Monday, July 09, 2007

The One With The Crazy
Grant Morrison Post

Okay, here is the long-awaited post where I interpret "All-Star Superman" #8 as an allegory primarily of "fan comics" versus "art comics," with a bit of good ol' fashioned Red State critique thrown in as well.
The basic premise:

Superman = "pure" Grant Morrison -- the one who writes "art" comics

Zibarro (not to be confused with that excellent faux-Italian restaurant Sbarro) = "sell-out" Grant Morrison -- the one that needs ta pay da billz

Bizarros = mainstream fan culture/comics

So one day poor Superman is trapped on this square planet (square = Jimmy Olsen, Barry Allen, DC circa early 1990s, etc). This planet is filled with stupid creatures who do everything backwards and think crap is king -- except for one struggling soul gifted with the ability to be artistically sensitive.

"Must only Zibarro see the beauty in a sunset?" Zibarro sighs.

Just like Grant Morrison in a sea of lesser talents.

"I'm so alone here.

"There's no one to talk to.

No shred of intellect exists with which to communicate my thoughts and feelings!"

Zibarro keeps trying to pawn off to Supes a book with his poetry in it or something. Obviously old memories of starting out, trying to show harried editors his try-out scripts:

"I just wondered if maybe there was still time for you to take a my's not much...just thoughts really."

But Superman just wants to get off the square planet. These awful Bizarros are driving him crazy. They are stupid...and uncouth...and they worship garbage and fools like Le-Roj.

"His twisted behavior has made him king of all Bizarros..."

Of course, I need not have to tell you who Le-Roj is.

"He always encouraged me to be a great idiot..."

Why can't Superman fly off Bizarro world? Because of the red sun.

Get it? Red Sun? Red State?

It's devious, I tell you. A regular DaVinci Code of hidden social commentary.

Finally, Superman decides that if "am can beat them not join them."

So he talks in "Bizarro-ese" to communicate with the rabble.

Yes, friends -- this is how we got "52".

"Me am offer Bizarros chance to be lazy, good-for-nothing slobs!

"Me am no offer Bizarro civilization a chance to make monument to last all time!

"Chance to no make most useless, boring fireworks ever for unglory of Bizarros..."

The Bizarros clank their neanderthal clubs against their Liefeld comics and grunt for joy. Then they sing a tortured rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner," because in addition to being chalky-skinned morons they are also apparently patriotic:

"No say does am spar-spangled shroud hang limply! Under land of no free!"

Of course, Johnny Depp approves. Because he likes France.

Does Superman ever read Zibarro's story pitches?

"Your writing has...nnn...a unique quality..."

In other words: Zibarro, your writing sucks. And I lost most of your pitch on the train. No, actually there was a wet spot on the only available seat on the train and I used your pitch to absorb it so I could sit.

The pain never goes away, no matter how successful you become...

But at least Grant has reconciled his need to write the occasional "paycheck" comic book:

"I know you think of yourself as a flaw, an imperfection, but you're something more, Zibarro.

You're proof that Bizarro-home is getting smarter."

Yes, for every "Animal Man" and pseudo-Vertigo book about Klarion the Witch Boy there is...there is an "All Star Superman."

As Superman blasts off into space, the Bizarros are left behind to melt into the fetid muck they are too stupid to extricate themselves from. A wrecked Statue of Liberty (conspicuously absent from the new "7 Wonders Of the World" -- obvious anti-American sentiment to be sure) is prominent. Maybe it's just a Planet of the Apes rip. Or maybe it's something more.


  1. If you're interpretation's right, I'm somehow not surprised. More subtle cultural reflections from the creator of Mother-of-Champions, Jezebel Jet & Her Thugs, and the "rehabilitated" School Bus Yellow Egg-Fu!

    I don't always mind when American culture gets a smart jab it deserves from non-Americans, but at least when Warren Ellis does it he simultaneously acknowledges that human dignity and intelligence also know no border, race, or ethnicity. Somehow Grant's flat caricatures almost never fail to disappoint in that regard.

  2. aCk! is that an actual My Little Pony, or one that someone has custom painted?

    i must know...

  3. *Sighs as he realizes the only comic creator who seems to have any kind of Conservative views appears to be Frank "I'm the goddamn sperm bank bomb the towelheads" Miller.*

    Ah, well, I prefer Grant Morrison's subtle parodies to Mark Millar's pessimistic "in real life, superheroes are pompous jackasses" parodies. Still, All-Star Superman remains one of the (if not THE) finest comics out there. ^_^

  4. *Sighs as he realizes the only comic creator who seems to have any kind of Conservative views appears to be Frank "I'm the goddamn sperm bank bomb the towelheads" Miller.*

    Frank's from Vermont, so I doubt that. But, there is always Chuck Dixon and Dan Jurgens!

  5. I don't think Morrison has any issue at all with the "paycheck" comics he writes - I can't recall anything over the last few years, including his bits in "52", that felt phoned in or done just because he needed new sunglasses. I think the "Superman in a sea of Bizarros = Morrison alone in the comics field" is not only fairly apt (if unintentional), it's also largely correct. I don't think there's anybody else writing comics today with the same combination of raw talent and enthusiasm that Morrison brings to the table, and that's a shame. Few, if any other creators seem willing to risk the fan backlash (or destroy their own precious memories) that inevitably springs up any time a character is turned on their axis or approached from a different angle, and the result is more of the same and the occasional "Bold new direction!" that feels remarkably like the bold new direction of twenty years ago.

    (I'm hesitant to include Ellis on any short list of creators willing to risk reimagining - "What if Character X smoked and was grumpy?" is not exactly reinventing the wheel. Ennis, from his Punisher run and the issue of Hitman with Superman in it has a clear talent for stripping away the muck and getting to the core of the character, but most of his mainstream work tends to be of the "boy, superheroes are kind of silly, huh?" variety. And then there's Millar, who's very good at writing 2 1/2 characters and coming up with great action pieces.)

    Is Morrison Zibarro, the imperfect flaw amongst the teeming masses of Bizarros? At the moment, yes. But that's much more a problem for comics than Morrison.

    And as for the Red Sun = Red State thing (which I can damn near see you smiling while typing it out), well, who can blame him? It's worth mentioning though that the only two times I've heard Morrison directly address politics (not to say there aren't more)are a), when he pointed out that Miller's wanting to do an empowerment book about Batman beating up bin Laden was a bit crazy, and b), this quote, from an interview with Arthur Magazine:

    "The Invisibles comes to the conclusion that the bad guys are us. And as I say in The Invisibles, are there any years when there are no policemen born? I began to question everything about the counterculture I belonged to, why they kicked police horses in the streets, and why they smashed buildings, and what they were actually achieving? Or were they just part of a bigger system that used these checks and balances in order to propel itself forward through the stages of its mega-develoment? And once I’d really grasped everything as a vast, intricate and singular process that’s operating perfectly, I couldn’t hate the cops anymore. I couldn’t hate George Bush any more than a Helper T-cell hates a Hunter/Killer. I saw him inextricably bound in a web of circumstance that forced him to be whom and where he was, exactly like me, and exactly like you, and exactly like Naomi Campbell. We all do our bit."


  6. Frank's from Vermont, so I doubt that. But, there is always Chuck Dixon and Dan Jurgens!

    I almost cried when I mistakenly read that as Chuck AUSTEN. ^_~

  7. To take the analogy even further, then Grant Morrison isn't Zibarro, but all the creators and artists that have the capacity to see they're just creating crap but don't have yet the talent/recognition they need to rise and leave the Bizarro world.

    Grant Morrison/Superman just before leaving gives some words of encouragement, telling them to keep up and soon they'll have powers to leave the planet, that just the fact they're able to see the crap makes the situation a bit better than before. But sorry, no, I don't want to make a book with you, I'm leaving alone.

    I'm wondering, is anyone reading Donner's Action Comics and Busiek's Superman? They're both pretty great stand alone comics that aren't involved in any mega-event. I think anyone that likes All Star Superman would like these, since they're also deconstructing superman to its key essence, in one issue Superman has the dilemma of what to do about a little old lady that prays to him (he can hear her prayers across the world), at the end he has to let her get shot, if he leaves the monster he's fighting would kill more innocents.

  8. I've really enjoyed Action Comics and Superman of late - both are fun, both are presenting real challenges for the character, and both are running as free of continuity hang ups as they possibly can (though they're still at a disadvantage to All Star Superman, which doesn't have to worry about continuity at all). It's a very weird time for me and comics - I never followed a Superman before the One Year Later jump, and now I'm reading both titles.

  9. All-Star Superman is a bad comic? Boy, did I ever miss the wrong meeting! The issue dealing with the death of Johnathan Kent was one of the finest Superman stories I've ever read, and it's a damn shame it isn't written into regular continuity. The unashamed whimsy, the glorious (but crucially, never insulting) stupidity of the silver and golden age Superman, and just the fact that it at no point made you stop to think "they got that bit from the cartoons/Lois and Clark" should make it an essential read.

    The regular Superman books have never recovered in my eyes from the years they were just churning out half-assed riffs on Morrison's JLA. It's fine to recycle ideas, but I object to the creators telling me at length how great they are, and only taking breaks from mutual back-slapping to write petulant ripostes to the idea that the Authority was a good superhero comic and they might need to up their game a little. I could swear that I could actually physically feel the tension radiating off the page of Wizard when a journalist suggested this in an interview, and wasn't surprised when the Elite showed up several months later in the Superman books.
    After Our World At War ended, I cancelled my subs and gathered every Superman book published in the previous two years (fool that I was, I'd bought them all - my favourite superhero, see?) and made to put them in the bin, only to be stopped by my sister, who wanted them for her six year-old son - who'd caught the reading bug bad.
    Did he read them? Did he bollocks! He managed about four months' worth of the 2001 stuff before he decided they were too boring.

    For a book featuring possibly the brightest, most child-friendly and recogniseable character on the planet, I can think of no stronger criticism.

  10. As I recall, the Elite were a response to that type that said interviewer wanted and why they were subsequently pounded to the ground via Superman outthinking them and, of course, with the now classic quote, "What's so funny about, truth, justice and the American way?"

  11. Great post!

    I've always wondered what Grant Morrison thinks about his peers.

    I mean, what sort of opinion would someone as unconventional and avante Garde as Morrison have towards someone as crowd pleasing and desperate for approval as say, Geoff Johns?

  12. It was more suggested that the Authority were the future of American comics - that readers wanted more visceral books on the shelves that afforded a short fix of in-your-face smashmouth stories instead of arcing storylines and soap-operatics that assumed the readership was with a book for the long haul. Time sure proved that dumb-ass interviewer wrong, huh?

    And I think it's rich that writers who didn't have the guts to use the term in the first place seem to have taken "What's so funny about, truth, justice and the American way?" as some kind of validation of their work. Usually, if they have the stones to use the term, they have to qualify it on some level - be it irony, humour, or a hurried explanation that the made-up character in question really only believes in "the idea" of the American Way, in much the same way that Francis Church 'believed' in the idea of Santa Claus.
    If a writer can't accept that a made-up character might hold an idea that they don't personally agree with, I think the best option for that person is to leave their house, go straight to their local McDonald's, ask for the manager, and inquire if they're hiring today. Writing is obviously not what God had planned for them.