Titles: Marvel Boy tpb; JLA: Earth 2 HC; Seaguy #1 - 3; JLA #1 - 44; Fantastic Four: 1, 2 ,3 ,4
Source (purchased/given/borrowed/the wife’s):all purchased, except Earth 2 which is the wife’s.
Date Purchased: 1995 - 2003
JLA 17 - 18 - extra nerdy review
Thoughts/Memories/ Remembrances: Grant Morrison brings something fresh to the table every time. The man is certifiable, but certifiably ingenious much of the time. Unlike some writers who love and embrace comic book history and nostalgia (Geoff Johns, Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek, James Robinson), Morrison is able to take his fondness for a character, a story, a team, a book, a universe and distill it down precisely to the bare core of existence and then rebuild them for a modern age, rather than just perpetuate or refine. His non-superhero work, like the Invisibles, the Filth, We3, The Mystery Play etc. show him to be utterly inspired in his ability to weave complicated narratives while also imbuing a natural sense of excitement and kinetic action. But it’s in his superhero work, from Animal Man starting back in 1987 through to his Batman work today that he really cuts loose, strangely enough. In the culture of corporate entities where the overlords are watching their properties and investments very closely, Morrison has earned their trust and is able to play with their toys as he sees fit… because they know that if he breaks them, he’s going to fix them so that they’re better than they ever have been.
Marvel Boy was the first breakout Morrison book for me, the one where I fell completely under his sway. I hadn’t been reading Marvel comics for years, and his was one of the first that brought me back into the fold (the other was Busiek’s Marvels). Though my younger mind didn’t quite grasp everything that Morrison was doing (my thoughts were more concerned with how the book fit in with Marvel continuity) but in a post-Matrix world where it became evident that movies could deliver pretty much everything a comic book could, it was Morrison who was able to match and top it in a comic that didn’t play with Marvels’ toys, so much as make radical copies of them for his own amusement. It’s still a high point for me in his very distinguished careers.
Morrison was given the reins to the Justice League for a few years, and his initial impulse was to construct the team from DC’s big players. It was such a logical approach that you had to wonder why it had never been done before. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and Aquaman, all in the same pages, DC’s most recognizable and most powerful characters. If there’s a team that supposed to defend the Earth, they should be on it. When Morrison first approached the book I kind of balked at his idea. I was a fan of the Giffen era of Justice League, a comedy-action book where the team was comprised of basically no-hitters that functioned like a dysfunctional family more than a super-team. The Justice League to me was not the big guns, each who had a title or two (or five) to their name, but characters who couldn’t hold their own book but form a strong title together. I did eventually (after 5 issues with thunderous praise) climb aboard the JLA bandwagon, but it didn’t resonate with me as strongly as others of Morrison’s work. I was too entrenched in the DCUniverse at the time and the first four issues of the series in trade didn’t make me a fan, because Morrison went too big, but also too narrow. I’m not fond of storylines that impact the planet as a whole, but that’s where Morrison repeatedly went, in his first JLA story and his last. They’re incredible stories, absolutely massive in scope, and I think I had a hard time wrapping my head around them then.
After JLA, over at Marvel, he was handed the keys to the X-Men, giving an intense, exotic and mind-blowing run that was pretty much counteracted once he left. Off to the side, he produced a small story about the Fantastic Four, and for once his typical sense of characterization felt… off. Perhaps it’s because I don’t care about the Fantastic Four very much, but I found 1, 2, 3, 4, frankly, boring when I first read it. Morrison abandoned his usual knack for paring back and rebuilding characters and instead chose to examine them as flawed individuals, using their most prominent enemies to expose their greatest weaknesses Channeling Reed Richards, Morrison’s usual big, out-of-the-box action was sidestepped for more character-centric story and a cerebral confrontation, which was unexpected and atypical.
Marvel Boy was intended to be the first of a trilogy that’s been left sadly unfinished. Sea Guy on the other hand, is a trilogy that looked like it was going to remain incomplete, but the second mini-series was recently announced. Sea Guy is set in a universe of Morrison’s own imagination, where all the superheroes died saving the Earth and society now exists in an uncommon tranquility where the bizarre is commonplace and there’s no need for heroes. Sea Guy wants to be a superhero and searches out adventure and action, but is completely incapable of handling it when he finds it. As Morrison has said of him, he’s as much a superhero as you would be if you put on a wetsuit. I found Sea Guy confusing upon first read, but so incredibly stimulating, a magic within that can only come from someone channeling pure imagination.
What can be best said about Morrison is he’s typically paired with some fantastic artists, most whom he no doubt appreciates greatly their envisioning of his ideas, given that he often works with them again. JG Jones on Marvel Boy will work with Morrison again on the forthcoming Final Crisis. Frank Quitely is Morrison’s most frequent collaborator, Earth 2 probably the least significant of their works together (having combined for the legendary Flex Mentallo, WE3, a run on New X-Men, and the current All-Star Superman. Cameron Stewart’s clean, classic style is perfectly suited for Sea Guy and fared equally well for Seven Soldiers: The Manhattan Guardian. Jae Lee I’ve always liked, and his work on 1,2,3,4 is really quite good (very atmospheric), I think his tones are too dark for the Morrison’s usual storytelling style. Same with Howard Porter and John Dell on JLA, although there’s the added awkwardness of Porter’s figure drawings, which do improve over the run, but are never even passably attractive.
Marvel Boy, even though I’ve read it a few times at this point, still surprises me. The six-issue series reinvents an alternate Marvel universe which can be enjoyed on both an introductory level and that of the expert fan. If you don’t get the sly references to the Fantastic Four or “Banner-Men” then no real loss, it does stand on it’s own. But there’s something giddy about taking existing concepts and twisting them so heavily that makes this series so enjoyable. Marvel Boy (or Noh-Varr) is a member of a team of Kree inter-dimensional explorers whose ship is shot down by the unscrupulous Midas, who wishes to get his hands on more advanced technology. His entire crew dead, and only the telepathic sentient computer Plex as his friend, Nov-Varr enacts his revenge on the Earth. Along the way though, he can’t help but do some good, taking on (in my favourite story bar-none) Hexus, the living corporation who seeks to brand the Earth. How it’s all plays out is a brilliant merging of corporate politics and superheroics. The action sequences that take up much of the series are it’s most stunning component. JG Jones and colourists from Avalon Studios have delivered what’s still one of the most visually kinetic comic books every made. In an industry where there’s dozens of fight sequences every week, it still stands heads above most a decade later.
I’ve just reread all of Morrison’s run on JLA for the first time since picking it up monthly off the stand, and although I had a few misgivings about how much I enjoyed it then, I think I have even more now. It’s truly unfortunate that Morrison was saddled with such a mediocre artist, since these books would be another notch better had the visuals a greater appeal. Howard Porter was an artist DC at the time was really keen on cultivating into, I guess, “hot” status on Wizard Magazine’s list, but he never really took. His backgrounds and details were always pretty solid and he did managed to draw the really big moments quite nicely (and as the issues wore on, he did develop a real knack for visual storytelling the Morrison way) but his figures barely transcended passable. His female figures were hideously ugly and most of his male figures, when not indistinguishable from one another, seemed blocky and awkwardly posed. Similarly disappointing was the unfortunate times in which Morrison wrote JLA, saddled with the Electric Superman for a dozen issues, the death of Wonder Woman and numerous other ongoing problems in the DCU elsewhere. This in part forced Morrison to move away from dealing with “the big 7″ (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter) and bring another secondary cast into the mix. Steel and Connor Hawke Green Arrow were quite welcome additions, but Aztek seemed to be included because Morrison created him and the series was cancelled. Zuriel was a Hawkman stand-in (and the “angel” aspect of the character was ill-executed). Oracle played a useful but minor role, while the Huntress, Orion and Barda were completely useless additions. Plastic Man was the only additional member that seemed to get any prominence, and proved to be the most used character amidst them all. I do, however, suspect that the focus of the entire run of JLA was not the growing climax to the Mageddon saga (which was a HUGE story that somehow did not become an “event comic” when DC’s events were stagnating something fierce - “Day of Judgement”, “Genesis”, “Final Night” etc) but to showcase the growth of Kyle Rayner as Green Lantern (which obviously didn’t take given that Jordan’s back from the dead now).
What else didn’t greatly work for me in Morrison’s JLA was the scope. He played nearly everything HUGE, to the point that almost any sort of characterization was overshadowed. I think by and large that was the point, that the book was always meant to be story focussed and not character-driven, but I think it also shows the folly of this kind of thinking on an ongoing series. Morrison obviously had an interesting take on Aquaman in mind, as well as Steel and Plastic Man and Green Lantern and Flash (etc. etc.) but he just never gets around to anything beyond a half dozen word balloons that hint at his potential depiction. Since each story arc features a different cast, the overall title suffered awkwardly for it, never establishing much of a bond between any of the characters (although “nice” exchanges between characters are aplenty). The scale of the stories were still quite attractive, routinely two storylines operating simultaneously, somehow always converging (or one overtaking the other). The villains share as much, if not more of the spotlight than the heroes, with the Key, Prometheus, Wade Eiling (in his new Shaggy Man body), Lex Luthor and the Joker all having some very high profile sequences.
JLA does lead heavily the ideas of good versus evil and the concept of Earth as the Fifth World (replacing Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters as the New Gods) which is the purpose of Final Crisis and it’s more in this account, the tremendous fore-planning of Morrison that causes me to marvel at his JLA run. The other godly dimensions he looks at all seem to have some meaning, although I can’t really say I’m clear on what it is, at least not yet… which is another problem with Morrison, that we’re all not as smart as him, nor as invested in DCU pantheon as he is to fully understand all the references he’s trying to cultivate into one organic mass.
Earth 2 concluded Morrison’s run, although story-wise it’s set early in the JLA’s formation. In the book the League encounters a Lex Luthor from an alternate dimension where everything is backwards, where Luthor is the good guy and the Justice League analogue is the Crime Syndicate. The JLA, along with this Luthor, venture across dimensions to the alternate Earth to help free the planet from the tyranny of the Syndicate, arriving only to find that their opposite numbers have transported to their Earth. For some reason, only J’onn and Aquaman (out of the planet’s hundreds of superheroes) are available to stop them which rings awfully untrue. Instead of hyper-action sequences between Superman and Ultraman, Green Lantern and Power Ring etc., Morrison keys in on the idea of duality, good and evil and the balancing acts that the cosmos performs. It’s a cerebral examination that doesn’t fully click, as at ‘96 pages, he doesn’t seem to have the chance to fully explore the characters’ reactions to the opposite world or their opposite numbers. As with the main series run, there’s some great interactions throughout but they don’t form a stellar whole. For such a seminal run, I find Morrison’s JLA a little unfulfilling… not even close to being on par with his New X-Men run in terms of what he did to (and with) the characters. Oh, JLA isn’t bad, by any means, but is also not quite as engrossing as it could have been.
Now, Sea Guy is what I love so much about Morrison amped up to 11. I didn’t understand it much at first reading, but upon a second go (and with a hundred or so more Morrison stories under my belt) it’s pretty clear the unfettered nature of the writer’s mind. Sea Guy is many things - funny, adventurous, horrific, heroic, silly, innovative, satirical and more - but I like to think of it as a post-apocalyptic series, only after the death of all the superheroes, the world has become a virtual utopia, full of wonders that never cease to amaze the reader, but altogether are relatively unspectacular for the populace that live it day to day. A chess game with Death starts off the first issue, which barely even raises Sea Guy’s pulse. Sea Guy craves the action and adventure of superheroes of yore, but there is none such, and without proving himself a hero, he can never win the love of the buxom (and hirsute) She-Beard. To try and explain the adventures that Sea Guy and his pal Chubby da Choona (a giant, flying, stogy-smoking tuna fish who hates water) would be futile, except to say there’s shades of consumer exploitation (writ large) via a Mickey Mouse-analog but that’s hardly where it starts, and definitely not where it ends. An ocean gets transformed into chocolate, Easter Island heads enjoy a good smoke and the secret origin of the moon is revealed, amongst other things. It’s really one big tragicomedy-adventure of utterly nonsensical proportion. There’s a abundance of ideas, at least one per page, which are left under-explored, but still intensely captivating.
Finally, there’s 1,2,3,4, which explores each member of the Fantastic Four, their doubts primarily, and via Doctor Doom uses them to analyze the team, their history, and their strength as a unit. Conceptually, very sound, in execution, pretty dull. There’s no really big fight scenes (a lot of posturing though) which is fine, as the battle between Reed Richards and crew against the bad Doctor is a cerebral one, but overall I just don’t really care all that much about the characters and the excitement level is pretty low. I’ll give Morrison credit for really pulling of his concept, from beginning to end it’s executed soundly, unfortunately that concept is a snooze. Perhaps it’s just because I’ve never liked Reed, or Sue, or Johnny all that much (although I am a big Thing fan, except he’s turned back into Ben Grimm but with amnesia so he doesn’t even come out to play) that I can’t get invested in this story. It’s also somewhat depressing, Johnny and Ben’s stories, yes, but Sue complaining about being the neglected wife of the supergenius then having a torrid (if unfulfilled) love affair with Namor are difficult to come to grips with… mostly because Namor does seem like the better choice, quite frankly. That Jae Lee’s ink-intensive artwork is so utterly dark (despite its attractiveness) it doesn’t lift the story up much beyond its gloom. Not an overly pleasing read, all told.
Marvel Boy (keep)
JLA #1 - 44 (undecided)
JLA: Earth 2 (up to Aden)
Sea Guy #1 - 3 (keep)
Fantastic Four: 1,2,3,4 (sell)