Okay so I’m four issues late to say it, but it’s still worth noting that somehow, in the middle of a run of spectacularly unspectacular comics, THIS happened:

THIS being, for what it’s worth, the 2012 superhero comic most acutely tuned in to the concerns of its moment. Oh, sure, there are a  few other enjoyable superhero comics out there right – Hawkeye, Batman Incorporated, uh… Journey Into Mystery, if that counts? [1] -  but none of them feel like an inescapable product of their moment in the way that Action Comics #9 does. [2]

You might well ask yourself how worthwhile this is, and if you told me that you preferred the focus on individual action beats that you get with Matt Fraction and David Aja’s work on Hawkeye…

…then I’d have to concede that you might well have a point.  What’s particularly interesting here is that the other twelve issues of Morrison’s Action Comics run can be seen as a generally unsuccessful attempt to transition Morrison’s recent  hall-of-mirrors scripting style into something more rhythmic and less meaning-intensive [3]. Something a bit more like what Fraction and Aja’s are attempting in Hawkeye, in other words, only done less well, almost a year earlier.

ART PARAGRAPH: UNFORTUNATELY, A LACK OF TRUE ARTISTIC SYNTHESIS HAS ENSURED THAT THIS PARTICULAR MACHINE (ACTION! COMICS!) HAS RARELY LOOKED LIKE IT WAS READY FOR  THE COMICS MARKETPLACE. THIS PARTICULAR ISSUE WAS DRAWN BY GENE HA, WHO PREVIOUSLY GRACED THE SERIES WITH GUEST ART FOR AN APOCALYPTIC SCENE SET ON KRYPTON IN ISSUE #3. HIS RIGID, RETRO-FUTURISTIC ARTWORK MAKES FOR A PURPOSEFUL CONTRAST TO THE RUGGED MALLEABILITY OF REGULAR ARTIST RAGS MORALES’ LINE, AND WHILE HIS DEPICTION OF SUPERMAN LACKS THE EASYGOING GRACE OF FRANK QUITELY’S VERSION, THE RELATIVE STRENGTH AND CLARITY OF HIS HAND IS STILL VERY MUCH APPRECIATED HERE.

As flagged by the inclusion of the Obama-riffic Superman from Final Crisis, issue #9 of Action Comics is an unashamed example of Morrison’s recent obsession with viewing the whole universe through the lens of superheroic fiction, a throwback to an era that’s not quite ended.

“So far, so tedious,” you might well think.

You might also notice that everything I’ve mentioned about the comic up to this point places it squarely out of its time, that’s only because I’ve so far focused on form to the exclusion of content.

ART PARAGRAPH: TO BE FAIR TO RAGS MORALES, HIS ARTWORK HAS BEEN A REASONABLE MATCH FOR THE STORIES HE’S BEEN ASKED TO ILLUSTRATE – ITS ROUGHNESS IS APPROPRIATE FOR A COMIC ABOUT THE SCRAPPIER SIDE OF METROPOLIS/ITS MOST FAMOUS HERO, AND THE UNSPECTACULAR NATURE OF HIS WORK HAS PROVIDED THE VISUAL EQUIVALENT TO THE DULL DAZZLE OF MORRISON’S SCRIPTS THROUGHOUT.  GENE HA’s WORK ON THIS ISSUE IS SIMILARLY WELL-CALIBRATED: SOLID AND MINIMAL, IT GETS THE JOB DONE AND MAKE SURE YOU THAT KNOW THE JOB IS GETTING DONE WHILE IT’S AT IT.

In 2012 it has become pretty much impossible to talk about superhero comics without also discussing the means of their production. While it’s sometimes been difficult not to giggle at the spectacle of blathering boy aesthetes suddenly discovering the existence of the outside world, this development is still very firmly a good thing, and in my more optimistic (i.e. gleefully self-deluding) moments I like to imagine that contemplation of this microcosm might lead to some sort of broader structural thinking. It won’t, but hey – winter is coming, and I need nice thoughts to keep me warm, so please don’t go too hard on my FULL COMMUNISM daydreams, they’re essential to my continued well-being!

ART PARAGRAPH: IF THERE’S ONE LEVEL ON WHICH BOTH MORRISON AND MORALES HAVE CONSISTENTLY FAILED TO DELIVER, IT’S IN PROVIDING THE READERS WITH THE “SOCIALIST SUPERMAN” THAT WAS MENTIONED IN THE PRE-MATCH HYPE.  MORRISON HAS GENERALLY SEEMED MOST CONFIDENT IN THE MORE POETIC AND FAR-FETCHED MOMENTS OF THESE STORIES, WHILE MORALES HAS LARGELY FAILED TO MAKE A WORKING CLASS ICON OUT OF CLARK KENT. THIS IS ONE AREA IN WHICH GENE HA’s ART MAKES A VAST IMPROVEMENT OVER WHAT’s COME BEFORE: IN A STORY THAT OPERATES ON THE LEVEL OF PURE ICONOGRAPHY, HE MAKES SURE THAT EVERY DETAIL FEELS LIKE PART OF THE GRAND DESIGN.

Anyway, the fact that Marvel have made approximately seventy trillion dollars off of a bunch of characters created by Jack Kirby and pals while DC have been trying to sell cold chicken nuggets by claiming that they came fresh from The Beard’s own steakhouse has put creators’ rights issues squarely at the centre of the superhero conversation, and one of the many people who has caught the sharp end of this conversation has been Grant Morrison, whose comments on the Siegel and Shuster lawsuit both in and around his book Supergods brought him directly into the verbal firing line.

Action Comics #9 is clearly intended to be Morrison’s in-text response to these concerns. In this story a battered Lois Lane, a deep-friend Jimmy Olsen, and a freshly crisped Clark Kent escape from a parallel dimension in which their invention (Superman) has been co-opted by a major corporation and turned into a malevolent, world-eating brand that is out to get them.

ART PARAGRAPH: THE INVERTED COLOUR SCHEME ON CALVIN ELLIS’ CHEST IS ONE OF THE MOST SUBTLY EFFECTIVE PARTS OF THIS ISSUE, SUGGESTING, AS IT DOES, AN INVERSION OF THE RULES OF OUR UNIVERSE THAT RECALLS THE FLIPPED MORAL POLARITIES OF THE TWO ALTERNATE EARTHS IN MORRISON AND QUITELY’S JLA: EARTH 2. PERHAPS WHAT WE ARE SEEING HERE IS A VERSION OF SUPERMAN FREE OF THE ORIGINAL SIN THAT IS BUILT IN TO HIS EXISTENCE IN OUR REALITY, WHICH IS TO SAY, A VERSION OF SUPERMAN THAT IS EVEN MORE IMPOSSIBLE IN OUR WORLD THAN THE ONE WE’RE USED TO.

This isn’t exactly a subtle set-up, but that’s okay. One of the reasons I value comics that reflect their time is that I like to talk about The World almost as much as I like to talk about comics.  It follow that I like my comics twice as much when they feel like part of a bigger conversation, so the fact that this comic often reads like a response to, or maybe even an amplification of, the issues raised in Paul Gravett’s review of  Supergods is just fine by me.

If Action Comics #9 paints a portrait of its own publisher that even DC’s harsher critics would recognize, its status as a product of that company lends that portrait a strange, fearsome weightlessness – it’s startling to see such an unflattering allegory in the pages of a corporate comic, but surprise quickly turns to a sort of queasy resignation as the obviousness of who’s really benefiting from this issue sinks in. [4]

Within the story, we witness the triumph of “Superman done right”, President Calvin Ellis; outside of the story, the conversation gets more interesting, but nothing changes - everybody keeps on talking about it, nobody’s getting it done…

This brings us to the implicit resonances of this issue, which is also inescapably about The Idea of Obama vs. The Reality of Obama.

Probably best to kick this off by recapping what Marc Singer said about the introduction of Calvin Ellis in Final Crisis #7 back at the time:

Final Crisis #7 opens with a genius move, cutting away from last issue’s cliffhangers to a brief interlude in an alternate universe where most if not all of DC’s prominent heroes are black and Superman just happens to be the President of the United States.  It’s a great scene, one that captures the current mood of optimism and renewed hope in the face of great adversity.  It also implies a longstanding (if previously nonexistent) publication history for these characters, through the simple detail of a reversed color scheme. [5]

Fast-forward to 2012, and Ellis is still every bit as triumphant as he was back then, but I would take a guess that there might be a reasonable level of overlap between people who are still able to think of Obama as an unambiguously heroic figure and those who can take Grant Morrison’s transcendental superhero rhetoric straight. I wouldn’t bother worrying about artistic intent here, if that’s your thing: the lines on the page tell the story of a wish-fulfillment Obama stand-in beating down a sinister parallel universe version of himself who has been molded by the expectations of the people and worlds it encounters into something dangerously toxic.

If this seems needlessly melodramatic to you then fair enough. Personally, I can’t imagine getting huffy with people who were asking me about my killer sky robots without wondering if I was actually a baddie, but maybe you feel otherwise, or maybe you can’t get over how much worse the immediate alternative is, or maybe you think this sort of horror comes built in to the role of President of the United States, I don’t know.

What I do know is that Action Comics #9 is a perfect inaction comic, both the product and cause of frustrated dreams. It’s immaculately constructed, with two levels of symbolism wrapping around each other until they start to look like different points on a Möbius strip, but the fact that this strip eventually trails off to a resolutely Morrisonian climax is notable for how little this ending reflects the reality of the world outside of the comic.

Back at the start of the year, I said I was “sick of living in reflexive fear, sick of giving money to horrible bastards in exchange for shiny toys, and sick of feeling hopelessly overwhelmed, always.”

I’m still sick of all these things, but I’ve not done anything about it, and Action Comics #9 is an all-too-fitting punishment/reward…

ART PARAGRAPH: IN THE END ALL THAT’S LEFT OF THE EVIL SUPERMAN, OUR SUPERMAN, IS HIS BROKEN CHEST ICON, A SYMBOL OF MULTIVERSAL DECAY, A REMINDER OF WHAT LIFE IF REALLY LIKE OUTSIDE OF THE PAGES OF THE COMIC ITSELF, OF A  WORLD – OUR WORLD – IN WHICH REAL CHANGE HAS TO BE MADE AGAINST HISTORY, IN WHICH IT TAKES MORE THAN THE MOVEMENT FROM ONE PAGE TO THE NEXT.

***

[1] I wasn’t too impressed by the first issue of Faction and Aja’s Hawkeye – it felt like a slightly too efficient pastiche of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s work on Batman: Year One for my tastes – but the second issue was a stealthy demonstration of the fact that someone was been paying attention to everything that was worked about the Waid/Rivera/Martin run on Daredevil. With any luck Fraction will be able to keep his tendency for hip whimsy under control and let the focus on what’s happening and how.

Grant Morrison’s other ongoing superhero comic, Batman Incorporated, is still drawing all kinds of unhealthy energy from illustrator Chris Burnham’s rapid artistic growth, and Frazer Irving’s art on the recent #0 issue was every bit as theatrical as you could’ve hoped, with every panel looking like it was being projected up at you from the page:

Someone on my twitter feed recently opined that Batman Incorporated and Sean Murphy’s Punk Rock Jesus are the only two worthwhile comics that DC are putting out right now, and while that’s true enough from my experience (Edit – oops, except for Dial H, sorry China!), I don’t read enough of that shit to be authoritative here – maybe one of the Sponsorship Boys could tell you otherwise.

Still, this tweet got me thinking about how both Batminge and Punk Rock Jesus are both overtly concerned with one big topic (SUPERMONEY and JESUS respectively), when they’re really all about expressing pent up mummy and daddy issues in a series of  increasingly cool ways. Not that I’m complaining, mind – I enjoy the fact that they go to so much effort into being something other than what they are.

I’ve not read nearly enough of Gillen and co’s Journey Into Mystery to talk about it in detail, but I like what I have read enough to want to read more.  Here’s an interesting Tom Ewing article, for those of you who have read the series. Pay attention to the title: The House Always Wins.

[2] The one genuinely startling superhero comic of the year, The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred, isn’t so much an inevitable reaction to the times as it is a side-product of Mindless bitching.  Or at least so the book’s creators, Shaky Kane and David Hine, claim in the tenth edition of Kieron Gillen’s Decompressed podcast.

Mindless Ones: making comics less intelligible, one grump at a time.

Given that this post is gratuitously concerned with the symbolic potential of superhero comics, it’s probably fair to take a slight detour here to note the fact that BPC: Disinterred is a brilliant, six-part experiment in seeing how much symbolic weight these fractured fantasies can hold.

The series deserves a post of its own though, so for now I’ll just throw out a link to Jog’s analysis of the sneaky deconstruction of “play” in the third issue in the hope that this chum draws out one of my fellow Mindless Ones to write something about how this played out across the other five issues. What can I say, I’m nothing if not lazy!

[3] This is all true enough, but as Jog recently pointed out, Action Comics #0 was also “an odd effort at capturing the faintly art movie-ish tone of Zack Snyder’s teaser to the upcoming Man of Steel so it’s not like Morrison has completely abandoned his ongoing attempt to wring meaning out of marketing.

Morrison’s not the only one to try and make sense out of this dishwater toned trailer, and you can read Andrew Rilestone‘s efforts in that direction here.

[4] Readers who find themselves thrown by Morrison’s current position might want to look at back at The Invisibles, in it is stated that, contra Joe McCulloch Guy Debord, there is “no recuperation, only feedback”.

Personally I never found this aspect of Morrison’s schtick very convincing, and I would argue that The Society of the Spectacle is still annoyingly pertinent today:

Spectacular consumption which preserves congealed past culture, including the recuperated repetition of its negative manifestations, openly becomes in the cultural sector what it is implicitly in its totality: the communication of the incommunicable. The flagrant destruction of language is flatly acknowledged as an officially positive value because the point is to advertise reconciliation with the dominant state of affairs–and here all communication is joyously proclaimed absent. The critical truth of this destruction the real life of modern poetry and art is obviously hidden, since the spectacle, whose function is to make history forgotten within culture, applies, in the pseudo-novelty of its modernist means, the very strategy which constitutes its core. Thus a school of neo-literature, which simply admits that it contemplates the written word for its own sake, can present itself as something new. Furthermore, next to the simple proclamation of the sufficient beauty of the decay of the communicable, the most modern tendency of spectacular culture–and the one most closely linked to the repressive practice of the general organization of society–seeks to remake, by means of “team projects,” a complex neo-artistic environment made up of decomposed elements: notably in urbanism’s attempts to integrate artistic debris or esthetico- technical hybrids. This is an expression, on the level of spectacular pseudo-culture, of developed capitalism’s general project, which aims to recapture the fragmented worker as a “personality well integrated in the group,” a tendency described by American sociologists (Riesman, Whyte, etc.). It is the same project everywhere: a restructuring without community.

[5] You’ll notice that I’ve stolen the observation about the inverted colour scheme on Ellis’ chest symbol from Marc, but what can I say – in a post that’s at least partly about benefiting from the labour of others, it felt like an appropriate move.

24 Responses to “Action Comics #9, or “The Drones of Metropolis””

  1. Anonymous Says:

    He was screaming from his cage, there. We may not see that again for a while.

  2. Simmered Says:

    This is a thoughtful, well done piece, but it does something that’s been going on for the last few months that I really have to wonder at- why does every review of a Morrison product now have to be bizarrely conflated with a discussion of his interviews?

    Nearly all of them are aghast of something he said he said about this person or that creator – but this is the man who said that Wall Street was worse than Al-Qaeda on Sept 12th – you should’ve already been offended or figured out that you don’t care.

  3. Illogical Volume Says:

    Thanks Simmered.

    I’m definitely sympathetic to your point because Morrison has said a lot of weird/dumb shit in his time – claiming that climate change just part of the process of our cosmic evolution, for example – that I’ve generally been able to gloss over because he writes good comics.

    Like I said in my post though, it’s become almost impossible to talk about corporate superhero comics without also discussing creators rights issues this year, and Action Comics #9 is overtly concerned with these issues (and thus, at a remove, with Morrison’s interview quotes) to the extent that I would suggest you couldn’t write a useful essay on it without addressing these topics. I read the CBR review of this issue and wondered what its point was; hopefully, my post won’t provoke the same response.

  4. Botswana Beast Says:

    Wall Street probably is worse than al-Qaeda, given it exists.

  5. Illogical Volume Says:

    Congratulations Botswana Beast, as the lucky author of the [FOURTH] comment on this post, you get to choose your own response from these [THREE] exciting options…

    (1) Look, I know it was a duff movie but I’m not sure that calls into question its ontological certainty!

    (2) BB: just cos they stopped inviting you to the meetings doesn’t mean they no longer exist you know.

    p.s.

    How’s yr attempt to bring about the Islamic State of Broughty Ferry coming along?

    (3) Heh, aye, true.

  6. igmus Says:

    If you strip everything away, at the end of the day you’ve still spent more than $50 on a dozen very mediocre superhero comics, starring a hackneyed protagonist, written by an egomaniacal rich man who lives in a castle, published by a big multinational corporation. All of the issues are drenched in jingoism and nostalgia (including issue 9, which is a nostalgia trip back to Final Crisis #7 and its embarrassingly childish–not “childlike”–optimism about how happy comics were going to magically become all of a sudden just because Grant Morrison said so — a stupid braindead optimism very similar to the totally unfounded political optimism of that brief time.)

    I remember an interview from a year or two ago in which Morrison expressed disapproval for what Obama had become because “He looks mean on TV now” (paraphrasing). That’s the babyish level on which all of Morrison’s real-world opinions rest. Whether someone happens to “look mean” on TV can totally change his opinion of them — like a baby crying because a “mean man” on TV raised his voice or something. Then the next day baby will be all smiles and sunshine again, and if the same man on TV smiles back, then baby will giggle and support that man politically. Morrison can still be a great writer of fiction, though, it goes without saying. And frankly I think most people, certainly most voters, of both political wings operate in much the same way.

    But at this point I think maybe there’s a parallel to be made between justifying the mediocrity Sir Grant’s Action Comics and justifying the dubiousness of Obama himself. Strip away all of the rhetoric and you’re left with a president whose record is over 90% similar to his predecessor’s… and yet, conveniently for his backers, he doesn’t get 10% of the grief that Bush got. Yet the Middle East continues to be looted and on fire, with tons of Western over-involvement (only we don’t say “War on Terror!” anymore, so things seem happier). Money from Wall Street continues to pour into the coffers of both political parties, and whoever gets the most of that corporate swag will probably be the next president…just as it was when the “People’s President” won in 2008. And if Obama really wanted to do anything to help “the people”, he could have done so during the years when his party had a supermajority in Congress. But, no, instead he was either a hypocrite about what he really believed — or else he was a coward, take your pick. And his party was too busy pushing a healthcare bill that, whatever anyone thinks of it, was 90% similar to the Republicans’ plan. So, not much difference. Not much of any substance to champion. Maybe a few things were okay — a proportion similar to whatever goodness can be found in Morrison’s Action Comics.

    The difference is only in the rhetoric. The very presence of Morrison on a comic lends itself to critics’ rhetoric and exaggerated goodness, much the same as the very presence of “Supercool First Black President!” does. But any rallying cry for an “Obama-riffic” president as if he were anything close to a healthy, sane, non-corporate, non-crony-capitalistic entity is just as ridiculous as hailing TimeWarner/DC Comics’ “Superman”(R) as a realistic hero for real people and a legitimate tool to improve humanity’s lot.

    You can disagree with that, but, hey, I’m not the one paying for so many shitty overpriced Superman comics just because a deceptively liberalizing author/poser’s name is on the cover. As with the people who vote for 2008′s (and — it’ll be close — possibly 2012′s) “Wall Street Candidate of the Year” Barack Obama, I guess that’s what some people have to do to feel like they’re fighting the good fight or whatever. I can’t really blame them. We all do and say what we need to in order to get by psychologically.

    “Wall Street probably is worse than al-Qaeda, given it exists.”

    But I totally agree with you there. And I agree with what Morrison said on Sept 12th.

    I do think the Communist idea (aside from its conceivable pure reality, which will forever remain even less existent than al-Qaeda) is and has always been a tool for globalist super-capitalists to subvert certain countries. Post Marx, at least. I agree with Marx on a lot of levels, but his formulations obviously undermined a lot of was good in workers’ movements and put most of the communist impetus the hands of international bankers (note: NOT many of them Jewish) from that point forward. But that said I don’t begrudge or look down on you a bit for daydreaming about it.

    As always, whenever I do this, feel free to just delete this comment. It’s your site and I did basically just rant quite a bit. Though hopefully someone can get something out of it.

  7. RetroWarbird Says:

    Who needs Action when you got words?

    I’ve found an amount of frenetic cohesion and unity in the non-Morales issues of Action, between Ha, Kubert and this month, Foreman.

    Ben Oliver on the other hand just pops in and drops urban landscapes as stark and lived in as Hopper paintings. His figurative work has a really early 20th century dusty publication quality – think Norman Rockwell’s “Rosie the Riveter”. The belabored point being that in this case, I’ve felt all along that Morrison’s Action Comics could work in spite of his shifted, on-the-fly narrative, had the artist been up to the task. One glance at the “Mystic Mr. Triple X” photograph hammers this home. The closer to reality the Realist artist gets, the more unbelievable and cool the fantastic Actions will seem and that contrast provides the dynamism and fires the imagination. The cape wore down the knife. Workboots dug in and braked the train.

    Anyway before I bring anything to the discussion of Action # 9 I want to have a re-read of it (and possibly the rest of Action) with an eye for class issues. Somewhere at the intersection of writer, character and reader it strikes that we all have a poor working class background in common, and that’s where every one of my angles on Idealist vs. Pragmatist, Messianic Obama vs. Occult Capitalist Heretics, and all the rest’ll come in.

  8. Illogical Volume Says:

    Heh, Igmus, pal, no one’s deleting yr comments, you’re an interesting guy, we like you – or at least, I like you, I can’t talk for the rest of those bams in Team Mindless.

    What I would say is that, much as I enjoyed yr comment, I’m not entirely sure who some of your observations are directed at. There are points – quite a few of them, actually – that you make that are already in the post. Some of them are plainly stated while others are implied by juxtaposition or hidden in links or hover text, but a lot of them are there in one form or another.

    So, for example, it’s a bit confusing for me to feel like I’m being “telt” about how blankly cheering Obama is as daft as believing that superhero comics are going to save us when this is one of the things that the post is *about*, you know? If you’re just joining in the chat then hey, if we’re not on the same page then we’re at least on the same chapter so I hope you’ll forgive me for wondering about this, I’m nothing if not a delicate flower. Bonus points for mentioning Our Moz’s Floating Castle though – I love that book.

    I reckon that where we differ is in terms of how much we both think there is to “strip away” in this conversation. I don’t think the hastily nostalgic callback to the end of Final Crisis devalues Action Comics #9, but as I said in the essay itself, there’s something amusingly unsatisfying about Morrison dismissing all the horrible connotations he’s conjured up using his standard ending.

    Speaking of which: while I’m tired of Morrison’s superhero triumphalism, and while I certainly won’t be taking my real world political analysis from the man himself anytime soon, I would argue that his work isn’t totally useless in real world terms. On an emotional level, there’s a lot of raw, brilliant stuff in his body of work (fuck me, Doom Patrol! The Filth!), and I’d argue that when he pushes himself he can do tricksy moral stuff within the metafictional confines he’s set himself too. It’s just a shame that he’s come up with a comforting story that he finds a bit too convincing, and that his writerly side doesn’t always remember to complicate that on the page.

    Ah, but it occurs to me now that I’m going what I’ve said you might have been doing, because you did say Sir Baldy could be a good writer of fiction, so…

    Uh… yeah, that was it! I was going to talk about “stripping away” layers of this conversation about Obama, who I agree with you is an American president and every bit as horrible as that title implies, but whose race I don’t think is quite so simply cast aside as you suggest, given America’s historical and present day racial divisions. This doesn’t make the killer sky robots any less FUCKING INSANE or the healthcare bill any less laughable, but… I’m with Killer Mike on this, I guess!

    In short, then: Action Comics has been rubbish, no one wants to justify it, Obama’s a US president (baddie) but his race isn’t totally insignificant to the story, Action Comics 9 is a genuinely good comic with a trite conclusion that is subtly undermined by my wishful thinking and the presence of that cancerous, “real” Superman logo in the fictional universe of Calvin Ellis.

    Glad you’re not mocking my full communism daydreams by ra way. I’ve only got so many jumpers, and the air is getting colder day by day. Would be interested in hearing more of yr thoughts on communism as tool for global capitalism but understand if you can’t be arsed.

  9. Illogical Volume Says:

    Looking forward to your analysis, Retrowarbird. Don’t know how certain I am that good art alone could have saved this run but it certainly wouldn’t have hurt!

  10. PapaPopGuru Says:

    Interesting Post! I look forward to the next one! ! (!)
    Are you or any of the other Mindless One’s in the process of reading “Happy!”? It’s something of GMoz’s that hasn’t had the level of feedback that seems acceptable. Either a little too sycophantic and extricated or simply renounced without anyone actually doing either on the comics actual merits and flaws. Would find your two cents insightful…

  11. Marc Says:

    I came for a comic review and a political fight broke out! Well, I hope it doesn’t become a fight but I thought I’d weigh in as one of the “baddies”–or at least an enthusiastic supporter of the same.

    I have no interest in dismissing legitimate criticisms of Obama, but so much of what I see from the left (here and elsewhere) is couched in absolutist and defeatist formulations that bear little relation to the reality of his record, i.e.

    “Strip away all of the rhetoric and you’re left with a president whose record is over 90% similar to his predecessor’s…”

    Over 90%? Really? That must be news to the people of Iraq, or to the servicemen no longer occupying Iraq, or to the gay and lesbian servicemen who can now serve openly, or to gay and lesbian couples who now have a president who supports their right to marry, or women who can now get basic contraception through their health insurance, and so on and so on.

    Or:

    “This doesn’t make the killer sky robots any less FUCKING INSANE or the healthcare bill any less laughable, but…”

    It might seem laughable from the perspective of someone who’s covered by the NHS from cradle to grave, but it probably doesn’t seem so laughable to the 50 million or so people who will get health care because of it, right?

    I have no desire to defend Obama on all issues. The drone warfare–yeah, that is insane, although most such criticisms ignore the fact that it is orders of magnitude less devastating than the occupations and airstrikes favored by pretty much all of Obama’s predecessors. Too many left critiques of Obama combine this sort of blithe dismissal of the president’s actual record with an insistence on a perfect, Platonic conception of politics that any actual politician, burdened with both the compromises and the exercises of power, cannot help but fall short of. I find that pretty ironic given that Igmus (and other Obama critics, right and left) like to accuse Obama supporters of unhealthy idealism, as in:

    “The very presence of Morrison on a comic lends itself to critics’ rhetoric and exaggerated goodness, much the same as the very presence of “Supercool First Black President!” does. But any rallying cry for an “Obama-riffic” president as if he were anything close to a healthy, sane, non-corporate, non-crony-capitalistic entity…”

    I’m not sure who these hypothetical supporters are, basing their support on Obama-riffic supercool blackness. Perhaps they are (like so many of Obama’s left critics) people who only observe politics from afar with no skin in the game, so to speak. The Obama supporters I know–the people who show up every week to canvass or phone bank–generally do it because we like his policies and acknowledge the very real differences from his opponents, who would happily roll back every one of the reforms you pretend didn’t happen.

    I don’t think this issue of Action Comics makes a particularly good launchpad for talking about Obama, though, because I don’t think it has anything in particular to say about Obama, and what it does say is hopelessly muddled. (The backup feature, unusually for this series, is much smarter than the lead story in recognizing all the unsavory implications of a president who uses his power unilaterally to remake the world–not to mention the unsavory implications of a black president who actually is the secret alien Obama’s most unhinged critics wish he were.) OTOH I think it has quite a bit to say about Superman, not in the least its recognition that Luthor’s critique of the fascist bully boy is 100% valid, that that aspect has always been just as much a part of the character as Superdoom’s corporate ownership–the issue gets more and more ambivalent on the character the more I look at it. But Calvin Ellis’s blank optimism has about as much to do with Barack Obama as Igmus’s scornful caricature.

    Also, Igmus, I don’t volunteer for Obama because I want to feel like I’m fighting the good fight or to “get by psychologically” or even because I wish I had a supercool black friend. I do it because political change is fought out on the ground, inch by inch, and because working to elect candidates, pass legislation, and end wars is somewhat more effective than bitching on the internet when our fantasies disappoint us.

  12. Marc Says:

    Okay, back to comics!

    * David, you’re entirely too easy on Rags Morales. (Unless “his artwork has been a reasonable match for the stories” was meant as a withering put-down of Morrison’s scripts, in which case, well played sir.) Not that he’s what’s wrong with Action Comics at its root, but he certainly isn’t doing anything to make it right. Morrison tends to write up or down to the level of his collaborators, and… well…

    * That second issue of Hawkeye was lovely, wasn’t it? That page with Kate’s words stretched out letter by letter into graphic elements, that shoots way beyond Waid/Rivera/Martin (which is obviously the template for this series) and even Mazzuchelli and almost reaches Chris Ware levels. I’m glad I read that one first–if I’d started with issue 1 (too cute by half, bro) I might not have come back.

  13. Illogical Volume Says:

    Hey Marc, long time no speak, I always like it when your clean-thinking, sensible head pops up here!

    Your points on what’s left of Obama (no-pun intended!) when you strip away the rhetoric are well-taken. With regards to the healthcare bill, well, I spend half my time wishing that I didn’t qualify my statements so much and the other half wishing I threw a few more qualifiers in there, and this is an occasion for the latter. What I would say is that, from my (admittedly privileged) perspective America’s lack of/aversion to cradle to grave healthcare seems every bit as FUCKING INSANE as a killer sky-robot, but I’m guessing you feel similarly even if you’d express that from a different perspective so there’s hopefully no need to prattle on about that here.

    If anyone wants to start a proper political fight then they should probably talk about “saving Our NHS from the ConDems” about now and thus prompt our very own Andre Whickey to swoop into action like a Beach Boys loving Batman, complete with Brian Wilson-wrangs (horrible coinage, never again) and detailed explanations of how much that is toxic about the NHS bill is just a diet coke version of Labour policy. Which is to say that I’m not entirely certain about the back end of my own cradle to grave healthcare service, but that I should qualify those worries properly unless I want to give my good friend a headache!

    (NOTE: anyone attempting to give Andre a headache will receive a cyberkick to the genitals.)

    I obviously don’t think that this issue has nothing to say about Obama or I wouldn’t have dragged him into this in the first place (though, hey, peep that hover text – “It’s fair to say that Morrison and Ha’s take on the reality of Obama’s presidency is less nuanced than, say, Ta Nehisi Coats’…”), but even though we all seem to be in agreement that Morrison’s blank optimism is no remedy, I’ll stand by the idea that making “unrealistic” demands with regards to healthcare or foreign policy is most definitely worth doing if we want to try and make a world worth living in. Airstrikes and occupations may be EVEN MORE INSANE than killer sky robots, but that doesn’t make the latter any more palatable, you know?

  14. Illogical Volume Says:

    And now, like the man (almost, except not quite, not really) said, back to a subject worthy of serious consideration: comics!

    Marc – I didn’t reread the backup strip before writing this piece but I do remember it being better than average so I’ll give it a once over with your points in mind.

    With regards to Morales’ art, yeah, I’m sad to say that was me being catty about the quality of Morrison’s scripts. I’ve been rereading New X-Men recently and even a decade on it’s still striking how much Morrison’s writing improves every time he’s paired with a sympathetic artist, but Action Comics as a whole has been largely uninspired on all fronts.

    So glad you mentioned Luthor’s role in Action Comics #9, by the way! I meant to give him a footnote of his own but I got carried away linking to Joe McCulloch and I forgot – one of the many dangers of comics blogging, that.

    And yes, the fucking “bro” thing in Hawkeye #1! Oi, Fraction: No!

    PapaPopGuru – Glad you liked the post, the Sponsorship Boys talk about Happy! a little in the latest SILENCE! and I think bobsy is going to do a proper review for the site so keep your eyes out for that, it’ll probably be a belter.

  15. Jog Says:

    I know I’d *like* to say something substantive about Happy!, but the first issue didn’t really provide much to work with beyond establishing the premise and belaboring some dubious jokes in between okay flights of violence. I’ve heard in a few places it’s all supposed to be a hellacious takedown of Garth Ennis and/or Mark Millar, but… I mean, I don’t even think those two are all that similar anymore, and if this is supposed to be an Ennis parody it’s pitched in essentially the same reductive, awkward manner as Ennis’ mostly crap superhero parodies in The Boys, which I suppose could be a meta-comment of its own, although The Boys at least eventually built something going on plot-wise beyond superheroes haw haw haw. All Happy! seems to be doing on that level at the moment is going “wouldn’t this shit be stupid if it was really shitty and stupid?” Well, sure!

    Still, I imagine Morrison has more up his sleeve, in the manner of the (more adroit) Promethea parody in Zatanna giving way to other concerns…

  16. Illogical Volume Says:

    Yeah, Happy! #1 didn’t strike me as a direct attack on the Ennis/Millar axis (such as it is) either.

    I mean… I think Morrison’s definitely drawing on the broader aspects of both writers’ works in order to create the initial “unreal” environment of the comic, and the fact that Robertson is drawing the book is hardly insignificant, but it mostly just felt like he was reaching for a different sort of gritty-dark from the one he usually deploys in this sort of situation.

    Morrison’s worn this particular “ugh, darkness – let there be light!” groove out over the years so I understand why he’d be looking for a new way into it, but I didn’t find this introduction overly convincing and I’m hoping there’s more to it than that.

    Still, I enjoyed the man vs. horse banter on the last few pages, so I remain hopeful that it’s all going to pay off down the line.

  17. The Beast Must Die Says:

    I’m not sure that Morrison is gunning for Ennis’s style either, rather he’s splashing around in that stylistic world for the purpose of the story. I imagine he enjoys Ennis as much as the next guy. Morrison’s got plenty of his own c*nty black humour – see ZZZENITH.COm, FILTH, SKULL KILL KREW… it’s not exactly new territory. I actually think thte main issue with Happy! so far is that it doesn’t go far enough. The sordid world was nowhere near as considered, bleak or disturbing as even one page of The Filth.

  18. Jason Says:

    I didn’t mind Happy, i thought it was interesting but I have to say that the first half of the issue felt very unlike Morrison. Or at the least, very unlike the Morrison i enjoy. I do feel that as the issue went on the more surreal aspects of his work started to creep in, and i’m intrigued to see how that plays out. But i hate cheap vulgarity and violence just… i don’t know.

    I’m totally burnt out on violence and sex. They tell me i should check into a re-americanization clinic but my health care unfortunately only covers the first two visits.

    I liked Action #9 quite a bit, largely because it felt like a massive shift in direction for the quality of the title. Unfortunately that hasn’t really continued at all.

    Batman Inc #0 however had me smiling cover to cover. That art… =D

  19. werdsmiffery Says:

    Not to draw things back to the dreaded realm of politics, but I find ObamaSupes kind of interesting in that you can draw parallels between the two as figures who are immensely powerful and inspiring icons for loads of people, and yet are still mired in a grubbily compromised real-world context. Which shouldn’t let anyone off the hook; as Illogical said in comment #13: “making “unrealistic” demands … is most definitely worth doing if we want to try and make a world worth living in.” Which is why Morrison’s statements on Siegel & Shuster and justifications/defenses of same are so shabby, and why the sight of allegedly principled leftwingers defending Obama’s drone strikes (sorry, but “killer sky robots” is way too cutesy a formulation for my liking) is so depressing.

    But for moral objection to be effective, it has to have awareness of that context of injustice and exploitation that extends out far beyond one funnybook writer. Which is why I find this piece to be one of the few on the subject that have really hit the mark for me. It certainly stands in contrast to a certain stripe of comics blogger, who read like they’ve just taken Baby’s First Set Of Ethical Precepts out of the box and haven’t learned how to use it for anything except scoring cooler-than-thou points (“I was hating Morrison before you, maaaaaaaan”)…

  20. Illogical Volume Says:

    Werdsmiffery: Ah, see, but I’m not trying to be cute with the “killer sky robots” stuff – I’m actually trying for the opposite effect there, because anytime I hear someone talking about drone strikes it only takes a few seconds before my brain screams that phrase at me in startled horror.

    Dinnert worry about drawing the comments thread back to politics though! While all TRUE feelings must necessarily be about comics (because: facts!*), it’s good to talk about actual life or death stuff every now and then too.

    Also: how could I be cross with you when you’ve elegantly condensed the movement of my post like that? The gap between your first paragraph abd your second is crucial, because it’s the exact size of the gap between the two things I’ve argued that this comic draws together, and while – like you – I think the Superman content of this story is reflective of the Obama side, I was wary of suggesting that they’re interchangeable since they’re demonstrably not the same. For the duration of one issue if Action Comics this looks like one Möbius strip, but that’s just a clever, unusually informative illusion, you know?

    All of which is to say: good comment!

    Jason: AN AVERSION TO VIOLENCE IS A SICKNESS: PRISON PIT IS THE CURE!**

    Anonymous: Forgot to say that Action Comics #9 does read like cage rattling, but that I’m more inclined to read the contrast between Morrison’s public pronouncements on this topic and his writing about it here as the contrast between his public persona and his writerly instincts.

    *And hey, now I’m being cutesy on purpose!

    **Heh, nah, no need to put yrself through that if it’s not your thing. Americans can dig non-violent entertainment too, I’m sure I read an article about it in the Guardian once…

  21. Foxy Basra Says:

    Just read the original Action Comics and its left-wing Superman. It’s better than this in every way.

  22. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Flashing Back To Action Comics —-> “The place is here, the time is now” Says:

    [...] between Clark/Jimmy/Lois remains merely promising throughout, but knowing how Morrison tends to rise to his collaborators, I can’t help but feel that he would have given his cast better material if they’d demanded it [...]

  23. After The Paracetemol | A Trout In The Milk Says:

    [...] to be there, and you know it does put me in mind a bit of Grant Morrison’s Supergods fol-de-rol, where if we just believe in the superheroes they will eventually come bounding off the page and [...]

  24. Flashback! To “Star Trek: Into Darkness…!” | A Trout In The Milk Says:

    [...] just like that, Grant Morrison starts looking a bit more like Bill Moyers, doesn’t [...]

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