It’s the magic thing, right? Wait, I mean (tents fingers, raises eyebrow) tis the magicks, aye? Or perhaps the claims of alien encounters mixed with Hunter S. Thompson levels of self-medication? Is it simply that, as so many lament, Grant Morrison revels in needlessly making the straightforward labyrinthine? While the cause of contention is likely an amalgamation of all of the above, these are the common refrains heard with regards to the popularity of comics’ Glaswegian shaman. This week saw the release of Morrison’s second dip into the Multiverse pool in his latest opus to the superhero, The Multiversity, and I’m about as eager to listen to the dissenters as I am to accept the Candy Crush invitations from my Aunt on Facebook.
There should be two things immediately evident about Morrison after examining his work: firstly, the man loves comic books and, secondly, his is a unique voice in an industry with a growing number of diverse voices. Disagree about everything thereafter, but acknowledge those two truths for good or ill. His supporters will point to the density and structure of his storytelling and proclaim his genius while detractors will question why the stories required that complexity at all and that it serves only to obscure. There exists a scripted debate between readers that consists of accusations of lazy miscomprehension and pretentious cult-like worship. Few other comic writers outside of Morrison invoke these defensive reactions amongst fan base. Without fail the first shot fired across the bow of the unbelievers rumbles, “You’re not getting what he’s doing here!” and reflexively they’ll shout, “we do get it, we just don’t think it’s good” and the antiphony will sound, “Then you don’t get it at all!” creating an ouroboros of logic that is thoroughly maddening. Part of this is rooted in the all too common smartest-kid-in-the-class mentality that is found throughout all corners of fandom; another part is the much larger conversation of entertainment’s role as escapism. To both, I roll my eyes.
Let’s all stop and simply admire what is on the page before us when we open a Morrison book: the realization of a child’s belief in the power of the superhero. Bizarre as it might be to consider, he isn’t wrong when he says superheroes are real. They are real in the exact same sense as other popular imaginary figures are; they exist outside of the pages they are printed on and exist in the zeitgeist as modern mythical figures that are as real to some as the pantheon of Greek gods were to others long ago. Morrison looks to celebrate this as often as he can by acknowledging their existence off the page within his printed pages. Feel free to question if this is thematically what you want in your chosen form of entertainment, but do not neglect the craft of how it is delivered. It’s carefully layered throughout all his work, specifically that for DC (which can, and probably should, be read as one continuous story), and ultimately strives to reveal the core essences of each and every character he touches. Whether the end result is one you agree with or not is irrelevant. Callously labeling the complexities as unnecessary and self-aggrandizing is inarguably unfair and, frankly, incorrect.
This medium has few writers exploring the nature of comic books themselves while still providing a narrative that can occasionally speak directly to the reader. And no, it is most certainly not like the Brechtian conversations Deadpool has with you. Dense storytelling can mean confusing storytelling, that’s true, but it isn’t as inaccessible as many have claimed. Grant Morrison isn’t trying to be weird for the sake of weird nor is he hiding a lack of skill behind a wall of Bat-Mite nostalgia and time travel trickery. What he is doing so exceptionally in his latest work, as he has in virtually all his mainstream titles, is continuing to enhance the interaction between fan and myth and between creations and imaginations. If that’s not your bag, that’s more than understandable. There is a dearth of equally deserving titles that should be read each and every week. But let us not fail to acknowledge the celebration, the sheer bacchanalian joy, of the characters, places and themes we all love, or at least once loved, that occurs every time Grant Morrison’s name appears on the printed page.