We all devour down here

February 13th, 2018

Hi, Mr. Morrison! Can I call you Grant?

Great. Great. Gotta say, fantastic job getting Happy! on TV and with Pax Americana changing the whole freaking game and everything.

Uh, listen. We need to talk. We’ve been going back over your oeuvre and, well, we noticed some points of…concern, so we just wanted to check on how things are going.

The Woke Liberal Fans? Nah, they love you. Don’t worry; you got that demographic locked down forever. No, what jumped out at us was the way a few of your recent-ish comics portray, you know, females.

I know you know women read your comics. But our research shows that for some reason women don’t like being treated as purely abstract concepts.

Like this, Grant. What is this?




Ah, shit, I’m too angry to keep up the ironic say-what-you-think-the-Others-are-thinking facade. Which is especially unfortunate considering how lovely Illogical Volume and Erstlaub have been about the Mindless Decade, and the pains The Beast Must Die has taken to ensure historical accuracy in his account of the same. I’m just chipping away at the feet of your statues. But then that’s what I would do, isn’t it, being a WO-MAN?

Although I came to the Mindless Ones fairly late in their history, I like to think (by which I mean, I hope, in a way that I also hope absolves me from the possibility of being a contrarian shitlord) I’ve added a little something by virtue of a) being a fully paid-up member of Women and b) having the sense of humor of a 12-year-old. Attacks on apotheoses of mythologically feminine aspects make me angry; jokes about butts and dicks make me laugh.

I hope, too, that bringing a healthy appreciation of what Grant Morrison can do at the height of his powers helped. If not for Morrison fandom, whither Mindlessness?

One of the gifts the Mindless Ones have given me, however, is a place where fucking going off on one doesn’t mean you have to hand in your True Fan badge. You can say that Creator X has produced some formally wonderful work while critiquing said work’s racial politics, or that Creator Y’s heart is in the right place but their mastery of semiotics needs improvement.

Isn’t that what all good comics/media/cultural criticism should do? you might ask. It absolutely is, but sad to say many folks have figured this out by watching what other sites do and resolving to do the opposite.

Sometimes you need a place where everybody knows your name there’s no such thing as an entrenched monument; where the response to a revered creator producing problematic material is not “yes, but”–it’s “yes, and“.

What’s really galling about that interview excerpt regarding The Filth isn’t necessarily that the image came into Morrison’s head. It’s that he wrote it down in a script draft and expected an artist (another man) to be down with that sickness.

Okay, yes, The Filth is powered by porn logic and and the degradation of the self expressed as a boner engorged with hate etc, but what the fuck?

I’m sure there was supposed to be a point to it. Mainstream pornography relies so heavily on the debasement of women it’s unreal, so possibly G-Mo wanted to argue that if you crank it (heh) to the extreme it turns into a desire to annihilate the female body altogether. But maybe, just maybe, there are other ways of showing that.

It’s all constructs, isn’t it? The Filth, I mean. Which reality would that image have existed in anyway?

Well, ours, for one. Computer: show me the worst Vertigo picture. Here’s a brutalized but still extremely sexualized woman about to get murdered in a very sexualized way! Thanks, computer.

There are one billion similar results. Would you like to see them?

I’m good, computer. If I want to see more of that I can just spend 10 seconds on Twitter or consume any form of media ever, but I appreciate the effort.

An edgy image is a lot less edgy when its ideology is woven into the social fabric of your existence. This poisonous sex/violence/power combination being leveled against women is something every woman has to deal with from basically Day One of being female. “Sometimes men who want to fuck women…also kind of hate women?!?!?!” Yes. No shit. Why else would there be so many news stories about men killing women who reject their advances? I’m glad Morrison cottoned on to this in his 40s, but it’s nothing your average 14-year-old girl doesn’t already know.

In fact, forget 14. I used to work with kids between the ages of 9 and 11, and when we were doing a sex ed unit, one of the girls asked what to do “if a boy wants to do it (sex) and you don’t want to”. The options she suggested were to run away, call the police, or just go along with him to get it over with. She knew it was wrong, and yet she knew there was the possibility that not going along with sexual demands upon one’s body could be even worse than trying to run.

Morrison’s not opening my eyes here. We’ve grown up learning how to sniff out that Spartacus Hughes impulse in men in order to survive. Give me something I don’t see instead, or something that’s less immediately likely to murder me in real life.

Oh. Shit. I forgot: it’s all a construct anyway. All abstract. All fun and games until one of us loses a fatal amount of blood and ends up on the nightly news.

What about Talia al-Ghul? I trust her, sort of, even though Morrison’s first headfirst plunge into the murky territory of the Anti-Mother is all vagina dentata and symbolic castration and inorganic womb substitutes (God forbid a woman choose not to go through nine months of radical body alteration). We all devour down here.

I’ve always found her character interesting, but under Morrison’s authorship she grew beyond the romance-or-loyalty conflict of previous comics into “Kali, Tiamat, Medusa [...] the Wire Mommy”: an adversary who could bring the World’s Greatest Detective to his knees. Within herself she contained the desires to nurture, control, destroy, and create, which on one hand are more than most female characters get in any form of media but on the other are par for the course if you’ve ever met an actual human woman. Surprisingly, we can feel more than one emotion in a single stretch of time, or even simultaneously. I think it’s part of being–what do you call it?–a person.

Sometimes I wonder if the divine Mother/Destroyer archetype, where a normally maternal goddess adopts a whole other avatar in moments of wrath or vice versa, like Durga and Kali, retains traction because men are so afraid of everyday female anger. In Supergods, as well as in interviews regarding Wonder Woman: Earth One, Morrison recalls watching his mother and sister threatening each other with pots of boiling water when they argued. While I’d hesitate to call that a healthy dynamic, it does seem kind of like a physicalization of how every woman I’ve ever met argues with her mother, including myself. My mom and I have always been close, and yet my father would mysteriously dematerialize when we began arguing in his presence, because he knew he was out of his depth.

It would explain why Morrison is so enamored of Anti-Mothers, from Talia to The Multiversity‘s Dame Merciless, plus earlier flirtations with the concept like that creepy secretary from The Invisibles who breastfeeds a guy with black insectoid ooze. When handled without care, the concept reduces women to cutouts incapable of containing multitudes, like the emotional equivalent of a Madonna-whore complex.

It would also explain why Talia isn’t allowed to express her darker impulses like a male normal supervillain. She and Batman couldn’t just conceive a child during a star-crossed night of passion. No, she has to be a god damn sex criminal. To borrow the parlance of Animal Farm for a second, fathers flawed but good, mothers practically the devil.

“Our child will be a new Alexander–a leader–”.

“Our–? Wait a minute, Talia. Did you put something in my drink?”

The first time this storyline was introduced into the Batmaniverse, in Mike Barr and Jerry Bingham’s Son of the Demon, Talia and the Dark Knight banged it out in a very consensual fashion. Batman even stuck around for a while to make sure their unborn baby was okay (spoiler: Talia tells everyone that she miscarried, but at the end of the story a mystery baby shows up on a couple’s doorstep).

Here’s what makes this particularly interesting. Readers might think the Demon of the title is Ra’s “The Demon’s Head” al-Ghul or his daughter Talia, but then shouldn’t it be Grandson of the Demon? Demon Grandpa? The wording in Son of the Demon suggests that the titular diabolical entity could be Batman, since it is his kid and whatnot. I mean, he gets called “The Dark ______” and keeps talking about how he’s a creature of the night all the time. And if he or Talia could be the Demon of the title, it drives home the idea that they are both fully responsible for the kid’s existence.

We’re not in Barr and Bingham’s world now, though. We’re in Morrisonland, where a way must be found to absolve Dadman of any culpability. So the story of Damian’s conception is no longer about two imperfect people who share a meaningful, deeply charged encounter at a moral crossroads; it’s about a Crazy Bitch who traps a good man by getting pregnant, because that’s what females do, am I right? That’s what mothers do.

That’s the feminine in me. If you believe it.

What’s hard to believe is that in his Batman run, Morrison planned out an intricate, continuity-spanning epic that somehow could not conjure up a better backstory for Talia having Bruce’s baby than “spermjacking sex crime”. He’s let himself down; he’s let the readers down…you know the rest.

What seems hard for Morrison to believe is that Batman could have been drawn to the idea of having a damn kid. But what is the Batman Incorporated enterprise, where he bankrolls underlings to carry out his legacy, if not a way to play Dad? Go ahead, children. Live your lives. I’ll pay for everything, as long as you do it the way I would.

“We chose you,” Talia says in Son of Batman, because in Morrison’s framework of gender and morality Batman is blameless–a blamelessness that comes from epitomizing what is manfully good while pathologically avoiding anything approximating the powerful feminine. (Ask yourself this. Superman’s lady friend is Lois Lane. Aquaman’s lady friend is Mera. Who is Batman’s girlfriend? More importantly, why can’t we answer that?)

Let me be clear: in a narrative where Talia did what she did, of course Batman was not at fault. What bothers me is the fact that it was in the comic in the first place. As though we needed yet another comic that introduces sexual assault as an abstract plot point, just as much as we needed continuity to be tortured into giving Batman this fucking bizarre absolution.

Plus, if I’m being honest, what also bothers me is that Talia could otherwise have understood me. Well, not me me, but my worst-case shadow self, which I think still counts.

I’m not a mother. I hope to be one in the not too distant future, though, and when I think about it I see the fear-shaped possibilities of how I could treat a person who came out of my body. Fear that I might lose them, and in so doing lose a part of myself: control.


Fear of them being hurt by others: imposing unrealistic expectations.


Fear that my human shortcomings, as a woman and as a mother, will lay the groundwork for my vilification: everything I’ve written here so far.

If you’ve read the back matter of the Nameless trade, you may have seen Morrison’s assertion that the story is about encouraging women to “kill the rock star” and “save the world”–in other words, Girl Power™! Aside from the (probable) fact that a total of literally zero readers drew that conclusion from the comic, it rings false because, well, a bunch of us had already met his Talia. We could have killed the rock star already, I wanted to say. You were just afraid of what that would really entail.

Because we all devour down here. Doesn’t everything?

Where do you think the idiom about “eating for two” comes from? To create, we must consume, or else the whole enterprise falls apart.

Beyond Kali/Durga et al, there are goddesses who combine mothering and destroying without having to switch identities. Sumerian mythology, for instance, talks about Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of fertility, journeying through the underworld of the dead. Demeter laid waste to the known world’s agriculture until her daughter returned from Hades.

Talia al-Ghul–who called herself Tiamat, Kali, the Mommy Made of Nails–could have been one of them, if only Morrison hadn’t been so scared. If only an author we revered could have acknowledged that we contain multitudes, and yes, some of those multitudes have strange dark corners, but they are us, things might be better than they are now.


*(Scan provided by @tomshaps)


4 Responses to “We all devour down here”

  1. Illogical Volume Says:

    This is outstanding Kelly. Thanks for getting at the heart of the issues around The Filth’s reproduction of certain pornographic effects more directly than I did in my various writings, though I do stand by the follownf paragraph, ridiculous as it might be:

    “The fact of the matter is that as exorcisms go, The Filth is a poor one. In order to banish the spirit of pornographic violence from your home, Morrison and Weston must first invite the cast of a porn parody version of Casper into your house in order to perform the appropriate rituals. When the stench of ghosts and incense clears, you’ll be forgiven for not feeling good about yourself for taking part in the ceremony, regardless of whether or not it proves effective in the end…”

    My broader argument has always been that The Filth manages to bring us into the “dark corners” inside ourselves in a way that might help us to avoid getting stuck in them. Your thoughts here provide a useful counterpoint: certain “dark corners” might be the fucking living room to some of “us”.

    Really love yr Bat-thoughts too. I know Morrison loves Angela Carter and I feel like some of his badmum stuff is drawn from her work as well as from his own childhood. The difference being, of course, that the fraught mother/daughter tensions in Carter’s stories are complicated by the knowledge that those roles could be reversed (& eventually were in Carter’s case).

    A wee failure of the imagination from our multiversal pal there, eh? Thanks for bringing it to light, and for helping us to celebrate our Mindless Decade right!

  2. The Beast Must Die Says:

    Loved this. I find the whole parenthood theme in Mozzer’s Batman run so fascinating. As I said elsewhere it’s totally charged and dripping with emotional anger and sadness. I loathe cheap psychoanalysis of creators based on work, but for all it’s troubling elements it feels like it’s coming from a very real place.

  3. James Wheeler Says:

    Xorn was Magneto; Batman wasn’t spiked.

    This is great, Kelly.

  4. Illogical Volume Says:

    Yes mate.

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