The Failure of The Filth

July 2nd, 2015

The five people who are eagerly awaiting my book on Grant Morrison and Chris Weston’s pestilent fantasy The Filth will note that the book has still not been released yet.

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That I have failed to finish this project in time for the release of the hardcover edition of The Filth will surprise no one who has retained interest in the project for this long. The fact that said hardcover contains just the bare minimum of fresh material  – a script for issue #6, some sketches that make the book even more difficult to read on the bus, the reheated contents of the charmingly crap Crack Comicks website – will also fail surprise anyone with a basic understanding of both comics and capitalism.

Good little enemy of the entertainment complex that I am, I paid to consume The Filth for the third time anyway. The hardback edition simulates the glossy colouring of the single issues rather than the battered bog roll of the trade paperback. It offers the reader a sense of solidity, of lasting luxury, that the previous editions lacked.

The Filth is a disgusting, slippery mess of a book. As Terrance Moreua said in the comments to one of my preview posts:

The visual grammar of The Filth is all over the place. The discontinuity being part of the point, of course. There are times when it seems to be Morrison’s script callouts (the tv cameras) and times when it seems to be Weston (background texture effects, etc) and times where it’s really fucking hard to tell (the goddamn photoshop transform tool effect to signify getting squeezed into the crack, or getting your personality fucked with in psychedelisex)…

Essentially, I find The Filth to be textually rich, garishly colored, expressively acted, disgustingly rendered and more. But comparatively poorly composed. I think there are too many components fighting for interplay. And while that’s part of the larger point, I think a little less noise and little more signal would have heightened the contrast between the two much better.

Another way to say all of that would be to say that The Filth is comics.

 

As part of the London Graphic Novel Network’s roundtable on All Star Superman, Ilia put forward the following suggestions about the book’s ultimate meaning:

My sense is that there’s a religion to science move in the final issue – Lois believes that one day Superman will return, while Leo Quintum goes off to try and solve the problems of the universe on his own. Maybe Quintum isn’t just Luthor (first time I’ve seen that theory and like it a lot!), but the Superman of the future. That is to say: the representation of our collective 21st century aspirations.

The Quintum/Luthor angle has been played to death round my way, but the idea that the last issue represents a move from the religious to the scientific is genuinely intriguing. For me, the question is how we square that with Lex Luthor’s pantomime performance of smug, materialist arrogance, as captured perfectly by Marc Singer here:

The second half of the series highlights Superman’s capacity to inspire people, even (especially) as a purely fictional character.  It’s the only power he has in our benighted world, and Morrison believes it’s the most important one he’s got.  In fact, he says that if Superman did not exist, we would have to invent him (simply returning a favor, since Superman thoughtfully created us back in issue #10, March 2008; mark your calendars).  That’s why the finale pits him against an antagonist who disputes the very idea that fictions and abstractions can hold real power, as seen in this exchange from issue #12:

WHITE:  The truth sent you to the chair, Luthor!

LUTHOR:  Is that right, Mister White?  Funny, I don’t see the truth anywhere around, do you?  I mean, what color is it?  Can I touch it?

Luthor mocks White’s dedication to abstract principle, confronting him with the truth’s immateriality, because he’s a materialist to the extreme.  He says the priest at his execution “stinks of the irrational” and his niece proclaims “This is Science Year Zero!”–next I suppose they’ll be rewriting the calendar.  This scorn for idealism confirms Luthor’s stature as the series archvillain, especially since a hallucinatory Jor-El (himself part of “the field of living, fluid consciousness”) has just told his son he has given us humans ”an ideal to aspire to, embodied [our] highest aspirations.

Thankfully, I think Ilia has already suggested the answer to this question by noting that Quintum is both Superman and Luthor – a figure capable of aspiring to ideals and in working in the world to attain them.

As sneering, Kryptonian hard cases Lila and Bar-El note in issue #9, Superman is a scientist’s son, a curator of wonders who thinks his way around a problem as often as he smashes his way through it, leaving his many stand-ins (be they brawny, like Hercules and Sampson, or brainy like Lex) in the dust.  Hell, for all his self-aggrandisement, Luthor spectacularly fails to see what’s right in front of his face when he gives Clark Kent a tour through his prison, and it’s hard to imagine his nemesis making the same mistake.

What to make, then, of Quintum as a replacement Superman?

What’s his purpose?

What does he have that Superman doesn’t?

A few thoughts about working for Marvel/DC, as stolen from a Canadian friend who was trying to add a bit of clarity to my rant about Chip Zdarsky’s inability to say the name of Howard the Duck‘s “original creator”:

(1) In corporate comic, everyone is a scab because there is no union.

(2) In corporate comics, no one can be a scab because there is no union.

(3) Join the union.

What to make, then, of Grant Morrison’s dedication to superheroes, his attempts to imbue them with some sort of positivist power of their own, to try and find transcendent meaning in a series of commercially dictated genre tropes and characters that were sacrificed to them? When presented straight, in Supergods, this stuff feels as silly and desperate as it is, like an attempt to put a fresh golden frame around a thrice-stolen turd in the hope of selling it on eBay again. But in All Star Superman? Not so much. The sales pitch here is a lot more successful.

I’m was being dumb and scatological there, for sure, but the emphasis on framing is appropriate. This is Grant Morrison’s most carefully crafted book, the one he says that he “wrote for the ages”:

It’s the one that comic fans really like. They like that, you know, that architecture… It’s literary, it’s not like a live performance. Like, you read The Invisibles a hundred times and it’s different a hundred times. If you read All Star Superman a hundred times you just understand it more.

In other words, as I think he’s said elsewhere, it’s his Alan Moore comic: twelve issues, immaculately constructed as a hall of mirrors instead of Watchmen’s inkblot test, with Superman wrestling with other versions himself issue after issue as he works hard to deal with the aftermath of his own murder.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ON YOUR GOLD AND HOW TO SPEND IT!

Multiversity: #earthme

May 9th, 2015

Let’s talk about celebrity culture.

Synchronicity is a thing that appears to affect Grant Morrison comics more than most, isn’t it? Final Crisis coming with the economic crisis is just the most obvious. There are weird parallels all over the place.

For example, here, Earth-20 and Earth-40 are coming into collision, over and over again, in a cycle. The two universes collide, then rebound from each other.

This comic was published in September 2014.

In October 2014, a new interpretation of quantum physics was published by Michael J. W. Hall, Dirk-André Deckert, and Howard M. Wiseman, in Physical Review X. In this interpretation, the “many interacting worlds” interpretation, there is no waveform collapse, as there is in the Copenhagen interpretation, and nor are there any splitting universes, as in the normal many worlds interpretation. Instead there is a large but finite number of universes, all separate and existing in a gigantic hyperspace, and there are forces acting on those universes to pull them together and to push them apart. Quantum “weirdness” happens, in this interpretation, when two universes bump into each other.

No, I don’t believe it either — the standard many worlds interpretation makes more sense — but isn’t it neat that this would come out just then? Almost like the idea was just…in the air, ready to be plucked out, as it were.

But, of course, we’ve already seen that ideas aren’t in the air. It doesn’t steam-engine when it’s steam-engine time unless James Watt is around. And Multiversity: Society of Super-Heroes is, among other things, about creation. But it’s about how creation is also destruction. The very first thing created — “First time I ever took a thought and smacked it so hard into the clay of the real world, it left an unforgettable, indelible, impression” — was a weapon. By bringing ideas into the real world, they become tainted, defiled. We end up with a world in which pulp heroes are living out an obscene parody of Western imperialism in the middle east, torturing and killing, all while appropriating Eastern cultures in a rather clueless way.

Worlds collide. And when they collide, unpleasant things happen.

Of course, Society of Super-Heroes is also a meditation on the pulp genre which the superhero grew out of, and that genre had a very particular attitude to foreigners, and to the unknown. To quote from the rules of pulp storytelling laid out by Lester Dent, who wrote the first 159 Doc Savage novels (but wasn’t Savage’s “creator”; the character was “created” by the head of Street & Smith publications and a staff editor — Dent merely wrote the actual novels, and of course had to do so under a secret identity):

Here’s a nifty much used in faking local color. For a story laid in Egypt, say, author finds a book titled “Conversational Egyptian Easily Learned,” or something like that. He wants a character to ask in Egyptian, “What’s the matter?” He looks in the book and finds, “El khabar, eyh?” To keep the reader from getting dizzy, it’s perhaps wise to make it clear in some fashion, just what that means. Occasionally the text will tell this, or someone can repeat it in English. But it’s a doubtful move to stop and tell the reader in so many words the English translation.

The writer learns they have palm trees in Egypt. He looks in the book, finds the Egyptian for palm trees, and uses that. This kids editors and readers into thinking he knows something about Egypt.

To the pulp writer, there are strong men who are strong, and there are foreigners who are devious and scheming. You don’t need to actually know about the foreigners, and doing so just confuses matters. Pick up a couple of words from the language and you’re fine. You don’t even need to know that the Egyptian language hasn’t been spoken in Egypt for centuries, that it evolved into Coptic which is now rarely spoken outside the Coptic church, and that mostly people in Egypt speak Arabic. So long as you’ve got an unusual murder method, and a menace hanging over your hero like a cloud, you’re fine. Your hero is going over there to civilise them, and so they need to learn from him, not the other way round.

To this genre, the world outside is an invading force that needs to be fought off, even as the hero is usually an “explorer” going to places he’s not been invited, killing people who live there, and stealing their stuff. The whole genre is about projection, about taking one’s own faults and assigning them to an imagined opposite, much like someone reading the first paragraph of the Wikipedia page on Egyptian and then accusing a pulp writer of shoddy research.

Pulp has simple solutions, and refuses to acknowledge complex problems. There’s a reason it’s the favoured genre of fascists — the solution to everything is a strong white man being manly.

Pulp is a Manichean genre, in the pejorative rather than the actual sense. It’s a world in which there are goodies and baddies, and the goodies beat the baddies, and this is right and proper. It admits of no nuance past simple duality. Labour or Tory? Puppy or SJW? Gay or straight? DC or Major comics? Which side are you on?

It’s not a genre suited to multiplicity, to the prismatic age we find ourselves in, and it’s not surprising that the simple pulp solution of stabbing the bad guy leads to disaster here.

Pulp is a genre of simple solutions, and simple solutions lead to totalitarianism. In a world where nuance is shouted down by partisans of two neoconservative parties pushing the same policies but with opposite slogans, pulp is a genre that should be left in the past.

[Over a ten-day period I will be posting my long piece on Multiversity. Those who want it in one piece can buy the whole thing as an epub from Smashwords right now for $1, on Kindle (US) and (UK), and my Patreons get it for free]

 

It starts with money, of course. A demand, in fact, for rent.

When Multiversity was first conceived, the credit crunch, brought in by the rentier class’ insatiable demand for unearned money, had only just happened and the full extent of it wasn’t really known.

Multiversity Guidebook #1, by Grant Morrison, Marcus To, Paulo Siqueira and a cast of thousands

This is where I part ways with most of my fellow Mindless: they felt the old thrill while reading the Multiversity Guidebook, with its comic book creation myth and its parade of endless (if by “endless” you mean fifty two) alternative worlds, whereas I mostly just felt exhausted.

It’s a clever mix of marketing material, series bible and actual story, and obvious as it might have been the “dark secret” at the heart of the universe with the Chibi superheroes still reinforced the series’ running theme of how shit it is to be confronted with your own fundamental nature. You could even read the list of junked pitches, elseworlds, prestige comics and parallel worlds that form the centrepiece as a critique, if you were so inclined.  As Marc Singer noted in his clipped and clear-headed review of the comic, some of these entries are quietly scathing, and someone with the right (as in “correct”? -Ed) biases could certainly read this endless parade of Batmen and Wonder Women as a critique of capitalism’s frantic grasping (“Empty is thy hand”) and ability to reduce complexity to a series of easily recognisable products.

Is that really enough though? Not for me. The “Guidebook” section of this comic reminded me most of all of Gary R. R. Lactus’ Time of Crowns (with its endless list of medieval clans, “with their tits out”) and the end credits of 22 Jump Street, but it’s neither as succinct as the former nor as merciless as the latter – in the end, it’s just business as usual.

Click here for more on the Guidebook plus Multiversity: Mastermen and James Robinson’s Earth 2!

And we’re back… after a poorly coordinated Christmas break that was brought to you by the combined powers of sickness and having other stuff to do!

Our previous excerpt dealt with the methods of production of pornography and ended up questioning The Filth‘s efficiency as a way of dealing with the muck of modern techno-capitalism or some such shite.  This excerpt picks up right where that one left off, almost like this is what I’ve been building to all along – the question of whether the only way to discuss the muck we live in is to live with it

Palm and her five sisters

Were there alternatives?  When challenged by Greg/Ned on the horrors of the world and his role in it, Palm supervisors Man Green/Man Yellow seem to suggest that as products of this world we do not have an option about how much of it is in us:

Man Green: The crack runs through everything.  And everyone.

Man Yellow: Without it, we would be perfect, like angels, and as dull.

Convincing as this rhetoric might sound within the story, there were alternatives – different Filths were possible, and which might even turn out to still be possible if Hollywood ever gets desperate enough to commission a big budget adaptation.  Unless a work of art is created at gunpoint or under duress we should be ready to heap scorn on those who claim that they had to write the rape scene.  Nevertheless, the question remains: would The Filth be as effective as it is if it didn’t contain what it tries to critique?  The medicinal metaphor is invoked throughout the packaging of the collected edition (“The experts agree — nothing is more effective for shrinking painful existential eruptions”), but while this is yet another stimulating comparison, one should be careful not to mistake it for reality – a story is not an inoculation against other (similar/worse) stories, no matter how much we might wish it were so.

Two parallel cases present themselves within The Filth, and though they occur in the world of the story rather than in our world and thus operate by the boundaries set by its creators, they nevertheless illustrate two extremes The Filth avoids and in doing so make a limited case for its methods.

Read the rest of this entry »

Another week, another Filthy pre-view. Last Friday I spent a bit of time thinking out loud about the different approaches I might take with the cover for the print edition of this book.  This week I mostly find myself thinking that I’m going to need to tweak this piece a little to account for the current debate about these (stupid) anti-porn laws.

I don’t have enough time to re-write the relevant parts of this post today, but rest assured that it’s on my mind and that it will be on the page come April.

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I should note at this stage, possibly far too late, that I do not write any of this in a state of horrified tabloid panic.  With regards to real world pornography, I am attempting to stay cognisant of Andrea Dworkin’s description of porn as “technologized prostitution” and I have written about pornography in the context of Michael Bay movies in an attempting to take onboard Dworkin’s comment that “The dirty little secret of the left-wing pornography industry is not sex but commerce”.  I do not propose here to make moral judgements about those who star in adult movies any more than I wish to tell any sex worker what their life and profession is all about – those who labour in both fields can give  undoubtedly give a better account of the varied and complex circumstances in and around their work than I could hope to.  Instead, I wish to focus on the conditions in which hardcore movies are created, and the effects of their reception.

I find myself entranced by an unfinished series of essays written  by UK politics blogger Tom Gann in which he proposed a left wing critique of pornography that re-framed the legal debate not in terms of the (laudable) liberal defence of whatever activities grown adults chose to take part in, but in terms of the means of production: 

Max Hardcore boasts of his innovations, “Positions like pile driver, where I would gape the girls asses wide open, and provide a clear view for the camera… I also created the technique of cumming in a girl’s ass, having her squeeze it out into a glass, and then chuck the load down…  A little later, I started pissing down their throats several times during a scene, often causing them to vomit uncontrollably while still reaming their throats.” It seems unclear whether the current legislation would necessarily cover any of this…

Against capitalism’s inversion, the point cannot made enough, all these things are being done to a real woman. Capital’s inversions and bashful concealments of production underpin the argument that the thing (the pornographic image, speech) must be protected even, or rather especially, against the existence destroyed to produce it…

These conditions did not exist as part of the production of The Filth, so their importance here is as a point of reference.  Tex Porneau does not exist as an unfathomable phantom that Morrison and Weston have dredged from the void.  His actions are an extrapolation of the processes by which entertainment is produced for our consumption, and the style in which it is processed for delivery.  If the ridiculousness of Porneau’s schemes strikes us as being over the top, perhaps we should reflect on the way that Michael Bay’s movies use real world violence and technology as a starting point for their own otherworldly fantasies.  

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Frank Quitely, Grant Morrison and Nathan Fairbairn – Multiversity: Pax Americana #1

It’s here that our story begins:  in pieces.  Many, many authors have shot at this target and missed, preferring not to recognize that in truth this is what we really know, and what we really believe, about the forces that create and shape our lives — preferring not to see that what science and philosophy describe is the branch from which our lives’ dramas depend, and not just convenient intellectual set-dressing for them.

We should remember that murder mysteries are always just local expressions, of a grander philosophical struggle — someone is killing capes, and who’s next?  Well, after the scientists the answer is, we are:  as the stunning profusion of interlinked symbols that fills Pax Americana’s pages ceaselessly intimates to us the unavoidability of that final, bitter realization of entropy.  War, and death, and chaos…

…Or, what is perhaps worse:  not chaos, at all, but order.

An implacable order, that we can’t resist.  A pattern we’re trapped in, that we can’t see.

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