This is meant to be a one-stop shop for discussing the works of Grant Morrison. There’s just a few things I wanted to try on a new thread, as well as bring everything under the one roof. This isn’t a complete list, but I’m hoping to add other stuff as we get to them. (Click on the hyper-links to go to discussions of the different books.) Let’s see how many of these stories we can get through…

 

1985-88 Secret Origins

Captain Granbretan - text story Captain Britain #13 (January 1986, Marvel UK),

• "The Stalking" (text story with illustrations by Garry Leach, UK 1986 Batman Annual)

• "Osgood Peabody's Big Green Dream Machine" (text story with illustrations by Barry Kitson and Jeff Anderson, UK Superman Annual, 1986)

Zoids Marvel UK - March 1986 - February 1987 Part 1 Part 2

• Dr Who Magazine Marvel UK - Changes (issue #118-9), The World Shapers (#127-9), Shock! (#139)

 

1988-90 Animal Patrol

St Swithin's Day  (with Paul Grist) Trident 1989

JLA: Ghosts of Stone Secret Origins #46

Arkham Asylum 1989 (See attachment below)

Animal Man (DC, #1-26, 1988-1990): Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3.

Doom Patrol (DC, #19-63, 1989-1993): Vol 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

• "Flash of Two Worlds" (Secret Origins #50, 1990)

Gothic (with Klaus Janson, in Legends of the Dark Knight #6-10) 1990 (Also, see attachment)

• Hellblazer: "Early Warning" #25-26, Vertigo, 1990.

 

1991-94 Odds and Sods

Kid Eternity, with Duncan Fegredo, DC, 3-issue mini-series, 1991

Sebastian O with Steve Yeowell, Vertigo, 3-issue mini-series, 1993

• The Mystery Play with Jon J. Muth, Vertigo, graphic novel, 1994

• Swamp Thing: "Bad Gumbo" (with co-writer Mark Millar and artist Philip Hester,) Vertigo, #140-143, 1994

 

1994-2000 JLInvisible

The Invisibles (Vertigo, 1994-2000): Vol I, Vol II, Vol III.

• Skrull Kill Krew (with co-writer Mark Millar) Marvel, 5 issues, 1995

Kill Your Boyfriend (with Philip Bond and D'Israeli, Vertigo) 1995

• Flex Mentallo (with Frank Quitely) Vertigo 1996

New Toys from Weird War Tales #3 (with Frank Quitely, Vertigo), 1997

 

Aztek, the Ultimate Man #1-10 (with co-writer Mark Millar) 1996

• The Flash: (with co-writer Mark Millar), Emergency Stop / The Human Race 1997

JLA 1997-2000

JLA/WildC.A.T.s one-shot crossover, 1997

DC One Million, 1998 Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Interlude, Week 4, Week 5, Epilogue I, Epilogue II

JLA: Earth 2, 1999

 

2000 - 2004 Marvellous Filth

• Marvel Boy, 6 issues Marvel 2000

• Fantastic Four: 1234 (Marvel Knights) 2001-2

New X-men, #114-156, Marvel, July 2001 - June 2004  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

The Filth, Vertigo, 13-issues, 2002

 

2004 – 2013

• WE3 (with Frank Quitely, Vertigo, 3-issue mini-series, 2004

• Seaguy, Vertigo Book 1 2004, Book 2 2009

• Vimanarama (with Philip Bond) Vertigo 3-issue mini-series 2005

Joe the Barbarian, DC 8-issue series. 2009

 

• DC Comics Presents: Mystery in Space (tribute to Julie Scwartz) 2004

All Star Superman, 12 issues, 2005 - 2008

 

The Infinite Book

JLA: Ultramarine Corps JLA Classified #1-3 (with Ed McGuiness) DC 2004 (+ dedicated thread here)

Seven Soldiers 2005 -6 (+ dedicated thread here)

• 52 (with co-authors Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid), DC, #1-52, 2006-2007

Batman & Son (includes issues from #655-666), 2006-07

The Club of Heroes Batman #667-669, 2007

The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul with var writers, inc Batman #670-671, Oct-Nov 2007

• The Black Glove Batman #672-675, 2007-08

Batman R.I.P., Batman #676-681, 2008

• Batman RIP - The Missing Chapter 2010 Part 1 Batman #701 (also here)

Final Crisis, May 2008-January 2009

Batman and Robin, June 2009 onwards

• Batman 700 2010

Return of Bruce Wayne 2010

 

2012 - End of the world!

 

2013 Beyond Batman

 

Happy (with Darrick Robertson), Image, 4-issue mini-series, 2012-13

 

(682 - 20/03/12)

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Mark: Spartacus Hughes reappears here, despite being killed back in the first arc. It's explained that Dmitri only killed a "carrier:" the concept was mentioned during the Anders Klimakks arc also. Someone says that Officer Jones was too good an officer to let die, and Slade remembers what a carrier is. The term implies that human consciousness is like a bacteria or virus that infects the host body, so it can be transferred from one body to another. More on this later, I expect.

Very perceptive. Morrison is very subtle in how he presents information, so I didn't quite see how the clues were already laid out that Greg puts together later on.

Hughes says that the group consciousness created on the ship is the next evolutionary step for humanity, but the Hand disagrees. While some of the other arcs have involved obviously dangerous threats, this one is a bit more subtle. Does the Filth oppose any change in the status quo? Then human evolution would be impossible, assuming the Filth is on the job.

The loss of identity of the utopians and their description as "a society of the future trying to gain a brutal, voracious toehold on the present" is very like what Morrison was describing positively in his Disinfo speech, so the Hand's brutal suppression of them is problematic. Just like Greg Feely the ground keeps shifting beneath our feet as we read. Just as the Invisibles methods didn't always match their goals, their counterparts on the other side in this story, the Hand, use questionable methods in the pursuit of seemingly reasonable goals.
Issue 04 S##t Happens with Arno Von Vermun is a good example of Morrison loading an issue with philosophical content while still presenting an entertaining adventure story.

As I say, the Crack, where the Hand HQ is based, seems to be built within a completely metaphorical realm. There are mountains of pornography that all has to be shoveled away and cleaned up. Then Von Vermun’s sermons on how our own body cells are completely outnumbered by the germs we carry around. Its all important thematically, as well as well worked into the story itself.

The two desperate men, lost in a polluted wasteland and reduced to drinking each other’s urine to survive is both a great metaphor for our overpopulated despoiled planet, and is hilarious too, in how straightfaced they are about it. There’s definitely stuff here you’d never get anywhere else. Morrison was obviously having a great time writing this, and it shows on every page. It’s just a steady stream of invention and wit and arresting dialogue.

Mark said:

On to Issues 5 - 6 of The Filth, which comprise the next mini-story arc.

This is the most hardcore arc yet, if you'll pardon the pun. The pornography subtext in the series is blatantly front and center, and the enormous sperm (which could easily be played for humor) are presented as a serious threat to human life. There's a lot of action (of all sorts), which comes to a climax (sorry, I just can't stop myself) with Tex Porneau turned into the target of his own evil plan.


I liked that the giant sperm attacked the wombs of the women. Conceptually, I mean. Not that I’m in favour of women being attacked. It kind of brought pornography back full circle to being a function of the act of fertilizing the eggs and procreating. Tex Porneau, was an equal opportunities sexual monster and everyone was a ‘girl’ to him, but with the giant sperm Morrison is reminding us about the genetic/biological drives that pornography is built on. There’s something in the argument that most pornography is about violence against women, so Grant has that angle covered with the stomach-bursting spermatozoa, but its also as pure an image of the much extolled link between ‘Sex and Death’ as you will see.

But regarding this pornography two-parter, I have to repeat myself: There’s definitely stuff here you’d never get anywhere else. Such as the Devil going at it with a Puritan on video. Wow.

The bit about Anders Kimakks's mutant offspring is a gentle, odd postscript.

Yeah, it kind of flies in out of nowhere, and has a different tone to the rest of the book.

Fathers and sons are big theme of Morrison’s and this is another take on it. To us Anders just seemed a harmless fun(!)-loving guy, who was at peace with himself, despite his amnesia, and had made use of his gifts as best he could. It was distressing to see him shot down like a dog while clutching the carrier bag of all his memories.

The generations before us, too, were cut down when their time came and we only have a few photos and pages of text maybe to show for their lives. The only consolation is that a little of them lives on perhaps in their children and descendents, with their genes probably spreading through more and more of the population with each generation.

We get all of this in miniature with Anders.

The other thing worth noting is Anders' Dutch accent in the narration here. Morrison has a fantastic ear for different voices. Most young Dutch people can speak English really well, but there are just some instances where their sentences are just a tiny bit stilted or awkward.

“In his crazy headlong lifestyle of 5 years” is an example, and also “and the cum will flow like there can be no tomorrow” is another. Notice there are no contractions on the page at all. (Apart from the babies being born har de har!)

Anders is dialogued like this all through the two issues he appears in. It’s subtle but there’s craft in it. I think Ennis has done some well over the top versions of the Dutch accent in his time, but to parody it would be to take away Anders’ humanity and sympathy.

Morrison’s take on Cameron Spector’s Scots accent, however, is a labour of love and takes it to another level. Just wondering, do you understand everything she says Mark? I do, just about, but I grew up speaking a version of it.
Figserello said:
Morrison’s take on Cameron Spector’s Scots accent, however, is a labour of love and takes it to another level. Just wondering, do you understand everything she says Mark? I do, just about, but I grew up speaking a version of it.

Glad you asked. I just looked over all her dialog again. There were a couple lines I didn't quite get at first pass (probably the part comparing the giant sperm to an anaconda), but I think I got it all the second time. And I was all set to request some translations! I spent a week in Scotland a few years back, but I have no idea if that helped.
Issue #7 – Zero Democracy

This is the first part of the two-part Libertania story. I reread it again after reading your take on this arc, and a few things shifted into focus. You commented, Mark, about the new society evolving out of the chaos and the Hand’s brutal attempts to wind this back. Initially I thought this was a kind of tacked on ending to the episode with the super-liner, but it would seem to be completely central to the arc, and perhaps the series as a whole.

The opening splash page of Venice in the foreground and the super-liner in the background has the single sentence from Nicola’s girlfriend:

“The Renaissance can kiss my ass.”

Renaissance means ‘re-birth”, so right at the outset the idea of a renewal and rebirth of society is disparaged. Then we join the same girl in a Pharmacy shop buying tampons. Menstruation is the fertility cycle’s way of dealing with eggs that have not been fertilized. A potential new life has not been started, much as the new society is extinguished and flushed out at the end of this arc.

Look at the language on this page too. Just after the Pharmacist rather insensitively goes on about “the blood”, the girl says “shit”. Blood and shit are recurring motifs of the whole book. The dismissive phrase on the splash page, quoted above, similarly puts birth and ‘my ass’ side by side.

(As an aside, do you think that the four people in the elaborate Carnevale costumes outside the pharmacist’s are the Harlequinade from The Invisibles? Perhaps the pretty young one is Edith?)

It was more clear to me on the reread too that Hughes is essentially repeating the same experiment on the ship as he ensured Simon did with the I-life civilisation in the first arc. The society is lead through a violent atavistic trauma. However, by the end of this arc we see that Hughes’ purpose would seem to be to bring about the ensuing peaceful identity-obliterating re-birth.

His first name is Spartacus, after all. In history Spartacus rose up and freed the slaves from a life of fighting and death. Ironically, the Gladiator’s area of expertise, like Hughes’, was violence and death. Even Hughes’ earlier statement that “Anyone can be Spartacus Hughes” echoes the famous ending of the Kirk Douglas movie.

Hughes peels back the layers of civilisation a society creates when he makes the Captain go from being a vegetarian to a carnivore to a cannibal to someone who eats his own family members. This is done in a few frames and a few sentences, so it is quite elegant despite the gruesome subject matter. I only worked out on the reread, too, that the daughter in question was the dark-haired friend of the girl in the chemist shop.

Just before the final third of the issue takes us back to Greg Feely’s ordeal amongst the titular(?) police, we get a sentence from Hughes:

“I don’t work, Neville, I play. The Libertania is like a model of the world. I like toys.”

It struck me that it could be Morrison’s own words. Especially in this most eccentric and apparently market unfriendly of comics series. Everything in The Filth, like giant deadly sperm and mountain ranges of used pornography, is there because Morrison wanted it in his story. Nothing is there because of editorial fiat or to please some imagined superhero fanboy audience. This is 100% Grant Morrison at play. The good thing about playing with models and toys, as Grant is doing in this series, is that scenarios can be played out and explored without anyone getting hurt. Morrison is experimenting with ideas, like Spartacus Hughes is. I think this comes through, and that’s why this series doesn’t seem offensive, despite its ultra-profane subject matter.

The final third with Greg’s interrogation and escape doesn’t seem connected to the Libertania in any way. We see Greg getting a hard time from brutal and unsympathetic policemen. Yes, they are seemingly motivated by their desire to protect the children from paedophiles, but they don’t have any understanding of what’s going on, they aren’t interested in the sufferings of poor Tony, and violence and aggression are just tools of the trade to them.

(I couldn’t care less about cats myself, but its obvious that the we are meant to sympathise with Tony the cat while we are reading The Filth, and people’s worth in the story is measured against how they treat mangy old Tony, ‘the least of God’s little ones’.)

The title of this book is a nickname for the police, so Greg’s whole encounter with them has importance. The police are only tied into the Libertania thread of this two-parter in part two, where the new society says:

“We don’t need to be judged. We’re all judges. We don’t need police.”

This echoes the title of an Invisibles episode called “And we’re all policemen now”, an idea which in turn is elaborated on in Grant’s key Disinfo speech.

In any case, a lot of the dialogue in the police-station is hilarious. One instance being Greg's feeble excuse for his ant-head pictures:

“I was learning photoshop. On the computer. I had to learn my way around the onscreen tool menu somehow.”

Cracks me up for some reason.

The Phillip K Dick existentialist insecurity of identity strand of The Filth is to the fore here, with Greg sounding exactly like the mentally deranged people the police deal with every day. There is some subtle tying together of different storylines too, with us seeing the I-life carrier woman outside the police station and the name Max Thunderstone being mentioned just before Greg makes his temporary escape.

As I mentioned, there is very little connection between the Libertania and the police-station sections of this comic. They aren’t even intercut. First we get one and then the other. Even in the next issue, the police custody sub-plot is completely wound up before we get back to the super-liner.

However the final scene, with Greg discovering the tampon with the ‘Help me’ message spelt on it, is a thematic link to the opening sequence in the chemist shop, and gives a nice artistic completeness to the issue.

Issue 8 - ^*%$ Police

The arrival of the Hand team in the police-station is a great “F*&% Yeah!” moment, and does confirm, as much as anything can, that Ned Slade’s adventures aren’t just the delusions of a sad and lonely man.

Check out the reference to The Scream, as Greg tries to deal.

The President’s complete and total humiliation and degradation in this story is a reflection of Morrison’s political views – which seem to matter less to him than his artistic and philosophical views. Essentially he thinks that what passes for politics for the masses is just a sideshow. We don’t see the real people who run the world to their own advantage.

The junkie President’s ordeal and murder doesn’t mean anything in the greater scheme of things. As Cameron says in her own inimitable fashion:

“Injiz hink embdy’s geein a f*ck abit the Prezident, ya fat c*nt?” (And she says it to a cop, too!)

It was very understated, but in The Invisibles, the Queen of England, supposedly the much revered Head of State, was only a minor participant in the coronation of the Moon-child in Westminster Cathedral. It was clear that she meekly did whatever she was bid by those running the show.

So almost two-thirds of the way in, a lot of the themes are starting to become clear and a lot of the groundwork is being laid for how the ending will play out.

Roll on chapter 9.
(As an aside, do you think that the four people in the elaborate Carnevale costumes outside the pharmacist’s are the Harlequinade from The Invisibles? Perhaps the pretty young one is Edith?)

No, I don't think so. If Morrison had been trying to make that reference, he would have asked Weston to copy the costumes exactly. They're not a good match, at least to the pages I compared them to.

I only worked out on the reread, too, that the daughter in question was the dark-haired friend of the girl in the chemist shop.

I missed that one. Easy to do, because I don't think the daughter's name is mentioned earlier, just her relationship to the captain.

The President’s complete and total humiliation and degradation in this story is a reflection of Morrison’s political views – which seem to matter less to him than his artistic and philosophical views. Essentially he thinks that what passes for politics for the masses is just a sideshow. We don’t see the real people who run the world to their own advantage.

Good point. Morrison rarely even mentions politics, but when he does, they're portrayed as irrelevant.
On to issues # 9 - 10. Take it away, Wikipedia (with substantial additions & modifications this time):

Slade returns to being Greg Feely again but finds his replacement has allowed his cat to die. Feely returns to being Slade and is taken on a tour of The Hand by Officer Spector in order for Slade to find some answers to his questions. Slade is taken to The Crack and is shown "The Ink" which brings things to life. Then he confronts Max Thunderstone, the world's first super hero. Upon returning home, he finds Sharon Jones, the young British businesswoman who had witnessed the fall of the I-Life. After bringing Tony back, she reveals that 'Sharon' is dead and the I-Life are manning her body as a 'bio-ship'.

These issues finally begin to show detailed background on The Filth and how it came to be. Cameron tells Ned that mitochondrial DNA is the mechanism for what is usually described as the "soul." The Max Thunderstone episode seems like a colorful side show to me now. Maybe it will become more important to the central themes as the series concludes.
One other thing I meant to mention. I love his use of the traditional thought balloon for Max Thunderstone. Then a couple of pages in, Max says that his super power is "a consciousness so focused and so disciplined, it can actually manifest words in a cloud above my head." So the balloons we've been seeing are literal, and Morrisonian metacontext strikes again. On some level it may be a comment on the usefulness of the now-discarded thought balloon as a narrative technique. Just recently in an interview with Stephen King about his scripts for the new series American Vampire, he mentions being told that thought balloons weren't used in comic books any more. His Vertigo editor felt so strongly about this that he even forbade King from using them!
Issues # 11 - 12:

Feely finds out that it is Slade who is the fake personality and has been all along. Now he is classed as an anti-person and Dmitri-9 is sent to kill Feely. He kills Feely's replacement by mistake and the real Feely attacks Dmitri-9. As he is being attacked Feely's neighbours storm his home and Dmitri-9 escapes into the street to be beaten and thrown in front of a speeding train. Only his hand remains, giving the finger to an unseen audience.

Miami reports to her superior, Officer Mandrill (a woman whose upper torso is inexplicably swarming with extra mammaries), and claims that had they been more careful with Tony the Cat, Feely would have adapted to the Slade persona. Mandrill replies that they will have to hunt Feely down; now that they have taken back Spartacus Hughes and adapted his persona, he is their professional hunter, and his abilities have increased upon being placed in the body of Max Thunderstone.

Feely returns to the newsagents, discovering that it leads to a Hand storehouse - a room in which millions of alphabetized parapersonas are shelved. Officers Spector and Mercury try to convince him to come back, only for him to give them a startling revelation: their Hand personas are parapersonas. Whenever the Hand needs a new agent, they pick up an innocent bystander and make them into the new Slade. Enraged and bitter, he declares death to Status Q. However, before he can begin he is stopped by Spartacus Hughes, who has broken into Slade's apartment, raped and killed 'Sharon Jones', and done something to the rejuvenated Tony. He nearly kills Feely before Spector saves his life. Feely and Spector escape and Thunderstone dies by dropping into the polluted 'Sour Milk' sea surrounding The Hand's headquarters.

Spector is killed; the area around the Hand's base ages a person by several years, and she formerly had six months to live due to lymph cancer. Feely snaps her neck to spare her from her death agonies. Back in his house, Feely writes in his journal that no-one believes him; they claim he killed Tony with neglect and made up the whole 'Hand' fiasco to cope. The police come to his door just as his deliberate overdose of painkillers kicks in; his journal states that he was beginning to believe the Police himself, even as he sees the unutterable truth. The Hand Organisation is not part of some dystopian future; it is actually a third of a centimetre high, erected on a mess of food spilled outside his fridge. Hand agents are not sent to another place, but are thrown back in time and shrunk. The reason that the environment of the Hand's base ages people is because they are living years in the space of seconds. The Giant Hand and Pen which the Organisation focuses on is Feely's own.


Feely's discovery that it is the Hand personas that are false drives all of the action here. All of the evidence before now had pointed to the opposite conclusion, because the Hand needed Feely to believe that he was really Slade for his recruitment to succeed. One thing the Wikipedia summary left out is the subplot featuring the comics superhero Secret Original. The script starts writing itself, and his wife Eve crosses over into the Hand's base. Secret Original reveals that he was behind the rewrite, then commits suicide. I hadn't expected this subplot to reappear, but it provides a commentary on identity and "reality." Moog explains that he was an anti-person reprogrammed by the Filth, not a real person at all. The Filth thinks Greg Feely is another anti-person, and a failed reprogramming experiment. He thinks the Filth is unreal, and we're about to find out which is the truth.
(As an aside, do you think that the four people in the elaborate Carnevale costumes outside the pharmacist’s are the Harlequinade from The Invisibles? Perhaps the pretty young one is Edith?)

No, I don't think so. If Morrison had been trying to make that reference, he would have asked Weston to copy the costumes exactly. They're not a good match, at least to the pages I compared them to.


The masks are certainly different to anythng in the Invisibles, but the Harlequinade always looked very different depending on what milieu they were moving in. I thought they might have been the H because they otherwise don't have much to do with the story, apart from adding creepiness to the opening section. Also, their mission in The Invisibles seemed to involve being around when people made big leaps in their evolution or understanding, which is what happens later in the story.
The Filth Issue #9 – Inside the Hand

As any Beatles fan will tell you, 9 is a very significant number, and this issue is in some ways crucial to understanding the whole series. I think the central revelation of this issue is that the Hand organisation takes its name and its bizarre surreal resources from an actual huge disembodied Hand. It may very well be the Hand of God, as the ink mined from the pen it is grasping ‘brings hings tay life’, in Spector's words.

I was slightly hoping that we could get through The Filth without delving too deeply into Grant’s love of Gnostic cosmologies. ‘Cosmologies’, plural, is important, because there is never a single narrative line to Gnosticism’s many different allegorical retellings of the Genesis myth. All they have in common is that they each put a different spin on the traditional orthodox Judeo-Christian myths. In the light of the appearance of the Hand of God somehow appearing within his own creation in issue 9, the storylines preceding it now also seem to be allegories of Gnostic creation myths, or more existential belief systems.

The very first page shows Dr Soon, the actual Creator of the I-life world and all its inhabitants, about to be set alight and cast down into her creation. The fire and the fall from the heights equate her with Lucifer as well as with God. This is one Gnostic ‘spin’ on the standard Book of Genesis telling. How is she evil, or deserving of punishment like Satan? Although she created I-life and its own world with the best of intentions, she did not allow that her creation might be taken from her, corrupted and forced to live through generations of a hellish existence. As their creator, she is ultimately responsible for what happens to the I-life. Like Satan, it is her sin of pride that causes her fiery descent.

Issue 3’s opening sequence, beginning with Spector and Moog’s adventure in a two-dimensional superhero comicbook world, shows a different take on the relationship between created and creator, and the purpose of creation itself. In this case the new world is created to explore and learn from. As Moog says, “Rule number 1: We learn something every time we do crazy things.” The Hand’s interventions into the world they created are horrific and traumatising for the inhabitants there, but in this case the ‘dieties’ console themselves that their actions aren’t destructive. They know that the rules of that world allow them to do things like this and then rewrite it so things can be fixed again with a well-thought-out GeoffJohnsian retcon. However, we only see the real trauma the fictional beings go through. Like the Dr Soon scenario above, it’s an explanation for suffering.

Issue one posited that the benevolent creator had been ousted and replaced, whereas this storyline presents us with an allegory for Gods who treat us cruelly for their own selfish ends - ‘as flies to wanton boys are we to the Gods. They play with us for their sport’. In fact this is the episode where poor little Barney the kitten is harassed and ill-treated by the wanton boys of Greg Feely’s neighbourhood. Barney’s suffering and death is presented side-by-side with the Secret Original’s present life of suffering. His real name is Adam and his Lois Lane was called Eve. We see him in flashback preparing to leave his ‘Garden of Eden’. Note that this Adam suffers in exile now for daring to confront the ‘Gods’ with their cruelty. It’s a typically Gnostic twist on the Old Testament story we are familiar with. In a reversal of the orthodox tale, it is the creators' thirst for knowledge which dooms Adam’s erstwhile team-mates to Earthly suffering.

Suffering is the uniting theme of issue 3 and set against it all is only Greg Feely’s compassion for his fellow creatures, and Secret Original’s doomed attempt to make the Gods answer for their crimes. Their actions seem only to be symbolic, but are powerful nonetheless.

Why are we here? Is there a higher power? What is our relationship to it? These have been fundamental questions since forever. In the Liberal West at present, people’s beliefs tend to cluster at either end of a continuum. Orthodox Christianity with its belief in a benevolent creator and salvation after death is at one end. On the other is Dawkins insistence that the material universe is all there is; it came together, with us in the middle of it, by happenstance. Few people believe in much in between.

Dawkins tries to show that there is no such thing as a benevolent Creator by showing us how the God of the Old Testament was anything but benevolent. No-one points out the third option that perhaps there is/was a Creator, but for whatever reason he isn’t all that benevolent to us. We only seem capable of EITHER-OR thinking regarding theology today; a sign of how successful the early orthodox church was in framing the argument! For us the choice is between a loving compassionate diety, or nothing. Early Christian Gnosticism, however, allowed believers to choose from an array of possibilities to explain life and suffering.

To many readers, Morrison’s continual return to various Gnostic allegories is problematic. To them he seems to be telling the same story over and over again. However, Gnosticism embraced a whole spectrum of possibilities regarding the relations of men to gods. This makes it a deep well for a writer like Morrison, interested in the eternal questions of life and suffering, but not interested in tidy final certainties. He uses The Filth to explore various views of mankind’s relationship to the cosmos.

Continuing from Issue three, we spend a few issues exploring Dawkin’s existential end of the belief spectrum. First we have the Sartre-esque existential nausea of Arno Von Vermun. (Great European name!) Due to misfortune, life for him has been reduced to decay, death, dung and disease. In issue 4 his story presents us with a parody of the existentialist position. People are born, grow old and die horrifically quickly, completely without meaning.

Anders Klimakks' philosophy of life also starts from the existentialist view of life having no meaning. He appeared one day with no memories and has to make the best life he can. Some existentialists lose themselves to the despair we saw in Arno Von Vermun, and some use their insight to embrace life’s possibilities and follow a hedonistic lifestyle. Anders Klimakks (trans: another climax) is one of these, and he has built up a collection of great ‘memories’ on videotape. His story explores how hedonism is built on all kinds of exploitation. Also it shows how hedonists try to harness forces, like sexuality, that have their own powerful drives.

With the Libertania issues, 7 & 8, Spartacus Hughes uses our Utopian dreams to further his own ends. The Libertania is a typical Western Liberal project to bring about a paradise on earth, starting from the principle that there is only mankind, there is no God and we are perfectible. As this kind of Liberal Western philosophy is thought to have begun in Greece, the Cradle of Democracy, it is fitting that the captain of the ship is Greek. We’ve already seen in The Invisibles where this kind of thinking got people in the French Revolution, and we see a high-speed replay of that bloodbath here. What was tragedy there is replayed as farce here.

Spartacus Hughes himself, however, brings more Gnostic ideas into play. His methods are diabolic, but as we’ve discussed, in a way he is the kind of Satan figure who tests and tries us to make us better. Like Jesus, he seems to want to hasten the arrival of the unselfish society to come. And like Christ, he is executed and rises again (several times, natch). He evens parallels the Benevolent Creator of Morrison’s allegory, by dying and falling into the I-life world created by Dr Soon, just as she had. This fluctuation in the roles of Man, God, Satan and Saviour is very Gnostic.

Which brings us up to issue 9. The discussions of Heaven and Hell, God’s giant left hand and the various theories of how it got there, all brought Gnosticism to mind and refocused how I saw the earlier issues. Looking through those issues again, of course, there is a lot more going on in each storyline than just the simple allegories that I have outlined, but I think they are there nonetheless.

Spector herself is dismissive of such cosmological conjecturing.

“Naebdy geeza F*&%. Aw we kerr aboot’s the ink.”

In other words, what’s on the page. I wonder is this a dig from Morrison at his more literal minded readers, who are much more likely to debate the standards of inking on one of his books than any deeper meaning he might have been trying to get across? (Although, I have to admit, the inking of the whole book is top-notch! Kudos to Gary Erskine, while I’m on the topic.)

The Gnostic underpinnings of the whole series are also evident in the postscript to issue 9, where the Bio-ship “Sharon Jones” initiates the “fourfold return”. The crew ‘piloting’ her and her passengers have been struggling for generations to make sense of the trauma they were put through and to give theological meaning to their encounters with ‘higher beings’. Like the ancient Gnostics they struggle to use the language of their own limited existence to explain a drama far beyond their understanding.

As with issue 2, most of the action here happens within Hand HQ and away from Greg Feely’s humdrum life. As in that issue, Morrison uses Feely/Slade’s unfamiliarity with The Hand to load up the issue with explanatory dialogue, as Life, the Universe and Everything according to the Hand is explained to Slade. I’m hoping to look closer at the issue itself next post.
Issue 9 continued

Just a few things that jumped out at me…

The Greg Feely sections do a good job of grounding the crazy surrealism of the Hand bits. They are less dramatic and eventful than Ned Slade’s wild adventures, but they feel more real and balance out those sections. The drabness of Greg’s world and his grey clothes are a great contrast with Slade’s hyper-real world.

Morrison has a field-day making Greg’s explanations for his misfortunes sound like a crazy person.

“That wasn’t me! That was my evil look-alike!”

On some level, Greg is all those poor unfortunates that we pass by regularly in the street while they mutter to themselves and try to catch our eye.

As I mentioned this issue is very like issue two, because the plot, such as it is, mainly revolves around a talking tour of Hand HQ.

The sequences where Slade meets the masters of his section, Man Green/Man Yellow is definitely based on the work of Gilbert and George, an unashamedly gay London-based artist couple, who present themselves as almost sharing an identity. Their homosexuality is played on with their opening words.

“Come. We love come.”

I suppose their interest in seminal fluids is the counterpoint to the recurrence of menstruation imagery earlier in the book. Semen which never gets near a woman is another symbol of potential life not allowed to get started.

I’ve just read this interview with Morrison which describes the whole book as an exploration of the dark negative ‘Qlippothic’ side of life, so these readings of the positive life-impulse being thwarted may be valid.

The disorientated state of Slade's perceptions while talking to Man Green/Man Yellow is well presented with the frames and word balloons being in different reading order, giving the impression of time jumping around like in some kind of drugged state.

With the flashback to the flower-shop something strange happens to time too. The calendar in the vet’s waiting room had said November, whereas the flower shop he visits shortly after getting Tony’s body is advertising for Valentines Day. Perhaps it is a reference to the fact that a day or two in Greg’s life took months to pass in our ‘higher reality’. Mention is made throughout the book about time passing differently on different levels of reality. The I-life live for 72 generations between issue one and issue nine. The ealiest explorers of the ink found they'd aged a generation while a few hours passed. When we read monthly comics, a few weeks go by for our heroes in the space of years of our lives.

Slade’s conversation with Spector has much food for thought in it. You mentioned the mitochondrial DNA. Mark. The story about Androcles and the Lion is probably very significant to Morrison’s work too. Stories about how the world really works and ‘realistic portrayals of the animal kingdom’ only have limited use, whereas the unlikely fable about the lion with the long memory and a sense of gratitude tells us a lot about compassion and interdependency. Morrison has to constantly defend his use of metaphor and symbolism in his stories, and here he’s explicitly making a case for them again.

It ties in also to the the references to pedophiles throughout the story. The pedophile scare is largely a fiction presented by the media which is very real in the minds of the public. However the pedophile as the stranger preying on children story has its own powerful reality now.

The Hand exists on a plane of pure metaphor anyway, between the cracks of the ‘real world’ we know. Metaphor itself exists between the cracks.

When Spector is explaining these things she seems to come to life and even stares out of the page at us. She’s obviously based on a real person, and so far there’s something about her which feels like more than a typical comicbook female sidekick. Perhaps her hard inner-city aggressive manner and lovingly recreated Scottish dialect contribute also, but she isn’t as sexually presented as usual comicbook heroines in her role would be. We extend the same dignity to her of not seeing her just in terms of her sexuality as we would to someone we’d meet in real life. This is very unusual in comics. We all take for granted how sexualised the portrayal of women is in comics. I haven’t read past issue 11 yet, so I don’t know where the story takes her, but I’ll be surprised if she and Greg/Slade develop a sexual relationship.

This is in contrast to Miami’s portrayal, which is very problematic from a politically correct point of view. She is a beautiful black woman who is all about her exotic sexiness and sexual availability. She is even an officer of the Finger section of the Hand ie ‘venereal arts’. Slade is (re?)inducted into the Hand by some hot and heavy action with her. In issue 11 she complains about having had to do it with Greg Feely twice. So she's a woman who has to have sex with men even when it makes her feel sick as part of her job. Oh, dear!!

When you look at how Boy in The Invisibles was similarly drooled over by the main character and consider that she was maybe the most poorly fleshed out of the team, it’s hard not to wonder if Grant has some kind of issues that he’s working out…
Issue 10 - Man Made God

Hmmm... That title has at least three meanings that I can see.

Yes, this issue seems like a comical Morrison interlude. Max Thunderstone nee Shatt reminds me of the Beard-hunter from a similar interlude episode of Doom Patrol. A stereotypical socially inadequate super-hero fan who becomes the musclebound He-man of his dreams. Max’s self-diagnosed ailment of Muscle Dysmorphia sounds like a physical disease but it is actually a psychological problem similar to anorexia except the sufferer thinks they aren’t muscular enough. No wonder, if his only point of reference is superhero comics.

The comics around Max’s room are all Status Quorum comics that the Hand produce. Even though Max is rebelling against the Hand he is probably unknowingly, influenced by them. Are superhero comics part of the trap – another drug to keep the population sedated, or are they the key to redefining ourselves?

As well as the metatextual stuff, the thought balloons are ironic, as Max, trying to become a real-world superhero, displays mainly their surface qualities. Like the muscles and thought balloons. That Max spends the entire issue communicating with us by thought balloons and explaining who his 'team-mates' are might be a lampooning of poor old Claremont's storytelling techniques. Morrison would have been researching old issues of X-men around this time, as he was writing New X-men concurrently with The Filth.

Liked the Stephen King anecdote, btw.

Max’s story is only important to the main storyline in that he lists Greg as one of his friends, and says that it was Greg who found out what the Hand were up to. Max is trying to do something about these sewer dwelling fascists, but like Icarus, who his brief flight reminds me of, his moment of glory is short. Max has been referenced very briefly in a few of the episodes up to now, so he’s an important character.

His philosophy of Buddhismo (where does Grant come up with these?) reminds me of Rambo, as he was a violent macho hero who was also a practicing Buddhist.

Morrison declares in the PopImage interview link above that much of the Filth is a cartoonish dark satire on early 21st century society, and a lot of this episode is funny, like his encounter with the dolphin, and his phone call from Larry at the end. “Crypto”, or crypt, is the Greek word for “hidden”, by the way, but not sure where this fits into the bigger puzzle. A lot remains hidden, from us, as well as Max himself.

The humour throughout this book is razor-sharp. “How could you do this to me?”, indeed!

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