It’s Grant Morrison month!  We’ll take a look at seven Grant Morrison comics, including a deep dive into Arkham Asylum.  This means we’re dispensing with 1979 and 1984 this month, so we can get right to all that 1989-2014 Morrisonian Goodness!  (Comics I read from October 1979 and 1984 are listed at the end of the article.)

October 1989

Arkham Asylum

Okay folks, strap in.  This one may take awhile.  My original take on this was a lot longer, but I decided to edit it down and focus in on one aspect of the story that I think has gone unreported (and maybe even unnoticed):  This is a comic about Jesus.

I know that some of you may have a low tolerance for this sort of “Ernest Hemingway’s use of a mackerel as a symbol for fascism” kind of analysis, but I promise you once I point some of this stuff out, the only way to  not see it is to close your eyes.

If you’re unfamiliar with this book, this is the thing that put Grant Morrison on the map in the US.  It was an original hardcover graphic novel that had the very good fortune to come out the same weekend that Tim Burton’s Batman film did — making it the best-selling original Super-Hero graphic novel of all time.  The basic story is:  Joker leads a rebellion at Arkham Asylum, the bad guys take all the workers hostage, and their only demand is that Batman join them.

Here’s how the metaphor works:  Batman (Jesus) voluntarily enters Arkham (the world) to save Two-Face (humanity) from Joker (Satan).  And in this scene Commissioner Gordon makes a pretty good stand-in for God the Father:

Note how Jim’s use of “Jesus” could be read as a curse or simply as Gordon calling Batman Jesus.  You can also see the God/Man duality expressed by Batman as he admits to that Batman is not afraid, but “he” is.

Okay.  If you think I’m pushing it there, check this out:

Here we have Batman giving himself the wounds of Christ, and the only word on the page is “Jesus.”

If that weren’t blatant enough, later Batman gets a literal spear through his side.  While declaring himself “Christ on the cedar.”  I mean, it’s not subtle.

Later, Batman announces that he’s “just a man” and Dave McKean sees fit to place an image of Jesus on the page.  If you look closely you can see that under Jesus are the words “Ecce homo,” Ecclesiastical Latin for “Behold the Man,” as spoken by Pontius Pilate in the Gospel of John while presenting a beaten, crown of thorns wearing Jesus to the crowd that had gathered.

This one might be pushing it, but why does that dude grow a beard in the fourth panel?

And look closely at that second panel.  Why does the woman look like the Shroud of Turin?

Later, she confesses her sins to the BatChrist.

Batman replies that some things are just preordained.

Is it really even a metaphor anymore when you just put blood and nails on the page?

At any rate, Batman runs back into Arkham to preach the Good News:

If you’re having trouble reading the Joker’s lettering, that’s him referring to a straight-jacket as “Kingly Robes” and then suggestIng that Batman should sacrifice himself.

Refusing to be tempted by the Joker, Batman argues that — as the only one there who is an even mix of good and evil — Two-Face should decide his fate.

After flipping the coin, Two-Face tells Batman he is free, and just like he did after losing that fiddle contest in Georgia, the Devil lets him go.  Then at the end, we learn that Batman’s willingness to sacrifice himself has freed Harvey from the prison of moral duality.

I am embarrassed to admit that when I first read Arkham Asylum (way back in 1989) I totally missed all of this.  I imagine part of the problem was that the art was so stunning that anyone could be forgiven for losing themselves in the visuals and missing the layers in the writing.  But in the 30 years since it’s come out, I’ve read a lot of think pieces of how pretentious it is, and how it’s a bunch of meaningless crap, and even a few pieces about the Alice in Wonderland subtext, but I’ve yet to read anyone talking about the Jesus stuff.  Other than me, that is.  I should probably come clean and admit that Grant Morrison loomed large in the thesis I wrote for my Masters Degree in Theological Studies, which used comics as primary sources.  (This was back in 1992, in the pre-Vertigo wasteland, when finding someone in academia to take “mainstream” comics seriously was pretty rough.)

Two more things:

The subtitle of Arkham Asylum is “A Serious House on Serious Earth.”  This is a line from a poem by Philip Larkin called “Church Going.”

If you go back to the first pages of Arkham Asylum, you will see that immediately following the title page is this two-page spread:

So, right before you being the story, you get a reference to the Passion Play, an architectural drawing of Arkham showing that it was designed in the shape of a cross, and a bunch of freaking nails.

Doom Patrol 28

 1989 was a good time to be a Grant Morrison fan.  If you can stand it, Arkham Asylum came out the same month as this issue of Doom Patrol (and a pretty great issue of Animal Man, which I don’t even have time to get into).

We open with Justice League Europe summing up the previous issue’s shenanigans.

It would be remiss of me to fail to point out that the second dialog balloon in the first panel is spoken by Animal Man, who would soon learn that he had been living his life in the Twilight Zone because it was being written by Grant Morrison.

The Doom Patrol quickly enter the painting, leaving the JLE completely flummoxed.  Rebis notes that the painting is infinitely recursive, with each layer of the painting representing a different art style.

The Doom Patrol are quickly separated and flung into new levels of the painting.  Finding hirself in a futurist painting, Rebis confronts the The Quiz, whose super-power is the ability to do anything you don’t say out loud.

Poor Rebis never has a chance.

The book fails to address how The Quiz’s power-set is triggered by spoken language when she doesn’t speak (or presumably know) English.

One of the great joys of the Brotherhood of Dada stories is the insane brilliance of Mr. Nobody’s dialogue.

Sleepwalk can only use her powers when she’s unconscious, so she’s an authority of who’s awake.  The fifth horseman is awake and is coming, but we’ll have to learn more about that (as well as several possible meanings of the word “dada”) next issue.

Other Comics I Read from October 1989

  • Animal Man 18
  • Avengers West Coast 53
  • Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children 5
  • Cerebus 127
  • Christmas with the Super-Heroes 2
  • Dr. Fate 11
  • Dreadstar 51
  • Epicurus the Sage
  • Incredible Hulk 364
  • Legends of the Dark Knight 1
  • Question 32
  • Sandman 11
  • Secret Origins 46
  • Yummy Fur 18

October 1994

Invisibles 3

This issue is mostly just Dane and Tom O’Bedlam walking around London and talking, but it’s pretty interesting talk:

It takes Dane a bit too long to put together that Tom is on the same team as King Mob.

Tom makes the stakes clear, but stops just short of telling Dane the full truth.  Eventually Dane (and we) will learn that “nothing is as it seems,” applies as much to our notions of “good and evil” as it does to “reality and illusion.”

Later, Tom gives a fascinating lecture on the true nature of cities.

Dane remains convinced that Tom is just a crazy homeless person, until Tom (rather grossly) swaps Dane’s eyes with a pigeon’s, giving Dane a literal bird-eye view of the world.

There’s been a lot of talk about how the Matrix took it’s basic plot structure and philosophical framework from the Invisibles.

But they also took the idea of climaxing the main character’s initiation by having him jump off of a skyscraper.

Comics I Read from October 1994

  • Amazing Spider-Man 396
  • Animal Man 78
  • Aquaman 3
  • Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight 66
  • Cerebus 187
  • Concrete: Killer Smile 4
  • Demon 53
  • Dreadstar 5
  • Eightball 14
  • Flash 96
  • Hate 16
  • Hellblazer 84
  • Hellstorm: Prince of Lies 21
  • Incredible Hulk 424
  • Madman Comics 4
  • Maxx 11
  • Shade the Changing Man 54
  • Spawn/Batman
  • Starman 2
  • Tale of One Bad Rat 1
  • Tales to Astonish

October 1999

JLA 36

Things are looking bleak for the JLA.  Which is another way of saying things are looking bleak for Life on Earth.  The Anti-Sun — AKA the Primordial Annihilator AKA Mageddon — is coming.  Orion sums the situation up nicely.

Meanwhile, Wonder Woman speaks with the heroes of Wonderworld, who had devoted their entire existence to stopping the Anti-Sun:

Elsewhere, Plastic Man and Zauriel discuss their chances of coming out of this one alive:

This may seem like a minor problem compared to cosmic apocalypse, but when Batman says “Be sure to let me know if Prometheus’ helmet ever turns up missing,” even an angel obeys.

Now, with all this insane action and activity, what are Lex Luthor and his new Anti-Justice League doing on the cover?  Well, Lex has always had great timing:

So the Universe’s ultimate villain is coming to eat our sun, and the only people who have a prayer of stopping Mageddon (or even know that Mageddon is coming) were just taken out by a petty Lex Luther and his revenge-seeking buddies.  That is how you start a JLA epic.

Other Comics I Read from October 1999

  • 100 Bullets 5
  • Adventures of Superman 573
  • Authority 8
  • Avengers 23
  • Batman 572
  • Batman: Dark Victory 1
  • Detective Comics 739
  • Feeders 1
  • Finals 4
  • Flash 155
  • Flash/Green Lantern: The Brave and the Bold 3
  • Flinch 7
  • Hellblazer 143
  • Hitman 44
  • Hourman 9
  • Inhumans 12
  • Invisibles 6
  • JSA 5
  • Planetary 6
  • Preacher 56
  • Sam and Twitch 3
  • Sin City: To Hell and Back 4
  • Starman 60
  • Strange Adventures 2
  • Superman Adventures 38
  • Tom Strong 5
  • Tomorrow Stories 3
  • Top Ten 4
  • Transmetropolitan 28

October 2004

We3  2

This must have been a weird pitch meeting.  At its heart, We3 is an emotionally compelling story of three animals trying to get home.  They just happen to be government super-weapons who have been given the ability to render their instincts, thoughts, and feelings into human speech.  Grant Morrison brings the sentimentality, and Frank Quitely brings the stylized ultra-violence, with page layouts that are endlessly interesting, displaying the horror of the violence without wallowing in it.

As the second act of the story, much of this issue is devoted to setting everything up for the huge third act battle with the Big Bad,  but we still get some great moments, like Tinker the Cat intuiting that she can launch her claws, but not understanding that doing so will mean she no longer has them.

And why would she?  (When my cat scratches me, the claws don’t stay in my hand.)

After escaping the military, our heroes stumble across a hunter, his son, and their dog.  Pirate the Rabbit is shot by the frightened hunter, and things get red from there.

In the aftermath, Bandit the Dog ruminates, and we learn that with language comes a certain tragic self-awareness.

The issue ends with the unveiling of Weapon 4, a massive and disturbingly violent mastiff who has been sent after our three friends.

Other Comics I Read from October 2004

  • 100 Bullets 54
  • Adam Strange 2
  • Adventures of Superman 633
  • Astonishing X-Men 6
  • Astro City: Visitor’s Guide
  • Authority: More Kev 4
  • Authority: Revolution 1
  • Avengers 503
  • Catwoman 36
  • Daredevil 66
  • Ex Machina 5
  • Fantastic Four 519
  • Flash 215
  • Goon 9
  • Gotham Central 24
  • Green Lantern: Rebirth 1
  • Hellblazer 201
  • Hulk/Thing: Hark Knocks 2
  • Human Target 15
  • Identity Crisis 5
  • JSA 66
  • Losers 17
  • Lucifer 55
  • Madrox 2
  • Marvel Knights Spider-Man 7
  • Ocean 1
  • Planetary 21
  • Plastic Man 11
  • Powers 5
  • Punisher 12
  • Scratch 5
  • She-Hulk 8
  • Sleeper Season Two 5
  • Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus: Year One 5
  • Swamp Thing 8
  • Teen Titans 17
  • Tom Strong 29
  • Ultimate Fantastic Four 12
  • Ultimate Nightmare 3
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 66, 67
  • Walking Dead 13
  • Warlock 2
  • Wolverine 20, 21
  • Wonder Woman 209
  • Y: The Last Man 27

October 2009

Batman and Robin 5

Batman and Robin face the Red Hood, aka Jason Todd, the former Robin who was famously killed by the Joker after fans voted for his death by calling a 1-900 line.  (He got better.)  No one seems sure if he’s a hero or a villain.  The fact that he’s wearing the same costume Joker wore during his origin story might offer a clue that whatever he is, he’s not well.

One of the best parts of Dick Grayson as Batman is that we finally get a Batman that can crack smart while engaging his enemy.

Dick constantly reminds us that while he brings a lot to the table, he and Bruce are very different people with very different skill sets.  Luckily, Damian is a very different Robin.

We also learn that Jason wasn’t talking in slogans earlier by accident.  It’s a whole thing.

So Jason isn’t a villain in the “try to take over the world” sense so much as a villain in the “crazy dude who want to fight crime using disproportionately high levels of violence” sense.

Other Comics I Read from October 2009

  • Action Comics 882
  • Adventure Comics 3
  • Astonishing X-Men 31
  • Astro City Special: Astra 2
  • Avengers: Initiative 29
  • Batman Confidential 34, 35
  • Beasts of Burden 2
  • Blackest Night 4
  • Blackest Night: Batman 3
  • Chew 5
  • Cowboy Ninja Viking 1
  • Criminal: The Sinners 2
  • Daredevil 501
  • Dark Avengers 10
  • Dark Avengers: Ares 1
  • Dark Reign: The List: Hulk
  • Dark Reign: The List: Secret Warriors
  • Dark Reign: The List: Wolverine
  • Detective Comics 858
  • DMZ 46
  • Ex Machina 46
  • Fantastic Four 572
  • G-Man: Cape Crisis 3
  • Ghost Rider: Heaven’s on Fire 3
  • Greek Street 4
  • Green Lantern 47
  • Green Lantern Corps 41
  • Hellblazer 260
  • Incredible Hercules 136, 137
  • Incredible Hulk 603
  • Invincible 67
  • Invincible Iron Man 19
  • Liberty Comics 2
  • Marvels Project 3
  • Mighty 9
  • Mighty Avengers 30
  • New Avengers 58
  • Northlanders 21
  • Outsiders 23
  • Planetary 27
  • Scalped 33
  • Seceret Warriors 9
  • Spider-Woman 2
  • Strange Tales 2
  • Sugarshock
  • Superman: Secret Origin 2
  • Sweet Tooth 2
  • Ultimate Armor Wars 2
  • Ultimate Comics Avengers 3
  • Uncanny X-Men 516
  • Unknown Soldier 13
  • Walking Dead 66
  • War Machine 10
  • Wolverine: Weapon X 6
  • X-Factor 50

October 2014

Multiversity: The Just

One of the more disappointing aspects of Multiversity is that Morrison introduces us to some pretty fantastic new characters, and we only get to spend one issue with them.  Here we get a quick look at a world where the heroes we know and love did their job so well that their super-heroic children now function more as celebrities than crime-fighters.  And it should surprise no one that meta-fiction reigns supreme — in other words, yet another Grant Morrison comic about comics.

There’s also a weird sort of Arkham Asylum Easter Egg:

Toward the end of my entry on Arkham Asylum I mentioned that the book’s subtitle was a line from a poem by Philip Larkin.  Well, “ThIs Be The Verse” is another Philip Larkin poem.  Here it is in its entirety:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad. 
They may not mean to, but they do. 
They fill you with the faults they had 
And add some extra, just for you. 

But they were fucked up in their turn 
By fools in old-style hats and coats, 
Who half the time were soppy-stern 
And half at one another's throats. 

Man hands on misery to man. 
It deepens like a coastal shelf. 
Get out as early as you can, 
And don't have any kids yourself.

 

And speaking of meta-fiction…

Eventually we get some plot, when Batman confronts Offspring regarding the recent death of his girlfriend.

Batman shows Superman the comic in question (which happens to be the next issue of Multiversity).

Batman figures out what we already know: these comics are created in — and able to determine the future of — alternate worlds.

Grant is saying (one more time) that Superman and Batman — and in fact, all of the Supermen and Batmen — are as real as you or me.  They only seem fictional to us because we’re in a parallel world.  And readers of the Invisibles know that we need only don our fiction suits to cross over into their reality.

Other Comics I Read from October 2014

  • Action Comics 35
  • All-New X-Factor 15
  • American Vampire: Second Cycle 5
  • Archer and Armstrong 25
  • Astro City 16
  • Avengers 36, 37
  • Batman 35
  • Batman and Robin 35
  • Batman/Superman 35
  • Black Widow 11
  • Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier 1
  • Captain Marvel 8
  • CBLDF Liberty Annual 2014
  • Copperhead 2
  • Cyclops 6
  • Daredevil 9
  • Deadly Class 8
  • Death of Wolverine 3, 4
  • Deathlok 1
  • Deep Gravity 4
  • The Fade Out 2
  • Goon: Occasion of Revenge 3
  • Grayson 3
  • Justice League 34
  • Lazarus 12
  • Manhattan Projects 24
  • Men of Wrath 1
  • Ms. Marvel 9
  • Names 2
  • New Avengers 25
  • Punisher 11
  • Rat Queens 8
  • Revival 24
  • Saga 24
  • Savage Hulk 5
  • Secret Avengers 9
  • Sex Criminals 8
  • She-Hulk 9
  • Sheltered 12
  • Southern Bastards 5
  • Storm 4
  • Superior Foes of Spider-Man 16
  • Superman 35
  • Supreme: Blue Rose 4
  • Thief of Thieves 24
  • Thor 1
  • Thought  Bubble Anthology 4
  • Trees 6
  • Veil 5
  • Velvet 8
  • Vertigo Quarterly CMYK 3
  • Walking Dead 132, 133
  • Wayward 3
  • Wicked + the Divine 5
  • Wildfire 4
  • Wonder Woman 35
  • Wytches 1
  • Zero 11

And here (as promised) are the comics I read in October 1979 and 1984:

Comics I Read From October 1979

  • Amazing Spider-Man 200
  • Avengers 191
  • Cerebus 12
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 38
  • Uncanny X-Men 129

Comics I Read From October 1984

  • Alien Legion 5
  • Alpha Flight 18, 19
  • Amazing Spider-Man 260, 261
  • Avengers 251
  • Beauty and the Beast 2
  • Captain America 301
  • Cerebus 67
  • Coyote 9
  • Defenders 139
  • Dreadstar 15
  • Iceman 2
  • Kitty Pryde and Wolverine 3
  • Marvel Fanfare 18
  • Marvel Super-Hero Secret Wars 10
  • Marvel Team-Up 149
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 98
  • Saga of the Swamp Thing 32, Annual 2
  • Sisterhood of Steel 1
  • Strange Days 1
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2
  • Void Indigo 1
  • Zot 6

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About Author

Rand Bellavia is half of the Filk Pop Nerd Rock band Ookla the Mok. They’ve been playing at science fiction and comic book conventions since 1994. Their clever, media-savvy lyrics, catchy melodies, and accessible power-pop sound have made them a cult-sensation with nerds everywhere. With song titles like Super Powers, Welcome to the Con, Arthur Curry, Kang the Conqueror, and Stop Talking About Comic Books or I’ll Kill You, it’s easy to see why. Rand and Ookla the Mok have won four Pegasus Awards, and the 2014 Logan Award for Outstanding Original Comedy Song. Ookla the Mok had the most requested song on Dr. Demento in 2012 (“Tantric Yoda”) and 2013 (“Mwahaha”). Rand co-wrote the theme song for the Disney cartoon Fillmore, and his vocals are the first thing you hear on Gym Class Heroes’ Top Five hit “Cupid’s Chokehold.” In his secret identity, Rand is the Director of the Montante Library at D’Youville College in Buffalo, New York. He has lectured and presented at international conferences on the subject of comics and libraries. Rand is like the Internet, except he smells nice.

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