Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Dirty Thoughts from Other People's Comments Sections #3

The following ramble was originally posted in the comments to this Factual Opinion post. It's addressed to a chap called Kenny, who had stated that Grant Morrison's comics were "all big ideas and weak execution" and that this made him "the anti-[Mark] Millar".


A lot of people seem to think that Morrison's all ideas and no execution, but... I just don't see it. On a bad day, maybe, but I'll let you in on a secret about Grant Morrison's best ideas: they normally belong to someone else. What he's good at is finding a new way to make some old Jack Kirby/J.L Borges/Michael Moorcock idea sing, and in that way he's actually way closer to Mark Millar than you're making out.

See, they make a pretty neat couple, Morrison and Millar, as Plok neatly pointed out in this recent post. The main difference between them is that Morrison wants to show how much you can still do with these old ideas, where Millar takes a great deal of joy in rubbing his cock on them*. Both valid approaches, for sure, but... yeah, in both cases, execution's the thing.

Now, I've ran out of patience with Millar recently, so I can't comment on his Fantastic Four or 'Old Man Logan' or whatever, but honestly? His execution is AT LEAST as on-off as Morrison's... probably even more so.

What's the difference between 'Batman: RIP' and All Star Superman, or Morrison's whole Batman run and Seven Soldiers? It's probably about the same as the difference between Kick Ass and Wanted, right? The ideas involved are similar, but there's a huge difference in the quality of the execution.

(Of course your opinion on the relative quality of these series may differ from mine, but that's only to be expected.)

And this isn't a new phenomenon in Morrison's work either: Arkham Asylum renders boring many of the same themes that seem super-exciting in his Doom Patrol run, for example.

So... yeah. You're wrong about Morrison's strengths as a writer, is basically what I'm saying, though obviously if his work doesn't do it for you it just doesn't do it for you.

*There are exceptions though: Morrison's Dare would make much more sense if Monty Millar had written it, but so it goes...

Also: Big Beardy Alan Moore has a similar interest in other people's ideas, though unlike either of the two young rogues I'm waffling on about here, Moore's more interested in building a huge structure out of this junk in order to show how clever he is. Which is awesome!

I've changed the formatting a little, and have edited out the bit about me wanting to give Kevin Huizenga special man-hugs, but I stand by the rest of it. And in case anyone thinks I'm being flip with that last Alan Moore comment: I'm not! I really do think Moore's work is awesome, and some of it is even hugely affecting (V for Vendetta, Watchmen, From Hell, The Birth Caul..). It's all really perfomative, sure, but that's a quality I really like in my comic book authors. Moore's showy like an old school stage magician, while Millar's showy like a drunk bloke in a bar. Morrison? He's somewhere between the two, which is probably why he's my favourite British comics writer.


Paul C said...

I love Morrison and hate Millar, but doesn't it all come down to whether you're tuned into their frequency? I mean, we're talking about (mainly) superhero comics here - genre stuff, basically, which means that even if you don't think they're great writers you can still enjoy their writing.

Pah. My problem with the whole exercise of Batman R.I.P. is that it's a con job, part of the long slow death of the comics industry. I don't doubt that Morrison's intent was genuine, but as usual the publisher manages to shoot itself in the foot.

plok said...

Spot on about Moore -- it's all about the prestidigitation, he controls everything so minutely.

On Millar (thanks for the link, by the way), I'd venture to say that for him the execution is the big idea, and the big idea is the execution, and between the two there ain't no difference. I believe the man may think in splash pages.

David said...

Paul: Thanks for the comment! You're right that a huge part of this is all about your own personal frequency. While I found Batman #681 a little blurry and anticlimactic, I still enjoyed it more than I would most Mark Millar comics. That said, I do think that I can be objective enough to state with some force that All Star Superman is better than Morrison's Batman run, say, or that the first volume of the Ultimates beats Azteck hands down.

So... yeah, pop criticism is always a weird mix of the personal and the impersonal. And I'm fine with that. It's like Marcello Carlin said about music writing:

"The important point about music writing is that any critical stance taken towards or against music has biologically and aesthetically to stem from the inner life of the writer. How good that writing becomes, or is, is reliant upon the flexibility of that inner life."

With regards to 'RIP' being a con job... I can't quite see it that way. I mean, comics readers should be savvy enough about this stuff by now, right? And as for the rest of the world? Well, I'm sure it made an interesting diversion from all the more important news they heard last week, but I doubt it'll stay with them in any serious way.

Like, it's a pretty desperate grab for attention maybe, but I don't see that side of it as much more than a minor symptom of the sputtering death of the comic business.

Plok: Yeah, Moore's an aesthetic control freak, and sometimes I love him for it while at other points I just wish he'd loosen up a little. Still, if I was as good a craftsman as Moore I'd probably do the same thing. Thankfully, I'm not, so I don't need to worry about it!

Also: Yeah, I imagine that even if Millar wrote a story about going to the shops with his wife it'd be full of explosions and debasing twists. Like, did you ever read Frank Miller's contribution to the autobiographix collection? The one that's all ninja poses and head-pen action? I can't help but think that our kid Mark's contribution would have been even more over the top!

Also also: your Mark Millar post is bloody awesome, by the way. Somehow you've managed the odd trick of making me like Millar's work more while also seeing his flaws more clearly than ever -- well done!

David said...

Except: the small posts that won't stop growing, the endless footnotes, the pointless deliberation... maybe there's more of Moore in me than I thought!

Shame I'm still nowhere near that good, but whatever.

Paul C said...


I don't think that Morrison's plot is intended to be a con job, although it's clearly sleight of hand. It's more the way it's been sold as a momentous event that the general public should be interested in.

a minor symptom of the sputtering death of the comic business.

Exactly so. But why does the patient persist in continuing the behaviour that's killing them?

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

That's a fairly common quirk, isn't it? I always think of my gran sneaking fags in between lung operations and asking me not to tell my mum about it. I was only 10 at the time, but even then I knew that it wasn't strictly logical, captain.

Also: I think we're pretty much in agreement with regards to Moz Bats, which I actually enjoyed, by the way. The hype was stupid, sure, but... that's hype for you.

Paul C said...

Yes, but these are big companies - the profit motive is supposed to make them smarter than that (hah!).

David said...

Heh -- you'd think money would make Marvel and DC act smarter, but the "big" comic book brands have rarely been the brightest brains in business, have they? At least, not in the past 20-odd years or so...

(I look forward to someoneone proving me wrong by writing a 4,000 word essay on the smartest business moves Marvel and DC have made since 1989. Prove me wrong, Internet. Prove me wrong. It can't be hard to do: business is definitely not my thing, so I'm just talking out my ass here.)