Matt Seneca on Grant Morrison

Matt Seneca really doesn’t like Grant Morrison. On his blog, he wrote:

Putting their many virtues aside for the moment, Morrison’s comics are corporate and unoriginal to the core, always conforming to traditional format limitations, endlessly retreading the well-worn paths of superhero history, and constantly refining and updating the commercial appeal of the properties their stories are about. His basic aesthetic conservatism, however, is tempered with bits and flecks of the revolutionary’s rhetoric: he writes stories that profess to be anti-corporate for corporate paychecks, he writes comics starring decades-old characters that profess to be about change, he writes books that invite readers to admire their transgression and then submits them to the self-censoring organs of DC editorial and the dreaded Comics Code Authority. Basically, Morrison is just weird and different enough to stand out from the pack without ever having to even consider leaving it. On the contrary, for the past few years he has become the leader of it, mainstream comics’ most beloved figure, hosannaed as a genius and set up as the leader of a corporate-funded cult of personality in which telling stories about superheroes is the ultimate act of rebellion. As I type this, the inaugural “MorrisonCon”, a massively expensive Las Vegas meeting of the writer, his most fervent devotees, DC co-publisher Jim Lee, and dude from My Chemical Romance, is a few months away. Of course, if Morrison really cared about the corrupting influence of corporate culture he wouldn’t work for Time/Warner. If he really wanted to change the medium he wouldn’t write superhero comics. If he really wanted to push the envelope of what kind of content is acceptable in comics he’d go without an editor. Morrison’s is the most dangerous kind of retrograde traditionalism: the kind that gives the audience for revolution just enough of it to dull their appetites, then puts them back to sleep.

And none of this is false. There is a certain evil in Grant Morrison that I have come around to seeing, though I can’t say that I have ever been a Morrison fanboy. Strangely, the only Morrison works that I find absolutely breathtaking are We3 and Animal Man, both of which are profoundly ethical works that take seriously the question of the human animal relationship with non-human animals (and how shitty that relationship is all the time.) Why he can’t manage that kind of writing when it comes to poverty of comic creators getting fucked out of the most important superhero creation of all time, I don’t know.

I was critical of Supergods when it came out, and those feelings have mostly festered since. Morrison puts blinders to the real world, hoping that some sort of magical investment in superheroes will pull us (and “us” seems to be Western audiences) out of the current problematic world and bring us toward something better. I’m still not sure how that works, and for some reason I don’t think that ignoring the traumas of capitalism in favor of ever-more elaborate continuity questions and fictional world solving will help us.

In an early issue of Planetary, a group of evil scientists create a fictional reality and travel to it. The Planetary Group bust up the operation, and they later explain that they didn’t like the idea of the Four (a group who constantly destroyed everything strange and precious in the world) creating fictional worlds where they make the rules. That’s basically how I feel about Morrison–I don’t like the idea that he controls a giant fictional world that a lot of people participate in while having no regard for creator’s rights or the actual systemic problems going on in the world.

I’ll close with Seneca, who writes it better than I do:

“Like so many artists, musicians, and entertainers,” Morrison tells us, “they were creating a product to sell,” and once the ink hit the back of that check any immorality on the part of the buyer was no longer of consequence. To Morrison, Siegel and Shuster seem to be romantic bits of history, not actual ruined lives. Superman clearly matters more to him, and the idea that he might be in the wrong for participating in the continued unethical use of the character is never brought up. Over the course of the book, however, it becomes clear that someone as smart and self-promoting as Morrison is incapable of playing ignorant for too long. As any good writer would be, Morrison sees the tragedy of Siegel and Shuster — and simply refuses to care. “Leaving his fathers far behind on the doomed planet Poverty,” a memorable passage runs, “Superman… flew into the hands of anyone who could afford to hire him.” This might sound like a call to arms if it was coming from anyone but a beneficiary of the events being detailed, but for Morrison it’s just another dramatically potent tidbit to drop into the latest bestseller. When the fact that the total amount Siegel and Shuster were ever paid for their creation is about as much as today’s big-name comics writers make in a week, it’s cited not as something the industry deserves to be ashamed of, but “an example of how far the business has come”.

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