Grant Morrison is a gifted writer and clearly one of the big innovative movers of the comic industry. Originally from Scotland, his writing his very unorthodox with a counterculture perspective and usually combined with non-linear storytelling. Some of his greatest works have showcased themes of breaking the fourth wall, psychedelic concepts like dadaism, and secret messages amidst bombastic action. And for the past three decades, his writing may not be for everyone: while incredible, they are very dense, confusing, and plain weird. I was first exposed to his writing through his uncanny run on New X-Men and his classic All-Star Superman. Both are utterly fantastic. For the summer, I searched for more of his self-contained “Vertigo-published” work, but I consciously avoided most of his DC works (JLA, Final Crisis, Batman series) and his long-form runs like The Invisibles, Doom Patrol, Animal Man, and Seven Soldiers of Victory. Although, I am intrigued to read Doom Patrol and the Invisibles after reading compiling many of his other masterpieces. But for money and time, here’s 7 tastings of Grant Morrison:
1. The Filth (2002)
The Filth is a peculiar piece of work. Considered one of Grant Morrison’s highly original ideas, I think a few re-reads is necessary to fully comprehend all the great bizarre ideas Morrison conjures up. The plot revolves around a man who only cares about his cat and spends his time watching porn. His life is turned upside down when a secret organization reveals his “real” identity, and he begins his job to clean the perversions and the social threats of the world. Pretty trippy ideas as we witness a chimpanzee KGB assassin, nanotech creatures residing in a bonsai tree capable of healing, a porn star with black semen that enlarges as a biological weapon, breaking the fourth wall moments, children with the heads of ants, and a giant hand with a pen that reveals the origins of life. Chris Weston provides the art and creates some twisty scenes that shock and boggle the mind. Again, re-reading The Filth is probably necessary because Morrison is a genius when he delves into alternative dimensions, conspiracy theory, bacterial influence, and identity crisis’s mixed with kinky sex. Yes, it’s very kinky.
2. Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth (1989)
I’ve probably avoided this book for years, and I can’t understand for the life of me why. It’s a great book as we see Batman confront his inner demons when he’s forced to reside with the crazy psychotic villains he’s helped put away. And with the complimentary story on the founder of the institution, Amadeus Arkham, it becomes a compelling read. With Dave McKean as the artist, Morrison tackles a lot of interesting ideas like maternal symbolism with both of the protagonists’ mothers, mysticism, quantum psychics, Jung, Crowley, and surrealism. The Joker receives the best characterization as a Morrison provides him a diagnosis of super sanity and the “lord of misrule and the world as a theatre of the absurd.” Only Morrison could think of wacky ideas like this and make it seem plausible. The writing is smart and witty, the art is eerily dreamlike, and the book is riddled with quotes from author Lewis Carroll. It almost reads like an experimental art film which is it’s main appeal.
3. The Mystery Play (1994)
I won’t lie, but this is Grant Morrison’s most confusing novels available. But with that, it’s still an enjoyable read filled with a LOT of symbolism and gorgeous painted watercolor art from John Muth. His art is very realistic and haunting. The plot revolves around a murder in a play in a small town in which the victim is God. Well, the actor playing him anyways. A detective stops by to solve the mystery by interrogating a few suspects including the Minister, the Mayor, and the actor playing Satan. The mystery does not unravel, but furthers there’s something peculiar occurring in the background. Sorry to spoil, but the murderer is not revealed. The town is utterly corrupted with the absence of God, providing meaningful themes regarding the nature of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Is there chaos after God dies or abandons us? Could we survive without him? What’s god’s plan when he provokes terrible things to us? What’s the purpose of the bigger plan? Did we all kill him? Could the empty coat symbolize the absence of god’s existence? We are meant to see the picture as a whole and maybe see God’s murderer as irrelevant. It somewhat makes sense, but then I forget right after. It boggles the mind to rethink the thoughts.
4. Kill Your Boyfriend (1995)
Grant Morrison’s short one-shot is a fun ride as it focuses on young killers in love and on the run. They’re tired of the mindless system and the mundane cycles of their lives, so one gunshot to an unsuspecting boyfriend begins a crazy journey full of sex, drugs, and anarchy. The story’s a bit outdated as it’s a product of it’s time (a la Natural Born Killers), but it personifies youthful rebellion and our need for violence. While it was short, it was a treat to see them interact with parents, the authority, and hypocritical art terrorists. The finale at the Blackpool tower with a hand grenade is pretty exciting too. Phillip Bonds’ art is pretty clean and provides great wacky shots of Morrison’s crazy tale. Worth a check out, but hard to find at any comic stores.
5. Marvel Boy (2001)
Marvel Boy is about an alien teen hell-bent on destroying Earth after the humans kill his loved ones. As such, Grant Morrison does provide some great moments with the anarchic protagonist, but it’s an average tale. The first half is full of pretty pictures by artist J.G. Jones of an invasion while the second half delves with an insane villainous megalomaniac, Mr. Midas, attempting to obtain full cosmic transformation like the Fantastic Four. It reads like an insane tale from the Kirby/Lee era with some far-out ideas like sentient corporations and themes of alienation and anarchy. The ending is satisfying, yet open-ended. There was a possible sequel that never happened, but it’s good to know that Marvel Boy is extensively used in the Marvel Universe in the Secret Invasion and Dark Reign, albeit neutered.
6. We3 (2004)
A reviewer called Grant Morrison’s We3 a mix of Homeward Bound and Total Recall. And my goodness, Morrison is crazy but this disturbing tale is so entertaining and provocative. The short-three issue miniseries focuses on three cyber-controlled animals being used to replace humans as weapons for war. After the project is aborted and the animals are forced to be exterminated, they escape into the world. But unlike most harmless animals, these are creatures trained to kill (And they do!). And with the bombastic artistry of Frank Quitely, their journey is surely a feast for the eyes with some panel arrangements completely wordless. And a word of caution: there is a lot of violence, including animal killing and human killing. But at the end of the book, the animals are more human than the humans. Strange.
7. Sebastian O (1993)
Sebastian O is a thrilling Oscar Wilde-inspired story about a James Bond-esque dandy seeking revenge for his entrapment. And he does it with class and feminine refinement. Yes, it is an odd tale of underground writing with Steve Yeowell providing Deco period architecture art, but it’s a rare book to read. Grant Morrison has fun by playing with taboo themes (mostly gay) while the character flaunts his sexuality in a steampunk setting. A charming tale that was hard to find.
Bonus: Morrison’s Most Recent Work
Batman and Robin #1 (2009)
What to do after Bruce Wayne dies? Well, Dick Grayson takes over the spot with a bratty Robin filled by Damien Wayne, the son of Batman and Talia Al Ghul. This first issue has a retro vibe from the word sound effects to the colorful animal villains. Frank Quitely provides the art, and excels from the quieter character moments to the all-out action brawls. Oh yeah, great first introduction of the creepy villain, Pyg. Can’t get any better for a first issue.