Should we bring the Morrison discussion over here now? I don't know how...

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Doom Patrol vol 2.
The Painting that Ate Paris - pt IV. The Kingdom of No.

(Issue 29)

Summary: Realising that the terrible 5th Horseman of the Apocalypse is rising, the Brotherhood of Dada reverse their defeat of the Doom Patrol and join forces with them to prevent it from destroying All That Is. Crazy Jane appears to sacrifice herself to do this.

This is the last part of the four part The Painting that Ate Paris storyline that kicks off Vol II of Morrison's Doom Patrol.

Commentary: We see the form as well as the content of this last Brotherhood of Dada issue is topsy turvey... Morrison's positivist post-modernity... Superman - a 'How to...' in 11 panels.

The issue is framed by a letter from the semi-illiterate Frenzy to his mother. As Frenzy writes, “Wy don I jus start at the end an see wer we get from ther?”. Such fantastic disrespect for normal storytelling conventions! We then get a scene of the two teams after the defeat of the big bad of this issue. Then we rewind to the previous issues defeat of the Doom Patrol and the Brotherhood’s realisation that something terrible is rising up out of the deeper levels of the painting and that they will need the whole DP to defeat it.

Morrison has a real feel for the marginalised in society and Frenzy's account of his unloved childhood and retreat into the fantasy world of movies tugs on the heartstrings. This new Brotherhood is very loyal to Mr Nobody as he has treated them with dignity and respect. They are isolated misfits who have found somewhere to belong thanks to him. As readers we want them to get a happy ending.

Mr Nobody's devotion to undercutting everything with nonsense means that when they thank him for encouraging them and making them something, his response is "I was only joking when I said that!" Mr Nobody is a kind of Bob Hope figure throughout all this. He takes nothing seriously and seems to be commenting on things from outside the action. He's often very funny in the complete inappropriateness of his commentary.

To his team-mate the Fog - "Sleeping on the job, Mr Shelley? Good man! Nothing like a nice long rest in the middle of a crisis!"

Given the heart with which Morrison writes these losers, I’d have to reject the often-used criticism of Morrison that he is only about flashy ideas and surreal storylines. The Brotherhood of Dada embodies meaningless wild, fun ideas, but there is a little bit more to them, and not just in the sympathetic way they are protrayed. We can perhaps see some more of Morrison’s real commitments and convictions glimmering through some of their scenes.

Look at who their comicbook violence is directed at. The heavy-handed policeman in the first chapter who is turned into a toilet full of flowers (still makes me laugh) and the security guards protecting the contents of Herr Eismann’s chateau who are turned into glass statues. They are uniformed symbols respectively of state oppression of the individual and the protection of the property of the rich. Some would argue the police serve the latter function too.

And then Mr Nobody’s down-playing of these crimes to the Doom Patrol in this very chapter.

“Worse things happen every day in El Salvador.”

Just as the original dada-ism was a reaction to the First World War and surrealism and absurdism grew from the horrors of WWII, Mr Nobody’s band are more engaged with the rights and wrongs of the real world than they seem. The real-world status quo that the Doom Patrol are preserving includes the kind of suffering that went on in places like El Salvador. Again it is not random cruelty and suffering that the Brotherhhood focus on but the deliberate, state-organised kind.

It's not just that Morrison's work is politically engaged, This blog by Andrew Hickey argues that Morrison’s ‘Post-Modernism’ (ie surrealism, abstraction etc) is more positivist and optimistic than Post-Modernism is usually thought to be, and this storyline shows this. After all, the 5th Horseman is defeated in the end partially by the sworn enemies of both teams joining hands and directing their combined strength to Crazy Jane who is trying to steer the horse in the right direction.

The strength of a seeemingly nihilistic art like Dadaism is shown at the very end of the comic, when the Fifth Horseman – representing extinction and oblivion, a true horror when set against Morrison’s usual riot of ideas and multitudes of individualistic characters – is negated by Crazy Jane steering it through the level of Dada just before it reaches our world. Thus it flies out of the painting as a harmless little wooden rocking horse – reduced to absurdity and a danger to nobody. A great in-story resolution to the threat, but also an illustration of the necessity of things like Dada-ism and absurdity in the face of truly awful horrors.

I was very happy to pick up the single issue of this comic a while back as I thought that it was Morrison’s first writing of Superman, but I’ve seen since that Supe's cameo in Animal Man came before this and Morrison wrote a fun little text story about Superman for a UK annual way back in 1985. Still, as respectable as both of those appearances were, the future author of All-Star Superman shows that he ‘gets’ the character in the 11 panels that Kal-El appears in here.

He is all about doing the right thing. Not just the most noble thing, but the most practical and the most courageous thing too. By now the hapless trio of Booster Gold, Blue Beetle and Animal Man have been joined by the rest of the Justice League. We first see Superman standing in front of the painting intelligently studying it, while the rest of his team just hang about. His attitude is in contrast to the goofing around of the previous Justice League members we saw. He uses his telescopic vision to see deep into the painting and this gives the reader an indication of how deep the layers of the painting go. He’s being used to increase the strangeness and wonder of events, not as a comforting familiar presence, which often decreases the wonder and strangeness of the comics he’s in.

Then when it looks like this monstrous awesome gigantic Fifth Horseman is about to break through the painting into our world, it is he who stands foursquare in front of the painting to take on the threat. It’s all just exactly how Superman should be portrayed.

Finally, we see the now-familiar image of a saddened Superman bearing a lifeless figure in his arms. In this case Crazy Jane. Similar images were used in Crisis on Infinite Earths and then in Final Crisis. Indeed, it was one of the motifs that were used to tie the two series together, with Superman distraught over his dead cousin Kara in the first and his dead friend Bruce in the second. It’s such a strong image that it was used as publicity material for both. I'd be interested in when it first appeared and when it acheived this iconic status, if it was before COIE.

This pose would seem to be very central to how Superman is portrayed. Grieving for the suffering and pain of others, hurting that he wasn’t able to do enough, despite all his powers. It’s melodramatic, sure, but it’s still a core component of who he is. (Of course, Superman would have been too square to bend his mind enough to get into the picture and encounter the 5th Horseman earlier, unlike the oddballs in the Brotherhood of Dada and the Doom Patrol.)

I'm not sure how the imagery of Bisley's covers were decided on, but Superman holding the lifeless form of Crazy Jane is the main image which Bisley used in his typically great cover to this issue. It's just an iconic Superman pose. As an aside, the difference between the 'look' of Bisley's covers and Case's interiors, even though they depict the same characters and events, start to resolve when thought of as different means of representation as depicted in the layers of the Painting that Ate Paris.

As I say, it is only 11 panels, but Morrison seemed to have the Man of Steel down even back then. And still he was denied a stint in Superman’s own book in the 90’s. Pfff!!
Doom Patrol Vol II - Going Underground.

Issue 30.

Summary: Cliff travels deep into Crazy Jane's damaged psyche to save her. Along the way he meets some of her many alternate personae and helps her confront the memory of her abusive father.

Commentary: …READ THIS BOOK! ...maps of the mind... identity ...

Actually, there isn't too much to say about this issue, beyond that you should read it. Childhood sexual abuse is dealt with sensitively, without diminishing the horror. The focus is on the irreparable long-term damage that is caused; how it ruins lives and keeps on destroying them long after the crimes themselves have been committed.

It’s a very harrowing and affecting 24 pages of comics. Made all the more powerful because we know the characters involved and it hits just the right tone, dealing with such a serious topic in an ongoing superhero comic. Some might argue that this topic has no place in an such a series, but child abuse in particular is a crime that thrives on silence, so it’s a shadowy corner of our society that needs a light shone into it whenever an approach as sensitive as this one can do so.

The idea of representing Jane's personality as a system of connected stations and subterranean railroad lines works well in a comic as we are able to see it mapped out similarly to the famous London Underground diagram. The name of the chapter, Going Underground, is drawn from this great song by the Jam, and was used as the inspiration and title of the story that kicked off Pat Mill's stupendously fantastic Nemesis the Warlock saga in 2000AD about 10 years earlier.

It’s definitely the London Underground subway system that Grant is referencing here, rather than just any generic one. Some British writers are obsessed with the 'psychogeography' of that fascinating ancient city. Saying that someone's psyche can be represented by a map similar to the London Underground map, as Morrison does here, is only a step away from saying that the actual London Underground map represents the neural pathways of that city as a vast inhuman intelligence. This is an idea that pops up repeatedly in the work of a certain modern British writers. It is played with in Moore's From Hell, and, for topicality, was used by Pat Mills in a recently broadcast audio-play of Doctor Who. In Mill’s Dead London the sewer-like ancient rivers of London act as the neural pathways of a non-human intelligence.

The wonderfully iconic London Underground map itself has an almost totemic significance to millions of Londoners every day, as something that helps them make sense of a vast, complex, essentially unknowable city. If any of them think they know the city through familiarity with the London Underground diagram, they are confusing the map with the actual terrain.

This is something that Cliff does at the very outset. 'I'm falling into the map,' he cries, as he descends into Jane's consciousness. Perhaps his perception of the terrain as a subway map dictates how he sees everything as stations, tunnels and railways once he arrives there?

The sequence where he falls into her inner world is very significant in terms of Morrison's other work and recurring imagery. Not least the descent of the Flash into the DCU as lightning in Final Crisis.

'I'm rain,' declares the bewildered Cliff as he falls, citing a slightly different meteorological phenomenon.

It's all to do with a Gnostic view of creation, apparently, with Demi-urges falling into 'our' world. It's a subject I'll have to google one of these days…

The other significant theme here concerns our identity and how we build it up. The silent intro on page 1 consists of a sequence of pictures homing in on Cliff ‘Robotman’ Steel’s tough-guy superhero outfit, hung up or neatly folded. I thought it was just scene-setting before the big surgical procedure involved in sending his consciousness into Jane’s mind, but decided there was more to it as there is another key scene later in the book where he again takes off his whole outfit to try to show who he really is.

Cliff’s outfit is one of the most rugged and macho out there. The set-up scenes focus especially on his big steel-capped biker boots, but the rest of the outfit; the biker/rock star’s leather trousers, the biker’s leather jacket with the steel plates on show, follows the suitably macho theme. It’s all part of the gruff, no-nonsense tough-guy persona that Cliff adopts in his dealings with just about everyone.

The exception is his treatment of the vulnerable Crazy Jane, with whom he is gentle and considerate. The irony is that the reason he divests himself of his leathers later in the book is to show that as a brain in a metal body, he actually doesn’t have the …erm… physical attributes of a human male AT ALL!!

His identity as a macho man is entirely constructed from signifiers of who he is, even though his ‘real’ self is essentially sexless. This is something he would never admit to anyone, but he has to when Jane’s various personae, led by the very threatening Black Anis refuse to let another man get near her to hurt her again. This is all high-stakes stuff for our Robotman, and ironically he appears most heroic when divesting himself of all the trappings of the usual type of tough-guy hero, and while denying his masculinity completely.

The opening scene of Cliff’s leathers is intercut with images of jigsaw pieces up in the air. Although they become more significant in relation to Jane’s story later on, here they seem to be pointing to Cliff’s gear as just pieces that he puts together with other signifiers to make up his larger identity.

We already know that Crazy Jane’s personality has been shattered into dozens of unconnected 'jigsaw pieces', but in this story we get an understanding of why it happened and of the heroic effort that she has somehow unconsciously made to make them all work together, so she can somehow almost function as a complete person. We also see parts of her personality that are never on show, who reside deep down in the darkness, moaning and screaming or suffering endless torture.

Her identity is the shattered jigsaw we see in the recurring image, forever thrown in the air, never to be put together again.

Something that rang true for me was that Jane had built a normal life for herself as Miranda, a graphic designer, but a visit to a church service at Easter triggered the return of her repressed memories and the complete breakdown of her personality. An acquaintance who worked in mental health, and who admitted to some psychological problems himself, told me that it is very common for people with trauma in their childhoods to repress it all and build successful lives for themselves in their twenties. However, if the problems aren’t addressed, the piper has to be paid sometime, usually in their late twenties or early thirties, and breakdowns are very common. I’m no expert, but it looks like once again, Grant has done his homework.

Unusually harrowing as this issue is, its still a high-point of 90’s comics and you should read it if you get the chance. Rereading it in this collection, I was surprised to see that it actually happened quite early on in the run. This catharsis, which saves Jane’s life, doesn’t result in a complete healing of her fractured personality, but it allows her to continue living and to continue the struggle with her tragic past.

Superman's pieta. Bisley's cover to issue #29

From the CBDB
I'm not a huge Morrison fan--in fact, I think he's extraordinarily overrated--but I do think that he does a great job when his scripts are more traditional. I think The Painting That Ate Paris may well have been his apex writing the Doom Patrol. He introduces the concept and idea of the Brotherhood of Dada, we get a lovely denouement featuring Monsieur Mallah and the Brain, plus it's still got the weirdness one expects from a Doom Patrol story without the impenetrability. Great stuff.
Yeah, I think the 4-part Painting That Ate Paris story is well-structured, the Brotherhood are very engaging for such hopeless goofballs, and the resolution grows naturally from the elements of the story itself. And Mr Nobody is hilarious in his commentary on the action.

One of my questions in this read-through (my first in the correct order) is whether the series justified itself in going on so long, and whether there is any justification for the repeated use of the 'strange alien world breaking through' plots for the multi-part storylines, essentially repeating the Orqwith storyline again and again. Already it looks like the single-issue stories are stronger than the multi-part ones.

I thought The Painting that Ate Paris, being about a pictorial world, was sufficiently different to Orqwith to justify it, but we'll have to see about the later ones, starting with the very Orqwith-like Nurnheim in the next storyline.

As I mentioned I was surprised that the Cliff/Jane story seems to have peaked so early in the run. Where can Grant take them now that Cliff has risked so much to help Jane face her past?

It just might be the case that for a young writer breaking into the US market, keeping an ongoing title 'on the road' was more important than making sure it didn't repeat itself or ramble off the point. He certainly knew to cut Animal Man off as soon as he'd told the story he wanted to tell.

Ending both Animal Man and Doom Patrol when the readers still wanted more might have been career suicide at that point.
Figs, your treatments are so thoughtful and detailed that I haven't had anything to add (at least so far). I wanted to mention that I'm about to start rereading The Invisibles. Is anyone interested in discussing that? I don't know if this would be the best place, or a new thread over in the Vertigo group.
Mark Sullivan said:
Figs, your treatments are so thoughtful and detailed that I haven't had anything to add (at least so far). I wanted to mention that I'm about to start rereading The Invisibles. Is anyone interested in discussing that? I don't know if this would be the best place, or a new thread over in the Vertigo group.

Glad to hear you are reading along, Mark.

I'd be all for starting an Invisibles reading thread. I'm just about to post some thoughts on the final multi-part story in Volume II of Doom Patrol which tie in directly to The Invisibles. Grant uses the Nurnheim story to explicitly cite some Gnostic ideas that are the backbone of The Invisibles, and I've been doing a bit of background reading on them.

I have a feeling that posting in this thread, or a new thread in this forum, might get a bit more passing traffic. Although this thread mightn't be the best example recently of multi-user interaction! :-(

Or, for neatness, the Invisibles thread could go in the Morrison section or the Vertigo section. I'd vote the Morrison section, but then I would, wouldn't I? Photobucket

It'd be up to whoever started it...

Can you give a bit of notice before you start so I can reread the first volume and get my thoughts together? The Invisibles is the big one when it comes to Morrison, after all....

Hope you don't go through the books too quickly. I'm not the speediest poster around. Then I'll be getting most of the volumes out of the library, so will need a bit of time to get each one out...
I plan to read the first volume this weekend. Or most of it, anyway. Most of the Invisibles collections contain 8 or 9 issues, and they're not fast reads, as I recall. I own all the trades now, though, so I'd expect to go through them steadily. I read most of them from the library the first time using interlibrary loan, so I had long gaps between them--I want to avoid that this time through.
Sounds good. I'll see how long I can keep up. I have the first volume on standby beside my bed and I'll have to buy volumes 2 and 3 as they aren't in the library. I was looking forward to buying the second volume of the Dave Gibbons/Fourth Doctor Doctor Who collections this week, but I guess that can wait another while...
I keep seeing this thread title "Grant Morrison, anyone?" and thinking "Thank you, no."
Believe it or not, I would be willing to reread the first volume of Invisibles this weekend too. I love that book, even if I don't understand large chunks of it--YET. That's why I'd be excited to discuss it, no matter where it is!

(Although I'd go with the Grant Morrison thread as well...)
Doom Patrol vol II
The Cult of the Unwritten Book.

Issues 31 - 33

Summary: occult practitioner Willoughby Kipling enlists the Doom Patrol to protect a young man who is being hunted by the Cult of the Unwritten Book. He was born with writing all over his body which the cult can use to uncreate All That Is.

Commentary: Morrison on auto-pilot? ... shopping list of themes ... Grant's realism ... Gnostic heresies ...

I'd have to agree with Randy above that Doom Patrol might lose something from this point on, or perhaps it just hits a lull after a very strong beginning. Grant seems to be on auto-pilot here, introducing one wild idea after another, but with none of the 'heart' that brought the earlier storylines to life.

Only occult meddler Willoughby Kipling is something new to the series. He’s best described as a cross between John Constantine and Withnail from the Paul McGann movie. As Morrison had written two issues of Hellblazer earlier the same year, I can’t help but think that Kipling is a comment on Constantine’s kitchen-sink brand of gritty realism. He’s played strictly for laughs, smoking and drinking his way through the three issues with abandon and he has Constantine’s talent for annoying everyone around him.

The issues of Hellblazer Morrison wrote – issues 25 and 26 – were especially ‘realistic’ being set in a dull English small town, and I don’t think Morrison has written in such a down-to-Earth style since, apart from what was necessary for some of the Invisibles. He certainly never went back to Constantine, whose British working class background and occult adventures make him look like a good match for Morrison. Morrison is just too optimistic and positive a writer to wallow in Constantine’s human misery.

In the story under discussion we are given the planet-headed Fear The Sky, The Dry Bachelors, the gas-mask wearing, tricycle-riding Wynken, Blinkin and Nod, the mystery Kites, and the Pale Assassins, to name but a few. All are clever and original, but are thrown at us willy nilly in this story. The unnamed boy and Emilio Cuervo, who becomes the gateway, enter the story as victims and we don’t get to know them during the course of it.

Just about all the plot elements, apart from the iconoclastic Kipling, have been used in previous Doom Patrol stories. The various cult sub-sects do the same job as the Scissormen of Orqwith, the tricycle boys even seem to cut people out of reality in a similar fashion to them. Instead of the Scissormen's gobbledegook, the Pale Police speak in anagrams. (One of them even uses the word ‘This!’ when frustrated, just like a Scissorman did.) Nurnheim, the ghost city, seems like a version of Orqwith. The story even climaxes similarily to the Orqwith saga, in a cathedral with the Doom Patrol facing off against two inhuman rulers, here puppet-like Archons instead of clockwork priests.

We also have the 'sacred architecture' of Gothic, this time embodied in the real-world Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona, designed by Gaudi.

Morrison does expand on the notion of these buildings being cosmic tuning forks. ‘Gaudi designed this cathedral to gather and broadcast spiritual energies’ declares Crazy Jane. Actually, there is a little more to this than just comicbook science. Some interpretations of string theory state that everything in the universe is made up of tiny sub-atomic strings, and it is how they vibrate that causes things to be solid, energy, sound or whatever. Essentially, the whole universe is made up of vibrations including the stone cathedral.

The theological implications of this is that the biblical line ‘In the beginning was the word’ might be literally true as sound is the purist form of vibration and even with ‘Let there be light’ – or ‘Fiat Lux’ as one character says - another type of vibration/waveform is being referenced. Everything follows from these initial vibrations. The Doom Patrol discuss these things at the end as they realise that the Uncreator can be ‘stopped’ when its vibrations are counteracted by other frequencies amplified through Gaudi’s cathedral. As this story deals with the Uncreator, the creation is implicitly discussed. The Uncreator is another idea carried over from a previous storyline of DP. The Apocalyptic Fifth Horseman of The Painting that Ate Paris seems to be identical with it. Both are formed when the first light produces the first shadow.

String theory was conceived of in the 70’s and has only become popular knowledge in the last decade. Although Morrison doesn’t mention it by name, he was well ahead of the curve almost 20 years ago. Morrison’s concepts are difficult to get a handle on, but sometimes by reframing the same concepts, as he does here with ideas used in Gothic, things start to become clearer.

Grant is often in teacher-mode in these early Doom Patrol issues, which is good, as he doesn’t really wait for stragglers in his later work. When our heroes enter the cathedral at the end of the story, they meet two malevolent puppets on thrones who behave very like Punch and Judy. They are introduced explicitly as ‘The Demi-urge’ and ‘The Archons’. These are elements of the Gnostic belief system which flourished within the early Christian church, even though its cosmology is at odds with orthodox Chrisitianity.

I’d only seen these terms mentioned in passing by the kind of scoffing yoghurt-eating pseudo-intellectuals one encounters on the internet. I’ve been meaning to look into them for a while now as I knew they had something to do with Morrison’s message. As they were mentioned explicitly here, I thought it was time to do my homework.

Turns out it’s all quite fascinating!

The Gnostics have an alternative take on the Christian creation myth. Reaching the conclusion that the god of the Old Testament seemed to be some kind of jealous, blood-thirsty incompetent psychopath (wherever did they got that idea?), they posited that the Old Testament God wasn’t the Supreme Being of pure love and light, but rather an imposter who only thought he was the supreme being and jealously demanded to be worshipped as such.

The Apocryphon of John has the whole story, which Jesus purportedly told to his favourite disciple. Here is an excellent essay introducing the Gnostic worldview for the layman (or woman, as Eric Idle might say – the Gnostics were keen to give women muchos respect in their cosmology.) Here is a snappier and not entirely respectful rundown on Gnostic thought from the Invisibles wiki site, an excerpt from which follows:

“Taking the widespread human intuition that something is amiss to new levels of cosmic crankiness, the Gnostics insisted that life on our heavy ball of sex and death was not just an unmitigated disaster - it was a cosmic trap. The central myth of Gnosticism's byzantine cosmologies held that the creator of this world is not the true god, but an inferior demiurge who ignorantly botched the job. … The Gnostic demiurge is not necessarily evil, but he and his ministers (known as archons, or rulers) are at the very least arrogant blowhards who mistakenly consider themselves to be the lords of the universe. Humans are imprisoned in the material universe of fate that they control, though we carry within ourselves the leftover sparks of the divine and precosmic Pleroma (Fullness) that existed before the demiurgic construction company plastered everything over. Human beings are thus, in essence, absolutely superior to the ecosystem - not stewards or even masters, but strangers in a strange land.”

Demiurge comes from a Greek term meaning half-maker, which originally referred to craftsmen who were merely workers with materials rather than true creators of something from nothing.

Archon means ‘ruler’ and uses the same root term as Heirarchy and Anarchy.

The Gnostic cosmology wasn’t meant to be taken literally, but as a metaphor for discussing our place in the universe and the forces which move us, internally and externally. For this reason no two Gnostic writers or sects tell the exact same creation myth. (In fact each sect tended to view the events of the bible through the lens of a different participant, John or Judas or Mary Magdalene for instance) Morrison follows this pattern and shapes and reshapes his own cosmology of lesser Gods trapped in their own creations. Obviously as a creator himself, he is fascinated by this alternative take on the book of Genesis.

He never references the ‘classic’ Gnostic myth from the Apocryphon of John, where the Demi-urge is called Yaldabaoth, or sometimes Samael (‘The Blind’) or Saklas (‘The Foolish One’). Morrison isn’t interested in subscribing to anyone else’s religion, but he does use it as a springboard to telling stories about creation, creators and the created.

Already we have met Red Jack, who in his madness claimed to have created the Universe, and the Priests of Orqwith, who pondered existence for eternity, and were eventually undone by the crucial question of ‘Why is there something instead of nothing?’

The Archons of this story are puppets who cast themselves as lords of creation, but don’t mention who is pulling their strings. (Buddy Baker wonders who is pulling his strings in the very first issue of Animal Man!)

Morrison's use of the term Uncreator for the all consuming diety that will bring about the End of All That Is. This is interesting, because ‘Uncreated’ is a very positive word in Gnostic terminology. It means that part of us which wasn’t created by the false demiurge – that part of us which originates in the Supreme all-encompassing light of the true God (The Monad).

Perhaps the End of All That Is, which the Doom Patrol have postponed twice in a row now, isn’t a terrible event, but instead is a release from this imperfect, badly created world. Or the endlessly fraught, haphazardly created world of the DCU even!

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