I have, over the three-and-a-half years I’ve been writing this blog, spoken to varying degrees about Grant Morrison’s work in comics. That can all be summed up in two words now so we can move on: “They’re amazing”.
Right, now that that is done, I can say that although I’ve discussed Mr. Morrison’s work in a hand full of segments I have never gone into the kind of diatribe that anyone who knows me well has gotten when I’m in the middle of a full-out Morrison bender. And now I’d imagine I’m going to approximate that diatribe with what comes next, although in a shortened form and without the kind of repeating of myself that no doubt occurs when said diatribes happen on the business end of a six-pack (as they often do).
Grant Morrison, simply put, changed my life. I know, I know, that sounds ridiculously dramatic, however I assure you, dramatic or not, they are indeed true words. For several years I’d been seeing the engaging covers of the escalating second volume of The Invisibles on the shelf each month at my favorite comic shop Amazing Fantasy Books and Comics and had almost jumped in a number of times, in the end always ignoring the impetus for reasons I can only assume now were because somewhere deep down part of me knew I was not ready for them yet. Comics-wise I was in a state where within the last few years I’d dumped a lot of the crap I was reading by sheer force of habit and had assembled a new cabal of books I waited rabidly for each month, one of which had unexpectedly become Morrison’s JLA. Now I have to admit the initial reason I picked up JLA was the art – something I had apparently not gotten out of my system from earlier in the decade when the jimlee/toddmcfarlane/rob”no feet“liefeld zeitgeist had swept me up along with just about everybody else who could easily have the wool pulled over their eyes. I worked with a guy back then that went on and on about Porter’s art on the book and finally I picked one up half-way through the Rock of Ages storyline (issue #12). What I found when I read it (along with the two preceding issues I went back to the shop for the next day) was that yeah, the art was great, but the story… was confusing in a most delightful way. Here was a major superhero book, something I had largely phased myself out of caring about, and when I read it my brain seemed to move in different directions. I must have read those three issues several times in a number of days and I just could not fully wrap my head around what was happening in the pages. There were Boom Tubes and four-dimensional concepts being (with some difficulty) rendered into three-dimensional language and a general by-the-seat-of-your-pants feeling, established immediately at the beginning of issue number twelve with the first person ‘shots’ from then-Green Lantern Kyle Rayner’s perspective as he, Flash and Aquaman were whisked away across time and space by Metatron of the New Gods. The more I read these issues I found that I wished to discuss them rabidly, so that anyone who would listen heard my brief, stammering descriptions and the idea I found so amazing over and over again: that there seemed to be bits of the story missing, but not as a mistake. A couple of months ago I thought fellow ChuditeJeb Delia put this Morrison-centric phenomenon best in a review of Batman Inc. #4 when he referred to Morrison as often compressing (or as Jeb pointed out, over-compressing) his stories. Over-compressed or not, this would be the proverbial itch that lead to my finally scratching my way into The Invisibles.
Having missed Volume 2 entirely I picked up shortly into the third and final volume of the title, The Invisible Kingdom. If JLA had wet my appetite for the fringe science/Occult undertones of Morrison’s imagination, The Invisibles turned that appetite into a ravenous frenzy of consumption. I was no sooner completely in over my head with Sir Miles, Key 23, Wicker Men and Alien Abduction than I was beginning to not just hunt down back issues of the title (other than the very first book of volume 1 none of the others had been TPB’d yet at that time) but also strike out into the world at large and search for the various ideas Morrison wove into the fabric of the story. Reich’s Orgone, Phil Hine’s Pseudonomicon, Atlantis Books*, conspiracies surrounding Princess Diana’s death, Moonchilds… the list went on and on, especially after the final issue, issue #1** where instead of a letters column Morrison basically spoke directly to the reader, telling them that The Invisibles had not been a book but a spell, what he referred to as a Hypersigil, and that he’d been using such techniques for years and you know, why didn’t we try it and see if it worked?
I won’t go into my adventures on that road here, that’s what my other blog is mainly for. But the singularly odd and totally exhilarating experience of reading Morrison’s declarations to Magick at the tail end of one of the most inventive, riveting comics I’d ever encountered endeared the man to me for all time. I’ve followed him in the Disinfo circles, on his old website (the one with the POP Magick page) and his new one, through New X-men, Seven Soldiers of Victory, WE3, backwards to find he’d written the AMAZING run on Animal Man I’d read via a friend in high school as well as my all-time favorite Batman story, Gothic. I realized I’d been a Morrison fan longer than I’d even realized, and now all of this was coming together and giving me a different world view. A worldview Morrison talks about in Patrick Meaney’s documentary Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods.
Through all of the interviews I’ve read with Morrison several key experiences always recur, all of which are covered quite thoroughly in TWG. The mountain top ‘alien abduction’ scenario in Katmandu, his interaction with the Scorpion Loa of Voodoo and his real-life contraction of a flesh-eating virus around the same time King Mob – Morrison’s key avatar within The Invisibles – is taught to believe he has been infected with a similar virus via a drug called Key 23, which makes people perceive words as the objects or concepts they denote. This alone is fascinating enough to hinge an entire film on, but we go back too, to Morrison as a kid being used as a decoy for his father to spy on Nuclear bases around their native Glasgow, his first band and initial experiences with Magick and his infamously out-of-print collaboration with recurring partner-in-crime Frank Quitely, Flex Mentallo***. TWG fills in a lot of the gaps of all of those various interviews through the years, and what’s more gathers those stories under one massive roof where they can be completely contextualized. We get a real feel for Morrison as a person, an artist and a magician, and this helps us see the transition of one of the greatest comic book writers of our time from an average bloke with dreams to the first truly Rock Star status holding comic book star.
And he deserves it!!!
Here’s the trailer:
*Best Occult book store I have ever been in: The Atlantis Bookshop, London
** The final volume debuted at the beginning of 1999 and counted down from number 12, so that the final issue, #1, would usher in the new millennium. If I remember correctly, it was a wee bit late, but still awesome.
*** Finally being collected and released via Vertigo on February 7th, 2012 so I no longer have to contemplate paying upwards of $100 for some of the single issues thankyouverymuch!!!