Published on October 26th, 2010 | by Michael Harris0
A Week Late #3: Grant Morrison & Final Crisis
Since his start in the comics industry in the late 70’s, Grant Morrison has established himself as one of the most innovative and prolific comic book writers to have ever worked in the genre. In the early 80’s, Morrison gained acclaim while writing for 2000 AD and eventually got the attention of DC Comics who gave him a breakthrough with writing Animal Man. Since then, Morrison has produced some of the best comics of the modern age and definitely some of my favorite works including: Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, Doom Patrol from ’89 to ’93, The Invisibles, JLA from ’97 to 2000 including Earth 2, and more recently 52, his run on Batman and New X-Men, Final Crisis and his incredible All-Star Superman. However, despite his impressive track record of producing top quality comic books that stretch the conception of what a comic book can do, I have a few issues with the man. The ones that I’ll try to address here are with his more recent books.
First, and foremost, is his ability to pollute the comic books he writes with excessively cerebral ideas that, in my experience, only serve to isolate the story that he wants to tell from the audience that his comic books reach. His villainous characters express themselves in frenetic statements of metacognition that border on incomprehensible and he seems to take pleasure in deconstructing the ideals of an established superhero and completely making the character his own for the sake of an in-joke for a subplot. He created a situation where Batman not only trusted another man enough to give him individual, unmonitored access to his mind, but also allowed this man to plant a cue into his brain that might destroy him. However, at the same time he put Batman into a situation where a psychic spent months trying to break him and copy what made Batman who he is only to find that his mind is uniquely suited to enduring the stresses of being mentally screwed with. Both of these stories are written by the same man, both of them tell different, equally crazy versions of Batman’s mind.
His nonlinear storytelling is a boon and a burden on the comics he writes. He does a great job of not spending too much time establishing the subplots and major items that he wants to address later (sometimes much later) in his series, but a lot of the time there is such a delay in the reveal that I simply don’t care. His reveal of Oberon Sexton and the Domino Killer in the latest issues of Batman & Robin were one of these instances. I remember the references to the Domino Killer at the start of the series and the fact that it was troubling to Dick, but the reveal was only slightly interesting in comparison to the reveal of who Sexton was (I should note that Sexton was one of those needlessly and completely cosmetically complex characters that seemed to be a preferred literary device of Morrison’s that makes me feel like Morrison just likes to laugh at the readers as they try to make sense of his aforementioned needless complexity).
The first lines and last words said by Orion in Final Crisis are “…heaven cracked and broken…you!…they did not die!…he is in you all…fight.” Understandably this New God is dying, but it is one example that Grant Morrison treats gibberish as a language unto itself. He loves interjecting the story with exasperated or dying people uttering mysterious messages to the hero that will only be deciphered at the end of the story. This is a common literary technique and I would be remiss as a writer to dismiss it (see what I did there), but in conjunction with his other writing techniques and his grandiose expression of simple ideas, it just leads to frustration. I’m not going to even get started on what a maddening character Professor Pyg is, I’ll just leave that to anyone who wants to read Batman & Robin to realize.
Now… Final Crisis. Where do I start? Each issue is presented with little to let you know exactly what the hell is going on and Grant Morrison quite likes it that way. Even at the end you’re not quite sure what happened because I’m not sure he’s capable of finishing a narrative without having a follow up story ready to go directly afterwards. Most authors (and I’m sure the publishers have a lot to do with this) follow this general idea so that each major event follows the last, but Grant Morrison does it in a way that you can’t tell exactly how each issue follows the last save for a few pages out of the 30 per book. The entire story of Final Crisis is Grant Morrison trying to show off how many obscure characters he can bring back, how many vague references to vaulted ideas and metacontextual theories he can cram into one story, and how convoluted he can make a story before people give up entirely on reading it. The ANTI-LIFE EQUATION, the goal of the entire series of Final Crisis is set up as, and I quote Wikipedia on this because I honestly couldn’t tell you otherwise, “a mathematical proof of the futility of living.” The equation is as follows:
loneliness + alienation + fear + despair + self-worth ÷ mockery ÷ condemnation ÷ misunderstanding x guilt x shame x failure x judgment n=y where y=hope and n=folly, love=lies, life=death, self=dark side
Seriously, people. What. The. Fudge. Ripple. Ice Cream.
Does he have any idea how that sounds? In a genre where crazy stuff happens, where you can have gods being killed with a god-killing bullet using a god-killing gun and it’s normal, you still find a way to seem daft. He goes on in Batman with more craziness, introducing the Omega Sanction or “The Death that is Life itself” whatever that means and the idea of the god-killing bullet being some sort of allegorical archetype for all bullets and tying it into the bullet that killed Batman’s parents through twisted Morrison logic.
Now, in contrast, Geoff Johns wrote all of the Green Lantern stories from Rebirth to Recharge all the way through Blackest Night to the story going on now in Brightest Day with the intent on things happening the way that they’re happening. He left clues throughout his writing that led you to where the comic is now. I’ll admit that at a few points I stopped giving a crap about what Johns was trying to say (mostly because it took 8 issues for anything to actually happen in Brightest Day) but it always entertained. I constantly felt like I was struggling through Final Crisis.
In closing, I like Grant Morrison, I really do. Despite my rambling complaints, he does write a good story. I have little fault to find in Animal Man or Arkham Asylum and All-Star Superman is a damn near perfect comic book. I enjoyed most of New X-Men, JLA, Doom Patrol, and Seven Soldiers. I quite liked his Vertigo titles like The Invisibles, WE3, Flex Mentallo, Joe the Barbarian, and Kid Eternity. And apart from a few complaints his extended run on Batman and Batman & Robin has been extremely enjoyable. Did I gloss over a few of the intricacies of his writing? Yes. Did I ignore a the less obtuse ideas that he’s introduced into DC continuity and the number of simple comics that he’s written over the years? Surely. I just wish he’d tone down the masturbatory dialogue and storylines that shout “Look at me! I’m Grant Morrison! I can write a story that you can’t fully appreciate!”