Give me more Grant Morrison.
It's a thought I've found myself having a lot lately.
Some call him the one true rock star of the comic book world. Others shudder at the thought of his written work.
For nerds in the know, this month's column is likely going to be a divisive one - as it's almost wholly about Morrison's long career in comics.
Last month I wrote extensively about comic book writer Jeff Lemire. Lemire has a series called "Sweet Tooth" for Vertigo, but was recently given the character Animal Man for a monthly title in DC's "New 52." Morrison's work on "Animal Man" in the 1980s remains highly regarded by critics and fans alike, and remains a staple of quality modern comics. Having started reading Lemire's new series recently, I jumped at the opportunity to own Morrison's work from the '80s when a collection of graphic novels went on sale at Chautauqua Comics.
So, as a natural extension of last month in that regard, I'm writing in reverse, from the talk of DC's current continuity last month to the classic work of Grant Morrison on "Animal Man."
Nerding Out With Nick Dean is a monthly column about comic books, movies and more. It runs the first Sunday of each month. To contact the author, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
County Legislator George Borrello told me that I'd thoroughly enjoy Morrison's "Animal Man" work from the 1980s.
He was so very, very right.
I've referred to the lawmaker anonymously in this column once before. Hopefully he doesn't mind being outed as a nerd.
As I've said before, I grew up reading Vertigo as a teen.
Vertigo is a subsidiary label of sorts run by DC Comics. For years, Vertigo is where DC published its more adult-themed material - with notable works including Neil Gaiman's "Sandman," the titles "Hellblazer" and "Preacher" as well as Morrison's "The Invisibles" and other works. In 2011, Vertigo made a sort of shift to becoming DC's place for all its creator-owned content. It's still keeping all its classic odd and envelope-pushing elements, but DC has begun letting some of that traditionally Vertigo-style weird back into its main universe of characters.
That said, back in the days before Vertigo, there was Grant Morrison's run on "Animal Man."
The "Animal Man" comic and what Morrison did with the character are often cited as reasons why DC created Vertigo in the first place.
In the late 1980s, Morrison's work on British comics brought him to the attention of DC editors, who asked him to pitch an idea to them. They accepted his proposal for "Animal Man," an old character from DC's past who wasn't all that well known.
Reinterpreting Animal Man as a character placed Morrison at the head of the so-called "Brit Wave" invasion of American comics, which involved such other writers as Neil Gaiman, Peter Milligan, Jamie Delano and Alan Moore (who had launched the "invasion" with his work on "Swamp Thing."
Having really only read more of Morrison's recent work, such as "Final Crisis" and "The Return of Bruce Wayne," I knew his comics could be hard to follow. Morrison's loved and hated for being the type of writer who plans such huge stories that his comics sometimes don't wrap up neatly in single issues - or even after dozens of issues.
Sometimes his comics don't even make all that much sense individually. He breaks the fourth wall, travels through time, travels through the multiverse, brings in all manner of oddities and magic into his work and loves to draw on the smallest bits of minutiae from throughout the DC Universe's history. Reading a book, such as "Final Crisis," can be more like a scavenger hunt than a straight-forward piece of entertainment. Grant Morrison's work is a challenge. However, as a result, it can be all that much more rewarding - though it's rarely a place for new readers to start.
Knowing all this, I was surprised to find his run on "Animal Man" so relatively straight-forward. I guess that comes because I'm reading Morrison in reverse. Many of the elements he's currently known for can be found in his run on the title. I was just surprised to find the individual issues so complete in-and-of-themselves, though, by the end of his run on the book, it was obvious how much he'd been plotting and weaving into one larger story through the many individual arcs. If I wasn't before, I'm all the much more of a Morrison fan now. So give me more Grant Morrison. Thankfully, there's enough out there to keep me reading for a long time to come.
TALKING WITH GODS
What spurred all this interest in Grant Morrison? At least enough to make him the focus of this month's column? Well, as I've so far indicated, the resurrection of Animal Man as a regular monthly character recently got me reading Morrison's original run on the title.
In addition to that though, after having canceled cable recently, I returned to Hulu to check out what the website offered for free.
There I found "Talking With Gods," a feature-length documentary about Morrison. The film looks at his life, career and all the odd intersections of those two things - such taking drugs, writing about taking drugs, practicing magic, breaking the fourth wall and meeting Superman.
The documentary features interviews with Morrison and most of his many collaborators, such as artists, editors and others in the industry. As interesting as Morrison and his work obviously are, it was neat to see Karen Berger, Jill Thompson, Frank Quitely, Phil Jimenez, Cameron Stewart, Frazer Irving and so many others.
The release is a co-production of Respect! Films and the Sequart Research & Literacy Organization. Much of the film was shot at the 2009 San Diego Comic Convention, as well as at Morrison's home in Los Angeles. It came out in late 2010 and, the last time I checked, it was still up for free viewing on Hulu.
Next up I'm thinking of checking out the similarly-themed documentaries on Alan Moore and Warren Ellis, respectively titled "The Mindscape of Alan Moore" and "Captured Ghosts."
I spent much of January recommending the Grant Morrison doc to comic book fans, to both those who love and hate his work. Though it does focus mostly on what Morrison himself has written, the film is interesting for the fact that, through Morrison's work, you can follow the changes in recent decades at DC Comics.
I think I'm going to keep on this Grant Morrison kick for a while.
Later this year, in only a couple of month's time, Morrison's "Batman, Incorporated" series will return to regular monthly distribution by DC. I'm looking forward to that. He's currently authoring "Action Comics" for the publisher, but reading his "Animal Man" run recently got me more interested in his back catalogue.
The three things I'm most interested in first are "Flex Mentallo," "We3" and "The Filth." Diehards (both Morrison fans and Vertigo devotees alike) will be surprised to learn I've yet to read "The Invisibles." But it's on my list. That's his big series.
Sure, his two volumes of "Seven Soldiers of Victory," his JLA run and the complete "All-Star Superman" are also of high interest to me, but I'm ready to return to the weird reads of my youth rather than picking up too much more superhero stuff (which has been the bulk of my reading in recent years).
Then there's also "Supergods," his non-fiction book which came out this past year - subtitled "What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human."
Writer Dave Itzkoff of The New York Times had this to say:
"Readers who wouldn't know Plastic Man from Mr. Fantastic are likely to find Mr. Morrison's overview of comic heroes too impressionistic an introduction to the subject, while die-hard fans will be disappointed by the author's superficial analysis of the ambitious ideas he conjures so readily in his storytelling."
Gah! Who wouldn't know Plastic Man from Mr. Fantastic!? Now, if you're talking The Elongated Man, maybe I can go along. But the difference between that slick-haired freak and boring old Reed Richards!? That's a no-brainer!
Still, for as meandering and pseudo-philosophical about superheroes as the book supposedly is, I'm interested in giving it a read.
All this is probably of little interest to most newspaper readers, but I'm guessing that if you've made it this far that you, dear reader, are either a hardcore Morrison fan already or are interested in a reading checklist such as the one I just crafted.
THE WALKING DEAD
It wasn't all that long ago that I was using up precious column space to whine about the mid-season break of "The Walking Dead."
Well, after weeks of waiting, the time's almost here for the show to return to its regular Sunday night slot on AMC. I've got little else to say about it other than thank God! Or thank Grant Morrison! Or thank Robert Kirkman! Or thank the weird snake deity that Alan Moore worships! Whatever floats your boat.
The point is, Rick and crew are returning to TV this month. And, in interviews late last year, Kirkman (who created the comic and works on the show) said to expect some new characters coming on board during this second half of the season. Maybe Michonne, anyone? She's certainly a possibility, though I think there are others that writers need to work into the show first - such as Tyreese.
Issue #93 of the comic hit store shelves in January. I'm all caught up. Hell of a book (and series in general). I'm loving the divergences the show has taken from what's been written in the books. The little tweaks are making for great television and allow for the books to remain unique in an "other continuity" sort of way.
Grant Morrison was actually my second choice for the focus of this month's column.
Early on in January I'd hoped to score an interview with Yvonne Craig, who played the characters of Barbara Gordon and Batgirl in the old Adam West series.
Barbara Gordon debuted as a character in January of 1967, making last month her 45th anniversary in comics. That first appearance of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl came in issue #359 of "Detective Comics."
To mark the anniversary, I thought it would be neat to talk with Yvonne Craig about her career and the time she spent playing the character. She politely declined in a very nice email back to me, explaining her knowledge of comic books is limited. The email was much appreciated. She even related a funny story about longtime DC editor Julius Schwartz and her time as Batgirl.
The column came together just fine anyway, but I figured I'd share that info of what it almost was - a full-length Q&A with the first Batgirl! And who knows!? Maybe I'll find a more compelling reason to pitch an interview to Yvonne Craig in the future. Or Burt Ward. Or Adam West himself.
More from me in a month's time.