You Were Expecting Someone Else 17 (Grant Morrison’s Doctor Who Comics)
“Why,” one might reasonably ask, “are you suddenly doing late 80s Doctor Who Magazine comics featuring the Sixth and Seventh Doctors when you’re supposed to be hip-deep in the Eighth Doctor era?” And one would have a fair question. The answer, dear reader, is that we’re beginning a bit of a thing with this post: a four essay run that leads up to Lawrence Miles’s mad masterpiece Interference. The gameplan is simple: next Wednesday we do Interference. Monday we do the lead-in to it with Dead Romance, Miles’s second Benny New Adventure, albeit one without, you know, Benny in it. Friday, meanwhile, we’re going to do The Invisibles so that we can be ready for one of the major things people compare Lawrence Miles to, namely Grant Morrison. Which brings us around to today, where we finally get around to looking at the three Doctor Who comics Grant Morrison wrote in the late 80s, having skipped them at the time because, well, they just didn’t fit anywhere well.
It’s not that Grant Morrison isn’t an influence on Doctor Who. But he wasn’t at the time these comics came out, and he wasn’t going to be for a good long while. More to the point, he was nowhere near the approach anyone else was using for Doctor Who around this time. He didn’t really start making a splash on his own terms until the tail end of the Cartmel era, and the fact of the matter is that it was Alan Moore and then Neil Gaiman who was serving as the major influence for writers in the late 80s/early 90s. The first time you can really point at something and say “that’s Grant Morrison’s influence on Doctor Who” is Daniel O’Mahoney’s The Man in the Velvet Mask, which is blatantly taken from the second storyline of The Invisibles. So I held this back until now.
First, then, an overview on Grant Morrison. He’s one of the bigger names of the British Invasion of comics, and one of the first to make the jump to the US (his debut on Animal Man came in 1988, although he had some text pieces in 1986, which was the beginning of his mainstream career). He’s also a prominent magician/occultist, favoring the style of magic generally described as Chaos Magic, which first popped up in the late 1970s, and which we’ll talk about in more detail on Friday. He’s still quite active in comics, currently writing both a Batman and Superman title for DC, as well as having some creator-owned projects in the pipeline. And he’s endlessly linked to some big Hollywood deal or another, none of which ever seem to materialize.
Yes, if you think this all begs for a comparison to Alan Moore, you’re not wrong. Of course two prominent practicing magicians/British comics writers who emerged at around the same time get compared to each other. And more to the point, they don’t get on at all. Cards on the table: since the Moore/Morrison rivalry forms the spine of what will be my next sprawlingly over-large project after I finish TARDIS Eruditorum (still over a year away, so fear not), I can’t exactly leave it be. To be fair, calling this a rivalry is a bit misleading simply because it’s almost entirely one-sided. Grant Morrison slams Alan Moore about once a year. Alan Moore remains almost entirely silent on Grant Morrison, however. I am only aware of two public statements Moore has made about Morrison – the first is a veiled slam in his essay “Fossil Angels” (Moore writes, “If that still sounds too difficult and time-consuming, you could always make the acquisition of profound artistic talent and success your heart’s desire and simply spadge over a sigil. Never fails, apparently.” This is almost certainly a swipe at Grant Morrison’s essay “Pop Magic!,” where he explains his version of sigil magic, including the use of masturbation to “launch” the sigil, and further comments that “I’ve been using them for 20 years and they ALWAYS work.”) The second is a lengthier statement, made during a webchat about a year ago, in response to a question from some obvious troll who asked Moore to talk about Grant Morrison. And by obvious troll I mean me. Oops.
Obviously, given that I’m planning on spending a million words or so on the topic someday, the full scope of this is miles beyond what this post can possibly sustain. But let’s make some initial notes. The one-sided nature of the rivalry is telling: it consists almost entirely of a less-acclaimed, younger talent shouting at a more acclaimed and respected one and getting ignored. This requires some explication of its own – Morrison, in response to Moore’s webchat comments, makes much of the fact that his comics career started earlier than Moore’s, but this is misleading. Morrison spent years in the Edinburgh comics scene, it’s true. It’s also true, as Morrison says, that Bryan Talbot was a part of that scene and made the jump to the mainstream. But it’s also true that Moore made the jump to the national comics scene in 1980, six years before Morrison did, and the jump to America five years earlier. He is, in any practical sense, the senior of the two writers, and the more acclaimed of them. There is also a strong philosophical difference between them, although since we’re doing The Invisibles on Friday and, you know, a million words on this topic starting sometime in 2014, we can mostly table that. But equally, there’s just no way not to compare Morrison’s three bits of Doctor Who comics with Alan Moore’s, and I’m not going to try to hold back from that.
But for the most part, we’re here for Doctor Who. Morrison wrote three Doctor Who stories, which we won’t quite deal with in order. The first two, “Changes” and “The World Shapers” (from 1986 and 87 respectively) feature the Sixth Doctor and are drawn by John Ridgway, while the third, “Culture Shock,” features the Seventh and is drawn by Bryan Hitch. There is little to recommend “Changes” as a story – it’s a bog standard bit of “an alien invades the TARDIS” that is interesting only in that it has slightly more of a sense of awe and wonder about the TARDIS and its size than a lot of stories, but when we remember that these were going out in the same era (and with the same artist) as “Voyager” nothing about how “Changes” depicts the TARDIS feels too radical. The idea of there being vast landscapes within the TARDIS idea is, I think, new to this comic (though I could be very wrong on that), but it’s still just a high-budget version of The Invasion of Time. More troubling, Morrison blows the structure of the piece horribly. It’s a flaccidly plotted bit of filler with no structure to speak of that fills its pages with little regard to pace. This is no worse than what Parkhouse did with his demented dreamscapes, but Parkhouse isn’t hailed as one of the most brilliant comics writers ever. Morrison is.
This is, in other words, one of the places where the utterly stark difference between Moore and Morrison becomes clear. Morrison was writing filler Doctor Who Magazine comics at the same time that Watchmen was coming out. Watchmen is admittedly one of my least favorite Moore works, but its sense of structure is startlingly immaculate, so much so that the only comparison that feels like it can be made between it and “Changes” is a bemused laughter at the question. But even if we want to be fairer and compare “Changes” to Alan Moore’s Doctor Who work it’s difficult to make Morrison come off the stronger. Much as I criticized the pacing and structure of Moore’s work in places, even his weakest piece, “Business as Usual,” is leagues ahead of this. There you could see the things Moore would become good at eventually. “Changes” feels like it could have been written by anyone.
The third Grant Morrison comic, 1988’s “Culture Shock,” is mostly sounder – it has a basic understanding of how long it is, and uses a relatively elegant parallel structure as it jumps between the cellular world that the Doctor intervenes in and the Doctor. There’s also a coherent idea to it, finding a scale at which the Doctor can properly be viewed as a religious, transcendent figure, and thus getting to that point years before the New Adventures starting playing with it. The idea of looking at the Doctor from the perspective of psychic cells being attacked by a virus who are subsequently saved by his intervention is a very cool perspective. The art, by the these days quite acclaimed Bryan Hitch, is mediocre at best, but for the most part this holds up as an interesting story. Indeed, Morrison has something of a good case in being aggrieved here: this is every bit as fundamental as Alan Moore’s Time War stuff, but nobody ever borrows his concepts, probably because he doesn’t come up with awesome-sounding epic names for them like “The Deathsmiths of Goth” or “Order of the Black Sun,” both of which sound like really crap metal bands and so are far more appealing to wanky fans.
All of which said, there are problems here, and ones that exacerbate the sense of Morrison being unable to muster the skill to get out from under Moore’s shadow. The biggest is that the culture’s narration is both utter dreck. “We do not know how the invaders penetrated the homebody. We know only that they are among us. Mindlessly, they pump DNA into our cytoplasm, making of our bodies terrible nurseries for the nurture and release of their armies. The luminous architecture of their protein shells glitters with a fathomless lust.” Oh dear. It’s not merely the lack of quality that hurts here, but rather the fact that Morrison is trying to do an imitation of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing and mostly ends up showing how much better Alan Moore is at this sort of thing. This isn’t a chronic problem that spans his entire career or anything, but equally, in 1988 at least, he was doing crap Alan Moore imitations, and it’s not exactly a surprise that people went for the real thing, even if a few years later other writers independently came to the same idea he did. Simply put, Morrison may have come to the “Doctor as a god to the little people” idea before the Virgin writers did, but they clearly didn’t get it from him.
In between “Changes” and “Culture Shock,” however, came “The World-Shapers,” a three-part Colin Baker story that is by any standard the most interesting one here. Because if we want to ask the question of why even in 2005 Russell T Davies was slipping references to Alan Moore’s work while nobody ever makes anything of Grant Morrison’s Doctor Who work, this is the one we have to look at. There is, after all, surely no doubt that had Alan Moore written an origin story for the Cybermen that established the far future of the Cybermen as well it would be taken seriously. And yet save for a hazy reference in the comic “Planet of the Dead” a year later, nothing about this comic was ever spoken of again.
Of course, to be fair, had Alan Moore tried to sell us on an origin of the Cybermen whereby they turn out to secretly be the Voord, with Mondas originally being Marinus, it’s entirely probable nobody would have listened to that either. Which is to say that this is an exceedingly strange story. It’s by far the most continuity-heavy thing to be published in Doctor Who Magazine as of its publication date, containing as it does references to The Keys of Marinus, The Tenth Planet, The Invasion, The War Games, and “The Fishmen of Kandalinga.”
No, it’s not just you. That last one is a bit odd. “The Fishmen of Kandalinga” is a short story from the 1966 Doctor Who Annual. Given that Morrison was four when The Keys of Marinus aired, and that “The Fishmen of Kandalinga” reused the Voord, it’s almost certain that this was where he got all of it, which also helps explain how he ended up thinking Marinus was a water world: he’s obviously working off of his memory of the short story and a brief summary of The Keys of Marinus. And from this he stitches together a truly bizarre bit of Doctor Who continuity, explaining the “Planet 14” reference in The Invasion, providing the aforementioned new origin of the Cybermen (which suggests pretty strongly that he hadn’t, strictly speaking, seen The Tenth Planet either), bringing back and then killing Jamie McCrimmon, and then dropping the Time Lords in to clean it all up.
Actually, just about the only stories Morrison gets at all right are The Invasion and The War Games, which gives a pretty good idea of when he was actually watching Doctor Who: around his ninth birthday, in late 1968/early 1969. So, yes, that all fits, then – right down to why he would be particular attached to the Doctor’s lone Scottish companion. Indeed, one gets the feeling that his goal here is to give Jamie the proper sendoff Morrison thought he deserved when he was nine, including a total handwave of an undoing of the memory wipe.
So what Morrison is doing here is a riff on the Doctor Who of his childhood. Except it’s a totally idiosyncratic riff, or, perhaps more accurately, a totally idiosyncratic Doctor Who that consists of about 3/4 of a season and a World Distributors annual. To anybody whose sense of Doctor Who extends beyond Season Six, which is to say, essentially anybody reading Doctor Who Magazine, this is as unlike Doctor Who as the comics got – a Doctor Who that thinks somehow that tying the Cybermen to an almost completely forgotten (and generic) 60s villain is interesting in any way, shape, or form. The result is a comic that is full of good ideas, but that somehow fails to quite be about anything. This is no more a Cybermen comic than “The Best of Both Worlds” is a Cybermen episode. And while Morrison is onto something interesting when he raises the question at the end of whether the posthumanist ideas behind the Cybermen are actually as awful as the series defaults to assuming, this is dumped at the end without serious consideration. This isn’t indefensible – realistically Doctor Who is never going to give up one of its best monsters in order to reconsider posthumanist ideas, and dumping that at the end of a story is probably the safest call. But it’s telling that the entirety of that quite interesting idea gets lost in the mire of a story that makes a spectacular hash of being Doctor Who.
This is not something that indicts all of Morrison’s career, but it’s still a significant problem, and a criticism that has broader implications. But those are mostly better saved for Friday and, more broadly, for a million forthcoming words. For now, let’s leave the focus firmly on Doctor Who.
If Alan Moore’s Doctor Who comics were mediocre, they at least pointed to future genius on Moore’s part. Morrison’s comics, on the other hand, feel like a much more wasted opportunity. It’s not that Morrison isn’t a great comics writer – I won’t lie and say I prefer him to Moore, but he’s solid, and when he’s on his game he’s downright spectacular. No, what’s bothersome here is that this is such a good comic and yet such a failure. Morrison does have skill, especially with “The World-Shapers,” which is quite well-plotted and structured. This is clearly a passion project for him – however idiosyncratic his knowledge of Doctor Who is, nobody references “The Fishmen of Kandalinga” without caring about the series in the first place. And yet despite all of that there’s just nothing here that adds anything of weight to Doctor Who beyond the trivia that Grant Morrison wrote some comics for it.
January 23, 2013 @ 12:32 am
I figured out a few years ago how to describe my different reactions to Moore & Morrison: I think Moore is the better writer in many ways but I flat out enjoy Morrison more. I have to agree that in the case of their respective Doctor Who works that Moore comes off better, though.
Looking forward to the Moore/ Morrison project; unlike Doctor Who where there's huge gaps in my knowledge I think I've read about 2/3 of what Moore's done and possibly as high as 95% of Morrison's work.
January 23, 2013 @ 12:42 am
"Just about the only stories Morrison gets at all right are The Invasion and The War Games, which gives a pretty good idea of when he was actually watching Doctor Who: around his ninth birthday, in late 1968/early 1969. So, yes, that all fits, then – right down to why he would be particular attached to the Doctor’s lone Scottish companion."
And the fact that Morrison is Scottish, of course! Which would undoubtably have been an attraction to the nine year old son of a Scottish political revolutionary (if you hadn't already seen it, you really should read the obituary for Grant's father, Walter: http://libcom.org/history/morrison-walter-1924-2004 )
Regarding the meshing of all media into one narrative, this seems very much the beginnings of Morrison's obsession with saying "all fiction is true," which reached it's apex with his Batman work (where he has essentially said that every Batman story is real, and the collision of different approaches and impossibility of reconciling over seventy years of stories into the lifetime of a character who is supposed to be an eternal twenty nine can be the most interesting part of the story). Which seems to be very apt considering you're currently chronicling a period of time where there are multiple narratives featuring the Doctor that are in no way reconcilable.
As to Moore versus Morrison? I was once firmly in the Moore camp, and very much grew up with him as a comics reader (pretty well starting out with his Dr who work and noticing his name elsewhere in 2000ad and Warrior– I even read his "Stars My Degradation" strip in the pages of my brothers Sounds music paper) but as they've progressed in their careers, I find myself more and more preferring Morrison. For all the later's flaws, he comes across in his work as more human than the arch-structuralist Moore.
Indeed, for the first four years of the revival, I always saw Russell T Davis as the Grant Morrison of Dr Who to Steven Moffat's Alan Moore, with the former touching on hige ideas and images and then discarding them just as quickly while embodying them with a warm humanity while Moffat's scripts unfolded like clockwork flowers.
But I've had to revise that comparison since Moffat took over as showrunner!
But this is all material for future blog posts, suffice to say i agree with you that as early sketches, Morrison's work wasn't as indicative of his later material as opposed to Moore. Morrison seems quite like that other cultural signifier David Bowie in that respect.
January 23, 2013 @ 12:49 am
Should have been a floppy-fringed 1980s Morrison photo, not a 2010s designer tunic! (And a King Mob picture on Friday?)
Justin A. Harwood
January 23, 2013 @ 1:59 am
I've never really clicked with a lot of Morrison's mainstream comics work (save for that late 80's Animal Man run, rightfully acclaimed in my opinion), particularly because of that tendency to dredge up ancient points of continuity as if everyone remembers them as clearly as he does. To be fair, I think his ideas tend to be pretty great, but the execution of them always feels lacking to me. Maybe his non-mainstream stuff pans out better? I couldn't tell you.
Meanwhile, I don't love everything Alan Moore's ever written (and I get the feeling I wouldn't get along with the man at all), I always find his work interesting enough to be worth reading. Too often with Morrison I find myself at the end of a story going "..and the point of this was?"
Youth of Australia
January 23, 2013 @ 2:19 am
Yes, I get that feeling. Maybe he had some bizarre belief that if the Voord WERE the Cybermen then the Keys of Marinus would be the first Cyberman story so
a) the first Cyberman story would be a complete one
b) it would mean the Cybermen were in the very first season
c) Terry Nation created both of Doctor Who's greatest monsters.
Yet I'm surprised no one at DWM noticed that Morrison based the entire story on a scene he INVENTED – I certainly don't recall the epic sequence where the Second Doctor, Jamie and the Brigadier waded waist-deep into the Sewers for one of the Cybermen to stop, point at them and say "Gosh! I haven't seen you two since Planet 14!"
Though WHY a Cyberman would refer to Mondas/Marinus by its space barcode instead of its proper name escapes me. Or why he didn't peer close at Jamie and say, "Hang on, didn't you die pointlessly last time we met?"
Meh. It bugs me.
January 23, 2013 @ 4:39 am
I tend to find Morrison wanting because of the lack of consistency. He's all over the map. One month he's delivering a really great character piece, the next he's delivering some esoteric bit which half-assumes you've read all the same stuff he has. Some months he's got a pretty solid structure, other months he's like a machine gun firing off concepts without following through on them. He's the homerun hitter that strikes out far too often.
Moore, with a few exceptions, knows how to develop and present a concept, with the fluctuation in quality mostly being linked to how good of a concept it is. Something like Promethea, which gives up being adventure fiction pretty early on, ends up being a coherent and interesting lecture on mystical symbolism. Moore's just a more disciplined writer. He's the base stealer, adding on to a solid foundation.
And I would be remiss to not mention that Moore kind of bid farewell to corporate controlled characters fairly early in his career, freeing himself from the politics that can easily tear down a story; while Morrison has spent the last several years pimping out his ideas to a universe that quite simply doesn't understand or desire them, and letting said universe drag him down.
January 23, 2013 @ 5:45 am
There's a line about the Cybermen meeting the Doctor on Planet 14 in The Invasion, but it's not delivered in front of the Doctor.
I'd argue that Worldshapers is an important story for possibly the ultimate of ironic reasons: it's the first story that applies the Alan Moore template to Doctor Who. Take some dimly-remembered nostalgic toss, throw in some obscure references, frame it around a sincere emotion-led story (Jamie's, in this case). Everything you know was wrong! Above all else: Take Everything Seriously. That sounds negative, it's not meant that way. It's the dominant strain of Doctor Who storytelling now, and it has been for twenty years, since Timewyrm: Revelation.
Worldshapers is the first New Adventure, basically.
January 23, 2013 @ 5:45 am
Nice one Doctor Phil! I too waver between Moore and Morrison. Both worthy of adulation, both capable of getting it tragically wrong. Despite being bought The Doctor Who Annual which contains the Fishmen of Kandalinga in the year of its publication I don' t recall ever reading the story. Too much text for a nine year old to bother with. I liked the illustrations though and remember being pleasantly amused that Morrison had made use of a reference point that we both shared and audaciously at that. I like to believe, sometimes in my more Po- Mo moments that the Cybermen and the Voord are related. It makes as much sense as RTD's 'John Lumick' retcon which seems to have been largely ignored by Moffet.
Incidently if you're not already aware of it I strongly recommend you check out Channel 4's new drama ' Utopia' now airing in the UK. Commentators are seeing elements of both Watchmen and the Invisibles in this visually stunning conspiracy drama which also has tropes of Tarantino and David Lynch.
January 23, 2013 @ 6:43 am
As much as I enjoy Morrison's writing (which is to say about 50/50, when he has an editor to remind him to write thing like "transitions" and to "not introduce something a page before you resolve it and act like it was a big character defining moment"), his beef with Moore is really quite silly. If Morrison spent less time on cultivating his public persona and more time polishing his first drafts, he'd of written something as seminal and genre defining as Watchmen or Maus by now (neither of which require anything outside of themselves to explain why they are good, and which manage to have quite interesting structure without sacrificing complexity or depth of ideas), instead of needing to spend time crowing about how The Filth and Seven Soldiers and Final Crisis aren't as critically acclaimed by people who don't read comics or enshrined higher by those who do, and how no one follows up on his ideas. All of these are interesting works, of course, but none approach The Invisibles or Doom Patrol in terms of actually applying the ideas he introduces in interesting ways alongside an actual story. All-Star Superman came close, but was wildly uneven (it has some very good issues, and ones that are completely skippable), and chockful of Morrison's usual writing tics and disinterest in following up on things to make them a synthesized whole. Flex Mentallo also came close, but many of his ideas seem like they were lost in translation to the script and the page. It would have been perfect if an editor had forced Morrison to take some sandpaper to all the rough edges and bits that were crammed in without actually fitting. Just having big ideas isn't enough.
Now, with that said, I'll take an imperfect masterpiece over well polished crap; Morrison is heads and shoulders above almost every other comics writer out there. But he's not going to be at the point that Alan Moore or Chris Ware are without addressing the major decencies his style of writing has by its very nature. To use a convoluted and not 100% consensus based analogy, Lord Byron is an amazing poet and his influence and importance cannot be understated. But he's not William Blake or John Keats, and never was due to his lifestyle and how little time he spent on his poetry versus how much he spent talking about his poetry. Most of his best work was done when he had Shelly to talk him down. But he's much better than Wordsworth or Hunt, and far, far better Reynolds or Lamb…
For the definitive statement on just how silly his beef with Moore is, I'll point you towards Abhay Khosla's "annotations" of a recent interview/hagiography Morrison gave to Laura Sneddon for the News Statesman, located here, about halfway, past Tucker Stone's comic reviews ( http://www.tcj.com/things-dont-look-so-bright-and-chummy-round-here/ ).
It's perfectly summed up: "After a whole mess, Morrison finally states, “As I’ve said, it’s far easier to make the argument that Moore, along with powerful allies like Michael Moorcock, continues to indulge in clear, persistent, and often successful attempts to injure my reputation, for reasons of his own.” Morrison’s thoughts on what he believes the “reasons of his own” are, which might be the only possible thing of interest here, are of course, never described, and no noticeable attempt is ever made to ascribe any motive whatsoever to Alan Moore for the nearly four-decade long vendetta Morrison has described at nauseating length. So what was the point? The finale of Seven Soldiers made more sense to me than this."
As an aside, he rewrote a lot of World Shapers into his run on New X-Men, specifically the "Assault on Weapon Plus" arc, and did a bit more with the idea. Good story with great art from Chris Bachalo.
January 23, 2013 @ 7:12 am
Yeah, the line about "Planet 14" is between Tobias Vaughn and the lucite sculpture he keeps behind his wall. The Doctor and Jamie aren't in the room at the time.
January 23, 2013 @ 8:08 am
When Moore comes as the sane one in a feud, it'd time to re-think your position.
January 23, 2013 @ 8:11 am
I kind of agree with all that except…
'If Morrison spent less time on cultivating his public persona…'
Morrison' s not the one who dresses like a demented goth wizard.
January 23, 2013 @ 8:15 am
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January 23, 2013 @ 8:28 am
Eric said exactly what I was going to say about the pair: Moore's probably "better" but Morrison is often more fun. I think partly this is because Moore does order and Morrison does Chaos. The structure of books like Watchmen and From Hell is inescapable and, unless I'm in the mood, can induce claustrophobia, whereas The Invisibles seems almost fully improvised (though I'm looking forward eagerly to Dr. Sandifer's teachings on it to see what I missed back when I read it as an undergrad). I'm not sure I'd want to live in a world without V for Vendetta, though, and yet it's a happier one knowing something like We3 or All-Star Superman might suddenly appear. And that New X-Men run spoilersbelow mentions is so bats and yet so much fun. Meanwhile, while I dig Promethea, its finale is at once a masterpiece and a masturbation, and I think you really have to love spot-the-reference literary pastiche to put up with League of Extraordinary Gentlemen's eyestrain-formatted prose. There's no faulting the skill of Dave Gibbons or Eddie Campbell, but just thinking about a Frank Quitely page brings a lump of joy to my throat.
I don't really want to have to choose. But that's the story of my life. 🙂
It IS a drag knowing Morrison's got some weird one-sided feud going, but ever since that sigil thing I've known I couldn't get too attached to him as a person.
As for Doctor Who comics, I've tried not to read them. Every one I've attempted has temporarily tarnished my feelings about the show, like when you see bad fan art and it briefly makes you think, "ew, THIS is that thing I like?"
January 23, 2013 @ 8:52 am
Steven — that's one of the reasons why Morrison is in some ways the more interesting writer, though. Moore is hands-down the better writer, although Morrison is bloody good, but in the same way that Lawrence Miles talks about Doctor Who being his 'native mythology', the DC universe is clearly Morrison's.
January 23, 2013 @ 8:55 am
I'm… well, I think that looking at Grant Morrison through the lens of comparing him to Alan Moore is probably one of the least interesting ways you can do it, and that includes pretty much any time one of the two makes reference to the other. …sorry. ^^;
IMHO, the most interesting parts of Morrison's style – well, I can't say they have nothing to do with the most interesting parts of Moore's style, since both involve magic, metafiction, and the two not quite being separate things. But they pull in very different directions with those ideas, and it's clear that those directions come from having different goals. Any rivalry is a distraction from the really interesting bits of either.
…again, in my opinion, of course. I really don't want to take a huge dump on the central concept of your next project.
January 23, 2013 @ 8:57 am
See, I don't think Morrison's ever let those politics drag him down. He's just been out there doing good stories. If his ideas don't get picked up elsewhere, if the big guys in the high office say "oh, this never happened" – so what? The good stories still exist.
January 23, 2013 @ 9:00 am
I'd actually argue that Morrison probably got the continuity for this the same way that Moore did, by asking a few Who fans for interesting things to throw in, or maybe by giving DWM a quick look over to see what people were arguing about. "Where was Planet 14?" is of course an old question that fans discussed on a semi-regular basis.
The big clue is The Fishmen Of Kandalinga. That's not something that a small child would care about at all, but it's definitely the kind of utterly filthy joke sneaked into something aimed at children that an adult would pick up on and mention to someone else.
January 23, 2013 @ 9:06 am
It's pretty pointless to compare Moore to Morrison, but from the point of view of examining Morrison's work, the way he reacts to Moore's influence is something I could imagine an entire book about — just look at the way something like Seven Soldiers seems to be about placing Moore and Kirby in opposition to each other and trying to find a synthesis of the two…
January 23, 2013 @ 9:21 am
January 23, 2013 @ 9:44 am
…hmmmmmm! Good point.
January 23, 2013 @ 12:55 pm
Byron was what he wanted to be, the last great eighteenth century poet. I think the only major writers who would have written differently had Byron never written any great poetry are Russian. Whereas nineteenth century English literature, say after Blake, Austen, and Byron, is unimaginable without Wordsworth's poetry. Byron's main influence is as an image rather than as a writer.
Remembering of course that talent borrows, genius steals, and Doctor Who writers get it off the back of a lorry no questions asked.
January 23, 2013 @ 1:45 pm
It sometimes feels like prominent 80s comic book writers were given the choice between occultism and insanity. The ones who chose occultism did the right thing, I think.
Archeology of the Future
January 23, 2013 @ 1:46 pm
It's odd, as there's only seven years between them, but I've always felt Grant Morrison was forged in the eighties while Alan Moore was forged in the seventies.
You know the way the 'New Hollywood' wrote and filmed scripts that focused on character, emotion and a certain wish to upend expectation by finding hitherto unexplored angles? Moore.
You know the way Hollywood of the eighties hollowed out some of the aspirations to a 'new literature' that 'New Hollywood' had and turned its flashiest quirks and tricks into stylish modern entertainment? Morrison.
I love Morrison, but I always think of him as wanting to be hip in the eighties style mag way. I see Moore as being more like the smelly-Afghan wearing cool of the dying days of the underground press.
January 24, 2013 @ 10:41 am
I suppose in this already tortured, tenuous, and highly opinionated analogy Wordsworth is someone like Jim Shooter; the modern comics scene is unthinkable without him, but he certainly brings me little joy to read when I could be reading some of his contemporaries, or those who came after him instead.
But this is coming from someone who can't much stand two of the three Lake poets, and thinks that Wordsworth's greatest tangible contribution to poetry is inspiring Reynolds to write "Peter Bell" to make fun of him, and keeping Coleridge from killing himself so he could finish "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and "Kubla Khan", which is certainly not the popular opinion, and I'll acknowledge there's a lot of contrary evidence to support my being wrong… :p
January 24, 2013 @ 11:55 am
I suppose I had always assumed that Billy Friday–the British comics writer who writes Omniman during Alan Moore's run on "Supreme"–was a coded jab at Morrison. I remember one scene in particularly when two characters are talking and one asks, "Are all British writers like that?" and the other replies, "I've met Neil Gaiman and he seemed nice enough." Friday is obnoxious, loud, prone to bold statements, and a fan of ridiculously complicated plots. He even tries to turn himself into a superhero, a Morrisonian move if ever there was one.
January 24, 2013 @ 1:39 pm
When I first read about "The World Shapers" way back in Jean-Marc Lofficier's Terrestrial Index (I think…), my first thought was that this sounded exactly like the sort of story Grant Morrison would write. I didn't actually track down a copy of the strip for almost twenty years, and when I did, I had to revise that assessment: this is exactly the sort of thing a young and relatively inexperienced Grant Morrison would write.
The biggest difference between Morrison and Alan Moore, IMO, is in their philosophical approach to writing. Moore, IMO, has always rankled at the idea of a shared universe. He's contributed to them, of course, but I suspect only because he had to in order to make his name in the industry. As soon as he started to get a name and reputation, he moved on to creator-owned properties, or (at the very least) properties where he was the sole active writer.
Grant Morrison, on the other hand, thrives when he has someone else's concepts to play with. Even in his creator-owned material, like The Invisibles, he's playing with popular culture in a way that is quite different than anything Moore has ever done (his work on Supreme comes closest, but it's more of a tonal homage than anything else). And he keeps coming back to major shared universes like DC Comics: his first major work, after all, culminated in a ridiculously ambitious (if under-heralded) sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths. His ideas for Hypertime was basically a metatextual riff on the mechanics of crafting and writing a long-term shared universe. And he's still indulging in that sort of thing, most recently with his run on Batman.
That's what "The World Shapers" is doing, just in a different universe. He's picking up on weird and neglected aspects of Doctor Who's long history and revisiting them. The biggest problem, I think, is this is Morrison at a very early stage in his career, and he doesn't quite have the skill to pull it off yet. He may not have been able to do it even later on, given the nature of the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip format, but I get the distinct impression that Morrison circa 1996 would have had a better go at it than Morrison circa 1986. There are certainly echoes of this sort of thing throughout his career: some of the references he worked into his run on Batman were just about as obscure as "The Fishmen of Kandalinga."
January 25, 2013 @ 2:09 am
I cannot stand Morrison. He comes off as a man desperately trying to prove how clever he is by rattling off a million half-baked concepts, whilst sacrificing coherency, dramatic weight and anything approaching decent dialogue. My main experience of him is through his acclaimed run on The New X-Men, into which I got three issues before I couldn't justify spending any more money on him. He takes big, important ideas like the genocide of Genosha- which was an important step for the comic to take to take it out of the so-called 'dork age'- and deals with by not mentioning Genosha for the first two issues, then wiping it out in a couple of pages, whilst Xavier spouts suitably naff dialogue about how 'They were too busy drinking tea and making love to see it coming'. The next issue starts with the X-Men making terrible jokes whilst cleaning up bodies. There seems to be notion that having the idea is as good as exploring it in any meaningful fashion. The same problem plagues Moffat's Who, where characters routinely say the word 'memory' and have people remember things, as though it matters beyond the contrivances of the plot.
Moore, however, surrounds his ideas with strong plotting, characters and dialogue. He has his flaws, but, far more than Morrison, he knows how to tell a story. Which, of course, is the important thing to do when writing in a story-telling medium.
In short, I am much happier reading Morrison's stories on Wikipedia, because the ideas are far more interesting than the way he writes them.
January 25, 2013 @ 5:40 am
"My main experience of him is through his acclaimed run on The New X-Men, into which I got three issues before I couldn't justify spending any more money on him."
So you read three issues of a run that lasted 41 issues, and think that's a reasonable basis on which to judge not only the whole 41-issue run but everything else the man has ever written as well?
January 25, 2013 @ 6:01 am
I think he's a generic 'British writer'. He's as much Warren Ellis as Morrison, but there wasn't exactly a shortage of them. Moore's taking the piss out of himself as much as Morrison, I think. By the time he was writing Supreme, he was happy to talk about 'the damage people like me have done'.
January 25, 2013 @ 6:09 am
I'm always surprised by the visceral negative reaction some people have to Morrison. And by the description that he's out there and 'weird' when … well, so much of it is warmed up Borges, PKD and so on. I didn't think Final Crisis was incoherent, I thought it was too old-fashioned. 'Hey, we're in a story, oh no, the illusion's shattered, we'll have to finish now' … that's the sort of thing that Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Blazing Saddles were doing when Morrison was barely in his teens.
New X-Men at least had the decency to fight the civil rights battles of the late eighties (twenty years too late), rather than the series default of the mid-sixties. The X Men are stand ins for gays and African Americans? Then … acknowledge that the battles have changed since 1965.
January 25, 2013 @ 6:20 am
Stephen, what you're forgetting is that most comics readers, of the kind who make their opinions known online, are illiterate. I suspect a supermajority of them won't even read non-superhero comics at all, let alone books without pictures (on Comic Book Resources once, there was a thread "What non-superhero comics should I be teaching in my college course?", looking for comics that would be suitable for an Eng. Lit. university course. The third suggestion in the thread was X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills…)
The hostility towards Morrison as 'difficult' tends to come from the same people who argue that Geoff Johns is a better writer than Alan Moore because he allows action figures to be made of his characters (an opinion I have seen stated in all seriousness). I strongly suspect none of those people have read any of the fairly obvious sources from which Morrison draws inspiration.
January 25, 2013 @ 1:54 pm
"Stephen, what you're forgetting is that most comics readers, of the kind who make their opinions known online, are illiterate. I suspect a supermajority of them won't even read non-superhero comics at all, let alone books without pictures"
Also, most people on the Internet are pedophiles, most feminists are man-hating lesbians, most nerds are socially awkward practical idiots, and everyone who watches Doctor Who is a forty-year-old who wishes they were still eight and habitually wears a raincoat.
January 25, 2013 @ 2:07 pm
Ununnilium — I'm basing that on several years of hanging round the fora on Comic Book Resources and Newsarama, the comments sections on Comics Alliance and so on. The people on those sites do almost uniformly attack Morrison for being too difficult, and they also are almost uniformly functionally illiterate.
It might not be true any more that the people on those sites are the majority of those discussing comics online, thanks to the rise of Tumblr and so on, and there has always been a minority with actual reading skills who have stuff to say that's worth reading, but certainly between about 2003 and 2010 (the time when I was most active in online comics fandom, rather than just sticking to one or two blogs as I do now) it was the case.
January 25, 2013 @ 5:42 pm
Well, except I've hung around there too, and neither one is true in my experience. There's a loud minority of people like that, and a number of people who let themselves join in the shouting every so often, but in no way is it a majority, let alone a supermajority. That said, someone like that can easily produce a majority of the words in the comment thread…
January 30, 2013 @ 3:33 am
Part of the problem with Abhay Khosla's annotations is that they pay too much attention to minor asides, e.g. treating a parenthetical observation that Morrison knows Moore has continued to read his work as if it is somehow meant to be a substantial accusation rather than a throw-away (if slightly bitchy) remark.
The main problem, though, is that he fails to recognise the tone behind statements such as the one you quoted: "As I’ve said, it’s far easier to make the argument that Moore, along with powerful allies like Michael Moorcock, continues to indulge in clear, persistent, and often successful attempts to injure my reputation, for reasons of his own." It should be clear from the original context that Morrison puts up arguments such as this as a rhetorical technique, fully aware of their absurdity. His arguments take the form of: "Moore argues A… I could just as easily argue B." B isn't something he believes to be true – it's so exaggerated that it's absurd. By making this contrast, he illustrates how absurd he finds argument A to be.
The danger with making this type of argument is that, as in the case of Abhay, your reader might simply assume that you're making wild and unsubstatiated allegations. While I believe Abhay has misread Morrison, I can't deny the possibility of a more cynical interpretation of Morrison's rhetoric – that using this method of argument allows him to make his own outrageous allegations while giving him plausible deniability. While I don't believe this to be the case, it's only fair that I should acknowledge the possibility.
Since this particular example brings in Michael Moorcock, I think it's worth acknowledging that Morrison has a legitimate grievance with him. As I recall, somebody on Moorcock's message boards took the Gideon Stargrave pages from an issue of Invisibles and showed them to Moorcock out of context, presenting them as if they represented the work as a whole (and thus misrepresenting the entire work as nothing more than a Jerry Cornelius knockoff). Moorcock checked with his friend Moore to see what he knew about Morrison and was more or less told "oh yes, he's been ripping off my work for his entire comics career." Moorcock took Moore at his word and dismissed Morrison as nothing more than a ripoff artist. Although he has been asked about The Invisibles on a number of occasions since by people who believed that he would enjoy it, Moorcock has repeatedly refused to consider reading it – as far as he's concerned he knows all he needs to know. As much as I respect Moorcock as a writer and reviewer, I find it disappointing that he is willing to dismiss an entire work based on a misrepresented extract. This unwillingness to reexamine the evidence is sadly reflective of Moore's attitude in holding grudges against people he perceives to have slighted him without giving them the chance to defend themselves, Stephen Bissette being the earliest example I'm aware of.
But that's a whole different issue and not one I wish to get into right now. I'd rather end by making it clear that I respect the work and intelligence of all three writers. Moore, Morrison and Moorcock remain high on my list of favorite writers and I would happily read anything else they produce.
March 26, 2013 @ 11:22 am
As I hadn't seen any of those three strips until literally this week (and I hated them) this has made for very interesting reading. I like GM, but…
Only minor points: 1) Daniel O'Mahony's book predates The Unreadables by a couple of years I believe. 2) My droning GM-not-as-good-as-his-imagination essay here http://onereed.blogspot.com/2011/02/throbbing-gristle-invisibles-and-all.html if you'll pardon my spammery.
April 12, 2013 @ 9:48 pm
Plus, let's be entirely honest and fair here; 'loud, prone to bold statements and a fan of [ridiculously] complicated plots' isn't exactly a million miles away from being a perfectly serviceable description of Moore himself (the obnoxious part is perhaps a bit harsh for both men). So it would perhaps be a teeny bit hypocritical of Moore to slam Morrison using those particular character traits.