothing else it’s too long.
Promethea isn’t as high-priority a work as From Hell, though – From Hell is Moore’s late-period masterpiece, whereas Promethea’s more of an examination of his personal philosophy, but with the best art ever seen in comics.
The best artist ever seen in comics, I’ll grant, but I believe he has improved since.
Williams has definitely improved, but the combination of his work with José Villarrubia’s stuff and Todd Klein’s designs hasn’t been bettered, I don’t think…
For Morrison I’d seriously put B+R before ASS…not sure if we all didn’t love ASS mostly because it was a relief from bad Superman stories. My own starter-batch? Doom Patrol (“Jane. Hi.”), JLA, Vimanarama, We3, Seven Soldiers.
Vimanarama is Morrison’s “V For Vendetta”, you know.
“Lost Girls” is really good, if you’re okay with the porn-not-erotica thing. Melinda and Alan are truly a match, it’s truly one of the best collaborations from the man who’s known for them.
I disagree about B&R, mostly because of the variable art, but also because it requires having read Morrison’s other Batstuff to get the full effect.
The ones you mention are all fantastic, but I was trying to fit to what I know of Mike’s tastes. Everyone should eventually read all of them though.
And yes, Lost Girls is a magnificent piece of work, but I found it a little cold…
“The ones you mention are all fantastic, but I was trying to fit to what I know of Mike’s tastes.”
You see, that’s what makes this blog special. I imagine Andrew in his Secret Lair, maintaining Taste Profiles on all his frequent commenters, carefully adjusting his ready-to-roll recommendations, so he’s prepared when asked for a hint :-)
An intellectually slight remark about Lost Girls (of which I’ve read only a couple of chapters): I like how polite the characters are while…taking pleasure in each others’ bodies. Respect is one aspect in pornography that’s sorely missing!
I said B&R because a great number of non-comics folk of my acquaintance saw the first Quitely issues and FREAKED OUT…! Took the whole scenario on board, I only had to tell them “that’s the old Robin as the new Batman; the new Robin is Bruce Wayne’s son”…and away they went.
They found the non-Quitely issues (even Cam Stewart’s, which still blows my mind!) far less penetrable though, so you’re probably right overall.
Although I’m going to say I think there’s less about Batman you need to know to enjoy B&R, than there is about Superman you need to know to enjoy ASS.
Now, I’d definitely disagree there. All you need to know for ASS is that Clark Kent is a reporter, that he’s Superman, and that he loves Lois Lane, another reporter, and that Lex Luthor is a baddie.
But then again, Andrew’s right: “From Hell”, if nothing else. That’s Alan Moore’s “V For Vendetta”…!
The Invisibles. Please read the Invisibles. It puts Watchmen in the shade in all sorts of ways.
What’s it about? Well…
Its Morrison’s version of ‘The Prisoner ‘and ‘Twin Peaks’ and ‘the X Files’ and ‘Foucalt’s Pendulum’ and ‘Illuminatus Trilogy’ by going way into his own personal mythologies and coming out the other side with the reader in tow not knowing exactly what the fuck just happened.
It’s a story set in a parallel universe (My guess would be Earth 23) where every conspiracy theory you ever heard is true. And the secret organisation behind it all? why it’s the Invisibles of course. An organisation so secret not even its key members know they’re in it. but are they goodies or baddies? And what if that didn’t matter?
It’s the most influential cult comic ever. *cough* Matrix *cough*
Do get Promethea BTW it’s my fave Moore series ( I too found Lost Girls a little cold).
And lastly great stuff on Morrison’s Bat stuff Andrew. Don’t let the Mindless Ones Tour de Force put you off writing more.
Thanks, I won’t.
I agree that The Invisibles is in many ways Morrison’s greatest work, and there are definitely people to whom I have recommended it as a starting point (Alex and Richard who comment here, for example – they both like Lawrence Miles’ Faction Paradox work, which is *VERY* similar, and they like the old ITC adventure stories, so just saying “this is to The Avengers and Jason King as Faction Paradox is to Doctor Who” is enough to get them at least a little interested). I strongly suspect that Mike wouldn’t get past the first volume if he tried that first, though (and that’s not a criticism of Mike – I was very unimpressed with vol. 1 when I first read it, and didn’t pick up vol. 2 until a year or two later….)
I loved it instantly. But it’s damn hard to summarize! I think that’s because, as I think I’ve said before, it’s like an old man’s work, an end-of-career work…sprawling, full of digressions and variations, ambitious to the point of collapsing on itself…and it does! Several times!
I’ll never know how a young man made it hang together like that. You’re not supposed to be able to be a young man and make that kind of thing hang together…
Yes to both the above comments. I’ve had to make excuses for the first story arc to get people to carry on reading it. Indeed when it first came out I dropped the comic round about issue 9 or 10 and only picked it up again when it got all Jerry Cornelius in the ‘Entropy in the UK’. arc. It did turn out to be a very ‘mature’ work in the end didn’t it? I think if a potential Morrison fan doesn’t get on with ‘The Invisibles’ they’re not gonna like much of his other stuff are they?
So, if one were to want to read all of Morrison’s Batman stuff, what trades would one buy, and in what order would one read them?
I’m not 100% sure, because I bought the floppies, but I *think* you’d want to read something like the following:
Batman & Son
The Black Glove
The Resurrection Of Ra’s Al-Ghul (this can be skipped, it’s a not-very-good crossover with various writers, though it does tie in with the other ones)
Then the volumes of Batman & Robin (I think the first two storylines are out as trades right now).
To fully understand Final Crisis, you should also have read the Mister Miracle chapters of 7 Soldiers.
Dropped over from Mindless Ones on your suggestion. Very good choice on my part, I must say. Will be around in the future. Thanks very much!
Mike, I wasn’t particularly into the Invisibles despite being a die-hard Morrison fan, so I’m living proof that there are ways into his work that have nothing to do with his magnum opus. Is must be said, however, that while I only read the odd issue, having the comic’s biggest fan as my brother (Amypoodle) probably meant that I absorbed more than my fair share of its informational content, which I almost certainly put to use when writing about Morrison’s work today. In many ways the Invisibles is like a how-to guide for Morrison comics: understand the Invisibles, understand a great deal about the rest of his work.
Similarly with the Filth, although I found the Filth much more accessible primarily because it’s less of its time (did anyone else feel that the Invisibles was of its time at the time of its publication?). The Filth is the superior comic if you ask me. The Filth asks harder questions and demands harder answers.
Flex, is of course the other one, and maybe the best of the lot, but it’s also much, much shorter, and like Andrew says, it’s out of print, although I should point out that there are rumblings from DC about a new edition being published in the new year. We live in hope.
Seaguy? Absolutely not your Dad’s superheroes, unless your Dad’s superheroes happen to live in The Village. It could work as a way in. It’s fast paced, self contained, has superb art and does a good job of condensing a lot of Morrison’s idiosyncrasies into a couple of slim volumes. Seaguy is one of my personal faves.
ASS could well be a good jumping on point if you like men in pants. Unlike Plok I think it’s much better than Batman and Robin, much better than everything following the first B&R arc, anyway, and I definitely don’t like it because it was one of the rare good Superman stories. I like it because it’s pretty much perfect superheroes, with issue 10 being perhaps the greatest single issue of any superhero comic I’ve ever read.
In other superheroes there’s his JLA run, which even 10 plus years and uncounted imitators on still stands as a high watermark for the genre. And, if you can get your paws on it, which I very much doubt because it too is out of print and embroiled in a legal quagmire (although I hear that good people are working hard to change that state of affairs), there’s Zenith. Morrison’s first stab at superheroes, and in my opinion second only in quality to his work on ASS. Honourable mention should also go to his X-Men run, but while there were some great ideas in play, and some superb issues, most of his tenure was bogged down by sub-standard art.
Seven Soldiers and Final Crisis are perhaps most emblematic of a certain strain of Morrison’s work, in that they’re both highly ambitious genre comics that ultimately fail as constructions, but succeed as powerhouses of ideas and energy. Morrison has a habit of shooting for the stars and just missing – he often takes on more work than can be processed in the space available to him. Plot threads are sometimes left unresolved, or badly developed, and readers are on occasion asked to do a bit more work than should reasonably be expected of them. Fanwank is a friend to Morrison’s writing out of necessity as much as it is the product of his inspirational ideas. With that in mind its probably best to stick with the Andrew’s recommendations as they, with the exception of Seven Soldiers (which I love, by the way) steer clear of his worst excesses.
Morrison’s comics are frequently surreal, textual, experimental, inventive, impressionistic, deconstructive (in the positive sense of the term), inspirational, insightful, fun, irreverent, and often surprisingly moving when it counts. He’s a much, much, much better character writer than most other writers working for the Big Two, and is one of the few writers, in any medium, capable of delivering real surprises.
As for Moore, for God’s sake read From Hell immediately. It’s his Other Book.
Oh, no, I didn’t mean I thought B+R was better than ASS…!
Also, on the cover of ASS #10 to my eyes we have Quitely delivering Supes as Jeeves. Anybody else notice that?
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