Presentation on the subject of how to use mythological themes and other archetype systems in character design. Covers the Jewish experience, Greek mythology, historical allegories, and more. Subjects include Superman, the Justice League, Spider-man, Jack Kirby’s Marvel work, the X-Men, and also Japanese manga.
In 2005 or 2006 I met comic book writer Grant Morrison at a music festival in Los Angeles. It was an odd event in Echo Park, with many experimental bands playing at various stages, and at the same they had a workshop on the occult. Sadly, most people weren’t concerned about the workshop part.
I was ecstatic to hear that Grant Morrison would be there. He gave a fascinating interview. Seriously, you must youtube some videos of him immediately. Low-key event that it was, we got to chat personally for a few and he was nice enough to take a picture with me. I met his wife too.
I met him at Comic Con the following year as well, at events far more crowded, and he was still very nice. I won’t inundate with more pictures, however, I’m not that much of a fanboy.
For more here’s an particularly awesome video from 2000’s DisinfoCon introducing the tenants of chaos magic and how to do a masturbation sigil:
Note he’s Scottish.
And now my blog begins. Presenting the master of the Postmodern Superhero. The punk rock star of comics. My personal all-time favorite.
First things first, comparisons with Alan Moore are inevitable. They are both absolutely brilliant. They are both magicians. They both deconstruct the nature of the superhero like no other.
Yet, one is a mess of hair and the other is bald. One seems to be a misanthropic old man, and the other apparently has lot of fun as a writer. One hates all things mainstream, and the other is just fine with utilizing corporate characters as tools to tell the important stories.
Unfortunately, if you’re a Grant Morrison fan then you must be an Alan Moore fan as well but the reverse isn’t necessarily true. There’s a lot of overlap in themes, yet if you want to be an anti-mainstream purist you can skip Morrison. I think you would be missing out if you did that.
Anyhows, I am a great fan of both so what’s wrong with that?
As for me, I personally first came across Grant Morrison in my teens (though the story gets more interesting in my twenties), because of the huge phenomena that was JLA in the 90s. I was marginally interested, being that I followed everything important that was DC at the time, and the first volume was okay. Superman with a mullet notwithstanding. When I got to the Rock of Ages graphic novel, I was astounded. Then the following arc about the 5th dimensional beings left me well and truly mindfucked.
To me, the peak was the One Million crossover about time travel to 853rd Century. Great high-concept science fiction.
Grant Morrison has since further written Superman in such titles as All-Star Superman, Action Comics, which you can see my opinion thereof by following that link .
One of the random things I was into seeking back in the day was Flex Mentallo, a strange Vertigo piece about a corny superhero. I found issue 3 at discount, and spent years hunting down the full story.
It had everything: deconstructionism, metafiction, with groundbreaking art by frequent Morrison collaborator Frank Quitely.
I contend that Flex Mentallo is superior to Watchmen. It takes a dissection of the superhero genre even further. And it’s funnier, wittier, with treatises on childhood trauma and cosmic abduction, and contains the classic line “Fredric Wertham was fucking right!”
It was so hard to get all four issues. The problem was that Flex Mentallo was a satire of the ‘hero of the beach’ and with republication risked getting sued by those old strongman ads. DC wouldn’t reprint a graphic novel for years. Back then, I bit the bullet and paid high prices on ebay and it was well worth it. Now, of course, there’s a trade.
Let’s go a bit more backwards, with Animal Man. The saga of Buddy Baker was one of Grant Morrison’s first forays into DC during the 80s British Invasion. This obscure hero was given a modern reboot, that quickly went from an essay on animal rights to some weird routes onto the nature of fiction. Combining Wile E. Coyote with Native American mythology, by the end it went full on metafiction. Most haunting of all was when Animal Man broke the fourth wall and looked directly at the audience, shouting “I can see you!”
Concurrently, Doom Patrol was a very interesting take on outcast heroics. The patrol were always a bit odd, a tad off, and Grant Morrison knew how to play to the strengths of that. Robotman as eunich, transgendered street characters, and most of all were the villains based off art history. Brotherhood of Dada anyone?
Not to mention Flex Mentallo first appeared in Doom Patrol.
These were all well and very, very good. However, Grant Morrison’s true opus came in the 90s with the Invisibles. By the time I got caught on, well after it was completed, I was generally getting into more esoteric subject matter. I was reading P.K. Dick and Robert Anton Wilson. I was collecting Disinfo books. I was coming across these strange interviews with one Grant Morrison comic writer, on the subjects of chaos magic and higher consciousness. It was time to read more.
I ordered the entire set, and read on. Then I read them again, and a few more times at differing stages of my life. I’m about ready for a reread again.
The Invisibles is an epic take on Gnosticism and conspiracy theories, through the lens of an action comic, published by Vertigo. About a team of anarchists fighting the good fight against the forces of control in this world. It incorporated all kinds of references to psychedelic mythologies. All came to a head in that Singularity futuristic year of 2012.
It felt somewhat cathartic that my burgeoning spiritual path was overlapping with my love of comics and superheroes. I was doing it right all along. Much can truly be learned about human growth via the metaphor of the Superman. Thanks, Grant Morrison.
And, I may share that reading interviews on how Grant Morrison took LSD and other various chemicals for the sake spiritual experiences, that had an impact. Helped to encourage me with my own experiments utilizing psilocybin and dimethyltryptamine, legal or otherwise, rewiring some synapses within my nervous system in some arguably positive ways.
As always, reading books (and comics) can be such a bad influence!
The Uncanny X-Men were my absolute favorites when I was young, but those were not the only comics I was into. I had a great love for the whole Marvel Universe, and like the mutant corner of the epic tessaract room, I too was introduced to Spider-Man and the Avengers and the Fantastic Four by living in a house full of 80s comics…
I was never a Spider-Man completist, but with SO MANY Spider-Man spinoffs out there, Marvel really milked the franchise and I read a lot. Amazing, Spectacular, Web of. At least X-Men were teams and had spinoffs, how did Spider-Man get so many titles? The classic character, of course, has among the greatest rogue’s gallery. Peter Parker was also a relatable guy, and for this reason the underdog of superheroes because the most popular flagship of a whole company.
Some say that Spider-Man lost it when he got married. I didn’t think so, I liked the continuity and growth in the character’s life. Marvel has since, as all comics readers know, retroactively rewritten Spidey’s history so he was no longer ever married. Talk about a harsh annulment!
Speaking of Spider-Man and X-Men and more, Secret Wars was the perfect story to tie together all the superheroes. Required reading in 84, it was on of the great original crossovers. Secret Wars took all the main heroes and villains and thanks to the mysterious Beyonder they were put a planet to fight a war. Nowadays crossovers are a comics cliche, but back then it was a big deal. Certainly a big deal for me to read.
I read it out of order, finding random back issues and more until I completed the story years later. The chapter introducing Spider-Man’s new costume was hard to get — expensive (the costume was precursor to Venom) — but eventually I bought the bullet and paid.
That’s how it was back then, piecing together the Marvel Universe.
The sequel Secret Wars II sucked by the way. Trying to be philosophical and shit, the omnipotent Beyonder went to Earth and took human form and became a lame 80s hipster. Really terrible stuff.
But Marvel could do better.
This was the era of the great writer-artists. Truly great reads.
John Byrne’s science fictional Fantastic Four, took them to the Skrull Galaxy and Eon the Living Planet and the Negative Zone antimatter dimension and the microverse. Let us not forget, the mighty Galactus.
Walter Simonson’s high fantasy Norse epic of Thor, as Thor’s world was fleshed out in Asgard joined by Balder the Brave. The actual mythologies were utilized as Ragnarok occurred, the end of the world, with Allfather Odin himself fighting the evil Surtur.
Later I caught up on all the tradepaperback reprints of Frank Miller’s seminal noir-eque Daredevil (note that Miller is famed for Sin City, but this was his previous mainstream work leading up to that). Groundbreaking at the time.
That covers all the main genres of adventure stories.
That’s supposed to be the X-Men Animated Series theme song. Remember that? If you’re a member of my generation, should be a fond memory…
Can’t you just hear the theme song?
Little did my early childhood self know, but there was a lot more to X-Men than that 90s Zeitgeist.
As detailed in my last post: My History of Comics, once upon a time in my adolescence I was given the awesome gift of about a hundred 1980s X-Men comics (as well as New Mutants and X-Factor spinoffs, more on that in a moment). Written by Chris Claremont, this was the crème de la crème of the superhero genre. It changed my reading habits — and hence, my life — forever.
Although these comics posts are mean to be about my experience, I will delve into the greater history of comics for a bit. In Marvel Comic’s “Silver Age” era in the 1960s, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, that is, probably just Jack Kirby, created the X-Men. Cyclops, Angel, Best, Iceman, and Marvel Girl/Jean Grey. It was actually more of a failure compared to Fantastic Four and the Avengers at that time. Yet, in the late 1970s came the All New All Different X-Men and American superhero comics suddenly matured.
With an international cast, featuring the Canadian Wolverine and the African Storm as well as many others, it brought much-needed diversity to the superhero genre. In particular were the many strong, female characters. (Funny though it is that the X-Men were so feminist.)
It still pisses me off that the movies don’t get that. I’ll be complaining about the movies a lot in this post.
By the 1980s, the Uncanny X-Men were the best of the best. While Marvel was publishing a lot of cherished works, scribe Chris Claremont was building an amazing mythology unequaled with anything else out there. He took the metaphor of mutants-as-oppressed-minority and went with it unseen depths. He wrote with equal ease in outer space settings, as the alien Shi’ar Empire fought the Phoenix and the Brood. He wrote about magical concepts, with Colossus’s sister Illyana the ruler of the mystical demonic realm of Limbo. He was on fire, and he stuck with the characters on fire for 16 years from 1975 to 1991. Although, yes, if you wanna critique we was and is a very wordy writer.
My bundle of X-Mens covered about 180 – 240. But with many other heres-and-theres, I got the Dark Phoenix saga graphic novel collection and Classic X-Men reprints. The fun of collecting comics back then was to fill in the gaps and slowly piece together the greater story over the course of years. Then I got X-Factor 1 – 50, the spinoff featuring the original X-Men such as Cyclops, which covered many crossovers. As well as bunches and bunches of New Mutants.
The New Mutants, next generation of students at Xavier’s
By the time I hit the ground running, Magneto had joined the X-Men in issue 200 and then there was the Mutant Massacre and then for a darker period the X-Men had “died” in the Fall of the Mutants storyline in 225 and lived in Australia while being drawn by Marc Silvestri, and then the demonic Inferno crossover around issue 240 brought together X-Factor and others. Wow fun times!
Like many kids of my generation, I grew up with Nintendo. Sega was a competitor for a while there, but I was always a loyal fan of Mario. Then real life happened and I didn’t have much time for video games anymore. Meanwhile, hardcore gamers became more and more intense over the last decade(s), with mega time-consuming complex gaming reaching a levels every year. And I have since become a cranky old man lamenting that games aren’t what they used to be.
More power to the modern gamers; I am very much a geek in my own ways and they can do what they want. There are various criticisms which can be lobbed at the gaming subculture, but I don’t intend to get into that here. I just want to share what games I like.
Few years ago I got my NDS, and quite enjoyed it. I require a lot of entertainment and stimulation, so when I’m bored on the bus or waiting in line at the airport I will take my paperbacks and audiobooks and text everybody as well as play video games. I likened the NDS to having a Super Nintendo in my pocket, but even better because I can start and stop anytime I want to. Play for ten minutes, save, go do something else, then play again for five minutes to several hours. Worked very well for a casual gamer like me.
Dare I admit that the NDS was very hackable and I live in a land where people pirate everything? I downloaded the whole catalog, sorry, but then when I was over it I simply had to get the 3DS and get the new games. Which meant I had to buy the real ones, American editions, during my frequent trips to Hong Kong.