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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. Sheโ€™s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Anton B
    January 25, 2013 @ 2:54 am

    I've been really looking forward to this post and you've lived up to the anticipation. Clearly and for good reason you've held yourself back for your main event, your treatise on The Invisibles coming after this blog finishes with the Doctor.

    I feel there are a number of parallels/references with Doctor Who in The Invisibles that you might have mentioned though.

    Time Travel is a major trope, but no effort is made to change past or future just to interact and become part of the story.

    There is an early excursion to the 'Reign of Terror' of revolutionary France.

    Just as in 'An Unearthly Child' The whole shebang starts with a rebellious but strangely astute teenager in an altercation with a schoolmaster who will later become a main character.

    Many of the characters are, or become aware that they are, playing roles within a narrative. There is even a scene where 'Mind Robber' style the protagonists interact and are trapped within a fictional world, In this case De Sade's '120 Days of Sodom'.

    An early bunch of antagonists are named as 'Cyphermen'!

    A time machine and its occupant explodes and becomes fragmented across time.

    As you point out both 'The Invisibles' and Doctor Who shares many variations on British children’s fantasy traditions.

    As to chaos magic, I liked your alligning of its rise in popularity with the “third way” liberalism narrative of the nineties. Is it possible to suuggest that the current fiscal and social chaos we are experiencing is exactly a result of the very solipsistic world view of chaos magic's practitioners? Is it possible that some anarcho-bankers took Morrison's exortation to "work your way up through the ranks, take over the board of Directors and turn the company into an international laughing stock…" seriously? Didn't King Mob end up in a suit at the top of a glass skyscraper?

    Great post Phil thanks.


  2. Stephen Jeffers
    January 25, 2013 @ 3:54 am

    I think comparing Morrison to Miles is absurdly flattering to Miles.

    I think it also cuts against the moral of your post – Lawrence Miles is pretty much the opposite of a slick corporate type. This is not to praise Miles. His books are not 'difficult' so much as undisciplined. Henrietta Street is a book written 'in the style of a history book' by someone who has clearly never read a history book, but had one described to him once in a pub. If you try to summarize his books, you find you can do it in a sentence and it's a banal one: 'a pop singer is not the same privately as her public image, and war's a bit like that, too'. O! M! G! Why didn't this guy win a Nobel Prize for that?!

    Now, don't get me wrong. I'll take weird books where fifteen disconnected ideas splash on every page over the bland cookie cutter product the BBC Books clearly aspired to be.

    Here's how I see The Invisibles: it's travel writing. It's a guy talking about foreign places he's been, fetish clubs he's popped into, books he's read. 'Look at this cool stuff I've found'.

    Whereas Lawrence Miles clearly only leaves his bedroom to shamble to the pub once a month to meet three other fanboys. He has the original sin of writers, the one they have to spend their life fighting to overcome: he thinks he's way more interesting than he actually is.


  3. Andrew Hickey
    January 25, 2013 @ 6:04 am

    Of course, pretty much any book can be summed up in a banal sentence, if you want to ignore everything about it that's at all interesting. Just looking at Morrison's work:
    A super-team's wheelchair-bound leader is secretly the baddy. (Doom Patrol)
    A super-team's wheelchair-bound leader is secretly the baddy. (New X-Men)
    People are cruel to animals and that's a bit like war. (We3)
    As flies to wanton boys are comic characters to their writers — they kill them for their sport. (Animal Man)
    The hallucinations from diabetes can be a bit like a Campbellian Hero's Journey populated by favourite childhood pop-culture characters. (Joe The Barbarian)
    The hallucinations from taking a massive overdose to kill oneself can be a bit like a Campbellian Hero's Journey populated by favourite childhood pop-culture characters. (Flex Mentallo)
    Superman beats Lex Luthor. (All-Star Superman)
    Grant Morrison is a better writer than Mark Waid, Greg Rucka or Geoff Johns. (52)
    Hitler was a strange bloke. (The New Adventures Of Hitler)

    And so on.


  4. jane
    January 25, 2013 @ 6:50 am

    Here's a clever bit: "Chaos magic is magic for libertarians. It sprung up, unsurprisingly, in the late nineties because it was a flavor particularly suitable for the techno-libertarians who disproportionately dominated the early Internet. And it was, in hindsight, a complete and utter bust. It’s just another flavor of the Heinlein-style science fiction that animated Babylon 5 and space opera in general. It amounts to Robert Heinlein in fetish gear, which is mostly just redundant.

    It's kind of funny that a religious practice or philosophy has been conflated to a flavor of fiction — and science fiction at that.

    What chaos magic (and libertarianism) has at its root is the Nietzschean Will to Power, where "power" is typically taken as having "power-over" either the world, or other people, and often both. What's missing is that "power-over" is not the only form of power that exists. There's "power-within" — our power to create art, to tell stories, and just to take care of ourselves, our needs and desires. And fairly, this is often the sort of power that "individualists" aspire to.

    The other kind of power is "power-with," which is naturally what we can do in concert with other people, and is really based more on the ability to listen than the ability to command. This is the power of social revolutions, of course. It's also the most difficult power to practice.

    The thing is, chaos magic doesn't have to be focused on just the power of the individual, whether it's power-within or power-over. It depends on the particular "will" involved, which is to say it depends on intention. A will that's rooted in compassion, for example, yields different results than a will that's rooted in self-aggrandizement.


  5. Ross
    January 25, 2013 @ 7:01 am

    It's kind of funny that a religious practice or philosophy has been conflated to a flavor of fiction — and science fiction at that.

    It becomes an obvious pairing when you realize, in the case of libertarianism in particular, it's a philosophy that heavily minimizes considering the way reality actually is in favor of the way the writer thinks reality ought to be.


  6. Contumacy Singh
    January 25, 2013 @ 7:15 am

    "Henrietta Street is a book written 'in the style of a history book' by someone who has clearly never read a history book, but had one described to him once in a pub."

    It wasn't written in the style of a history book, but an epistolary novel, made up of letters, much like Frankenstein or Dracula. Different beast entirely.

    And I think your opinion of Miles trivializes the great imagination and talent he has. Miles work is inferior to Morrison's because Morrison gets out more?


  7. SK
    January 25, 2013 @ 7:17 am

    Nah, when you get right down to it, those are both 'power-over'. the power to create is still power over the outside world, in this case to reshape it to create art, or to bend it to feed or take care of us or give us our desires. That's clearly (to use your term) 'power-over' the world. If I shape a block of marble into a statue, that is exerting my will upon the stone.

    And 'power-with', again, is 'power-over' — the only difference is that instead of an individual it is several, or maybe many thousands, of individuals acting in concert in order to exert 'power-over' either the natural world (by raising cities, perhaps, building bridges, or putting humans on the moon) or another group (by, say, invading Poland).

    These kinds of articles all remind me of the point once made that science and magic both spring from the same drive, to understand the world (and humanity) in order that we might control it. The only difference is that when we discover something that works reliably we call it 'science', and 'magic' is the term for all those things we tried but they didn't work.


  8. Jesse
    January 25, 2013 @ 7:26 am

    The thing you miss about The Invisibles here — and which may have some bearing on the differences between our politics — is that it ends up not being The Matrix. Oh, it starts out like The Matrix, and indeed when a friend sent me the first volume of the collected Invisibles in the mid-'90s it took me a decade before I bothered to read the remainder, because I thought this was going to be yet another story in which you get to identify with a Chosen One who theoretically is going to bring the system down but in fact is just another rock star.

    But then Morrison subverts that, and not just with "Best Man Fall." The whole secret war that in another context (say, the awful third Matrix movie) would become yet another master narrative instead gets taken apart. The theme becomes not individuality but multiplicity. And that's appropriate to the '90s not because of that big bugaboo "neoliberalism," but because of the ways cyberspace was changing the ways we thought about identity, anonymity, and the culture of the copy; and because the '90s were that great crack in history between the Cold War and the War on Terror, an apropos time for a worldview not built around a vast all-encompassing war.

    I agree that The Invisibles is a bit of a mess. But it's a more fruitful mess, I think, than you give it credit for here.


  9. Jesse
    January 25, 2013 @ 7:29 am

    Two other thoughts: I've always been under the impression that chaos magick was heavily influenced by Discordianism, or at the very least that they sprang from the same soil. (And I don't just mean libertarianism/anarchism, though that's clearly part of it.) I also had a notion that this, in turn, explained many of the parallels between The Invisibles and Illuminatus! Am I onto something here, or am I barking up the wrong tree? Not being an occultist myself, and not having had another reason to explore it, I've never really spent much time reading the chaos-magick canon and looking for Discordian fingerprints.

    Second: I have a half-baked theory that one of the key differences between Moore and Morrison is that Moore is the sort of writer who takes a Silver Age character or concept and gives it a dark'n'gritty reboot (with the caveat that Moore, unlike most of those rebooters, actually has the talent to do dark'n'gritty well), while Morrison prefers to revel in the strangeness of the Silver Age, reaching someplace transcendent not by moving past the absurdity but by reveling in it. Put another way, Morrison has the sort of relationship to reputedly cheesy old comics that another '90s icon, Quentin Tarantino, has to reputedly cheesy old genre movies. But I haven't read several Moore efforts that might undermine this thesis, such as Supreme and Tom Strong. So again, feel free to tell me I've gone mad.


  10. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 25, 2013 @ 7:38 am

    I don't disagree with you about multiplicity, but I think there's a sterility to the multiplicity that ends up back towards my point – it's a multiplicity in which everybody gets to be a rock star. Which does not usefully subvert or undermine the paradigm. It's profoundly narcissistic and ultimately reinforces the invisible structures of power in which the would-be rock stars exist.

    Also, you are not wrong regarding Discordianism and chaos magic. I think you are wrong about Moore's fondness for the grim'n'gritty approach, however. He largely walked away from that in the late 80s. I think he's just not as enamored with the Silver Age at this point. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen treats Victorian fiction much like Morrison treats the Silver Age.


  11. Jesse
    January 25, 2013 @ 7:45 am

    Everyone's-a-rock-star (hello, Mr. Crowley) does undermine the rock-star ethos pretty thoroughly, doesn't it?

    Most of the superhero stuff I've seen from Moore is from the '80s (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Promethea being the big exceptions), so I grant you that my observation may be '80s-specific. Though on reflection, "What Ever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow" is a Silver Age revel itself, so there goes the theory.


  12. Jesse
    January 25, 2013 @ 7:46 am

    I mean "Man of Steel," sorry.


  13. Andrew Hickey
    January 25, 2013 @ 7:46 am

    Chaos Magick was less influenced by Discordianism as a movement than by Robert Anton Wilson as an individual writer, but pretty much all of it came from RAW (New Falcon, the publishing company which published pretty much all of the Chaos Magick books of the 80s and 90s, was also RAW's publisher, and published Timothy Leary's stuff too). However, I think the influence of Illuminatus! on Morrison is more direct — I just think he's actually read the book.

    Also, Moore gave up grimungritty in about 1985 — if you look at all his superhero work after that, like 1963 or Supreme or America's Best Comics, it absolutely revels in Silver Age stuff.


  14. Andrew Hickey
    January 25, 2013 @ 7:47 am

    No, you do mean Man Of Tomorrow ๐Ÿ˜‰


  15. Ununnilium
    January 25, 2013 @ 7:48 am

    Honestly, this whole article seems like a bit of a handwave, handily smooshing together Grant Morrison and the possibility of working within the system to effect change and dismissing both so as to not have to deal with the complexities of either.

    Furthermore, isn't the problem with the Invisibles the problem of radical action – of revolutions – in general? Isn't it a lot of people getting shot in an epic attempt to overthrow the system with not a lot of attention paid to the individuals because the blood of the martyrs will water the meadows of wherever?


  16. Jesse
    January 25, 2013 @ 7:49 am

    Shit, you're right. Correction corrected!


  17. Ununnilium
    January 25, 2013 @ 7:55 am

    Well, really – isn't the entire genesis of the housing bubble down to people taking a magical formula and applying it blindly?


  18. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 25, 2013 @ 7:57 am

    I disagree, obviously. I think that possibility comes pre-smooshed with Morrison, and is indeed one of his major themes. I also think he's largely facile about it, and his own actions deeply problematic, particularly his full-throated and voluntary defenses of DC's editorial practices. But it's also worth considering what I'm leading up to in two posts' time and the themes of that. Which is to say that I very much took the bits of The Invisibles most useful to me here, yes.


  19. Ununnilium
    January 25, 2013 @ 7:59 am

    No more so than any other philosophy, when it's taken to its extreme – and the extreme seems to be all we're allowing to exist, here.


  20. Jesse
    January 25, 2013 @ 8:00 am

    If you think of the fall of the Berlin Wall as the beginning of the Long Nineties, then you have to associate the decade with a worldwide blossoming of nonviolent civic resistance (which I'd actually date back to the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, but the fall of Soviet Communism in 1989-91 is a watershed moment). And of course that represents a model of social change that tries to avoid the pitfalls both of violent revolution and of working within the system. (It is also well-matched with the era's revival of interest in both libertarianism and left-anarchism — much more so than the Third Way was. Instead of giving up on social justice, you aim to achieve it outside the state.)


  21. Ununnilium
    January 25, 2013 @ 8:04 am

    Hell, I think everyone getting to be a rock star is the ultimate subversion of the rock star paradigm. Or, in other words, if everyone's special, everyone is still special.


  22. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 25, 2013 @ 8:07 am

    Does it? I'm inclined to read the rock star ethos primarily as a form of social anesthesia. Systemic injustices are acceptable because you might be a rock star someday. If so, surely saying "everyone could be a rock star" is barely a change – a universalized rock star is the ultimate in anesthetics – an absolute excuse to go back to sleep. It's ultimately a wholly narcissistic splitting of everyone into their own little bubble of personal mythology.


  23. Jesse
    January 25, 2013 @ 8:09 am

    Grant Morrison: a Hegelian synthesis between punk and arena rock.


  24. encyclops
    January 25, 2013 @ 8:13 am

    I feel a little let down a bit (not that it matters whether I am or not) because I'm not really that interested in Grant Morrison as an activist (does he really think he is?) or a magician (hopefully I'm not the only one reading this who, um, doesn't actually believe in magic as I understand the term) but as an author. I do agree the "let's change the system from the inside!" idea is laughable (I love the character in Ghost World who parrots this "approach") but I'm not sure it makes sense to lay the current state of the world at the feet of people who think like that, except just as a taunt. I see the analogy you're trying to draw between Bill Clinton and Morrison here but I'm not sure how far it really goes. (Does Moore get any blame for the his strategy of parodying Brecht lyrics not having changed the world?)

    So I guess what I was hoping for was a bit more of what you must be saving for the next project, i.e. actually discussing more than one issue of the series. A lot of interesting or at least entertaining things happen in it that I was looking forward to your take on (Anton B has listed a few above). Instead what I got out of this was "Morrison and Miles are sort of but not really like each other" (a comparison I'd never been in the fandom loop enough to hear, and which you just as quickly dismiss as uninteresting) and really not much else that relates to Doctor Who.

    "Which, you know, fine," as you might say. ๐Ÿ™‚ So, for me, I guess this is just a teaser for the next blog. Fair enough.


  25. Ununnilium
    January 25, 2013 @ 8:50 am

    Also, from a pure writing perspective, I kind of… hate The Invisibles? ^^; Well – I've only read the first collection of it, so perhaps it gets better. But I'm definitely going to agree that it's a mess.

    From all of his works I've read, it seems like he picked a direction after Animal Man and Doom Patrol… and that it was kind of a lame direction, going with, as you say, premises that were basically the same kind of thing everyone else was doing around that time. But it seems to me like, after coming out of The Invisibles (and possibly The Filth, I'm not sure), he essentially went back and re-chose his path, going in a very different direction from JLA forward. And that's a direction I find infinitely more interesting.


  26. Jesse
    January 25, 2013 @ 9:02 am

    It does get better. Though I don't think the worst installment was in volume one. I refer to Morrison's attempt to do a gritty ghetto tale — a Scotsman trying to write about life in an American inner city and, without the appropriate experiences to draw on, falling back on media clichés. It's very well-intentioned, but somehow that just makes it worse.


  27. encyclops
    January 25, 2013 @ 10:16 am

    It was the Lord Fanny-centric first arc in what I think (I have all the individual issues and haven't gotten around to re-buying them as graphic novels) is the second collection, Apocalipstick, that hooked me. It's been a while, so I can't remember if there's a big jump in the quality of the writing, but I felt as though the scope of it opened out a bit and that's what I enjoyed.

    Over the course of the series, it seems as though his attitude toward his own subject matter changed and matured a bit, and that might be interesting to you. I was hoping Dr. Sandifer might comment more on that, but then I'm sure he will in the larger project and I just have to wait for it.


  28. Ununnilium
    January 25, 2013 @ 10:17 am

    I'm not inclined to read it that way at all. That may be the way it's been used by the forces interested in maintaining the status quo, but the entire point of those forces using it that way is to have one single rebel, one single person who breaks the rules, that they can keep an eye on and use to substitute for everyone's desire to be a rebel. But if everyone breaks the rules – not if everyone could be a rock star, but everyone is, simultaneously – that's very different.

    (In Morrison's work, this is the direct message of his last arc of JLA, which has every single person in the world becoming a superhero to fight Mageddon. Certainly, if that's not a call to mass collective action, nothing is.)


  29. Ununnilium
    January 25, 2013 @ 10:25 am

    I don't know. His interviews may be facile – and I will definitely agree that said defenses are problematic – but his work is anything but. As a friend of mine said, Grant Morrison the character is Grant Morrison's least interesting creation.

    That said, I will definitely be watching to see where you go with this!


  30. Tiffany Korta
    January 25, 2013 @ 11:14 am

    Moore's Top Ten gloriously revels in Silver Age tropes, though a lot of it has to do with Ha's art.


  31. Jesse
    January 25, 2013 @ 11:18 am

    I think I'm going to hang on to the distinction between approaches but drop the idea that Moore represents one of the poles.


  32. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 25, 2013 @ 11:30 am

    I thought about dealing with Lord Fanny. But that involves getting into Grant Morrison's frankly shameful engagement with transgender issues, and that's really far afield. And just makes me angry.


  33. encyclops
    January 25, 2013 @ 1:13 pm

    At the time those issues came out, I was still young enough not to know I "should" be angry about her rather than find her an empowering queer character in comics. Over on the Moore side (though a decade and a half earlier), I had Ozymandias (maybe, according to Rorschach) and a dead heroic lesbian. Shameful engagement or no, she was alive and non-villainous.

    I'm not trying to tell you you're wrong — I'm sure there's a case to be made, and I just haven't studied it closely enough or recently enough to get properly angry about it. I'm just telling you what my experience was at the time, at my level of maturity, and why though (because?) I'm not transgender, she was the character I most liked and wanted to identify with.

    It's funny that last week we had the attempt to connect RTD and Moffat with Morrison and Moore. RTD doesn't remind me of either, but a Morrison/Moffat comparison seems way more apt. Both have a tendency to throw shit in just because it seems cool, not because it's going to lead anywhere, and though I really want to like Vastra and Jenny, they scream "thrown in because it would be cool to have a married lesbian lizard crimefighter." That's Morrison to a T when he's at his most wearyingly superficial.


  34. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 25, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

    It's not even that Fanny herself is bad. It's that she fits into a larger and virulently transphobic context on Morrison's part in which he casually deploys offensive slurs and appropriates trans experiences. It's really astonishingly vile, and gets at the almost sociopathic narcissism that I find so infuriating about him. I think it's very rare that Morrison manages an ounce of humanity in his work.

    Oh, and on the Moore side you also had AARGH, for what it's worth, and "The Mirror of Love."

    As for comparisons, I'm eventually going to end up with Moore/Morrison/Moffat/Miles as my comparisons, with Davies mostly left out of it. Moffat is far, far too structural a writer to be equated with Morrison, after all.


  35. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 25, 2013 @ 1:21 pm

    The trouble is, Grant Morrison the character is Grant Morrison's favorite creation.


  36. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 25, 2013 @ 1:28 pm

    That's certainly the rhetoric, but I see little of it playing out in practice.

    Whereas I do see Alan Moore's financially tanking underground zine distributing Christmas hampers in the local council estates and actively engaging in community organizing and local causes. Moore's only appearances at events of late have been non-profits and charities. Morrison ran his own con in Vegas with $700 tickets.

    Morrison's rhetoric looks good, but I think if you assume that he's sincere in it and trace out its consequences it ends up looking horrifying, and that there's a very visible and only slightly different alternative just down the road.

    But all of this assumes a Moore/Morrison dialectic I'm nowhere close to spelling out in detail yet. ๐Ÿ™‚


  37. Ciaran M
    January 25, 2013 @ 2:02 pm

    'Undisciplined not difficult' seems a rather apt description of Morrison.


  38. Ununnilium
    January 25, 2013 @ 2:26 pm

    Ah, that's fair – I was thinking more about the paradigm than the practice.


  39. encyclops
    January 25, 2013 @ 2:41 pm

    I think it's very rare that Morrison manages an ounce of humanity in his work.

    Is there anything you do enjoy about his work, or is your next project going to be largely directed at slamming him?

    I'm not even sure that would be unfair — just curious what to expect.

    Oh, and on the Moore side you also had AARGH, for what it's worth, and "The Mirror of Love."

    Well, I didn't have it, which is the point I'm trying to make; I was just getting to know the work of both writers and didn't have access to all of it. I reacted to what I could find and read at the time.

    I know more about their body of work now and I can only praise the idea of AARGH (still haven't read it, so I can't comment on the execution), and I've seen enough of what Moore's done since that I have no complaints about him on this front in 2013. It's just at the time, in the context in which I was reading, Fanny herself seemed pretty awesome. Hell, Orlando is probably the only reason I gritted my teeth through the remainder of League of Extraordinarily Ponderous Gentlemen.

    As for comparisons, I'm eventually going to end up with Moore/Morrison/Moffat/Miles as my comparisons, with Davies mostly left out of it. Moffat is far, far too structural a writer to be equated with Morrison, after all.

    I don't know, man; the more I think about "The Wedding of River Song," the more it feels like Morrison to me. If the Silents weren't such bumbling dullards they'd almost be Cyphermen. I can see how the compressed-time situation would remind you of Moore, but the almost complete inhumanity of the whole thing, the zaniness, it all screams Morrison to me, especially as you characterize him. I'm at a loss to think of any of Moffat's episodes that make me think of Moore at all, so I'm sincere when I say that I look forward to you talking me into it.

    As for Morrison = Miles, don't you say at the very top of this post, "The fact of the matter is that there is little particularly Morrisonesque about Miles’s work beyond the fact that both of them are a bit mad and cerebral"? Are you just saying that the relationship between Moore and Morrison is somehow like the relationship between Moffat and Miles? Is there more to it (there must be) than just the fact that, as we discussed earlier in the week, Morrison has an irrational one-sided feud with Moore and Miles has an irrational one-sided feud with Moffat?


  40. BerserkRL
    January 25, 2013 @ 6:14 pm

    I too was looking for a mention of Robert Anton Wilson (who of course is also associated with a "third way," but one of a very different sort).

    The genre conventions of The Invisibles push the reader towards accepting that sometimes people get casually shot dead for the sake of a dramatic fight scene, and so Morrison’s decision to go and flesh him out into a character we can sympathize with violates all the rules of the genre

    Of course Douglas Adams did something like this with the whale in Hitchhiker. And there's an issue of Master of Kung Fu from the early 80s where Shang-Chi grabs an umbrella from a stand to use during a fight on the first page, and then on the last page, much later and elsewhere, is wondering whose umbrella he smashed.


  41. Stephen Jeffers
    January 26, 2013 @ 12:18 am

    "It wasn't written in the style of a history book, but an epistolary novel, made up of letters"

    Er … except: no it isn't. It's easy enough to settle this one. Look at the book again. See? It's not an epistolary novel.


  42. Stephen Jeffers
    January 26, 2013 @ 12:28 am

    "Over on the Moore side (though a decade and a half earlier), I had Ozymandias (maybe, according to Rorschach)"

    On the Moore side, there's Valerie from V for Vendetta.


  43. Stephen Jeffers
    January 26, 2013 @ 1:09 am

    "pretty much any book can be summed up in a banal sentence"

    Granted. My only point is that Miles clearly thinks that he's presenting and articulating some profound point about the world, but the stories never actually live up to that. If you say that Interference is 'about how the arms trade is bad', you've summed it up without any loss of signal. Much of Miles' style is noise designed to disguise a lack of actual content, or personal experience of or engagement with, or for that matter research on, the issue at hand. He thinks he's being clever. A little more engagement with the world, he'd understand that a middle class white boy 'woe is me' ironic deconstruction of something someone said on the news once is nothing special.

    He shook up a range of books that the BBC were determined to make as bland as possible, but he did it by importing a plot point from Babylon 5 – 'there's a big war coming' – and by being the only vaguely ambitious author left after all the various NA superstars had moved on or were sitting it out. When he'd tried his schtick with Christmas on a Rational Planet, it was, what … the tenth best NA that year? Ninth? About as good as that Dave Stone one that introduced Jason? It's easier to look like a bold new voice when your competition's War of the Daleks than when it's Just War and Damaged Goods.

    And … even talking about Miles now feels a bit like getting worked up about the Lightning Seeds. 2013 is the tenth anniversary of the last time he actually wrote anything.


  44. Anton B
    January 26, 2013 @ 1:16 am

    'chaos magic doesn't have to be focused on just the power of the individual, whether it's power-within or power-over. It depends on the particular "will" involved.'

    Nicely put. I'd say that 'Power With' is the magic utilised in creating dramatic art – film, live theatre, TV while writing fiction is more often a 'Power Within' kind of discipline. Writing for TV or Comics probably uses a mash-up of both.


  45. Stephen Jeffers
    January 26, 2013 @ 1:28 am

    I love Morrison to bits, but I don't think it's possible to talk about him as radical or weird without qualifying it with 'compared to'. He's writing Batman and Superman for DC, and when he deploys a technique from his copy of the Oxford Guide to Po-Mo Cliches (1990 Edition), it does look fresh compared with whatever Geoff Johns or Dan Jurgens are up to.

    Whereas things like Dodgem Logic, Lost Girls, Unearthing and Century, love them or loathe them, are Alan Moore just making the art he wants to make. At least it's self indulgent. Morrison's 'doing what he wants … subject to approval by senior brand managers' isn't the same thing at all. It's the equivalent of the boss letting you wear a garish tie to work, just so long as you get that report done by four-thirty on Wednesday.


  46. Anton B
    January 26, 2013 @ 1:30 am

    Yes. In fact isn't the whole financial world one big piece of bullshit voodoo designed (to use Jane's descriptor below) to have 'power over' all of us? The forces and assets the bankers and financiers purport to control have no existance outside of a constructed virtual space and are no more 'real' than Cthulu. When stocks and shares are moved around and 'sold' on the global market aren't they just performing a great big wankathon piece of sigil magic?


  47. Phil
    January 26, 2013 @ 1:31 am

    That's not what Interference is about though. It spends a little time establishing that the arms trade happens and that it's bad, but only so it can talk about how people respond to the arms trade, why they have those responses and if they're actually any help. It's not about the arms trade, it's about how people function in a society that the arms trade is a part of.

    It doesn't really come to any conclusions, but it's possible that if it did, it would collapse into being exactly the banal story you accuse it of being.


  48. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 26, 2013 @ 1:31 am

    Valerie is, I think, who encyclops was referring to as "a dead heroic lesbian."

    As for whether there are things I like about Morrison, yes, but it requires, to borrow a phrase, treating the text as a hostile witness. There's stuff I like a lot, and I'll still buy anything he puts out guaranteed and site unseen. And, you know, if I didn't like him I wouldn't write about him – I'd just do an Alan Moore project. But it's… fraught.

    Off the top of my head, I quite like The Filth – I think that's probably his strongest comic, actually. I thought bits of Doom Patrol were magnificent. Other than the bad mistake of moving key bits of plot into the Superman Beyond mini, I thought Final Crisis was great fun. I liked his Batman run up to about the start of Incorporated, but I've largely gotten bored with it. I'm terribly excited for his Wonder Woman project, though I expect that I'll be at loggerheads with the text several times. I thought New X-Men was mostly fantastic, and that it's infuriating how little influence it had on future X-Men comics.

    And I actually quite like Pop Magic! even though I'm not wild about chaos magic as a pure practice. Jane's comment up-thread gets at a lot of it. I like the "do what works" ethos of chaos magic and the willingness to treat any symbolic system as a place to play, but I think the focus on power-over is terribly misguided.


  49. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 26, 2013 @ 1:34 am

    This captures my feelings pretty much perfectly. I love the possibility that chaos magic gestures towards, but I find so much of what it does with that possibility frustrating. I like the idea of a chaos magic oriented towards power with and power within. And I think, in practice, that this comes very close to what Alan Moore does.


  50. Stephen Jeffers
    January 26, 2013 @ 2:28 am

    "It doesn't really come to any conclusions"

    I think it's fair to say it does take the – perfectly reasonable – line that the arms trade is A Bad Thing.

    My problem is that I don't think there's much insight there. It never felt like he'd been personally affected, or done any first-hand research, or talked to anyone who had … he wasn't writing about what he knew.

    So when people say it's a clever book, is that what they mean, or do they mean it's cleverer than Divided Loyalties, or whatever the PDA that month was? If you asked Lawrence, I'm sure he'd think he'd written a profound novel that just happened to be a Doctor Who one. For me, it's a dog that talks – it's so refreshing to have a Doctor Who book be about something serious that we kind of ignore that it's not saying very much.

    It's nice to see ambition, but at the same time I always get the sense that Lawrence is so assured of his own genius he never bothers to get around to demonstrate it.


  51. Phil
    January 26, 2013 @ 3:15 am

    "I think it's fair to say it does take the – perfectly reasonable – line that the arms trade is A Bad Thing."

    Oh, it definitely takes that line, but I'd say that this is an assumption established early on, rather than the conclusion and thesis of the whole novel. If the book does have a conclusion, I'd say it was something to do with the disconnect between the principles people hold, and what they actually do about it. Which isn't particularly deep either, but is at least a little more nuanced.

    I think you're right on the money about Miles not having personal experience in the things he writes. They're clearly things he feels passionately about, but it comes across as an intellectual passion, rather than one born of experience. He also seems to take a lot of his own experience for granted as universal, which is definitely a problem.

    Not sure that his work doesn't say very much though. I think it's closer to conversation; there's no conclusion, just kicking some concepts around. Which may or may not be a problem in itself, as too often he's just shaking his head at the world and mistaking it for an insightful diagnosis.

    Interference is definitely a flawed book, but I don't think it's necessarily as simple as you're saying.


  52. Phil
    January 26, 2013 @ 3:18 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  53. Anton B
    January 26, 2013 @ 3:20 am

    I'm looking forward to a compare and contrast between Morrison's Wonder Woman and Moore's Promethea.

    I'd be interested, Phil, in what you think a Morrison penned episode of TV Doctor Who might be like (if the BBC gave him the project a la Neil Gaiman).

    Also as we're discussing chidrens fiction, gender roles, LGBT issues etc, what (and forgive me if you've covered this elsewhere) is your take on Moore and Gebbie's 'Lost Girls'?


  54. Phil
    January 26, 2013 @ 3:20 am

    Stephen: This is a fantastic way of putting it.


  55. Phil
    January 26, 2013 @ 3:29 am

    As far as I can remember, this is the sort of thing that Miles picks up on in This Town Will Never Let Us Go, though he frames it as ritual, rather than chaos magic.

    Which is possibly why Phil is covering that book rather than the at-first-glance-more-relevant The Book of the War.


  56. Stephen Jeffers
    January 26, 2013 @ 3:43 am

    "Interference is definitely a flawed book, but I don't think it's necessarily as simple as you're saying."

    Well, no – it gets 200,000 words to make its case, I've probably not got to 500. Of course it's not as simple as I make it out to be.

    I think it's this: we wouldn't let a 'serious book' – say a literary novel or a non fiction book – about the arms trade get away with the lack of original engagement Lawrence has. Even if it was a genre book, a thriller, say, we wouldn't. Even if it was a franchise book – say, a James Bond one – we wouldn't.

    Now, I doubt Lance Parkin was tortured by Nazis or Kate Orman lived among the Aztecs or Babylonians, but in both cases, there's a sense that they've left their own heads to write their books.

    My core problem with Lawrence Miles is that I don't think his head is a particularly interesting place to be, but that's the only place he ever takes us.


  57. Stephen Jeffers
    January 26, 2013 @ 4:17 am

    I'm doing Morrison a massive disservice, of course. Hell, if writing Superman was easy, he wouldn't be the only person for twenty five years who'd managed not to completely screw it up.

    This … … in my opinion, is perfect comics. Not just good, it's the perfect comics page, one where the composition, economy of language, simplicity of sentiment and iconic power of the superhero are all deployed maximally. You can actually sense when reading it that it's saved real lives, that a dozen or so kids reading it who felt that way read that page, or remembered it, and stepped back from the ledge.

    But I remember Morrison from way back when. I remember Grant Morrison when he was travel writing, putting out the Doom Patrol every month and wowing the Fringe with his experimental plays. I have a way higher opinion of Morrison's talent that he apparently does himself, because I think that him writing fantastic Batman stories is still him squandering his abilities.

    Not 'selling out' or anything stupid like that. Alan Moore could distribute a lot more hampers if he wrote Killing Joke II: Still Killing. Just … not stretching himself. Morrison's like a runner who's so far ahead of the rest of the pack he's eased up a little. Go for the world record, not just the gold. If you've got the world record in the bag, then go for the fucking sound barrier.

    I think what happened is this: no one bought The Invisibles. In comments at the time you can see Morrison's frustration that people lap up wank like The Sandman (oh go on, admit it) but not something he's literally poured his soul into. And at that point, he decides that comics is a job. That there's weekday Grant and weekend Grant, and weekday Grant's going to keep his head down and go home the minute he hits his sales targets.

    I wish he'd turned into Alan Moore. I wish he'd put out weird CDs, and short stories about his mates, and porn and he was writing a million-word novel. I think, if he had, he'd actually have been better at it than Alan Moore. As it is, Alan Moore wrote The Birth Caul and Grant Morrison did a thing where Bruce Wayne's a caveman. Anyone who thinks Morrison wins that round doesn't understand the sport.


  58. Ununnilium
    January 26, 2013 @ 7:29 am

    …if I may ask, why are you passing judgment on it at 500 words in?


  59. Ununnilium
    January 26, 2013 @ 7:54 am

    "Anyone who thinks Morrison wins that round doesn't understand the sport."

    I disagree. I'd rather get Grant Morrison's good stories told well, which don't have as many weird ideas, but use them to drive plot and characterization and emotion, than something that has a bunch of weirder ideas but doesn't really connect them to the emotions of human beings.

    (Note that I'm not specifically talking about The Birth Caul here, because I've never heard it.)


  60. encyclops
    January 26, 2013 @ 7:59 am

    I felt a little let down by Interference myself, but "inadequate exploration of the problem of arms trafficking" wasn't really foremost among the reasons.

    I got the sense it was much more about putting soft and cuddly Doctor Who characters into grown-up dangerous situations. The Eighth Doctor is tortured and imprisoned in a much grislier way than we'd ever see on television; the Third is confronted (let's say) by gunfire rather than giant spiders and chanting numbnutses; Sarah Jane is undercover among arms dealers; even Sam and Fitz seem to be in direr straits than usual (though I'm least familiar with them, so maybe this is day-to-day for them). I'm sure that's not all of it — a novel you can adequately sum up in one sentence isn't much of one — but that's what struck me.

    Also, whatever Miles thinks of himself privately, he's almost pathologically self-castigating in public. He might think Interference is a work of genius, or he might not, but if you asked him I'd bet money he'd tell you it was mediocre at best. He's his own worst critic.


  61. encyclops
    January 26, 2013 @ 8:08 am

    I thought The Filth was pretty impressive, too. I'm nowhere near "buy anything he puts out," either, so I suspect your opinion of his work has been formed by a MUCH more complete knowledge of it than mine.


  62. Stephen Jeffers
    January 26, 2013 @ 8:26 am

    "why are you passing judgment on it at 500 words in?"

    No – I've written about 500 words about it. So, no, I'm not doing Lawrence's 200,000 words justice.


  63. Ununnilium
    January 26, 2013 @ 8:28 am

    Oh! Sorry, my mistake.


  64. Stephen Jeffers
    January 26, 2013 @ 8:33 am

    The Birth Caul is Moore talking about his family and childhood, on the occasion of his mother's death. The first issue of The Return of Bruce Wayne is Morrison telling a story about Bruce Wayne in caveman days, killing a giant bat and wearing it as a hat.

    So in terms of connecting to the emotions of human beings …


  65. Ununnilium
    January 26, 2013 @ 11:34 am

    I think it's just as viable to connect to human emotion through metaphor, as in The Return of Bruce Wayne, as with description of direct personal experience.


  66. Alan
    January 26, 2013 @ 8:15 pm

    The relationship between Morrison and Chaos Magick fascinates me not just for its own sake but also in how it highlights the extreme acrimoniousness of his departure from Marvel. Less than six months after Morrison left New X-Men, Brian Michael Bendis had Dr. Strange, the Marvel universe's foremost expert on the occult. show up at the end of Avengers Disassembled to state point blank that "there is no such thing as chaos magick." Given the fact that Strange himself had claimed to use chaos magick in previous issues of his own series, I don't see how that can be anything other than a slap at Morrison.


  67. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 27, 2013 @ 6:49 am

    You know, I'd quite like that if it didn't involve giving Bendis credit for being far more clever and self-aware than I want to.


  68. vitaminbillwebb
    January 27, 2013 @ 7:19 am

    As always, a great write-up.

    >Chaos magic is magic for libertarians.

    This is just brilliant. I think you may have helped me finally crack something that's always bothered me about Morrison's Batman, a take on the character that I like, but have always found problematic in a way I couldn't quite put my finger on.

    I've come to the realization–in part because of Morrison's "Supergods" memoir and in part because of the Nolan films–that Batman has a problem: he's a rich guy that beats up on the poor. Anyone who wants to do something interesting with the character eventually has to confront this, embrace it or find some way to get around it. Nolan does the first by saying that Batman is completely useless. He can't solve anything, so he has to quit. Frank Miller does the second. He revels in Batman's war on the underclass.

    Morrison, I've felt for some time, has tried to do the third by turning Batman into a guru who, a la Flex Mentallo, meditates so hard he squares the circle of this problem. But I think you've pointed out why he has to fail. At the end of the day, Batman is always going to pal around with Gordon. He's always going to be in favor of ideology.

    Morrison tries to redeem this aspect of the Batman by pitting him against 'corrupt' versions of radicalism. Talia, Jezebel Jet (interesting that he feminizes radicalism) and the whole Leviathan organization are the Peoples' counterpart to the Black Glove/Dr. Hurt conspiracy-of-the-wealthy-against-Batman. For Morrison, I think Batman is supposed to represent a sort of safe version of the radical. He fights against the 'corrupt' wealthy and the 'corrupt' radicals to forge a just and ultimately democratic New Age state. 'Thogal,' the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, the drug trips: all of these are just ways to suggest if you do capitalism wierdly enough, it somehow makes it okay. Against what Morrison has called Miller's Batman-as-super-libertarian, Morrison can only muster Batman-as-anarcho-capitalist.

    Which is to say,the exact same thing.


  69. vitaminbillwebb
    January 27, 2013 @ 7:20 am

    Say what you like about Bendis, but I'd rather read his dialogue than Morrison's any day. Morrison's an idea man, but Bendis really captures speech.


  70. vitaminbillwebb
    January 27, 2013 @ 7:25 am

    Phil, I'm surprised you don't mention All-Star Superman at all. If ever there were a work by Morrison that actually felt human, I'd say its that.


  71. vitaminbillwebb
    January 27, 2013 @ 7:29 am

    Besides, the real failure of the dead Batman series is not Morrison's 'Return of Bruce Wayne,' which had the benefit of being cool. It's Neil Gaiman's 'Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader,' which followed its promising first issue with the most disappointing second I've ever read.


  72. timber-munki
    January 27, 2013 @ 9:00 am

    One thing I do like about The Invisibles is the fact that Morrison didn't have the whole plot/ending worked out when he went into it. I have a distaste for the 'I had the final scene all mapped out before I started it'. It smacks of arrogance to me that as you get into writing the characters in depth you won't go in a better direction (Having said that we really never know if it's just as case of 'I planned it that way all along' post hoc justification in these cases). I've a soft spot for his endings – Animal Man, Doom Patrol, his JLA run, NeW-X-MeN (I have to type it like that because of the rotational almost symmetry of the title logo), Final Crisis & All-Star Superman all manage a wrap-up for corporate IPs that is satisfying but don't leave them irreparably damaged.

    Look forward to the Moore/Morrison project, especially your reading of Seven Soldiers:Manhattan Guardian and the battle between All-Beard & No-Beard.

    Ultimately King Mob's auto-critique in volume 2 #13 points out the problems of the series more eloquently than I ever could.

    One more comment on The Invisibles, as a resident of Liverpool with an east facing bedroom, at 5am of a summer morning I wish that the sun did rise over the Mersey…


  73. Aaron
    January 27, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

    What's wrong with having the ending of a work in mind when you start it? That's how just about all novels are written. In fact, in novels that's generally expected and people would complain if the author just kind of made it up as they went along.* Why does this annoy you in one media when it's pretty much a rule of sound storytelling in other media?

    *Kafka and Charles Dickens being notable exceptions, of course. But even Jack Keroauc, who pretended he wrote On the Road all at once, probably knew how it ended before he began.


  74. That Guy
    January 27, 2013 @ 4:29 pm

    All novels are fiction. People are making it up anyway – why does "as you go along" or "ahead of time" matter?


  75. Ununnilium
    January 27, 2013 @ 4:56 pm

    Also, serial works are different from works that come out as a single chunk.


  76. spoilersbelow
    January 28, 2013 @ 9:19 am

    Bendis is actually quite self-aware and level headed, to a shocking degree in fact. I'd recommend his two non-fiction books, "Fortune and Glory" and "Total Sell Out" for his opinions on himself, his work, and just how aware he is of exactly what he's doing, what his influences are, and how weird the industry he works in is.

    He tried his hand at metafiction in the 4th arc of Alias, with the Purple Man, and actually did a fair job at making the villain terrifying as a result. That whole run of the comics is fantastic, but the last volume especially did a good job at the kind of horror Morrison wants to write with Professor Pyg and Cassandra Nova. It wouldn't shock me at all to find a subtle dig at Morrison in Bendis work, as the latter is also a company man who doesn't bother trying to hide his affiliations under a magician's cloak.

    His Avengers "mega-arc" has left me cold, but his early work is well worth tracking down.


  77. encyclops
    January 29, 2013 @ 1:54 pm

    I feel dumb for never having noticed that about Batman before. Probably it's because his most high-profile villains all seem to be fairly well-off or well-connected individuals of one flavor or another, even in the Nolan films where it's mob dons, shadow society potentates, psychiatrists, and gravely injured DAs. The only one who isn't obviously loaded is the Joker, who evidently just manages to steal enough cash to be able to burn a pyramid of it with no loss of operational capability. But when it comes to ordinary street thugs — while it's hard to have much real sympathy for them, it would be interesting to see Batman attacking the reasons they turn to crime rather than just the individuals themselves.

    It's nice to have a concrete reason not to adore that character beyond just "he looks freaking ridiculous and is generally an asshole."


  78. jesusandrew
    January 30, 2013 @ 1:41 am

    I think you're reading too much into Strange's remark. Bendis has stated on many occasions that he's a fan of Morrison's work, and the scene as written was clearly addressing aspects of Scarlet Witch's background that had been introduced years ago. There's no reason to assume it's anything other than a continuity reference (which has since been discredited in-universe).

    While Bendis does have a good ear for dialogue, he also has a recognisable style which jars in some contexts. I can't read his writing anymore without wincing every time his characters avoid using contractions which would make for a more natural rhythm of speech.

    While I agree that Alias is one of Bendis' better work, I can't agree that he's anywhere near as interesting or talented a writer as Morrison.


  79. jesusandrew
    January 30, 2013 @ 1:49 am

    Phil, your comment has reminded me – what's the current status of your Wonder Woman book?


  80. deriksmith
    February 5, 2013 @ 10:59 pm

    I tend to believe that the adage "the revolution didn't fail, we failed the revolution" is over-rated. Our society has adapted to a continuous state of revolution — eventually achieving a Moore's Law state of anticipating and accounting for the occurrence of unforeseeable discoveries and changes-in-thinking in a metricable fashion.
    By that measure, the revolution itself became part of the problem; Thomas Paine's "Every generation has it in their power to begin the world over again" stopped being about the destruction of stagnant or ossified institutions, and instead became part of the mechanism of their renewal. The revolution came, as regular as the Nile, and the institutions spring up around it — meta-institutions which are themselves built on, sustained by and dependent on the revolution to tear out their own internal weediness to keep them wheezing along every couple of years — a symbiotic relationship.
    The revolution has to be from without, but they built the new institutions AROUND the revolution. And it's not the failure of the revolutionaries, or that the revolution was channeled into 'safe' channels by the media — that's too easy to say, to blame the next generation which isn't revolting hard enough or doing it right when we failed ourselves. They didn't do it — WE did it. All of use, the human race is just too damn clever! When the speed of culture began to accelerate it afforded us a parallax on the process of revolution — previously too big and structural for humans to perceive — and we adapted to it! Our institutions retooled and colonized the socio-ecological niche formed by the accelerating cycle. Social metacognition yielded meta-revolutionary thinking, so we built suprarevolutionary institutions.

    We live in a post-revolutionary world where revolution is no longer the tool for removing the rot from our society, we have to look for new exo-revolutionary tools.
    The idea of tearing down institutions is… over. We're in the era of Too Big To Fail and Too Big To Persecute. I suspect that within the next 12 months there shall be Too Big To Regulate as well. The process of tearing-down is off the table for all practical terms. The problem-institutions exist to sustain themselves and they adapted to our antibiotic behavior. The revolution has become a process of periodic internal winnowing which results in a new, mutated culture-ware. Like choke-feeding pigs antibiotics, the state of continuous revolution has produced drug-resistant staff and revolution-resistant institutions.


  81. deriksmith
    February 5, 2013 @ 11:01 pm

    So where do we go? The key, I think, is that in adapting to the revolution they have become _ dependent_ on it!
    The new "revolution" is stopping to care about the existing structures and simply building new ones — preferably sideways of the originals — until enough of our 'traffic' has moved to those structures and the original institutions languish unchallenged. They no longer have the ability to exist without adaption, and as people conclude they are unfixable they will cease to be challenged — and choke on their own lifecycle; like Moore's Law will break if scientists stop concentrating on smaller and faster computers and instead become enraptured by some new problem, like heuristic bucket-chemistry darwinian macro-nanoprogramming or catching all the Pokémon, or defeating our sapient drone armies before they kill us all.
    The one thins meta-revolutionary institutions cannot tolerate is irrelevance. And that doesn't mean we have to abandon them… but as the fervent efforts to revolt against them are abandoned in favor of other, more rewarding revolutions they will wither and as they wither be abandoned over decades. They made revolution part of their life-process, which makes engaging in revolution against them unrewarding. The lack-of-reward is hard to notice while it's occuring, but…. "as speed of culture began to accelerate it affords us a parallax…" and we can see that there is no reward in this activity. And we will adapt our behavior in response to this parallax. It's the most fundamental adaptive response in existence! Behavior which goes unrewarded is less likely to be repeated.

    tldr; The Revolution is dead, long live the Irrevolution.


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