Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Crazed Caledonian: A Grant Morrison Profile for the Layman

Scotland has given us so many great auteurs. In Sean Connery, it gave us the coolest man in the world. In Irvine Welsh, it gave us the gripping visage of hedonistic hipster heroin addicts and their day-to-day conundrums. Even Simple Minds gave us one of the most joyously catchy one-hit-wonders with “(Don't You) Forget About Me”. But none of these famous Scots have quite managed to create something quite as jaw-droppingly awesome as Superman battling Solaris The Tyrant Sun while Jimmy Olsen transforms into the behemoth Doomsday, or Batman dying and coming back to life by clambering his way through time and space, battling cavemen and pirates, while his replacement has to deal with flying batmobiles, a new Robin and an array of circus themed villains.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Grant Morrison favours the high concept over the usually predominant “grit and realism” of most post-1980s comic books. He yearns for the days of whimsy and candy-floss-flavoured fun that was found back when comic books were truly popular and mainstream. However, unlike other misty-eyed nostalgics, he does so with a vengeance. Blissfully ensconced in the past as his stories may be, Morrison's projects (particularly his Bat-themed books) are visceral, gripping, disturbing. While the new Dark Knight flies around with Robin in a new batmobile dangling toad-men off the side, he's also dealing with violent new villains like the 'Professor Pyg' (think The Butcher Boy meets Professor Frankenstein) who is hacking victims to pieces and literally transplanting his victims' very faces onto unfortunate subjects; all the while conspiring for ultimate control with plots as fiendish as contagious airborne addiction.

Morrison has always been one of those revolutionary wildcards that pops up from this side of the Atlantic Ocean every few years. As so many others have done, Morrison made his name working on the gleefully unrestricted and gloriously inappropriate weekly British anthology that is 2000AD. Impressing the American market with his work, his trippy stylings were put to use on books like Animal Man, The Invisibles and a rather excellent run on JLA (Justice League of America, for the uninitiated) throughout the 90s. In the mid-2000s however, Morrison took the comic book world by storm when he re-energised the X-Men with the appropriately titled 'New X-Men'. Frankly, there was nothing really new about them; it was the same classic team that appeared in the movies and the comics. It was just a really good story, for a change. This positive output continued with the modern-day masterpiece “All-Star Superman”.

Placing the Man of Steel in a continuity unbound by the shackles of years of complicated story threads; Morrison focused instead on writing the most effortlessly fun and enjoyable Superman story, ever; while also focusing on examining the elements of why Superman and his supporting cast are so intriguing, seventy years after their inception. The resulting 12-issues is a heartwarming and beautiful tale of action, romance and tragedy; a must-read for anyone who has ever doubted the appeal of a story about a guy who flies around in blue tights and saves cats from trees as well as going toe-to-toe with mad scientists and sun-eaters.

Finally, there's Morrison's work on Batman. In the time the hair-impaired Scot has been writing the exploits of The Caped One, we've seen Batman finally become a father (to the pesky, often psychotic Damian), we've seen him battle a conspiracy trying to cripple his operation from within his own mind, we've seen him make the ultimate sacrifice, and we've seen him escape through time and space back to life, where he is currently going about installing Batmen (Batmans?) in every major nation in the world. To say that Morrison is churning out the same simple 'good-vs-evil status quo' stories is the disservice of the century. For Morrison's work is frantic, furious and fabulous in every way.

Top Ten Grant Morrison Works

  • Batman and Robin: Bruce Wayne is dead. But the Dynamic Duo lives on through former Robin, Dick Grayson and Wayne's troublesome son, the vengeful Damien. Together, the unlikely duo battle zany new villains and eerie conspiracies in a series that is something of a cross between the world of Hannibal Lecter and the old Adam West 1966 Batman TV show.
  • JLA – Earth 2: The Mad Morrison writes the typical 'evil counterparts from an alternate dimension' story and dares to make it work.
  • Arkham Asylum – A Serious House on Serious Earth: One of the most psychologically haunting and brilliant comic book stories of all time. Dave McKean's lavish artwork alone is worth the price, to say nothing of the creepy writing.

  • New X-Men: One of the Scot's brief flirtations with the Marvel side of things, this series put the Merry Mutants to great use focusing on re-examining the elements of their characterisations that made them so popular to begin with. Also, they received snazzy new costumes from frequent collaborating artist Frank Quitely.

  • All Star Superman: The one great contradictory work of Morrison's, and true to the titular character, this story can be enjoyed by three-year olds or 83-year olds. All the wonder and magic of Superman is brought to life in 12 issues that breathe new life into the first and greatest of all comic book heroes. Unmissable.


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