Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Running Without the Pack: A Semi-Rant featuring Barack Obama & Grant Morrison

I begin with the somewhat ironic statement that I know I'm hardly the only person who likes to go against the grain when it comes to taste.

Indeed in this era of irony, it has become the in thing to not like stuff everybody else likes. "Mainstream is lame and all that." On the surface, I read that sentiment and don't like it, because I'm not big on blanket disdain for anything, but upon deeper examination, I realize I am extremely guilty of not giving stuff a chance just to "rebel" against popular sentiment. The first instance I remember of this was never going to see "Titanic" (not regretting that, though), however, of late, I think it has gotten a bit out of control.

Two incidents today put this issue fresh in my mind.

The first incident involved politics, specifically our current U.S. Presidential election. Now politics is not a topic I anticipate you'll read much about on this blog, because it's not one I particularly care to discuss my feelings on at length. I'll watch the debates in the privacy of my home with Megan and keep myself decently aware of what I feel I need to know, but I don't get into politics much with my friends and family, let alone in public forums. This comes both from me not feeling I'm terribly well-informed, at least in comparison to the far more socially-conscious folks around me, but also, because as I was telling my friend TJ the other day, I just find political discussions to be so circular. At the end of the day, I believe what I believe and you believe what you believe and no amount of rhetorics on either of our parts is going to change the other's mind. This can be true with any lively debate, but at least with a topic I know and care more about, I'll have fun along the way.

But getting back the incident at hand, it occured in my office at Marvel, involved my friend/colleague Ryan Penagos, and I already told him my thoughts when it happened, so I'm not talking behind his back or anything.

I think it is fair to say that Ryan is among the most vocally liberal people I know. He's super-enthusiastic about Barack Obama, detests John McCain and is not the sort to keep quiet on any of this.

While I said above I don't much get into politics, there's no question I am also a liberal in pretty much every sense. Though registered independent, I have always voted Democrat and take the liberal stance on all the major issues.

However, Ryan is so liberal and so vocal about it, then I honestly feel like if voting took place in my office, I might vote Republican, not for any good reason other than to disagree with him. I consider Ryan as unto a brother, but there's just something in my genetic makeup or whatever that flips me into conservative mode every time he goes on a "Republicans are evil" tirade. Could this be because my fair Penagos is just grating when it comes to expressing his political views? Perhaps (though he is also extremely well-read and intelligent about them, so I should probably just follow his lead). Could it have more to do with my predilection to want to be different that those around me? Hmm...

My musing on the general topic continued, however, as I was taking the train home and reading Batman #680, the penultimate chapter of "Batman R.I.P." by Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel. About halfway through, I thought to myself how much I was enjoying this comic and then found myself reflexively trying to find stuff I didn't like about it.


I like to consider myself a pretty positive guy, particularly when it comes to comics. I've got my dislikes just like any other credible geek, but for the most part, I prefer to focus on positives and not negatives, praise rather than tear down. But there's just something about Grant Morrison that makes me crazy...and I'm pretty sure it's that most of my friends love the guy.

Now as far as my relationship with Grant Morrison, actual person, it's rock solid. It has consisted of a few face-to-face meetings, a few phone chats and the occasional e-mail. Grant is a supercool dude who's extremely smart, extremely handsome, has an awesome accent, is very nice to me, and who photographs well.

None of the last paragraph had any point other than to illustrate that I know, have spoken to and have hung out with Grant Morrison. Haw!

Anyhow, there is a slightly more complex and weird relationship between me and Grant Morrison's body of work.

My first exposure to Morrison was his New X-Men run and I absolutely detested it. I was a giant fan of the X-Men in the 90's and could not stand the way Grant took all the characters I loved and wrote them completely different, making them unrecognizable to me. Were I more mature, I'd probably concede that he was being groundbreaking and bold and all that good stuff, but I'm not very mature when it comes to the X-Men. I want big crossovers and crazy costume and soap operatic nuttiness! But my love for the era of big guns and pouches aplenty aside, NXM did first expose me to two Morrison tics that would continue to bug me in much of his work:

1. Tossing out what came before without explanation.
In Morrison's very first issue of New X-Men, he has Wolverine crowing about his new non-spandex costume and saying how ridiculous he used to look. This irked me to no end as I didn't get why Wolverine would wear said "ridiculous" costume for 30+ (real time) years if he was so embarassed by it. It smacked to me if Morrison chucking out something he didn't like and rather than coming up with an in-story explanation for it, just being coy. Some of my buddies have defended this approach to me by saying it's foolish to hold on to "bad stories" for continuity's sake when it hinders a writer's current goals, but "bad" is totally subjective and I've always been more impressed when a writer can integrate stuff they don't like into their work and then write it out rather than dismissing it out of hand. That way even the fans who are losing something they like can at least be semi-satisfied that it was addressed somehow.

2. The early parts of the bigger epic being better once you get to the end and know more.
There is something to be said for the power of the last minute swerve that changes everything that came before, something Morrison is a master of, but I always feel cheated when I'm not enjoying something for months and get told, "Just wait, his stuff is always better in retrospect." F that--I'm paying money now, I want my fix now

However, after getting by that initial New X-Men hump, I found Morrison stories I really really liked, including, but not limited to, JLA, Animal Man and especially Arkham Asylum. Hey, the guy didn't get his "genius" tag by accident. Even though some of his stuff isn't for me, I like to think I have good taste, and as far as comics go, that means I like a good deal of Grant Morrison's body of work.

But finally getting back to my original point, I found myself scouring Morrison's latest issue of Batman for flaws mainly because I feel that for a lot of my friends, Morrison's work has none.

I'm exaggerating of course.

Yeah, a lot of my friends hold Grant in very high regard, but that doesn't mean they don't see the chinks in his armor, but not as much as I can. Occasionally, I become frustrated when I feel like they are making excuses for what I see as just poor craftsmanship, but ultimately that's just what happens when friends talk about stuff they're passionate about.

But again, there's that weird wiring in me that says, "Well, everybody else likes this, so I should find a reason not to."

Well now that I've committed this to writing, I'm hoping to move forward and like things because I like them or dislike them because I dislike them, not rooting my opinions in trying to play the minority. That's a bit silly at this point, I think.

So in conclusion, Batman #680 was excellent and I'm voting for Obama.


Chris Ayers said...

Both sentiments I can heartily endorse.

Although, you can never accuse Grant of being subtle. When your big Batman arc is about betrayal and you name Bruce Wayne's new girlfriend "Jezebel", you're performing surgery with a chainsaw, not a scalpel.

When I hear about folks who have to know what's going to happen at the end of a story before the first chapter is even complete, I like to remind them that it's more about the journey than the final destination. Then they remind me that I'm being a condescending jag off and we slap fight until I start crying and run home to re-read my Kirby Fourth World Omnibus and have graham crackers with peanut butter.

Rickey said...

I agree with Chris and will happily join Chris' slap fight and share in his grahams.

Ben Morse said...

New Gods and graham crackers are an irresistible combination.

Daniel Brooks said...

Ever read Flex Mentallo? That makes Batman RIP read like a Dr. Seuss book.

Lee said...

Agreed on all accounts. Thanks for the link, by the way, Ben. Good times, this is.

M1ll5 said...

Morrison did the same thing with The Joker. He got 'Rid' of the traditional joker at the start of his run and 'rebirthed' him.

Ben Morse said...

That 'rebirth' would have been sligtly more effective if the old school Joker hadn't been running around the DCU for the past couple years in between Morrison's uses of him, but yeah, totally.