Two or three years back, tomemos and I were discussing Grant Morrison's The Invisibles and he said something like, "Morrison is the ultimate 'either/or' author writing today: you either love and appreciate him or hate and are incapable of understanding why other people appreciate him." Until this week, I never understood quite what he meant.
With most polarizing literary figures—Pynchon, Barthelme, Acker, Wallace, and so forth—even when a person chokes on the air of consuete affectation, he still understands why other readers happily inhale it. Pound might not be your bag, for example, but you understand why someone else would stick his head in it. It also works the other way around: I love Ulysses, but I can understand why an intelligent person would just as soon chute the book as read it.
Except with Grant Morrison.
The chapter Wolk devotes to him in Reading Comics scans like a fanboy's paean to a body of work he barely understands:
What can a critic do with a paragraph in which someone praises Morrison for writing an obliquely-allegorical new-age amphibian with a fun-button? Nothing. So this past week I sat down and read reams and reams of Morrison (about 70 percent of the material on this bibliography) and came to the conclusion that tomemos knows of what he speaks—because now I both hate Grant Morrison and am incapable of seeing why anyone appreciates him. Why?
Because in the end every Grant Morrison story is about Grant Morrison writing stories. Consider the final issue of his run on Animal Man (1990):
Morrison inserts himself into the story so his character, Animal Man, can learn he's a character in the comic Animal Man. This scene works because for two years the book had relentlessly fiddled with its meta-fictional conceit. (As with, for example, the Passion of Wiley E. Coyete.) Moreover, the consequences of this meta-fictional interaction work within the confines the of the narrative: Buddy Baker had been distraught over the murder of his wife and children, and as a result of his conversation with Morrison, they are resurrected (none the wiser for their grisly murders) and returned to him by the end of the issue. The narrative ruptures draw attention to the conventional features of comics as a genre. They differ in degree from the sort of formal ruptures all comics employ:
The rock breaks through the panel and lands somewhere else on the page. Happens all the time to comic projectiles: they bust through one panel to do violence in another. I'm all for formal experimentation. Just last week I wrote (without the emphasis) that "if a close-reading reveals that a work flirts with the formal elements of its genre or genres—whatever they may be—that work should be canonized." Only Morrison has devoted the last two decades to an increasingly aggressive flirtation with convention regardless of whether his advances were warranted. Put differently:
Most readers hold to a folk theory of artistic development whereby the longer an author writes, the more complicated his or her work becomes. So the young Joyce writes clever realist sucker-punches in Dubliners; experiments his way through Stephen Hero into the introspective of Portrait; transcends the lyricism of the final pages of Portrait alongside stately, plump Buck Mulligan in the "Telemachiad" and spends the rest of that novel (Ulysses) and the next (Finnegans Wake) outdoing what he did the day before. By that light, the fact that Morrison now writes about how that rock's complicit in a conspiracy to break not just through the panel but through the very page itself because perception of the two-dimensional fictional world in which it exists blends with the three-dimensional perceptual systems by which we come to understand that fictional world in our minds demonstrates the evolution of his particular brand of genius. But his pursuit of this meta-fictional prey has been so singular as to override all other narrative concerns. Had Joyce wanted to write another "Araby" in 1928 he would not have written it in Wakese because the form would overwhelm the story's slight content.
At the present moment, Morrison is so unconcerned with such matters that he subjugates supremely non-slight material to his meta-fictional concerns: Batman does not die in Batman R.I.P. He gets clipped by the Omega Sanction ("THE DEATH THAT IS LIFE!") and forced into a feedback loop of simultaneous reincarnation in which he will face hardships again and again and again for all eternity and if that sounds an awful lot like what a character featured in multiple monthly comics (Batman, Detective Comics, Batman and Robin, Batman: Streets of Gotham, Superman/Batman, Batman Confidential, Batman and the Outsiders, Trinity, Justice League of America, All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, and Batman: The Brave and the Bold) then you've been paying attention.
I'll reward you for it (and be a little more charitable to Morrison) tomorrow.