Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Is Grant Morrison too smart for comics?

The comic world loves Grant Morrison.

It seems like an inescapable truth that the world of comic books has had a love affair with Grant Morrison since his reinvention of Animal Man for DC Comics back in the 1980's.  I remember the run, and can tell you with some certainty that he turned an otherwise laughable character into an intriguing and creative title that was a must-read throughout his tenure on the book. (Makes me wonder if I was on to something with my argument about Blue Beetle & Booster Gold earlier!) He followed it up with many commercial successes, and even more critical successes.  In a simplified chronology of what has garnered his greatest fame I present this to you:

1. Animal Man
2. Doom Patrol
3. Arkham Asylum
4. Kill Your Boyfriend
5. Aztek (*highly underrated!)
6. Justice League (the relaunch that might have the best Justice League story ever!)
7. The Invisibles
8. JLA: Earth 2
9. New X-Men
10. We3
11. Seven Soldiers Megaseries
12. All Star Superman

13. 52 (contributing writer)
14. Batman
15. Final Crisis
16. Batman & Robin

Why walk you through the seminal moments of his career? Easy.  Because for me Grant Morrison is a strange mixture of must reads and over-thought frustrations.

Let's just get this out of the way really early on in the conversation; the man is smart.  Sometimes I wonder if he isn't too smart to be writing comic books.  He's smart like my friend the math genius, who makes me feel like that dumb bastard Affleck in Good Will Hunting. Why is that a problem?  Because sometimes his stories are so smart that they lose me in their layers and levels, leaving me wondering if he's just wasted my time, instead of marveling at his brilliance and insightfulness.

A conversation with another one of this blog's followers brought about the same evaluation of Batman Rest In Peace.  He found the story overdone to the point that much of its layered brilliance was lost on him.  Does Morrison actually expect that enough of his audience is in tune with his goals that they appreciate his efforts to tie together aspects of every era of Batman story telling that has ever existed?  And even if, with the light of reason targeted on it, you can follow the subtle details that make it all work.......does that give him an excuse for trying to write Bat-Mite into a story arc? Is there any excuse for that?

At its heart, the story was smart and the manner in which he drew upon pieces of Batman continuity long abandoned and tied it together to make it relevant once again showed a literary genius that will win him many, many awards.  It might even win him some fans.  But it will never, in my humble opinion, accomplish what he managed to achieve on other projects where he didn't beat his readers over the head with their own ignorance. What amongst his work did I like best?  I was obviously very high on his Justice League relaunch, in which he was tasked with overhauling the team and bringing back the "big guns."  The first four issues were tremendous, and the moment where Superman declared Batman the most dangerous man alive was epic.

I also loved his (now) lesser recognized tales, like Aztek (which he did with soon to be VERY famous Mark Millar - he of Kick Ass fame) and Kill Your Boyfriend.  Animal Man was a personal favorite as well, but I have a soft spot, as you all know, for fringe characters who are given reworks by major writing talents. His newest work on Batman & Robin has also been very impressive, as he details the story that he set the stage for when he killed Bruce Wayne in Final Crisis (more on that shortly.) His pairing of Dick with Damien makes the book work, and brings a different style to the classic Dynamic Duo. Also, I did enjoy 52.  A weekly book tying together a series of seemingly unrelated events, all culminating in Final Crisis?  Good work.

Now Final Crisis was a different issue. It was really a story about the end of the Fourth World and the coming of the Fifth World.  I was good with that part.  But it also became so much more, and for me that was where the problems started. Sometimes I find Grant's stories a little bit too all-encompassing.  The net result of which is that in tying up every loose end (which for continuity's sake many people like) I often find that I'm being distracted from the story I care about for the story that seems to just be added in for no reason. There were so many elements going on in Final Crisis, that it felt convoluted instead of smooth. Did I like the overall story of the conquest of Earth, and Darkseid's fall at the hands of "just a man."  Yes.  Did I need to have myself distracted with stories of renegade Monitors at the end of time, or virus' from parallel dimensions?

Absolutely not.

So this may just be personal taste.......and maybe it's because I'm just not that smart a guy.......but more Grant Morrison would be great (and guess who is writing Batman back into DC?).......but if he could just suffer some head trauma first?

That would be great.

Dumb it down a little Grant.

That's all I'm asking.


Cam said...

You know, I saw Final Crisis for 10 bucks at an HMV and thought, "What the hell? Let's see what this DC universe is all about." So I picked it up.

My reaction? Two words: complete bewilderment.

I'm not convinced it's a case of Morrison being too smart, but more a case of just too much going on in the story. Are the huge DC summer epics always like that?

The 4th Man said...

I don't think so.

In fact, if you follow something like the big Darkest Night story that's going on (or even go back to the onset of the Sinestro Core War) you'll see that big stories don't have to be convoluted and all-encompassing.

I blame Morrison for it. Honestly, I do. The core idea of the death of the 4th World (Jack Kirby's classic New Gods creation) and the birth of the 5th World on Earth was a terrific idea. Sensational! But all that other clutter that they tried to weave into the story was what ruined it.

Maybe Randy knows more about why Morrison included it all. Editorial mandate perhaps? Whatever the reason, it ruined the event for me.

The 4th Man said...

Having said that Cam, http://btjunkie.org/torrent/JLA-v3-Complete-1997-2006/348024f38aa9c0137ca366bcca4d2da6d3a3069c41e1

is the link to the bittorrent file for JLA's run that Morrison rebooted. The first arc is sensational. So the guy does have to get some credit.

Unknown said...

While I haven't read every title Morrison has done, that I've read I've enjoyed. The Seven Soldiers and We3 were brilliant, and The Invisibles...awesome.

Sometimes his stuff might give me pause, but discovering how it connects to everything else (and itself) is part of the fun. And a part of me loves all the mystical aspects hidden here and there. Still, I don't represent the majority of readers.

I guess it boils down to whether he wants to focus on his art or selling more books to more people - i'd choose art.