3.21.2006

The Tragedy of Mind Grabber Man or Grant Morrison's Evolution as a Writer

The often-described-as-autobiographical Mind Grabber Man in Bulleteer #3 deserves much more attention than previously given. Originally written off as merely a knee jerk reaction to any concept stale and old, Mind Grabber Man is an essential component of Seven Soldier's overarching theme of Self Transformation. To further cement the interpretation of Mind Grabber man as Morrison himself, Mind Grabber Man physical power was to alter minds, and Morrison himself viewed his work as mind altering, citing the Filth as "an attempt to 'inject' into my readers a healing concoction of vile ideas, hurtful emotions and unacceptable images." To merely write off the character denies discussion and thematic development attained through completely understanding the character, his conflict, and how both relate to Morrison's own transformation from an edgy Vertigo writer to the leader of the DC Universe.

This projection of Morrison originated in the past when he experienced a similar conflict likely battled after the conclusion of the Invisibles and when he stopped writing JLA, before The Filth. Described as experiencing an intense depression, Grant Morrison became a hermit similar to Slade/Greg Feely in The Filth who felt lost in life and only found solace in feeding his cat. Torn between his success on the JLA run that mostly retread the same old superhero ground, with a fraction of the thematic components and progressive concepts in The Invisibles, which completely flopped, Morrison felt that all the comic book buying audience wanted was superhero fights, and was incredibly dismayed, feeling he had no place in the world, and all while his "cat lay dying to cancer." This experience proved to kill the cat, but reinvigorate Morrison.

After Morrison's hiatus, his writing became incredibly structured, textured, and his superhero work was distinctly different from his JLA work. Moving away from the "more improvised Invisibles," Morrison's work became very purpose driven. Unfortunately (or fortunately, whichever way you look at it), Morrison began a controversial run on New X-Men hoping to freshen the franchise. A major failure was faced, and Morrison's writing and, more important to this paper's point, his views of self transformation were forged.

Starting his run with the explicit purpose to vivify the franchise and clean the cobwebs of continuity, Morrison's work proved futile. While leaving a fun and exciting X-Men run where any "fun" was desiccated years ago, the main purpose remained out of reach. Magneto was revived after Morrison killed him, cataclysmic damage destroying New York was ignored, and Chris Claremont, the ultimate symbol of nostalgia, expanded from writing one X-title to helming two and ensnaring the entire franchise in nostalgia. Morrison proved his resiliency and the strength of mind obtained during his depression before writing the Filth.

Looking at New X-Men as a creative failure, Grant Morrison made the most important transformation on his path leading to his writing of Seven Soldiers. He saw conservatism with a less menacing glare. Understanding New X-Men's failure as a force of change, and finally resolving the internal conflict resulted in Seaguy. Like Morrison, in Seaguy the main character battles a world completely resistant to change. Of most importance to Morrison's evolution as a writer is the addictive substance called xoo.

The flashy and new xoo mirror the popularity of various storytelling techniques throughout the ages. Just like xoo is spoon fed to Seaguy's world, flashy shock writing ensnares the comic book audience. Becoming a timeless symbol, Seaguy is spoon fed xoo, similar to Morrison's over-used and contrived style during Doom Patrol, Sebastian O, The Invisibles, The Filth, and ironically Seaguy itself where mad ideas are thrown to the reader with little interconnectedness to the main plot and themes where the main draw of the comic to the casual reader is Morrison's wild imagination and sparse characterization.

Morrison realized the muddiness of Invisibles and The Filth, there is much more exposition in his future comics, and while crazy ideas teem off of every page. Vimanarama had a solid foundation of Bollywood style and the main character's relatable traits of an inferiority complex and social awkwardness, We3 is built on the tragedy faced by the three animals and Wide screen action, and Seven Soldiers is based on the overarching theme of self transformation, All Star Superman is based on the Superman mythos, and Seven Soldier's is based on the experiment of modular storytelling and the over arching theme of self transformation, not to mention each individual character's effective characterization. Morrison is hitting a different style for each release and focusing on the strengths of each instead of relying on improvisation, where recurring themes and styles are less intentional, and serve to lessen the distinctiveness of each piece of work.

The Filth, although an important step for Morrison, was "purifying, or putrefying - poetry," where all of his former stylistic tics were utilized under rigid structure, and since The Filth, none have returned. He has successfully excreted the xoo from his system, parted with his stylistic tics.

Combining all of these achievements culminates in his affirmation at the conclusion of Seaguy. After witnessing and experiencing such grotesque horrors and sitting down to replay the chess game symbolizing the endless battles heroes and villains wage where the stake is your life and the rules arbitrary, Seaguy returns to the game with open arms. Cheerfully picking up the game, chess transforms from a symbol of the simple morality of heroes and villains and their incessant battling to the ubiquitous nostalgia fueling mediocre comics, and Morrison's constant conflict against nostalgia. Seaguy himself struggles against the loss of his companion Chubby, similar to Morrison's loss of his cat. Also, both deaths are incredibly slow and involve questioning of life. Seaguy questions the importance of his battle with Mickey Eye if it involves the death of his best friend, just as Morrison questioned his own life after his semi retirement and Cat's death. Both Seaguy and Morrison emerge as self confident individuals ready to battle the medium. Seaguy is confident enough in his craft that he allows Gondolier, his skull faced enemy, to be white, even though Death is colorblind, and winks as he sits down. Morrison threw himself back into the super hero writing game after the Filth, ready to fight the same old battles, but with a different perspective and purpose.

This time, instead of seeking to forever alter the super hero game by wild and crazy ideas, Morrison seeks to change the game by playing by its rules.

Doing this has led to him becoming leader of the DC Universe's evolution, a committee writer of 52, and carrying enough clout to launch All Star Superman, a very important flagship title for DC, and write Batman, to reinvigorate the franchise after James Robinson's push towards a different status quo One Year Later. By playing according to super hero's rules, he has captured the mysterious bearded lady fueling Seaguy's quest at the stories start. No wonder writing comics is easier and easier for Grant Morrison now, as he stated in a recent newsarama.com interview. He's doing exactly what he wants, and by penning a definitive run on Superman, he can completely alter the character for the better, by pioneering modular storytelling, he can influence how crossovers are executed by Marvel and DC*, and finally he can create numerous new characters for DC, most importantly the Chinese and Japanese characters he's talked about in 52 convention panels.

***

So, how does all of this relates to Seven Soldiers, you may ask? Why, it develops the major message of Klarion, of course!
Klarion started his journey as a rebellious punk, only wishing to escape the rigid structure of Croatoan, which actually reuses old men so the townspeople don't have to work. Doesn't this setting sound a lot like Grant Morrison entering the comic scene at a time of copious variant covers, a plethora of crossovers, and the constant reviving of dead characters as plot elements in the 90's? How fun it must have been to slyly write old story concepts screaming out in pain as they are reused. That certainly must be how Grant Morrison feels whenever an old concept is rehashed. Then, after Grant Morrison, in this instance interchangeable with Klarion, escapes constrictions of writing comics, he finds the outside world is not as lovely as he wishes. However, after tearing the fa├žade of city life, he sees that comics are still in danger, this time even moreso as few independent comics have burst on the scene, whereas Vertigo became popular, Fantagraphics and Top Shelf emerged, and Dark Horse became a popular publishing company. Simply put, he saw the comic's world in need of saving, and what did he do? He swooped down to save superhero comics, right after concisely instigating the need for rebellion in Melmoth's teenagers. Remarking that they must escape Melmoth's grasp or they'll be Martian slavers is as stark a contrast as Morrison's Filth and Invisibles. Both explore similar themes in a similar fashion, but The Filth is more succinct, and the Invisibles is improvised. Klarion himself wandered around New York in a youthful state of rebellion before maturing, adn realizing he must go to save his hated home town.

As Klarion (or Grant Morrison) descended back into Blue Rafters (Superhero comics), his imagination instantly vivified stale concepts and the concept of crossovers (with All Star Superman and Seven Soldiers, resspectively). He saved DC Comics from a horribly stale Identity Crisis tie in world, and will introduce new, ethnically diverse characters in 52 and even direct the growth of the universe with his new editorial position. Somewhat perplexing, then, is Klarion's ascent to fight with the Seven Soldiers. This seems to foil my theory, painting Klarion as ascending to fight an even bigger threat, but the mini series does display his entire personality transformation. Klarion is just an embodiment of the stages of Morrison's mainstream rebellion. He realized he had to save Blue Rafters, and didn't let his earlier hate for the town prevent that.

***

With this understanding of the character of Klarion and Grant Morrison himself, how does this relate to Mind Grabber Man, and what is the tragedy of Mind Grabber Man, anyhow?
The psychological super hero tried to play by the rules of being a super hero, but in actuality, he's incredibly different himself. Using a publicity stunt saying he's gay is the same kind of open rebellion that Morrison did with Animal Man and Doom Patrol. He rebelled, hoping the world would change because his views are right, but the world doesn't. The world's still stuck in a "constant sea of nostalgia," and however much Mind Grabber Man wants to change the world, he has to change it from the inside to create any lasting changes.
Similarly, Morrison has to play by the rules of super hero genre trappings if he is to write in the genre of super heroes. Marc Singer has pointed out many cop outs, or at least references to super hero trappings with his post on the Bulleteer #4 , and Morrison does mention an "evil serum" changing Lois' mind in All Star Superman #2, and the Dr. Hyde gas changing Sally Sonic's mind in the Bulleteer #4. The difference being, when Morrison uses a genre staple as character motivation, there is plenty of precedent and motivation for the character's actions. Lois already felt paranoid because Superman wasn't being completely honest with her, and Sally wanted to shrug off responsibility to do the right thing as she took the Dr Hyde spray before a superhero porn filming. These genre trappings are not the fulcrum of a plot, as they would be in earlier superhero tales. In a Weisinger penned Superman tale featuring Lois suddenly paranoid of Superman, the entire issue would be about that relationship dynamic. Here, they celebrate the uniqueness of the genre and showcase the raffish plot devices inherent in Superhero stories.
Contrasting his earlier and later work, Morrison's earlier super hero work in Animal Man, Doom Patrol, or JLA was not so historically appreciative. In Animal Man he made fun of the discrepancies in Crisis on Infinite Earths. In Doom Patrol, he completely guts the entire team: Rhea's in a coma and emerges a faceless mystical being, Negative Man merges with both a man and woman, Cliff's so manic-depressive, the new character of Crazy Jane adds layers of schizophrenia to the team dynamic, and don't get me started on how he subverts the character of Chief into a machiavellian and selfish manipulator **. Compare this with All Star Superman, where Meisinger references surround the work, and Jimmy Olsen has a space watch, without any self conciousness in the writing, or any dorkiness shown in the character besides tghe reader's interpretation of someone so hopelessly in love with Superman. Compare this with Guardian, where the ancient stories of the Newsboy Legion are recreated and shown as incredibly important, instead of subverted. Compare this with JLA Classified, where Morrison criticizes the character changes made to Grodd in John's Flash. Obviously, a love of DC history, if not Superhero tropes was born in Morrison, whereas before they were constantly subverted and perverted***.

Morrison changed from openly rebelling to working within the confines of superhero writing in his current work, and the Tragedy of Mind Grabber Man is he never took that step. He's crying because he tries to stand out by pronouncing he's gay, but when actually using his powers to save the Bulleteer from I, Spyder's arrow, he accomplishes more good. Mind Grabber Man is more concerned with achieving fame with flagrant rebellion to the norms instead of doing his best at super heroing and getting rewarded. After all, Grant Morrison wasn't a super star until arguably his JLA run, and was never as influential as when he played along the rules, as he's doing now.

***

*although Marvel is following DC's year old example of Infinite Crisis, DC is attempting modular storytelling with 52 where many character's stories are told and expanded simultaneously instead of separately.
**However depreciating I sound, I love Morrison's Doom Patrol. Not a bad thing, it just breaks off from the standards of Doom Patrol.
***He turned Monsier Mallah and the Brain gay!

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