Category: grant morrison

Big Bunny Boom

we3: written by Grant Morrison; illustrated by Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant (2004, collected 2005): Bandit the dog, Tinker the cat, Pirate the rabbit: 1, 2, and 3 of we3. They were pets. They were stolen. A secret American military project turned them into super-soldiers — heavily armed, heavily armoured, trained to work as a team, and with a boost in intelligence from the machines grafted to them.

But after a final test run, they’re to be ‘put down.’ The next phase of the program will involve larger animals specially bred and trained to replace soldiers on the battlefield. Weapon 4 already waits in its pen, too dreadful to be deployed anywhere near non-hostile civilians. there are kinks to work out.

Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely riff in unusual ways on things like the Jason Bourne books, ‘lost-animal’ novels that include The Incredible Journey, Japanese manga, and funny-animal comics with their talking animals. We cut between the humans and the animals for much of the narrative. The animals have developed a rudimentary language derived from English. They’ve also maintained their survival instincts: once they hear they’re about to be killed, they escape in search of a nebulous and mostly forgotten ‘Home.’ They don’t remember their names, but one sympathetic scientist does.

Funny, affecting, and not completely improbable, we3 also pointedly comments on both our mistreatment of animals and our dehumanization of soldiers in a quest for the perfect killing machine. The animals, already gifted by nature with reflexes and senses superior to human beings, make human super-soldiers like Captain America or Jason Bourne look like amateurs. With a dog as a tank, a cat as a fast-striking assassin, and a rabbit as a mine- and poison-gas-laying version of the Cadbury Easter Rabbit, we3 stages a battle that escalates until the powers that be deploy the terrible fourth weapon.

It’s a thrilling ride, beautifully illustrated by Quitely and movingly written by Morrison. Moments of humour erupt throughout the carnage, as do moments of sadness. The dog still wants to be a good dog in relation to people. The cat just wants to get the Hell out of there. And the rabbit, the rabbit keeps saying, ‘Uh oh’ and blowing stuff up. Highly recommended.

Justice League of Amnesia

Justice League of America: The Greatest Stories Ever Told: written by Gardner Fox, Denny O’Neil, Martin Pasko, Gerry Conway, J.M. DeMatteis, Keith Giffen, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, and Joe Casey; illustrated by Mike Sekowsky, Dick Dillin, Kevin Maguire, Doug Mahnke, Howard Porter, Terry Austin, and others (1962-2005; collected 2006): Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales’ popular and controversial Justice League miniseries Identity Crisis had just come out when this volume was assembled. The selection criteria for this ‘Best-of’ collection thus became slanted to earlier Justice League stories that led somehow into Identity Crisis. It would have been a much better idea to create some sort of Justice League: Prelude to Identity Crisis volume, but no one ever accused DC of being sensible.

This assortment of Justice League stories is enjoyable, but very, very, very heavy on the Identity Swap trope that Identity Crisis would explore. And the first story seems to have been included because it introduces the handy element Amnesium to the Justice League (the memory-erasing substance had previously appeared several times in Superboy and Superman comics). Good old Amnesium. Lightly recommended.

Superboy: The Greatest Team-up Stories Ever Told: written by Leo Dorfman, Frank Robbins, Cary Bates, and others; illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger, Dave Hunt, Bob Brown, Murphy Anderson, and others (1951-1981; collected 2011): Herein lies the template for Smallville and Arrow: early stories of a hero’s career in which he meets pretty much everyone we thought he met much later. Aquaboy! Green Arrow, Green Lantern, and Batman before they were Green Arrow, Green Lantern, and Batman! Young Lex Luthor! Young Jor-El! Young Lori Lemaris! Time-travelling Jimmy Olsen!

The 1950’s and 1960’s material is especially breezy and occasionally very, very odd as it attempts to have its earlier meet-up cake and eat it too, or whatever. So teen-aged Jor-El gets his memory erased by Amnesium so that he doesn’t remember meeting his own son on Earth. Superboy gets his memory erased so that he doesn’t remember Supergirl’s visit, a story which seems to also have a disquieting level of protosexual longing by Superboy for (first) cousin Supergirl. Lori Lemaris, Lana Lang, and Superboy all get their memories erased by Atlantean super-hypnosis so that none of them remember their earlier meeting. DC really should do a volume of the greatest memory-erasure stories ever told! Recommended.

Rictus Invictus

Doom Patrol: Musclebound: written by Grant Morrison; illustrated by Richard Case, Doug Hazlewood, Mike Dringenberg, and others (1991; collected 2008): Grant Morrison’s post-modern sensibilities flowered early on in American comic books of the 1980’s and early 1990’s with Doom Patrol and Animal Man. The Doom Patrol, a C-List superhero team created in the 1960’s, had always been a bit weird. Morrison made it weirder.

Longtime foes The Brotherhood of Evil became the Brotherhood of Dada. The Doom Patrol’s headquarters became Danny the Street, a sentient street capable of teleportation anywhere. Questions of identity, sexual and psychological and physical, became dominant motifs given that the heroes included a woman with 64 super-powered multiple personalities (or ‘alters’ as we’d say now), a human brain in a super-powered robot body that kept getting destroyed, and a strange amalgam of an alien energy being, a man, and a woman. Good times!

Here we make the acquaintance of Flex Mentallo, an odd superhero who would later show up in his own miniseries in slightly altered form. Flex can alter reality by flexing his mighty muscles — that’s why he’s the man of muscle mystery, complete with an origin that’s a parody of the old Charles Atlas body-building ads, and a ‘hero halo’ that spells out ‘Hero of the Beach!‘ whenever he exerts himself to his utmost! But when Flex battled The Thing That Lives Under the Pentagon, he lost his memory for decades. Memory restored, he and the Doom Patrol must seek out the mystery of Flex’s origins and probably save the world from some crazy thing or another.

Then it’s off to a battle with a man who hates people with beards, written by Morrison as a witty parody of that tersely purple Frank Miller prose style from Daredevil and Batman. In a sequel to an obscure Jimmy Olsen story of the Silver Age of comics. Then comes the Sex Men, on patrol for abnormally elevated orgone levels and trans-dimensional sexual imvasions. Meanwhile, something stirs within The Painting That Ate Paris, where the Doom Patrol left the Brotherhood of Dada imprisoned two years earlier after the Brotherhood’s attempt to summon the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse had a surprising denouement.

It’s all good, clean, R-rated fun, though it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger that will require you to buy the next collected volume. A bevy of artists, including the underrated regular artist Richard Case, keep things weird and yet somehow grounded at the same time. Case’s style was always closest to that of a regular superhero artist of the time, clean-lined and straightforward and traditionally heroic, which always seemed to make the things he was rendering look even weirder. Though there was something disturbing about the mouths of Case’s characters, which sometimes seemed to be clenched in some rictus of over-powering horror or passion. Highly recommended.

Bat-Time

Time and the Batman: written by Grant Morrison and Fabian Nicienza; illustrated by Frank Quitely, David Finch, Tony Daniel, and others (2010): Collecting Batman 700-703, this collection could also have been titled ‘Loose Ends’, as it comprises one double-length anniversary story, two ‘missing’ chapters from the previous Batman R.I.P. storyline (‘missing’ in the sense that Morrison could only tell them after that story was over, as they gave away certain plot points), and a bridge issue leading into The Return of Bruce Wayne.

The art is top-notch throughout, and Morrison gets his loopy on with the 700th anniversary story, which spans hundreds of thousands of years and features several different Batmen (Batmans?) in several different time periods, though the three lengthiest stories focus on Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, and Damian Wayne.

Morrison pulls in one of the Silver Age Batman’s weirdest story ideas — a time machine that essentially hypnotizes people into different eras (!) — as a prelude to The Return of Bruce Wayne, the Batman time-travel story to end all Batman time-travel stories. Well, until the next one anyway.

Enjoyable but short (about 120 pages, padded with pin-ups and diagrams of the Bat-Cave), this is best enjoyed by completists or by people who find it remaindered, as I did. As a hardcover, it’s worth $10-$12, but not the original +$20 cover price. Recommended.