Repost #1 Morrison first Doom Patrol issue, first half:
I've got a few of those Paul Kupperberg issues. I got them all over, so they are scattered around my collection, but I have yet to put them together and read them in order. What I have read of them was very standard X-men-type comics of the 80s. I was very interested to read in the intro that Kupperberg approached Morrison to continue his run and encouraged him to be as weird as possible.
Its kind of unusual that a writer/editor in that position would grant and insist on such freedom to move beyond his own work.
I think Caulder arrived very late in Kupperberg's run, for what its worth.
Good point about Didio's universe not being big enough to contain something like this anymore. In fact he has tried several times now to white-wash Morrison's Doom Patrol out of continuity altogether. (Although I do accept that Morrison often leaves the status quo in a state from which moving forward is difficult, and DP is one example.)
Well here are my impressions of Morrison’s 1st issue of Doom Patrol. Apologies in advance if some of it is stating the obvious and some of it is kinda didactic. (I used to be a teacher, you know!) I've gone through it with a fairly fine-tooth comb. My thing in college was English lit, so I probably pay more attention to the words on the page than anything else.
As for the art, Richard Case doesn't have a huge fanclub out there, but his art is more than functional here, and, like Moore's Swamp Thing before it, a lot of internal drama is conveyed well through facial expressions and body language. Also, like Animal Man, the fairly uncluttered artwork evokes Morrison's beloved Silver Age somewhat.
So to the first page of issue 19. It’s very reminiscent of DKR, which also begins with an imminent crash on a racing circuit.
Here, though, in one page we go from macho boys and their toys to overblown gross-out surreal horror, as Robot-man stumbles out of the flaming wreckage holding his brain. 'I've saved the beautiful bit!'
It’s something we’ll see again in Animal Man and other works, where Morrison opens with a statement of intent. It’ll be up to the readers and posterity to decide if Morrison has in fact ‘saved the beautiful bit’ of the original series.
I think the original series writer - Premiani - is on record as saying that this version of DP aligns most closely with what he was trying to do back in the 60s. So to that extent at least, Morrison succeeded in saving the most important bit, despite writing a series that was so different to anything that had come before.
Staying with the first page, I managed to get a hold of Gothic from the library and I've only read the first few pages, but it too starts with a very Miller-esque scene (drawn by Klaus Jansen yet!!). In that case it is a scene of drug dealers torturing one of their own - With all the lurid invention that only a comic book writer can bring to such a chore. (Wouldn’t the world be an even more terrible place if all gangsters were comic-book writers?)
Morrison wears his ‘anxiety of influence’ on his sleeve most of the time. The torture scene in Gothic works as a copy of Miller’s hard-boiled urban grit. You have to show that you can do it before you start to show that it can be subverted. The first page of DP, however moves on from this: it’s a deliberate subversion of DKR, taking Miller’s starting point and showing one of the many demented directions such a scenario can be taken.
Miller and Alan Moore are probably the two giants of the 80s that set the context for Morrison’s subsequent published work. As such, perhaps he felt the need to ‘deal with’ their work in his own. Miller is obviously much easier to copy/pastiche/satirise than Alan Moore’s work. Comic writers do it all the time. Moore is a much more difficult writer to ‘pin down’. What are his themes? What are his styles? That’s why these books from the late 80s/ early 90s have a lot of Miller references, but it wouldn’t be until his most recent phase that Morrison has begun confidently referencing Moore’s work.
On to page 2: 'AAUUUUUUU!': get used to this sort of thing. This sound comes up again and again in Morrison's work. Perhaps it has some sort of numerologic or magickal significance, but it seems to be a basic pre-linguistic sound: an expression of pain and despair inexpressible in any normal language. (FWIW, “Aaaauuuuu” is also the first real sound that my baby daughter made as she tried to communicate with us. It was her cry to tell us that something needed fixing in her little world and louder, more incessant shrieking would follow if we didn’t attend to it. If she could make it at the age of only a few days/weeks then words don’t come much more primevil or pre-linguistuic!)
Language itself is a big fascination of Morrison's but it is artificial and often unreliable. It is very much tainted by the fallen world which it both describes and shapes. A good illustration of its unreliable nature occurs a few pages later where Caulder deliberately misreads Josh's 'You're an ice man!' statement.
Actually apart from being an ice little joke, it’s another example of a self-consciousness in the series that keeps needling the reader with the reality that they're reading a comic. Just as the main characters are never allowed to feel that they are in a comfortable recognisable world, we aren’t allowed to just sit back and enjoy this superhero tale the way we would more standard comics. Because we instantly understand what Josh meant only because we can see the words in his balloon, it pulls us out of the story just a bit. There’ll be plenty more such alienating techniques as we continue with the series.
The subject of Caulder’s 'big plans' comes up in the same conversation. Reading this 1st issue so closely, I couldn't help but admire how it seems to do everything in miniature that the series does in long-form. I'm presuming that just about everyone that is reading DP with this thread has read the series before. Spoilers ahead...
Caulder's 'Big Plans' involve another recurring theme of Morrison's: that evolution and progress occur through hugely traumatic and disastrous incursions into otherwise stable systems. Caulder has been manipulating the lives of the team inciting tragedy upon tragedy to see how they all adapt and grow. Caulder himself is shown to be that old comicbook trope: the dispassionate scientist as diabolic fiend. In terms of his experiments, he also embodies the idea that the observer is part of the system too and his experiments come back to bite him.
But getting back to Caulder's 'big plans', similar ideas about progress through trauma occur in Seven Soldiers where the Sheeda 'harrow' the Earth every few thousand years to ensure that new societies and systems begin again that they will be able to 'reap' down the line. Note the double meaning of the word 'harrow'. The back-story of The Invisibles involves two realities crashing into each other, creating everything that we recognise as the world we live in. The Filth elevates invading germs as the most important part of any system.
A writer of any kind of drama knows the truth of this. Like Caulder, their whole job is to dream up ways for stable lives to be disrupted by sudden trauma. Catharsis!! Animal Man gets to discuss the cruelty of it all with his creator.
Other examples of this ‘part containing the whole’ in the first issue is the painting coming to life and the various presentiments of the strange bursting through into normality.
However, the most affecting example is the beginning of Cliff and Crazy Jane's relationship. Again, it is almost their entire relationship in miniature: they both try to understand and console each other in their suffering. Cliff begins to learn the old Christian paradox that the route to saving yourself often runs through helping others.
Morrison often gets a lot of stick for being all about too-clever ideas for their own sake, but the relationship between these two lost souls is beautifully portrayed and the emotional heart of the whole run. I'm also of the opinion that his treatment of such a disturbing transgression as child sexual abuse is very well handled and perfectly integrated into the surreal and garish comic book of which it is a part. Crazy Jane's background isn't pleasant but it does involve an evil that thrives on silence, and as such her tale is worth telling.
Since starting to write this I've read another few pages of Gothic. Remember I said upthread that Arkham Asylum had a certain timeless classic feel, largely through the Dante-esque 'decent into hell' structure? Well, Morrison seems to be playing around with the same elements in both Gothic and DP. Note that Caulder and Josh are descending in a lift while Caulder starts to draw his reluctant 'guinea pig' into his machinations. In the very early pages of Gothic, the second criminal to be killed by Whisper steps into a lift and says 'Going down' just before plunging to his death. Am I reaching? Well, I think both lifts are of the sort with the sliding cage doors that were in the last scene of Angel Heart. A great genre-bending 'deal with the devil' horror flick that had only been made a few years before. In that final scene, the implication was that the main character was descending into Hell. Morrison's mind was perhaps going around in even smaller circles (of hell) than even his critics had accused him of.
Perhaps Morrison was using the motif in these three stories written about the same time in the same way Pratchett uses his ‘See the great cosmic turtle’ sequences at the start of his Disc world books. As a way of opening the doorway in his mind to the part of his subconscious 'where the stories come from'.
Still on Morrison's first issue of Doom Patrol: On page 8 Doc Magnus arrives to try to lift Cliff out of his funk. I'm not sure if Doc Magnus and the Metal Men had appeared much in the years leading up to this. I’d doubt it, as they were exactly the kind of Silver Age silliness that the new ‘realism’ was supplanting. A lot of DC stalwarts were re-imagined at this time, to varying degrees of success, but Morrison's clever 're-imagining' of Doc consisted of leaving him exactly as he was back in the 60's. Now the context had changed completely around him and the pipe-smoking 'normality' that Doc originally embodied is now as strange as it gets to the MTV generation this comic was aimed at. The Church of "Bob" was very popular at this time and the friends of mine who were most amused by it tended to be the long-haired ones that didn't mind wrecking their own heads now and again. 'Normal' and 'Freakish' are weighed up again and again in this series, and here we have a character who is so seemingly normal he's almost a freak himself.
Next we have Rebis. Reading it knowing where it is going is very satisfying - 'Maybe we should get together...' indeed! Great sense of inevitable tragedy in what we know is going to happen to Larry and Eleanor. Not only is Larry’s short respite from being possessed by a freakish radioactive negative spirit about to end, but they are going to cease to exist as separate people. The nature of identity is another concern of Morrison’s. Although it is a tragedy for Eleanor and Larry, their conjoined self Rebis takes it in hir stride and seems to begin again as a new person.
The sequences of the negative being prior to the creation of Rebis are very powerful. “Iamthe spiritinthe bottlethe invisblefirethatworksin secretthere Istickamong therootsof theoaktree.” I don’t think this is quoting any particular text, but I like what it is invoking. Ancient alchemical and druidic secrets. I like that something which was just a function of freakish super-powers from a 60s comic is given depth here.
If I might stray from the topic a little, I think America of the 50s and 60s was a melting pot that was just starting to settle down to a pleasant and prosperous place. Compare it to the tough times of 30 or 50 years earlier. Part of the process of ‘settling down’ was putting in place a culture (myths and folklore) that everyone could share. Often this meant that it had to be quite shallow so that it covered everyone. The moral simplicity of cowboy films is one example of this. Rock and Roll another. Superhero comics were yet another. In this case, Negative Man was simply some guy who had the power to leave his body as a flying radioactive shadow. Simple and fun for anyone to enjoy.
But the negative being’s self-description in DP #19 is drawing from a much deeper, older and more resonant well (and more old-world too!). Oak worship goes back to the Celtic druids of 2000 years ago and beyond. The spirit in the bottle/Aladdin’s lamp is probably much older still. Here we have the personification of deep and ancient mysteries and powerful Jungian symbolism. There’s stuff in that for a grown-up to wonder at. (Maybe it is just Morrison ‘showing off’ but I’ll be very interested, reading forward from here, whether this aspect of Rebis is developed further.)
Having said that, the negative being’s next line: “Open the window, and let me in!”, is a direct lift form a great scene in Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot”, so modern populist American culture is drawn on too.
The whole sequence where the ‘three become one’ is beautifully done. The wonder. The horror. The religious symbolism.
Finally, lets look at the sequence in the rain between Cliff and Crazy Jane that prefigures the wonderfully-titled The Painting that ate Paris.
I have to confess that I had to look up both Maya Deren and Maitress Erzulie, whose names are dropped by Crazy Jane in the first panel of p19. It’s a common complaint that including references like this only alienates the casual reader, seeming to lock us out of a discourse between Morrison and his more erudite readers. Maybe I used to feel like this, but I’ve always liked the company of people that know more than me. There’s always the chance that you might learn something.
But even without googling them, I was still happy to see them referenced reading it this time around. Most references in superhero comics are only to other superhero comics, or their own closed in world. Here we see a little glimpse of our own multifarious and complex world (largely unknown to us). And it gives the impression that perhaps the DCU Earth too is every bit as complex and fascinating as ours. Certainly its great that someone we’re reading about can have all kinds of arcane interests.
FWIW Maya Deren was an avante garde film-maker and theorist. A socialist born in Eastern Europe and highly critical of the crass commercialism of Hollywood. (A personal friend of Marcel Duchamp too, which amused me, for some reason.) Interestingly, like the characters in the Rebis section, she too changed her identity and personas. She was born Eleanor Derenkowsky, but her family changed name on moving to the US and she changed her own name to reflect Maya.
From Wiki: Maya is the name of the mother of the historical Buddha as well as the dharmic concept of the illusory nature of reality. In Greek myth, Maia is the mother of Hermes and a goddess of mountains and fields.
From this site: Maittress Erzulie is a Voudun (Voodoo) deity of beauty, love, wealth, and prosperity, who is normally referred to as Maitresse Erzulie, the lunar wife of Legba, the sun. As the moon, Erzulie is pure, virginal. The contact with her heated husband burned her skin, so Erzulie is usually depicted as a beautiful dark-skinned Ethiopian. Erzulie is thought of in a variety of ways, which do not always encompass the better virtues of love and good will. It is believed that she can have the vices of jealousy, discord, and vengeance. She can be vain, likes pretty jewellery and perfume, and angers easily.
Everything about the rest of this scene is beautiful. The rain, the pathetic dissolution of the painting into meaninglessness, Cliff and Crazy Jane’s efforts to reach across their personal gulfs. I guess I’m typical of a lot of people, in that I never stop to think what it might be like to be as disturbed as Crazy Jane. Most of them know that they aren’t ‘normal’ but don’t know how to act it. It’s a fine thing to give voice to such a person in a popular artform. Crazy Jane’s lines here are really affecting. Cliff’s innocuous line after the rain-soaked pause; “Come in out of the rain” manages to convey a lot of human feeling and compassion. From a comicbook robotman too!
Morrison can bring even the most fleeting of characters to life in a line or two. This from the two ‘spooks’ at the end of the issue:
Spook 1: This Man in Black stuff is really getting me down. How d’you manage to keep up the act?
Spook2 Its not an act.
I always love where the writer makes us feel just for a moment that these stock genre characters, who are only there to advance the plot, think and feel for themselves.
I’ll be back shortly to look at the rest of the 4-part Crawling from the Wreckage and the final 3 issues of this collection.
The rest of 'Crawling from the Wreckage'/ The Orqwith saga
Slight diversion… If, like me, you own the original collection of Crawling from the Wreckage then you will have some pages missing that were in the original comics and included in the latest printings of it.
The bizarrely titled fish1000 site has a Lost and Found section for out-of-print goodies. At the end of the Grant Morrison section are the missing pages. They are a page or so from each of issues 22-25 and tell the origins of some of the Brotherhood of Dada, who will appear in the next collection. Leaving them out of this collection is understandable enough. They don’t add anything to the stories currently under discussion, but instead add an extra level of confusion, as the reader will be having enough problems processing the mysteries of Orqwith, Red Jack and Dorothy’s Materiopticon-enhanced imaginary stalkers without trying to fit Mr Nobody’s machinations into the picture.
It would seem overloading the reader was part of Morrison’s gameplan.
BTW - The two text pieces Morrison did for 1986 Batman and Superman annuals are also there.
Back to the collection at hand. Obviously I had great fun with it but I won’t over-labour it and just try to point out a few things that are of interest in a study of Morrison’s wider DC ‘oeuvre’.
We find out that the weirdness is due to a city-world called Orqwith breaking through into reality. It is a fictional place dreamt up by a team of scientist-philosophers unhappy with our current materialistic society. This is where everything becomes truly ‘Morrisonian’. This is the first time in our reading order that Morrison brings up his favourite interest – the idea of the fictional world breaking into our own.
The whole Orqwith saga is like ‘Morrison for Dummies’ as he takes his first steps into this area of storytelling and he is wary of going too far too fast with his readers. Indeed, I’ve never seen one of his stories where the sceptical, puzzled reader is so completely a part of things. Here Cliff is the surrogate for the typical comicbook reader, declaring again and again that things aren’t making sense and asking whether the events are ‘real’ or ‘just made up’. When he recieves frustratingly esoteric replies, his response is along the lines of "yeah, that explains everything!"
The Chief explains things in as clear a form as we are ever going to get from Morrison. The philosophers propose to fill their book ‘with parasitic ideas which will enter human consciousness and transform it.’ 'Memetic Theory' as the Chief describes it.
What we are reading is a playful extrapolation by Morrison of Richard Dawkins' idea in The Selfish Gene that thoughts and patterns of thought have a life outside the thinker and a powerful will to survive and propagate. Thus Orqwith agressively tries to invade our world.
This is a set of ideas that Morrison will return to again and again. Some thoughts about its execution here:
We’re told that the philosophers dreamt of a better world, but it seems to be built of bones and policed by horrific faceless, gibberish-talking mutilators. We’re not really told why. Crazy Jane posits that they took a few short cuts and just brought in some characters from Struwelpeter that Randy links to above. The Story of little Suck a Thumb in particular which has a red-legged scissorman in it. Perhaps all Utopias will have blind-spots and unforeseen downsides?
As Caulder says at the end “We are lucky that the whole crisis was man-made and founded on human logical processes.” He doesn’t mention that the horror of it was down to human hubris too. (But then he wouldn’t, would he?)
The gibberish-talking Scissormen is another type of thing, like mentioning obscure avente-garde artists, that turns many readers off Morrison. I took half an hour to try to decipher the little phrase one of them says ‘Eider with Alders’. I thought it might be an anagram, but even with the words ‘dread’ and ‘wild’ in there and other little words, I couldn’t make it mean anything. Otherwise they sound very like cryptic crossword clues, but if so they are way above my head.
I’ve just looked it up (admitted defeat in other words), and it seems that the Scissormen’s speech isn’t meant to be figured out. I think one does say ‘This!’ when he’s foiled, which is an anagram , but the rest of their speech must just have been Morrison cutting up a dictionary and picking up words at random. There does seem to be some kind of syntax at work though.
So he’s bringing a little of Borrough’s sensibility to fairly mainstream comicbooks. Not the worst crime in the world! At least he’s found a way to work it into the story.
Orqwith is defeated in a great sequence in an otherworldly cathedral at its heart. We have the two clock-faced priests, one of whom lies, and the supplicant has to figure out which one. It is taken a little further than the old playground riddle to a question which puzzles artists, philosophers and cosmologists alike:
“Why is there something instead of nothing?”
The answer from the black priest would have been provided by any exasperated parent since the beginning of time – because...
“There is something instead of nothing”
(In other words “It just is!”)
As it is the liar who says this, he has affirmed the non-existence of Orqwith, the fictional world, and it pops out of existence.
All well and good, but as this is the first time Morrison has gone down this route, he makes sure that the Chief explains it all in the final pages, so no readers are left behind. As Morrison’s work develops, he entrusts the reader more and more with the figuring out of things, to the great consternation of some of that readership. (Or maybe he just entrusts things to the clever minority with an internet connection!)
As an aside, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” is very close to that old writer’s bugbear “Where do your ideas come from?” I read an interview with Gaiman lately where he said that the best thing about being a writer would be 'creating somehting out of nothing'. Note it is the words of the Liar on which hangs the fate of Orqwith. It’s not a phrase bandied about too often, but writers of fiction are all professional liars. This points to another conceit that Morrison will return to again and again: An equivalence between the creation of the universe and an artist’s creation of their imaginative worlds. Orqwith was created as a book after all.
Of course the Doom Patrol cannot see why it was so easy for Orqwith to break into their world, in contravention of all sense and logic. What they can’t understand is that its because they and their world in turn are also completely fictional. We ourselves are so used to ‘suspending disbelief’ when reading these outlandish tales that for the most part we don’t see that either. Morrison would explore what happens if one of the DC heroes should start to realise their true state in Animal Man.
At the end of the day Morrison is positing the notion that we, like the Doom Patrol and Animal Man before his ‘awakening’, might be creations of the dreams of some higher being, unaware that we are fictional.
I’ve mentioned google a few times now, but no discussion of Morrison would be complete without it. Google and the internet gave him the freedom to make his works as obscure as he liked and trust that someone somewhere would figure it out and spread his parasitic memes throughout human consciousness! (Or the geek suburb of it anyway!)
After the Orqwith arc, there are two more arcs collected in Crawling from the Wreckage. First up a two-issue story about a demonic being who might actually be ...God and then a single issue featuring a new character called Dorothy Spinner.
Issues 23-24 tell the story of the team's confrontation with Red Jack who has kidnapped Rhea from the hospital where she was comatose.
Issue 23 is mainly composed of quieter character-driven beats, important if we are to care for the characters as they face dangers later on. One beat is the introduction of Dorothy Spinner. Her hair and clothes are identical to the most famous Dorothy in American fantasy, the one in the Wizard of Oz. Even her name is reminiscent of the tornado that whisks that Dorothy off to Oz.
Although this is a completely different story to the opening four issues, there are quite a few connections. Recall that the Doom Patrol first realised that the threat from Orqwith was so serious when they arrived in Kansas. It was the fact that they WERE still in Kansas that added to the horror. Now Dorothy's appearance confirms the link to Baum's classic. Oz is just about the only American fantasy classic that can stand beside Tolkien and the two Lewis guys, but it is also the one most appreciated by the gay scene. Not inconsequential, given the prominence of the gender-bending Rebis and such later characters as Danny the Street to the story. Another connection to an American writer is that Jane uses Borrough's text splicing technique to divine where Rhea has been taken. This reminds us of the Scissormen's speech. Later on Cliff even wonders if they are going to appear.
All this recalls the Chief's description of the differences between real worlds and fiction: fiction is loaded with coincidences. What are coincidences in the real world such as Caulder talking about the Butterfly Effect at the same time as Red Jack is taunting the escaped butterfly, are pleasing aesthetic devices in fiction...
Fictions don't just have connections within the texts, but there are also connections between texts. There are the previously mentioned connections to The Wizard of Oz, which will become more overt in the final issue of this collection. I don't know if it’s just ideas in the ether at the time, similar reading habits or a close interest in each other’s work, but the references to then-contemporary comics are interesting...
Morrison's completely off the wall take on Jack the Ripper, written just as Moore's From Hell was starting out is one example. Another is a version of Gaiman's 'You get what everyone gets...' line referring to someone's allocation of time on Earth. This echoes Death’s statement when asked about the fairness of the death of an infant in the famous ‘Sound of her Wings’ issue of Sandman. As an aside, as much as I appreciate Gaiman's contribution to comics, there is something just ... annoying about his writing too. He always seems to come across as smug and wanting to be all-knowing. When Death comes to take a young child from her parents, the 'she got what we all get - a lifetime' remark is very Gaiman. Smug self-satisfied and pat. The tragic death of an infant like that, deserves more than such a twee statement, but I get the feeling that Gaiman was especially pleased with himself when he thought that one up. I wonder has he ever used it to a grieving parent?
Anyway, it begs the question of who is lifting from whom. I think this issue of DP came along shortly after the offending issue of Sandman. Morrison's use of it in the opening scenes of Larry Trainor in the hospital is easier to swallow, being along the lines of a sarcastic 'You'll live!' to a needlessly worrying patient.
Getting back to Jack the Ripper and 'intertextuality', his name for himself and his whole modus operandi suggest that he is none other than the Red Jack of the Star Trek episode 'Wolf in the Fold'. Not just a reference to him but actually him!
Whatever about his intertextuality, I'd just like to state that Red Jack here is hilarious to read. There's something about the complete inappropriateness of his responses. Even better, given how DP is a study in normality vs Weirdness, his comical 'disconnect' is that he uses the pat phrases of soap-operas and naff magazines aimed at housewives of my mother’s generation. The phrases have long since lost any meaning due to over use. They seem mild and benevolent, but sound insincere to our jaded ears –‘Love conquers all’, 'You'll look back and laugh' 'We could have discussed this'. The snatches of once popular songs he sings have all the sincerity of an advertisement jingle. He's hilarious anyway, strangely removed as he is from what's going on around him. His death is not without pathos too. Perhaps it is the comic death that will ring closest to my (your) own, as he realises that he isn't the centre of the story and it will now go on without him. He's a great creation for only a two-issue life span.
Then there is his conviction that he's God... It’s funny to see where the boundaries of taste lay around this time. GOD as a sadistic psychopath living on the suffering of his creation, (an interpretation for which our own world seems to offer a lot of circumstantial evidence...) - Fine. But the Joker in a tutu? The 16 year old boys of the world must be protected at all costs! The conceit of God as a madman getting his just reward would be taken up as a major thread in Preacher a few years later.
Storywise, there seems to be some kind of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ set up with Rhea. Although unconscious, Red Jack was attracted to her because he recognised what she was ‘becoming while she slept’. He refers to her childbearing hips. The consummation on their marriage night seems to be his knife in her back. Sex and Death are entwined in his mind. His rampage through Whitechapel as Jack the Ripper was to ‘create a beautiful new form of life. Something better than human.’ Buddy Baker will find out the hard way how imaginative creation goes hand in hand with violence and death when he meets our favourite DC hack.
Red Jack the creator of the universe is another variation on the scientist-philosphers in the first arc who created Orqwith, and, like them, seems to be a variation on Morrison the writer-creator himself. When Cliff asks ‘You didn’t think it was ... GOD?’, Rebis answers ‘Couldn’t care less’. I think it’s interesting that this is Rebis’ attitude to the idea of a creator. As he wasn’t created from nothing - like Gaiman says his stories are – but is instead something new created from previously existing constituents, he doesn’t believe in creation from nothing. In this light its interesting that it was him who got the Black Priest to state the falsehood that ‘There is something instead of nothing’. Nothing comes from nothing as far as Rebis is concerned.
Staying with Red Jack as possible Demiurge, Red Jack says that he has been confined for his crime. “All because I had stained the beauty of perfect nothingness with gross matter.” Here we have a direct link from some of Morrison’s earliest DC work to his most recent. As Morrison has stated in interviews, this was the back-story to Final Crisis. Everything was set in motion when the original perfection of emptiness perceived the first little mote of life within itself. Here too, Morrison blends the writer and the creative diety together. He used the idea of comics being pristine white pages that become stained by the stories told in them and he invites us to think of the DCU as a tiny stain on this great whiteness and imagine what the response of that unblemished perfection might be to 'protect itself'. I’d imagine one of the reasons he didn’t state it directly in the text of FC itself was that he had already stated the idea pretty clearly here in Doom Patrol #24.
I promise to post some reactions a little later. I started this thread, but you guys are killer on it, and this is exactly what I wanted (well, with a little more activity, but it's all good). And Figserello, you are the patron saint of Morrison.
Obviously I'm kinda stoked about this reading project! Great idea for a thread!
Regarding this volume of Doom Patrol I would highly reccomend it to anyone who might be interested in reading some of his later stuff along with your thread. He does make his ideas more accessible in this early collection. For myself, reading it has already cast light on stuff in The Invisibles that seemed obscure to me before.
Its also 'fresher' and 'lighter' than a lot of his later work.
I'm very keen to hear other reactions to these books and hopefully we'll see plenty of activity here along the way.
I want to apologize first of all with my lack or response in this very thread that I started. I thought it would be the perfect time, and that I would have all kinds of time with summer break, but so far I really haven't. And I'll be gone all next week.
Would everyone be comfortable doing more discussion next week if I gave a book to discuss? What about Animal Man vol. 1? I'm being kind of selfish here, because I want to read Figserello's brilliant annotations!
Thanks for the encouragement Jeff. I'm hoping to see this little project out. Don't apologise for not contributing at times. Life gets in the way. You've said it a few times but I hope people are able to jump in anytime and talk about books we've moved on from.
For myself, I'm hoping that this step-by- step approach will get me to a place where I can sit down and read The Filth and know what the hell is going on.
Just before we leave the first Doom Patrol collection, I'd like to look at the last story in there.
"You shot your imaginary friends? With what?"
"An imaginary gun! What else?"
Issue #25 is a nice little ‘done-in-one’ featuring the new Dorothy Spinner character and Josh. I’ve long wondered why Dorothy is monkey-faced. In-story she is a casualty of the meta-gene bomb. But what is the significance of her appearance on the symbolic level? At first there doesn't seem to be any connection between her looks and her 'powers' - her inner fantasy life can manifest itself in the real world. All the most obvious superheroes have a direct link between their looks and their powers. Think Spider-man, the Hulk, Superman. How to draw comics the Marvel way even posited that supervillains had to have the evil of their inner selves showing on their ugly phyzogs. So there has to be some kind of relationship between her looks and her powers. A monkey with a powerful imagination that can make her dreams actually exist in the real world? Perhaps that is not a bad definition of what seperates humanity from the rest of the animal kingdom? The ability to imagine what wasn't there before and in making it real, change our whole environment. I'm sure that this is another 'key' idea that will appear over and over again. Anthro in FC seems to embody it once he is touched by Metron's Promethean fire. The idea of the monkey with imagination and creative abilities is very offensive to Creationists and Dorothy's conservative god-fearing rural background seems to be a deliberate poke at them.
Josh is a wonderful character in this issue. He's able to talk to the shy and withdrawn Dorothy on her own level and this, together with his intelligence, calmness under pressure and impressive, if generic super-powers, saves the day. It does beg the question as to why Josh isn't more committed to being a superhero. The fact is that his sensitivity in dealing with Dorothy is probably a drawback in the full-time superhero business. In this issue, when his fears and worst fantasies are made real, he sees a Scissorman again. It makes him very human that he is traumatised by some one-off baddies who would be quickly forgotten and never mentioned again by a more 'regular' superhero. Moore took a similar line with his Captain Britain. Brian Braddock always seemed on the verge of a nervous breakdown due to his exposure to all the madness that goes with being a superhero. It’s a different kind of realism. Given that the weird things that happen in comics actually went on, what would an ordinary person’s reaction to them be? Psycholological trauma seems pretty ‘realistic’ to me. (I see on wiki that Josh was a Vietnam deserter, so his retreat from the front line here too is in character.)
I’m very interested in any references to Gaiman in Morrison’s work, as they both ‘came of age’ as top drawer creators at the same time and although they were both similarily talented, their whole focus and approach is quite different. This story is one of the very rare occasions where the two creators’ work intertwines. It also gives an indication of how closely Morrison was following Gaiman at this stage. This issue #25 of Doom Patrol has a cover date of August 1989 and the Dr Dee/ Dr Destiny arc of Sandman ( issues 5-7) would only have been published earlier in the summer. Here the Chief just mentions that the JLA recently fought Dr Destiny and now they were bringing in copies of his powerful Materiopticon that was so important in Gaiman’s tale. Comparing the different types of horrors that the same comicbook 'technology' brings up in each writers work is instructive. The horrors in Gaiman’s tale were the murky stuff of our hidden impulses made real. They have a tabloid true crime quality about them. Cannibalism, prison brutality, domination of the females by the alpha male are all acted out. Garish as they are, they are very prosaic and down-to-Earth when compared to the outlandish ‘happy family’ of Damn-All in his crossword suit, the emotionally suffocating Darling-Come-Home and Flying Robert the balloon-headed baby. Whereas Gaiman’s horrors made you want to have a bath after being exposed to them, Morrison’s are original and fun to read about, while still representing recognisable fears. Damn All’s family are a warped representation of the ‘normal’ all-American family and as such their horror is much closer to home. The cold distant father only interested in his little girl insofar as halting her sexual development, the emotionally suffocating mother who refuses to allow anyone to appear anything but ‘normal’ and the sibling who isn’t quite human.
Damn All is an obvious precursor to the villains in The Invisibles. Both are obsessed with keeping young people at a pre-sexual stage of thought. Just as the Archons obsess over keeping children ‘smooth between the ears and smooth between the legs’, Damn All wants to ‘Sew up your mind to keep the dirty thoughts getting in.’
This being early Grant Morrison we get a talk through on one of the key concepts that will inform his later work. The danger in this issue is caused by Dorothy associating a bunch of ideas together so that they gather power. In this case the Red Shoes that cause the wearer to keep on dancing and the Little Mermaid’s painful walking after she becomes human are all confused in Dorothy Spinner’s mind with the onset of puberty. It all works quite powerfully, and things are only resolved when Dorothy puts on the shoes and sees that the horrors she was expecting might be blessings. The same horrible shoes of the fairytale might be the magical Ruby Slippers of the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy has to see that there are positive aspects to her fears. The trick is to understand and ‘peel off’ the negative associations.
Josh calls this subconscious clustering of ideas and associations ‘Engrams or Involutes’. I’m sure we’ll see more of them as we look through Morrison’s work, but I don’t think we’ll have the patient Josh around to explain them to us in the text. One example that strikes me is Danny the Street who appears later in the series. Literal-minded comics readers were enraged that a street could be ‘homosexual’, but I think Morrison was just applying all the associations that have gathered around the idea of ‘gay’ and applied them to something which obviously couldn’t have any sort of sex life as we would understand it.
Oh, and the Chief is a Republican. As he says: “With a new President in the White house, my government commitments are at an end.”
Animal Man issue 1. (SEP 88) Like Doom Patrol, Morrison's work on this series begins with a statement of intent. At the end of the first page B’wana Beast bemoans the sorry state of modern city living by saying 'why did we come down from the trees?' The next page has the hero up a tree and his neighbour is shouting 'Watch you don't fall! It’s a long way down.'
There you have it. We are being drawn into a superhero version of the fall of man. Evolution and the bible are both evoked. The loss of the lower animal's state of grace equated to Adam's expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Reaching? There aren't a lot of sentences in a comic book, but Buddy manages to get in a reference to 'the Fall' (aka Autumn) later in the issue. Ellen is listening to an old tune called 'The Garden of Eden' just before Buddy enters. Its a very old tune, written in 1916 but not my type of song. I did find an excellent version by Sam Cook which you can listen to here...
(In issue two we have the scientist comparing the organism molded from all the monkeys to ‘watching Adam rise up out of the dust’ and the rednecks in the woods keep referring to the Garden of Eden.)
There are other hints and clues to what the rest of the series will be about. Ellen mentions the Crisis, which must have been a no-no at that time. DC were still trying to establish that this was a whole new reality rather than a continuation of the pre-CRISIS DCU. Morrison gets to conduct his own little Crisis in this series later on. Buddy’s attitude to hunting foreshadows his commitment to animal rights. He even mentions that he feels as if a higher power is pulling the strings, which foreshadows the most memorable strand of this whole run.
The blue skies and sunshine that this issue basks under would have been a welcome change at this point in mainstream comics history. I especially like the training scenes with Buddy's wife. It makes sense that a grown-up father of 2 would carefully measure the limits of his powers before taking up the superhero game again. If he takes it seriously, so should we. Note that these scenes seem to echo those of Mike Moran and Liz testing his newfound powers in Moore's Marvel man.
I don’t want to go into the symbolism of the first 4 issues and how they tie into the 5th issue, which in turn is a synopsis of the whole series. The stuff I wrote on Doom Patrol, above, was mainly my own reaction to what was on the pages, but I’ve read a lot of Animal Man commentary and interviews since I first read this series, so I don’t think I have anything too original to add on the symbolism. I have to direct your attention to one particular podcast which discusses the first TPB in full.
Internet Morrison expert Geoff Klock contributes a great commentary on the collection. As a bonus (and the reason I sought out this podcast to share with you guys years after I first heard it), most of the regular contributors are comically incapable of seeing anything in a Morrison story beyond men in tights punching each other. One in particular is the apotheosis of Morrison's Bete Noir, the literal-minded reader, utterly dismissing any literary intent on Morrison’s part. He loves Tom Clancy novels.
So leaving aside a metatextual gloss on the first four issues, there are some things I have to admire. Stuff that would benefit any superhero comic. The character building and world-building here is great. Buddy’s San Diego suburban world seems very convincing. The neighbours, the kids, everyone seems to have their own personality.
Continuity is used just to make the world feel real (it is the DCU after all) and Morrison cherry-picks the elements from a long history that tie in artistically with the story he’s telling. S.T.A.R. labs for one and B’wana Beast’s name is a nice inversion of Animal Man’s when you think of it. B’wana means Lord or mister in Swahili, but B’wana was probably understood to mean ‘man’ or ‘white man’ when he was created. So the Man Beast is the first foe of Animal Man. Story and continuity elements all come together naturally. The White God with the intelligent ape friend, animal testing and Animal Man’s radicalisation towards animal rights all sit together. His first adventure dramatises his radicalisation whereas another writer would have just had him become an animal rights campaigner as a ‘neat idea’ leading from his powers.
Another thing that flows naturally from the whole setup is that Buddy wouldn't have to fly to far outside San Diego to encounter the desert landscape of the Wile E Coyote cartoons. Or at least I presume so, as most American cities named San Something tend to be near the Mexican border where I'm sure the entire landscape looks like a Sergio Leone movie.
The lack of an origin in the first arc is also refreshing. He was a corny old-school hero with slightly daft powers coming out of retirement. Good enough once you accept the basic premise of the DCU itself, that this is a world where people get weird powers.
There were a few things that were a bit off. Perhaps the hunters are a bit one-sided, but then Buddy and his friend are both shown to be one-time hunters without being psychotic nutters, and it is one of the hunters themselves that eventually resolve the situation.
Morrison often brings in scientific theories to bolster his philosophising, but the science here is a bit off. The rubbish ideas of cutting an earthworm to produce two viable new earthworms and killing any attacking dog by pulling its forelegs apart to burst its heart were both playground urban myths in my day but cited as facts here. But then urban myths are bread and butter to Grant when he gets to The Invisibles
So, as this is a discussion board I’d be interested in your reactions to issue 5, the rather unique and ground-breaking ‘Coyote Gospel’ tale. If you’ve read it before and can’t remember it, go ahead and dig it out. You’ll be glad you did.