Tag Archives: grant morrison

All-Star Superman

All-Star Superman

This is not the best song in the world, no/This is just a tribute”  -Tenacious D

It’s weird trying to be critical in a real proper sense where you try to at least make an effort at divorcing yourself from your relationship to the material.  But that’s what you have to do when it comes to picking apart things you’ve loved.  I bought All-Star Superman in its twelve individual issues over the course of nearly three years (artist Frank Quitely is rather notorious for his deliberate pace) and adored it.  I later purchased it in the two volumes of trade paperback that came out and later still, I finally managed to pick up one of DC’s “Absolute” editions—oversized, printed on lovely paper with some bonus material (sketches and the like) in lovingly-designed hardcovers with sturdy slipcases.  I love this book from its first page (a four-panel, eight word origin of Superman) to the last.  It was what it set out to be: a celebration of the most well-known elements of the Superman character all tied together with the creators’ ultimate expression of Superman as working-class sun god.  I love how it brings in all these weird fragmented concepts together to do a kind of weird, rambling greatest hits collection, incorporating the best parts of a handful of iterations of the character across various continuities and wrapping it all up with Morrisonian high concepts and Frank Quitely’s amazing quasi-European superhero art.

But now, trying to figure out how it works, my opinion’s changed some and I realize that a lot of that change—as is a recurring theme when I go back and examine works by Grant Morrison—is due in large part to examining what’s literally there as opposed to what I was projecting onto the work.

Now, before we begin I want to say that where my opinion has changed, it’s nothing to do with Frank Quitely.  Quitely’s art takes some getting used to, sure.  The first few times I saw his bulky, bricky forms and his bizarrely squished faces back when he was working with Mark Millar on The Authority, I was repulsed.  But then, over years of seeing his work crossing my eye in the books I was reading, I started to become more and more of a fan, particularly since despite the borderline ugliness of his figures is complimented by a gorgeous sense of dynamism, flow and life in each image and the flow of the storytelling is nearly unmatched in American cape comics.  Again, the guy is deliberate in the pace of his output but there is, to my thinking, no arguing with the results.

Special credit, also, must be given to Jamie Grant’s colours.  This is a fun, poppy book that overcomes my usual preference for flat colours in my cape comics; there’s something in the almost-embossed quality the colours often give to Quitely’s lines that just make everything seem to jump off the page, as if you could hang out in the world if only you were in the middle of some glorious fever dream or on the borderlands of some technicolour nirvana.  The boldness, the glorious use of high-saturation primary colours come together to make what is easily one of the most glorious and joyful-to-behold books to hit the stands in ages.

Beyond the beauty of the book (and it is, again, beautiful), I have to come at All-Star Superman from three different levels, if only to keep the part of my brain which held… and, in spite of everything, still holds All-Star Superman in high regard somewhat satisfied.  It’s strange to love a thing and be aware that, for the most part, it’s actually a very mediocre work.  There’s some weird mental gymnastics that go on and I evaluate the whole thing first as a fan—not only of Superman but of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely—then as a critic, then as someone who wants to tell stories himself, trying to figure out how it could have worked better.

And since those are the people I was when I re-read this, those are the three people who are going to discuss the book.

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Seven Soldiers (of Victory)

Seven Soldiers (of Victory)

Zatanna Zatarra!  Klarion the Witchboy!  Jake Jordan – the Manhattan Guardian!  Ystin the Shining Knight!  Shilo Norman, aka Mister Miracle! Alix Harrower – the Bulleteer!  Frankenstein!  The Seven Soldiers of Victory!

Believe it or not, this is one of the series I was looking forward to least in this little project of mine.

Not because I don’t like it, mind, but because I’ve really, really loved it.  It’s got everything I love about Grant Morrison’s superhero stuff that’s not All-Star Superman: big ideas, weird adventures and a feeling of slight dissonance with reality as he starts playing with how you can play with time in the context of a superhero comic and the way the pictures and speech bubbles interact with the people reading it.

Heck, now that I think about it, it’s not even that much of a superhero comic.  More a weird urban fantasy yarn with superheroes in…

Anyway, after going back through it, I realize that it’s another of Morrison’s noble failures.  A failure not of scope or, I maintain, ability, but a failure in that it doesn’t really work.  But nonetheless noble because for all it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work with more style, swagger and ambition than a large number of pieces that do work even come close to.

Again, it’s the Project Runway-inspired rule I have over here: ugly beats boring.  That is to say, if it fails because it tries to do too much, it’s finer than a thing that fails because it didn’t try to do anything at all.

But why does it fail?  Why does it not work?

The answer is frustratingly similar to the discussion of Final Crisis I had earlier: it doesn’t work because it’s trying to do too much.

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DC’s 52

52

52 has, for a long time, been one of my favourite stories in superhero comics.  This is probably because it focuses on a lot of the B- and C-list characters who I’d always felt got shortchanged and also covers the gamut of the kinds of stories superheroes tell well: ruminations on the nature of power and responsibility, wild space epics, weird twisty soap operas and the like.  Add to that that it’s all ostensibly one story told through various narratives in a structure not entirely unlike a lot of major Epic Hourlong Television Series and if I were (as I originally planned) giving out ratings for ambition and execution, I know that at least the ambition side of things would get a solid 5 out of 5.

As for execution…

The short form, before the deep-cut babbling starts, is that this thing doesn’t read as being very welcoming to beginners.  You get enough information about each of the main principals that you could probably figure out what their deal is and if you picked up the trade, I think you could probably get invested by the end of it.  You’ll figure out who everyone is and that Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman aren’t around for… reasons and that there are a lot of disasters that people are recovering from in the background.

It’s sadly very FAR in the background.

But that’s from a guy who already knew about or read most of the Big Events referenced in the book because I like a big, dumb superhero event comic quite a bit more than those big, dumb superhero event comics deserve.

The places where the story shines is when it’s not trying to tie into the larger superhero universe, when it’s not talking about what’s going on with Batman or press conferences for the JLA.  Those are the moments where I, in my suddenly-skeptical state of mind regarding the superhero, started getting uncomfortable.

Because for all this superheroic universe is built on the foundation of Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman, the levels to which the people in the universe act as if this is the case is sometimes distressing.  You won’t see a lot about police except as occasional roadblocks for one character, nor will you see much about members of government or the voting public in general except as a necessary footnote to a Green Arrow sideplot that takes up about five of the 1000-ish pages or as entities in league with various criminal or supervillainous organizations.

There’s also an entire arc about whether heroes are born or made or something else that waffles back and forth and for all it comes to a fairly satisfactory ending… it doesn’t quite work.  It’s “resolution” feels more like fiat than actually deciding anything more than that the superheroes we know and love are, indeed, heroic.

I think overall it succeeds more than it fails and as someone who’d always been aware of the complicated comings and goings of the DCU, it was a great way to get me engaged in those characters the first few times I read it…

Now…

Now I’m not so sure.

It’s still good but it’s not really at “very good”, though at times it does brush up against it.

Now, I’m about to go more in-depth so for simplicity’s sake, I’m just going to try and break things down to the major arcs and just sorta go on about them a little.

Oh and while this thing’s a few years old now, I feel it only proper to warn that SPOILERS follow.

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Final Crisis

Final Crisis

NOTE:  So to be clear, I only read the Final Crisis hardcover.  There are supplementary collections which have a lot of stuff by people I like but… well, those aren’t the main story and even if they are, what the hell are they doing in some other book?  Crossover bloat is bad enough when it happens on the stands.

Final Crisis is the culmination of plot threads which start in Morrison’s Seven Soldiers (about which more later) and keep building through 52 (again; more later) right on up to here, the Summer Blockbuster Event Comic To End All Summer Blockbuster Event Comics.  The DC Universe faces its weirdest, most devastating conflict that rocks its core with the whole of Creations at stake with everything filtered through metanarratives and playing with the nature of the comic book and all those other things Morrison’s so fond of talking about.

So right up front, the ambition level’s high.  A sure way to win you points in my book.

But does it work?

As a hardcover, it works a lot better than it did in floppies, not only because I feel like the story benefits from a bit of immediacy but also because in its original run, three of the chapters—two of which are necessary for understanding the end of the story and one which drove home what the rest of the book had made explicit only to set up a narrative arc that never went anywhere—were offered as optional tie-ins, something which irked me to no end.

But does it work?

Well… mostly.

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