Monday, October 24, 2011

Batman 666 and the Road to Leviathan

Disclaimer: Grant Morrison’s Batman arc has caused a lot of changes to the DCU, the introduction of Damian, Batman’s “death” and Dick Grayson becoming Batman for a year all stem from his massive storyline. Since the New 52 Reboot it has not been confirmed or denied whether these events happened, and if theyd did, how they happened. We will assume that DC has given Grant editorial leniancy to assume his continuity is unbroken.

Grant Morrison is several years into a Batman Mega Arc, incuding Final Crisis and 52, not to mention the threads laced all throughout his line of DC work, including DC One Million and Animal Man. Released about a year into his work, Batman #666 tells the story of a future Damian Wayne who has taken the mantle of the bat, a hard-boiled death machine in a Gotham infiltrated with pure evil.

Read over and over, the book takes on the role of a prophecy, mapping out hints and clues to what will happen as Morrison’s story comes to a head. I think I’ve cracked a clue relating to the upcoming December finale to Batman Inc., or possibly next years Batman: Leviathon, the capper to 7 years of comic book genius. The Rosetta Stone speaks...

To start we open with a history of Batman which includes this panel, which shows Damian on his knees with a dead Batman, this is the moment his life changes for good, we are led to believe.

The dead Batman referenced in the opening could be Dick or Bruce, and until the New 52 put Dick back in Nightwing's boots, I was convinced it was Dick, especially with what the wheelchair-bound police commissioner Barbara Gordon has to say later on concerning her hatred for this Batman.

It'd be easy to assume she is taking about Dick, but the death of Bruce would likely haunt Barbara in the same way. We can be sure of one thing, Damian is at least HELD responsible for the death of a Batman, likely Bruce Wayne, which led Damian to dedicate his life to defending Gotham.

The plot builds to Damian fighting Michael Lane, who would turn out to be a GCPD officer who was chosen to participate in a forced recreation of the Batman psyche, all under the hands of Dr. Hurt, who would reveal himself to be the Devil, at least in his own head, but Damian's thoughts seem pretty sure.

Michael Lane would go on to be Azrael, to little consequence, but more importantly was shown to be an integral part in driving Bruce Wayne insane in R.I.P. Michael Lane flashes weapons about a socialite dinner in our future wasteland Gotham before Damian crashes the party. Lane prepares his guests for their future.

This is right in line with Hurt's goals towards the end of Batman and Robin several years later.

Lane goes on to mention his Batman lineage to Damian, as we reach the apex of our analyses.

So at this point we can assume this is the same Ghost of Batman, Michael Lane, as the one from R.I.P. Now we know how he became Batman, but who guides this character?

Michael Lane has sold his soul to the devil, obviously, in exchange for the powers and privelage to inflict punishment on Gotham. He even goes so far as to try and recruit Damian...

Not unlike what Dr. Hurt would try to do with Damian in Batman and Robin.

The big twist is that Damian may have beaten Lane to the punch.

There is a lot of assuming to go around, but Damian directly mentions the death of Batman, his father, Bruce Wayne, was such a horrible event it "paved the way" for a murdering Batman like himself, not to mention that when he was 14, we can assume this is his age when Batman was murdered, he was given powers to ensure Gotham's survival...

God I love that page. The comic ends with Damian taking a shotgun blast that barely knocks him down, so he sold his soul for some type of invulnerability powers.

We arrive at our conclusion section.

Though we can never know the future, with this analyses of Batman 666, along with general knowledge of what has been going on in the Batman titles for the past year, such as this scene from Batman: The Return where Damian comes face to face with a mysterious, desert themed supernatural villian...

And don't forget about Damian's twin brother...

The future is clearly spelled out: These dangling plot threads are waiting in the wings to be crammed together, but I bet we'll see a final confrontation where Damian must make the ultimate sacrifice, and although it's easy to say these future issues hardly ever last long and are thrown aside once continuity gets in the way, take a look at this little Easter Egg...

Published several years before Batman and Robin #16. The man has a plan.

P.S. Forgot to mention it but I don't need to remind anyone that in general religious affiliation Leviathan =The Great Serpent=The Devil

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Near Myths, a Grant Morrison Retrospective, Part 3

Welcome back to our retrospective look at the first series of comics Grant Morrison wrote:  the 1978-79 anthology series Near Myths. His first issue contained a 5 page story called, “Time is a Four Letter Word,” that was all over the place in terms of storytelling and execution, but still contained the hallmarks of Morrison’s writing style, along with early versions of ideas that he would seep into his Return of Bruce Wayne story arc. Last issue, we were introduced to Gideon Stargrave in the 7-page “The Vatican Conspiracy Part 1,”  Morrison’s Jerry Cornelius analogue (ripoff by some accounts) who would come back in the Invisibles, creating a very strange meta-textual reality loop.

With issue #4, Morrison was moved to the front of the book--the second feature--and his entry was now 14 pages, giving us part 2 and 3 of “The Vatican Conspiracy.” It’s impossible to know the behind-the-scenes process; but with this issue, Morrison’s storytelling really gets settled down, spending that extra two panels to stamp a scene shut, or transition to the next. I can’t say whether he drew parts 2 and 3 separately, or if they were intended to be lumped together in order to give him 14 pages to work with in one sitting, but the craft is definitely coming together.

Swinging for the fences, the first page picks up right where we left off:  in a helicopter chase. Morrison’s sarcasm is shoved in your eyes:  “USE THE SOUND PISTOL, JAN ~ IT’S ALWAYS GOOD FOR A LAUGH.” The page is a circular series of panels showing the dog fight with a
larger-than-life detailed portrait of Gideon smack dab in the center, as if ripping out of the paper to drag us in. Keeping his thesaurus handy, the description of the falling mechanical bird would fit right into Joe the Barbarian or The Filth--for example:  “THE GRACE OF A CRIPPLED DRAGONFLY IN ENDLESS SCREAMING SPIRALS, DOWN TO BURST IN RED AND ORANGE IN THE THAMES AT GREENWHICH.”

The second page greets us with the first large, almost splash, page yet. It depicts Gideon and Jan resting in some snowy mountains, looking at the map, keeping diligent watch for enemies, while a caption reads “YOU ARE HERE.” Clues are seamlessly dropped in before Gideon is attacked. Action, sarcasm, ridiculous paneling, rinse, repeat.

The plot moves fairly conventional after this:  the conspiracy reveals itself, Jan is kidnapped, and Gideon is wounded and left for dead, ending chapter 2 with a classic mental fight scene. A Vatican witch of some sort splinters Gideon’s soul and mind, leaving him a helpless amnesiac, before a backup Stargrave personality reestablishes itself, allowing the gunmen in bell bottoms to blow the witch away. Once again, there are hints of the ideas that would become integral to future stories, namely The Batman of Zur En Arh concept from Batman R.I.P.

Part 3 is the icing on the cake, where everything clicks. The movement from scene to scene is very natural as we follow Gideon on a last ditch storm on the Vatican, plowing through a series of foes from earlier. The setup is clearly defined and being brought to conclusion, especially the Joan of Arc mention from the first page of Part 1, which hits a very satisfying beat.

The sexuality is amped up to 10, but not 11. There are scenes of tantric, spiritual sex juxtaposed by a sexy blonde in a thong and spaghetti strap, with her ass to the reader, legs spread, preaching endless sex for world peace.

This all builds to a naked warrior, winged bronze helmets, and a spear in hand with breasts hanging for the world to see. Knowing what Morrison publicly acknowledges about his sexual endeavors, namely that it was nonexistent for much of his early adult life, these scenes conjour images, assumedly, of a 17-year old Morrison contemplating the line between porn and action tits.

The art is all over the place, especially a sequence of action towards the bottom of page 18 (in Near Myths) that is very similar to Frank Quitely’s art, particularly on We3 and Batman and Robin #16.  There are as many small panels as possible showing the smallest flinches and grabs, while the hero brutalizes a series of enemies. The panels go into each other like Tetris pieces, all well defined with “-SNAP!-" and “-CRACK!-"sound effects.

There are several larger panels, a few taking up almost 2/3 of the page (and the pages are much larger than current comic books in the US), that really let the scenes breathe and the characters relax. The scene transitions are more fluid and thought out, but there are still quite a few instances of the paneling being very extreme and hard to follow, with the bottom 1/3 of a page cut diagonally into six panels that spiral around each other.

Gideon is defined by the end of this series as a Wolverine-type tough, post-hippie, gun-slinging secret agent with a broad cast of characters and enemies. Stargrave has safe houses and connections around the world that allow him to travel with the apparent motivation of stamping out Order. It’s no surprise that the issue ends with the promise “GIDEON STARGRAVE RETURNS IN: THE ENTROPY CONCERTO!” which, sadly wasn’t the published story of Near Myths #5, but is similar enough to the “Entropy in the U.K.” arc from the Invisibles to assume there may have been some left over concepts.

I’ve never read anything by Michael Moorcock, and I know most of the animosity to the Stargrave character stems from his appearance in the Invisibles and not these short stories; so, I do not know how much has been lifted from the original Jerry Cornelius books, but with the close of the Vatican Conspiracy trilogy, Morrison has created a character that could return one day. Morrison built Stargrave, gave him the utilities of a protagonist, and should things have been different, Stargrave could’ve gone on to star in more features. I’m not saying I’m dying for “Gideon Stargrave/Batman: The Gods are Falling” (though I would blindly buy it), but these stories do not crumble in the way you would assume an experimental writer’s first forays would. There are enough out-there concepts, witty dialogue, and pleasantly kinetic art to warrant more than one read.

We finish our series with the best of the lot--Checkmate, man!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Batman: Year One Review

Setting the status quo for Batman post Crisis on Infinite Earths, Batman: Year One, resonates hard to this day. Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s four-issue story redefined Batman, going beyond the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams ‘Man of Mystery’ adventure stylings, zipping right by the werewolves and space aliens, and bringing the street-level vigilante back in vogue. I generally reread the story every year, and it never feels any less intense or establishing. The New 52 may change this, but most everything about the Batman character in the past 20+ years comes from this story, in some way.

It isn’t surprising that DC hasn’t tried to adapt Year One in the past. In 2000 DC made several efforts, working with Darren Aronofsky (of Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler fame) to generate a screenplay that fell ill in Hollywood, as most do (Geek Fact: Aronofsky’s first choice for Batman was Christian Bale).

DC has been releasing a few PG-13 animated Direct-to-Video movies a year, allowing for adult aspects of their comics be seen by wider audiences. This includes exruciating scene in
Green Lantern: First Flight, where a character is sucked into space by his asshole, ripping his insides out in the process--not for kids. When DC announced last year that Year One would be one of the animated films on the docket, there was the usual fanboy reaction: “About Time!” vs. “How Dare They!” I, for one, was ecstatic; I thought it fit the mold well. It is a small, personal story that highlights a side character along with a star that doesn’t need the introductions. The timing was also perfect. Hot off of The Dark Knight, and a year shy of The Dark Knight Rises, interest in Batman will be peaking very shortly.

Batman: Year One tells the story of an early-twenties Bruce Wayne’s return to Gotham, after many years of training across the globe, to fulfill his promise to his parents to stop crime somehow. Meanwhile, Detective Jim Gordon, fresh off the Chicago Police Department (more on that later), is coming to Gotham--essentially an assignment in Hell. Bruce flies by private jet, lamenting that he can’t feel the city from those heights, while Gordon takes the train, holding back disgust at what he’s gotten himself--and his expecting wife--into. The story operates in a series of juxtaposed situations between Bruce and Gordon, often times telling two angles of the same story. They are enemies right now, unaware of the other’s motive; and in the case of Gordon, under strict orders to obtain Batman.

Bryan Cranston, formerly Hal, patriarch of TV’s Malcolm in the Middle, now a cable megastar as the lead in AMC’s Breaking Bad, was rightfully cast as Jim Gordon, who Cranston commented in interviews was “the main character.” Hard to argue. The choice of Cranston for Gordon was such an obvious choice, he even looks enough like Gordon to play him in a live action adaptation. Cranston has also had several years playing a character on Breaking Bad who is constantly at odds with his own morals.

Gordon occupies at least 2/3 of the movie as we follow a year in the lives of these characters. The force is on the take; the mayor is in the pocket of the mob; and the police commissioner works the back rooms. It was hard explaining to my fiance as we watched it how corrupt Gotham is, and that Gordon was truly alone. Gotham is regularly depicted as a New York skyline with the poverty of Detroit and the crime of the Congo. It is a pure hellhole where you can expect a dozen murders, a hundred or so gun incidents, and a massive drug shipment a night. Year One removed the glamour from Gotham and really brought out the disgusting nature of it all. On Bruce Wayne’s first patrol, he immediately is encountered by a teenage prostitute who is beaten up by her pimp. The filth in the street set the necessity for this creature he will become.

When work is adapted, you have to immediately understand that this is a different medium and some things won’t work; but this never stops the “purists” from raising hell at the smallest changes. Year One stays right on cue, recreating the comic almost panel for panel, word for word. This works in some cases, as there are very deliberate story beats that are kept in which normally wouldn’t work on screen:  small chit chat between background characters that hang on a page, but zip by in motion, and overall I think a lot of it works really well. On the other hand, there are a lot of sequences that miss the weight and importance they are intended to display. The best example is Batman’s first night out, the original scene of Kevin Smith’s famous Batman ‘Bladder Control’ fanfiction.

A comic book page is a flat space--unmoving, unchanging. It can be read over and over again or observed for however long the reader wishes. Time moves at the speed of the page, and storytelling versus on screen time moves fluidly unless otherwise made to move slower or faster with effects. Batman’s first night out, in the comic book, is almost a complete failure, where Batman tries to stop three punks stealing a television and almost gets them killed. On the page, the entire 30-second encounter takes a few pages. Every panel highlights an inner-dialogue with Batman as he plans for the events unfolding in real time:  how he’ll catch this crook, that he forgot about the television, and ultimately how he could’ve done better. On the screen it’s literally just a 30-second action scene that gets the point across that this is his first night as Batman, but loses all of the emotion of the page.

Frank Miller’s comic book also relied heavily on inner-dialogue, even using the handwriting of Bruce, an elitist cursive script, against Gordon’s harder print style from years of regulation. On the page, it was a great way to get across the struggles the two characters are going through on these paths; in the movie it just makes you wonder why everyone talks to themselves. This would work in small doses, but as a whole it becomes dull towards the end.

That isn’t to say all of the translations didn’t work, specifically a scene towards the end of the movie dealing with the larger political plot. It directly translates one panel as 15 seconds of video, and it really works. It makes me think of The Dark Knight or The Departed; fast storytelling with real life discussions, where what’s not said is more important than what is. Each character is aware of the threats that hang overhead, but would dare not speak them. It shows a lot of confidence on DC’s part in their fans.

The animation is a mixed bag. The character designs are spot on and the action sequences are handled very well. The inspiration of the bat flying through Wayne’s window is particularly dramatic, but the movement is stilted and unmoving. It became a running joke to count the seconds when there was no movement. For example, wide pans of Gordon on the bed, holding a gun, in a very dramatic pose, while a minutes worth of inner-dialogue plays over the static image. The outdoor shots and car chases have a CG quality that isn’t very satisfactory, and very sparse in background items such as other vehicles on the road. When it moves, it moves well; but the action is infrequent and quick. The movie is, for the most part, a street-level cop story, so the animation does it’s job nicely; however, in a more action-oriented feature such as The Justice League, it would become a huge annoyance.

The rest of the voice acting cast is really inspired, especially Alex Rocco as Carmine Falcone. I have a hard time accepting anyone other than Kevin Conroy as Batman, but Benjamin McKenzie was especially uninspiring, never developing a distinguished voice compared to Cranston’s hard-as-nails Gordon. The supporting cast did a fine job with some other shining moments--and, despite only having one scene, the lawyer hired to defend the pimp is especially spot on.

Catwoman’s involvement, in both the comic and the movie, has always been a bone of contention with me. She is not a necessity, and she doesn’t have any plot resolution. She’s there, we get to see her become Catwoman, and she gets one interaction with Batman that doesn’t go anywhere. They also use her old, purple outfit which I think is just too campy even for homage. Catwoman is also the functional backup feature that hardly distinguishes itself or highlights the character in any meaningful way.

There is a little-talked-about series from 1998 called Gordon of Gotham, explaining how Gordon went from the Chicago Police Department to Gotham. It’s a very nice character piece of Gordon busting a smuggling ring, shooting dirty cops, busting ass, usual Gordon stuff; and at the end, he has to leave Chicago because he’s uncovered the top of the corruption pole. It’s a nice companion to Year One, and could’ve served as a much more fitting Prologue to the feature along with giving Gordon, a character with growing popularity, another shot for the mainstream to latch onto.

Batman: Year One tells the story it was intended to tell. There’s some loss in translation, but the feature is there. Bryan Cranston does a phenomenal job as the lead, Jim Gordon, giving the movie a little more dramatic cred. It is definitely not a children’s story:  there’s lots of violence, adult themes of drugs and prostitution, and deep character struggles involving infidelity and morality; but, at the end of the day, a Batman behind the backdrop of a ‘Cop Conspiracy’ flick is as interesting as old-school Batman gets.

Verdict: Stream or Rent, Buy if you need it on the shelf

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Near Myths, A Grant Morrison Retrospective, Part 2

We continue our look at the first works of Grant Morrison in Near Myths #2 which features the first appearance of Gideon Stargrave.

I, like most, was first introduced to Gideon Stargrave in the pages of The Invisibles Vol. 1 #17-19. He was a character created by King Mob, a member of the Invisibles who bears a purposeful striking physical resemblence to Grant Morrison himself. King Mob’s real identity is that of a retired fiction writer named Kirk Morrison, all of this crafted as a meta-textual way for Morrison to link himself in the physical world to that of his wish-fulfilling fictional universe. This link was to elevate the shy Morrison into the action star on the page, though there were adverse effects as well which we will discuss in length in a future article on Grant Morrison. The idea is obvious: Both Grant Morrison and Kirk Morrison wrote Gideon Stargrave.

It is impossible not to Google Gideon Stargrave and come upon accusations of ripping off the Michael Moorcock character Jerry Cornelius, a hip secret agent that I can’t go further into simply because I’ve never read anything with the character in it. Jerry Cornelius is generally treated as an open-source character with several key features to his universe that have been perused by Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore (where Jerry Cornelius appears in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), and Bryan Talbot, however, when it came to Gideon Stargrave, Moorcock has no tolerance. I have been told by my local comic book knower of all things, Ed Katsche, that the accusations are warranted, the Invisibles story arc featuring Stargrave features lifted dialogue and situations.

I've read the work of Grant Morrison twice. Once when I wrote it. Once when he wrote it.” - Michael Moorcock

The original Gideon Stargarve appeared in two issues of Near Myths, #3 and #4. #3 features the story “The Vatican Conspiracy” which he also did art on. The story is seven pages long, gaining two pages over the last feature, “Time is a Four Letter Word”. Whereas “Time” was a massive concept compressed into five jumbled pages (that would later play out long form in “The Return of Bruce Wayne”) this first Stargrave story is where we can see more of a fleshed out pacing. This is part one of a three part story, Near Myths #4 featuring the other two. It definitely shows a confidence on the publisher’s end to give Morrison more pages and commit to longer stories.

The story reads like a sequence from Final Crisis. Gideon Stargrave is presented as an indestructible beatnik action star, knowledgeable of all of space/time and it’s limitations, leading the way against an undefined enemy of motion. The entire first page places Stargrave in a swank pad full of iconography of the 60‘s such as The Beatles and Mickey Mouse, a last hope to save time, living in a foreign location where “Joan of Arc died... Over and Over and Over and Over.” We immediately start jumping from location to location, told just enough to know the world is ending.

Morrison fits in enough characterization, giving Stargrave a page to have a glass of orange juice and relish in his own perfection that leads to so much pain. The bad guys surface every other page, only to be blown away by our hero with a one-liner. The enemies keep coming sharing a link, The Vatican, ending with a final chase to stop the future, to be continued next month.

The story has far more semblance than Morrison’s previous story, but we’re still in psychedelic country. The imagery in the story takes the wheel from the story, as if Morrison had these striking shots that he just had to fit in somehow. Lines or corpses hanging from street lamps, the house on the cliff of nowhere, Howard the Duck as an evil Constable, fits of the imagination spilling needlessly. The connecting points building up to the Vatican are actually subtle in that way Morrison is known for building stories today, tiny hints and throwaway lines that hold the clue to the end if one pays attention. The dialogue is very Morrisony, Stargrave’s quips filled to the brim with sarcasm and confidence and the made up sci-fi lingo is spot on as usual with lines like “WE BROKE FREE OF THE ZONE. AND JUST IN TIME TOO. ANY LONGER AND OUR DNA PATTERNS WOULD HAVE BEEN LOCKED IN THE DISRUPTION CYCLE. I CALL IT THE METEMPSYCHOSIS HELIX - BUT THAT’S JUST ME BEING SMART.”

The art makes this all work. The loose images Morrison chose to stick in there were chosen for a reason: He wanted to draw them. Morrison really does have good definition of objects and backgrounds that, when characters are shooting guns in the vacuum of space, go a long way with placing the character in a physical context. The scene with the hanging bodies is especially well drawn, the buildings in the background really detailed and lonely feeling at the end of the world. There are several tricks buried in the art that I’m curious how they we’re done, such as on page 6 a panel at the bottom seems to be cut into 5 vertical strips and made uneven, including the dialogue balloon.

That isn’t to say the art is flawless. More so than with “Time” Morrison takes the biggest leap ever with his paneling, creating very dynamic pages with differently sized strips of panels criss crossing behind a large circular center piece. Sometimes this works, building a very wide and energetic pace, other times it’s just confusing. A lot of the imagery discussed above has no relation to the plot except for broad metaphorical emotional stamps and the backgrounds are at times a wash of time distortion experiments and undefined flashbacks.

At the end of the last page I knew what was going on, that is a step above “Time is a Four Letter Word”. Morrison expects a lot from readers, he prides himself on crafting comic books that are best enjoyed after repeated readings, I just have a hard time believing he was this ambitious to start. The question I am trying to answer with these early reviews is if Grant Morrison’s hallmarks can be seen, halfway through our series I can gladly answer with a resounding yes. Gideon Stargrave in “The Vatican Conspiracy” was still a whole hell of a lot more entertaining than half the rack on Wednesday.

Next we will finish with an extra long, two-part Gideon Stargrave bonanza before finishing with my personal favorite I’m dying to get to, The Checkmate Man.

Be sure to read the First Part of the Gant Morrison Retrospective Series 

Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire Further Confirm Animal Man/Swamp Thing Plans

Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire have further confirmed the plans I highlighted earlier concerning the plans they have for the shared themes between Animal Man and Swamp Thing. This also furthers the notion that the writers will be on the book at the very least through this year if not the next. It's good to see DC sticking with teams, especially two books known for letting new writers make their mark on.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Northlanders #45 Review: The Anger of Bian Wood

Right now there is social revolution that I have not seen in my 25 years of being alive. Millions of people all around the globe are participating in the #OccupyWallStreet protests, aimed at taking back control from privately funded businesses with close, bribery-based ties to state and government. Even though riots and protests in Greece and other parts of Europe have been going on since the Summer, not to mention the recent uprisings throughout the Arab world, this is only the beginning, and in the United States it is all emanating from New York City.

Brian Wood is a master of the craft. Heavy metal on paper. I have been reading both Northlanders and DMZ, Wood’s long running but soon ending series from Vertigo, and the anger in them is fierce. There is a constant recognition that control is out of bounds, that someone above pulls the strings and the more in control you feel, the less you really are.

In DMZ Matty Roth is led by warring factions, including the U.S. Government and it’s military allies, as he searches for meaning and purpose in a not-too-distant future world war the country has been split by a small, but powerful, civil war. As the series reaches it’s conclusion little has changed: treaties we’re signed but the bombs still fall, instead of houses for the displaced resorts for the wealthy are erected. Increasingly relevant as we enter 10 years of non-stop war with no end in sight.

Northlanders is much more locally based, following tales of individuals caught in a time when civility is a rare breed. Invading Christians from the South, family grudges, and individualistic greed antagonize heros bent on living just and orderly lives among the swamp of this ever-changing world. Every page oozes with the anger for the perfection we will never know, the lost age of the forefathers, the sulking admission of existence in a tarnished world. Northlanders #45 is just another chapter in this odyssey for the soul.

The fourth of a nine part story, ‘Conversion 999‘ joins a fifth generation daughter from the founding family of Iceland. The Haukson’s are violent and wealthy, leading a large private army as well as controlling most of the business on the island. A bitter family feud has disrupted the lives of citizens who could care less, and at this point lines are being drawn in the sand, literally, and our heroine must take up the sword to end the war men never could.

The story moves briskly, a new scene every 2 or 3 pages. There is a deep plot of conspiracy afoot, with tensions running high. Between the large plot movements are very heartwarming scenes of family bonds and diligence, not to mention fiery orders that send chills up the spine. The feud has gone on long enough, blood will be spilled. The action sequences are largely implied or off panel, but no less brutal in thought.

The art is sharp and to the point, never wasting a panel, with very thought out angles giving us panoramic takes of small conversations that provide a larger scope to view this family from. There are several small beats, a smile turning to darting eyes, a kind friend coming for conversation shifting to a conniving general in the blink of an eye, that spell out the thoughts of the characters with no inner dialogue necessary. Backgrounds range from dark, moody conversation pieces to lush forests and long beaches. The tiny details build this world that I can’ stand to see go in a mere 20 pages.

In a time of anger take a moment to examine our ancestors. There are far too many examples of uprisings and territorial takeovers to began naming randomly, instead think about the individual and the decisions that are made in situations like these. More than most other writers, Brian Wood, a resident of New York City, speaks to the voice of the young in a voice that they didn’t even know they had. It is aware of the red tape and technological dependence that shackles us to the world we are fighting, lashing out at a society they never wanted to be a part of, aware of the underground that is always accessible but harder to live. His raw stories of Northern Europeans in pre-civilization are prime examples of the strength we should all wish upon this new generation.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Near Myths, A Grant Morrison Retrospective, Part 1

To say I love Grant Morrison is an understatement. I am a fanboy for Mr. Morrison in that sad way that makes me call him Mr. Morrison. Morrison’s Batman and Final Crisis #1 came out my first week buying weekly comics. It didn’t make diddly sense, but I knew I liked it.

There is an undercurrent to Grant Morrison’s work that is lost on most people, one that I will go into later in an article I’m working on. It concerns the conspiratorial line of research that oozes throughout his titles, especially specific works such as The Invisibles, The Filth, and lesser known works such as Dan Dare and St. Swithen’s Day. If you know what to look for, the crowning of the Moon Child, anointed to conquer the British throne in a Satanic ritual of lunar alignments and overworld emperors, can seem completely normal, almost passe in retrospect. The whole notion of the universe as a hologram, something that is snuck into a lot of his work (and something that will play a big part later when discussing Morrison’s strange life) actually relies on one untaped incident that only Terence McKenna saw. Nothing new here. It’s almost as if my whole life of reading off-beat alternative physics manuals, Nazi Occult history, and comic books led me right into the Grant Morrison Kool-Aid cup.

The crowning jewel of my comic book collection will be every Grant Morrison work in some type of official manner, original floppy issue is possible. The holy grail is of course Near Myths, a short-lived sci-fi magazine published in the late 70‘s that housed Morrison’s first work, which included art from the rockstar writer. I’ve only seen these on EBay three times, each time priced at an insane amount. This year the gates opened and I happened to find mismarked, original copies of these for the ‘ello!

Now you may say ”but Steve, why not just download it and read the scans?” and I actually have downloaded theses issues, but I never read them. There’s something about holding that original paper, the crispy brown, musky ink that flowed from the Leader’s mind. I damn near sacrificed a chicken to do a ritual and raise Morrison’s stolen soul (more on that later), but I’m a vegetarian, largely because of Morrison’s Animal Man (but not exclusively, I’m not a TOTAL fanboy like that).

The Near Myths stories are in four issues, #2-5. #2 has the five-page story “Time is a Four Letter Word. #3 started a seven-page Gideon Stargrave trilogy that was expanded to fourteen pages in #4. #5 had an eleven page story called “The Checkmate Man.” They are of varying degrees of semblence but each holds clues to the stories that would, dare I say it, explode from the mind of Morrison. Let’s take a look at each one individually.

Near Myths #2 - Time is a Four Letter Word

Before I started writing this I did a quick Google Search to see if anyone had reviewed these yet, all I found was some very petty jabbing and teasing. I don’t understand the revulsion at the first published work from who is one of the most experimental comic minds in history. I would like to think that, as comic book fans, we not only come back for the expressive art and unique, outsider science fiction plots, but we can spot ingenuity early on and appreciate it’s growth. ‘Time is a Four Lettered Word’ is a very fun exercise in spotting the future trends, themes, and all around Morrisoniness that would redefine the Justice League for the new millenium between acid trips.

The comic opens with a bare-chested Celtic woman posing in front of Stonehenge while a Native American warrior looks on. The hilarious, over-the-top combination of two indigenous peoples trampled by the British are a classic Morrison cue: shoving the past in your face with straight, blunt symbolism. The scene is filled with dialogue referring to “The Corn and the Mother”, Pagan history Morrison is all too familiar with. “I HAVE COME FROM CERNE ABBAS AND YNIS WYTRIN, FROM ABIRI AND THE GREEN PLAINS.” Sounds like our bald headed savior to me.

This first page is also notable for a very strange dialogue trick I can’t remember seeing outside of Morrison work, and that is a dialogue balloon fading out, only to rise in someone else’s mouth. Our Native American warrior’s explanation of the  crisis in time fades out (I was convinced the old ink had faded), reappearing in a futuristic (for 1979) 1982, with a suave bartender explaining to a sexy harlett, in laughably revealing leather, that a chronal overspill is going to doom them all. The panels are wide and strong but also compressed for storytelling in the middle. The warrior’s hand explodes off the page as he points at the reader while the paneling on the right is jagged and off-center. Some page layouts are very reminiscent of the way J.H. Williams commands a page now, trying to toy with the reader’s expectation of where to look next, a way to juggle time between scenes to create a sense of immediacy.

If someone handed me this randomly, I believe I could spot this as a Morrison work from a mile away.

The comic continues in the same manner, characters popping out of nowhere, imposing their importance next to a growing cast. A tale of imploding existence across many timelines (where have we heard that before?) unravels and it is revealed our saviors traveling through time have collected too much energy and will destroy the present (yes, you read that right). The book is ambitious and compressed, but is it good?

When commenting on Detective Comics #27, Batman’s first appearance, Morrison said “I’ve read it a few times and I still don’t know what it’s really about.” I would say the same thing about ‘Time,’. It starts simple enough, time is breaking down, Native American warriors are at Stone Henge with topless women, I get that, but it tumbles to it’s end, bringing far too many concepts for five pages. I understand the twist at the end, but I can’t quite figure out who the woman in leather is, why the woman in the lake is as important as she appears to be, or how the build up of chronal energy occurred in the first place.

The art is ambitious, but a bit overdone. The paneling, with it’s diagonal lines and exploding character poses, seems unnecessary and distracting at best, confusing at worst. His characters show some basic emotion and his women, though locked in the era, have a certain sex-appeal, but it is Morrison’s backgrounds that really shine. Lush forests and dark, ritualistic sites between space look equally gorgeous and well worked. There is obviously a lot of thought and design put into these scenes and placing the characters in them. It is a bit of a shame we never had a chance to see this type of work go any further.

As a whole the first story is definitely entertaining if for nothing else than to experience how bizarre Morrison could make a story so early on. With every force of the pen, Morrison lunged for the brass ring. He didn’t quite make it, but for the writer he is, I don’t think there’s anything inherently “awful” about this in the least and I can think of a dozen high profile comics this year that are way worse.

Tomorrow we’ll go into Near Myths #3, the first story featuring future Invisibles player, Gideon Stargrave!