Annotated Bibliography and Influence Study on selected works
by Grant Morrison.
**note** This is in no way a comprehensive list of the books Grant Morrison has written. Rather, it is a (very amateurish) attempt at cataloging stories by Morrison where certain themes seem to be present as well as and authors that have influenced these themes.
Grant Morrison is one of the most acclaimed and controversial comic book writers of the past twenty years. Along with fellow UK comic book writers Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Warren Ellis, he was approached by DC comics in the 1980’s to revitalize their properties and inject some “new blood” into mainstream American comics, which had become pretty stale and rote by that time. The results of course were Watchmen (Moore), Sandman (Gaiman), Stormwatch and The Authority (Ellis) and many of the books that are included in this annotated bibliography. These books changed forever the ways that comics are both read and written.
I first encountered Grant Morrison’s work around 1989 or 1990 when I picked up his Batman hardcover graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. It was unlike anything I had read up to that time. It was mysterious, dark and crammed full of symbolism that I couldn’t yet (and still today do not quite) understand. Over the years as I read more of Morrison’s books—becoming quite a fan in the process–I began to see that there was something more to them than just the typical super hero action that I’ve always loved. That “something more” is what ultimately separates Grant Morrison’s work from that of most other comic book writers.
With a few notable exceptions, most of Morrison’s work is centered around non-traditional heroes. In fact most of his protagonists cannot really be called heroes, at least not in the traditional sense. Instead they are deeply flawed characters with familiar problems who react to situations very differently from traditional comic book super heroes. This focus on non-traditional protagonists both brings the reader closer to the character since they are seen as being more “human,” while at the same time creating a world or scenario outside of the comfort zone of established comic book
storytelling. This is but one part of Morrison’s overall hypothesis which is that with all of his books, from his earliest to most recent, Morrison has been tackling the same basic themes of the universe being in a constant state of conflict, or war, of perceptions as well as the spiritual or gnostic awakenings of his protagonists to this conflict. These themes of perceptual conflict and awakenings quickly evolved out of the traditional good versus evil conflicts and characterizations so prevalent in many comics as well as Morrison’s earliest work Zenith, into an infinitely more complex meditation on paradigms, memes, metatextuality and of spirituality.
This bibliography will attempt to both catalog the comics written by Morrison that tackle these themes, showing a progression or evolution of said themes as well as cataloging the disparate sources from literature, science, and the occult that have influenced Morrison’s writing over the years. In addition, this bibliography also groups together texts about comic books, specifically texts relating to the work of Grant Morrison. This bibliography is divided into five parts: first, books by Morrison, second, books about Morrison’s work, third, literary influences on Morrison’s work, fourth, philosophical texts that have influenced Morrison’s writing and fifth, esoteric books that have informed Morrison’s writing. The Morrison entries will be presented chronologically from first publication while the other entries will be alphabetical.
This bibliography will be of particular interest to scholars who are interested in the use, appearance and juxtaposition of disparate influences in a fictional context and how those influences grouped together create a bold and exciting method of storytelling in an often marginalized medium. For anyone interested in pop culture and the incredibly complex world that exists just below its surface as well as the limitless possibilities for storytelling that exists within the comic book medium, this bibliography will be very helpful in understanding the ideas of one of the most interesting writers currently working in the comic book medium.
Annotated Bibliographic Entries
Texts by Morrison
Morrison, Grant. Steve Yeowell. Zenith Book 1: Tygers. 1987. Titan Books, 1988.
—. Zenith Book 2. 1988. Titan Books, 1989.
—. Zenith Book 3. 1988. Titan Books, 1989.
—. Zenith Book 4. 1989. Titan Books, 1990.
—. Zenith Book 5. 1989. Titan Books, 1990.
Zenith is the story of its eponymous protagonist, a young and very self-absorbed super-powered pop star living in London. Throughout the five volumes released from 1987 to 1990, Zenith deals with problems such as a resurrected World War II menace, a terrorist with utopian ideals, a multiverse-spanning threat to existence, corrupted heroes from the 1960’s and his own sagging popularity on the music charts.
Although Zenith is Morrison’s first major story, so many of the themes he continues to refine and expand upon to this day are here from the very beginning. Right away it is clear that Zenith is very different from other superhero stories. The main character does not act much at all like a traditional superhero. He is vain, self-centered and only gets involved in problems if he thinks they can relieve his boredom or get him out of commitments he does not wish to fulfill. This serves to add an element of realism to the story as well as putting the reader in a position of not knowing what will happen next. The conflicts that Morrison presents are all of a similar nature, that of order versus chaos. Throughout all four volumes the threats posed all come from some being or group who wish to impose their strict perspective on the earth as well as the universe: Masterman from volume one with his Nazi-inspired visions of dominance, the utopian-minded millionaire terrorist in volume two, the Lovecraftian gods, “The Many-Angled Ones” or “The Lloigor” who wish to mold the multiverse into the form of their own unyielding geometry, and finally the former heroes from the 1960’s known as Cloud9 who are bent on imposing their own age of Aquarius on the earth. In Zenith, Morrison sees natural chaos as being preferable to any kind of imposed order. However, one character, Peter St. John, a former member of Cloud9 who has the ability to alter reality and who, in
the world of Zenith introduced the Beatles to LSD and spent time with Timothy Leary, seems to embody both sides of the chaos/order dichotomy. He was a 1960’s radical who became a conservative politician in Margaret Thatcher’s government. Although the series is named Zenith, it is St. John who at several points in the series saves the day, first by destroying the Lloigor with a previously implanted post-hypnotic suggestion, and later by trapping his former teammates from Cloud9 inside of a universe that was really an obelisk paperweight on St. John’s desk. St. John however, is far from being a traditional hero. It is hinted at in several places that he used his powers for political gain and that he has assassinated troublesome figures on behalf of Prime Minister Thatcher. In Peter St. John Morrison shows us a character with great potential who have given in to rigid order—a man with the potential to be a new messiah who is now just another politician. In Zenith Morrison also begins working the occult into his stories. Occult themes and techniques are essential parts of several storylines, in particular Arkham Asylum and The Invisibles. Morrison would also go on to write an essay about magical practice entitled “Pop Magic.” At the end of volume two, Morrison introduces a minor character, the heroine Mantra who wears on her chest the asymmetrical eight-pointed star, the symbol of Chaos Magick, a school of esoteric thought that first appeared in the 1970’s founded by Peter Carroll, about which more will be said later. Mantra is even seen giving the Chaos Rite of Extreme Unction to a fallen teammate:
Be without fear as the great metamorphosis begins. Fantastic and terrifying visions are illusory, they cannot touch you now. Go beyond. You will come to the secret of your being, both dark and light in contradictory union and you may join with this source or remain separate from it. If you remain separate, you must seek out new life. Go where there is strength and freedom. Seek emanations of love, vitality and intelligence.
Do what thou wilt. (90)
The Rite of Extreme Unction speaks of dualities of light and dark. These dualities exist in contradictory union. The suggestion that it is possible to join with this union points to a kind of enlightenment upon at last comprehending the nature of this union.
Morrison, Grant. Chas Truog, et al. Animal Man Vol. 1. 1988. New York, DC/Vertigo, 2001.
—. Animal Man: Origin of the Species. 1989. New York, DC/Vertigo, 2002.
—. Animal Man: Deus Ex Machina. 1990. New York, DC/Vertigo 2003.
Animal Man was the first comic Morrison wrote for American audiences, beginning in 1988. It tells the story of Buddy Baker, who can take on the power of animals (hence the name Animal Man). Animal Man explores the life of a relatively obscure hero who lives a mostly middle class suburban life with a wife and two children. In the series Buddy Baker takes on real-world causes such as animal experimentation, violence in South Africa and the slaughter of dolphins. In addition to these real-world problems Baker also contends with an alien performance artist whose art involves the destruction of earth, a cartoon coyote that cannot be killed, and a confrontation with his creator (Morrison himself).
In Animal Man, Morrison seems to take the opposite side of the chaos vs. order conflict, and in fact throughout his career he often seems to alternate between the two positions. In Deus ex Machina, an old DC comics supervillain called the Psycho Pirate– a man who, with the aid of a mask can alter anyone’s emotions– begins manifesting from his mind long forgotten heroes and villains from the DC universe. This chaos erupting from the Psycho Pirate is seen as a threat to the current continuum or “continuity” and must be stopped.
However, the main theme of Animal Man seems to be one of self-awareness, of discovering your place in your world and the gnosis that brings about such an awareness. In Deus ex Machina, Animal man (hereafter referred to as Buddy) joins his friend John Whitewater in the desert to take peyote in an effort to understand the current circumstances of his life. For a brief moment at the end he catches a glimpse of the reader saying, “Oh my God! I can see you!” (39). Baker’s gnostic
awakening is presented metatextually, yet he still does not quite understand the nature of his reality. Later in the same volume, Buddy Baker’s wife and two children are murdered, ostensibly because of his involvement in causes for animal rights. In a rage Buddy goes out looking for revenge, only to
discover that he is a character in a comic book and that his family was killed only for the sake of a good story. Buddy learns this from Morrison himself. Morrison introduces himself to Buddy saying: “I’m the evil mastermind behind the scenes. I’m the wicked puppeteer who pulls your strings and makes you dance. Me? I’m your writer” (202). While Morrison did not create Animal Man (Dave Wood and Carmine Infantino created the character), for all intents and purposes, Morrison is Buddy Baker’s god. Baker, with the realization that he is a fictional character discusses the nature of reality with “God.” In the end, Morrison returns Buddy’s family to him with almost no explanation, a literal Deus ex Machina.
With Animal Man, Morrison began playing with metatextuality and using it to add another dimension to his stories. This served two main functions: first, it really explored the nature and the potential of comic books as a separate and equally valid form of storytelling, and second, it provides Morrison with a way for characters to confront and interact with their reality.
Morrison, Grant. Dave McKean. Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. New York, DC Comics, 1989.
Arkham Asylum is dual-narrative about the founder of the infamous (in the DC universe) hospital for the criminally insane, Amadeus Arkham, and his subsequent madness and imprisonment in the very place he built. It is also the story of the inmates of the asylum who, led by the Joker, take over the asylum on April 1st and hold the staff hostage until Batman agrees to go in and play a sinister game of “hide and seek.” While inside Batman must confront the horror of his own creation—the murder of his parents—as well as life and sanity-threatening confrontations with his deadliest enemies.
Arkham Asylum was released in 1989, the same year that Tim Burton’s much-anticipated big-screen adaptation of Batman was released. However, people who saw the movie and later bought the book hoping for a light action story were probably left completely bewildered. Arkham
Asylum is dense and crammed with symbolism. The dominant symbols in the story come from the Thoth Tarot card deck (about which more will be said later) created by Aleister Crowley and painted by Lady Frida Harris. Morrison uses these tarot images to reflect the inner feelings of the characters as well as their situations. The major arcana trumps of The Fool (randomness), Adjustment (balance, justice), The Hanged Man (sacrifice), The Tower (destruction) and The Moon (chaos, madness) appear at various points in the story. The Asylum itself is a place where time is fluid: voices from the past can be heard in the present and images from the present haunt people in the past. Again the theme of identity and knowing oneself is very present in this story. The symbolism taken from tools for occult divination point toward dark secrets being revealed and the awakenings that follow. Likewise, Morrison also continues to explore conflicts of perceptions with Batman on the side of order and the Joker on the side of chaos. While this conflict is framed in the classic superhero “good vs. evil” archetype, Morrison begins making subtle changes to that archetype. Batman, as a representative of pure disciplined order discovers that he can only defeat the chaos in which he is surrounded by embracing it, or in Batman’s case, by accepting it. Batman is seen to be a character who, because of great tragedy in his life, could have very easily given over to chaos and gone mad. Instead his will kept that from happening. Morrison’s portrayal of the Joker is also unique. While he is very much a maniac killer in the story, he is also said to be possessed of a kind of “super sanity,” a state where he can not block outside impulses and information from his mind, existing in a perpetual state of sensory overload (27). Instead of shutting himself down, the Joker instead gives in to the randomness, thus becoming the embodiment of pure chaos.
Arkham Asylum is the first time that Morrison was allowed to write about a well-established and very popular character, Batman. While it is clear that for Arkham Asylum, Morrison was one the
side of order, it is here that he also begins to suggest that the two sides may in some way be linked. This is apparent in a scene between Batman and one of his enemies, The Mad Hatter, a villain inspired by the Lewis Carroll character. In the confrontation, the Mad Hatter mentions, referencing
David Bohm—about whom more will be said later, an “implicate order” saying the apparent
disorder of the universe is simply a higher order, an implicate order beyond our comprehension… Order out of chaos. Or is it the other way around (59,60)?
Morrison, Grant. Richard Case, John Nyberg. Doom Patrol: Crawling Through the Wreckage. 1989. New York, DC Comics, 2004.
—. Doom Patrol: The Painting that Ate Paris. 1989, 1990. New York, DC Comics, 2004.
—. Doom Patrol: Down Paradise Way. 1990, 1991. New York, DC Comics, 2004.
—. Doom Patrol: Musclebound. 1991 New York, DC Comics, 2006.
—. Doom Patrol: Magic Bus. 1992. New York, DC Comics, 2007.
—. Doom Patrol: Planet Love. 1992, 1993. New York, DC Comics, 2008.
Doom Patrol is the story of a group of superheroes unlike any other. You could almost call them disabled. They are together because they cannot fit in anywhere else. The problems and opponents they face are also unique. While most super teams face mad scientists or evil alien intelligences bent on destroying or taking over the earth, the Doom Patrol take on the likes of The Legion of Dada, Orqwith, a fictional world gradually taking over and remaking their own world, a painting that can absorb a whole city or beings conjured up from the mind of a child. In short, Doom Patrol is a most unique comic book series.
Like Animal Man, Doom Patrol was an old concept that badly needed to be re-imagined. Or rather in the case of Doom Patrol, brought back to its roots because from its very beginning they were an anomaly among other super hero teams and they fought very strange villains. Over the years though, Doom Patrol gradually became indistinguishable from any other team comic stuffed
with super-powered punch-ups. Morrison took over writing the series in 1989, beginning with issue #19. The first storyline, “Crawling from the Wreckage” deals with a fictional world Orqwith that begins taking over the “real” world. This storyline was inspired largely by Argentinian writer Jorge
Luis Borges’ story “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” which features a very similar premise. The Borges influence allows Morrison the opportunity to begin incorporating the idea of memes into his work—ideas that spread like a virus. Morrison presents memes in several of his storylines as something with the potential for great good or evil, as a means of either liberation or control. In addition to the Borges homage, Morrison also tips his hat to William Burroughs who popularized, along with Brion Gysin, a method of writing called “cut ups.” The idea behind cut-ups is to blend pieces of different and disparate texts together in order to create a text whose meaning might be understood subconsciously—a kind of divination. In the story that follows “Crawling from the Wreckage,” titled “The Butterfly Collector,” Morrison has the character Crazy Jane employ the cut-up method on a few texts in order to open a gateway to another dimension. While the cut-ups are used to transport the heroes to another dimension, metaphorically it could be seen as a step toward awakening to the nature of existence.
From the beginning and up until the last issue of his run, #63, Morrison continues to tackle the idea of conflicts of perceptions. Unlike Zenith and Animal Man, where Morrison chooses a side to explore, with Doom Patrol he explores both, because as a team the Doom Patrol are too strange ever be considered normal, at least in the world of super hero comics, yet they are far too normal and have many real-world problems to ever be truly chaotic. At times the team find themselves against foes who would like to eliminate them because their very existence threatens the “normalcy” of the earth and at other times they are fighting a group like the Legion of Dada who exist only to unleash as much chaos on the world as they possibly can. By not choosing a side in the conflict, Morrison gets to examine both sides, exposing their merits as well as their pitfalls.
Morrison, Grant. Frank Quitely, et al. Flex Mentallo #1: New York, DC/Vertigo, June 1996.
—. Flex Mentallo #2: New York, DC/Vertigo, July 1996.
—. Flex Mentallo #3: New York, DC/Vertigo, August 1996.
—. Flex Mentallo #4: New York, DC/Vertigo, September 1996.
The character of Flex Mentallo first appeared in Morrison’s Doom Patrol run. He is a Charles Atlas-inspired hero who just by flexing his muscles can alter reality (also, every time he does it, the words “Hero of the beach” appear as a glowing halo over his head). In this four-issue limited series, Flex Mentallo must confront what might be the end of the world while at the same time solving the mystery of what happened to his old crime-fighting friend The Fact.
In Flex Mentallo, Morrison explains how he sees super heroes, as archetypes or God forms, that were given life by means of imagination. He seems to be arguing that the same holds true for all gods. Further, within each of us is the potential to awaken these god forms within us. After all, we (humanity) created them in our image. Interspersed with the story of the Flex Mentallo character and his quest to save the earth and find his friend is the story of a possibly suicidal man named Wally Sage who created the character when he was a child. Wally himself seems to exist between realities, in one reality he is slowly dying from an overdose of pills, in the other reality the pills were candy. Here we see Morrison working in quantum mechanics into his plot lines. Wally both is and is not dying, but the choice of reality is ultimately his to make. While Wally is in-between realities he has a conversation with a superhero he remembered from childhood and discovers that all of the super heroes, once thought gone, were actually waiting to be reborn into the world, that these heroes exist inside of everyone. In the first issue Morrison introduces a minor character, a janitor at an abandoned school. This janitor was at one time a superhero. His origin was that one day as a reward for his kindness he was given a crossword puzzle. If the last word of the puzzle were to be filled in he would become “the mightiest man in the universe.” The word in question is said to be the word that brought the universe and consciousness into being. In the last issue we
discover that the word is “shaman.”
Morrison, Grant Steve Yeowell, et al. The Invisibles: Say you Want a Revolution. 1994, 1995 New
York, DC/Vertigo, 1996.
Morrison, Grant. Jill Thompson, et al. The Invisibles: Apocalypstick: 1995, 1996. New York,
Morrison Grant. Phil Jimenez, et al. The Invisibles: Entropy in the UK. 1996. New York,
Morrison, Grant. Phil Jimenez, John Stokes. The Invisibles: Bloody Hell in America. 1997. New York, DC/Vertigo, 1998.
Morrison, Grant. Phil Jimenez, et al. The Invisibles: Counting to None. 1997, 1998. New York,
Morrison, Grant. Chris Weston, et al. The Invisibles: Kissing Mr. Quimper. 1998, 1999. New York, DC/Vertigo, 2000.
Morrison, Grant. Philip Bond, et al. The Invisibles: The Invisible Kingdom. 1999, 2000. New York, DC/Vertigo, 2002.
The Invisibles is the story of a group of revolutionaries who try to save humanity from invading conformist forces known as “the outer church.” It is a sprawling epic involving time travel, conspiracies, the occult, gnosticism, metafiction, sex and violence.
The Invisibles was first published in 1994 and continued on until 2000. It is an epic series that is probably Morrison’s most personal work as well as his greatest. In it he brings together all of his ideas about gnostic awakenings as well was the ongoing war of perceptions.
The characters in The Invisibles are divided into two groups. First there are the protagonists known as The Invisibles, who are working to move humanity to the next stage of evolution, or the Apocalypse. In the series, the Invisibles are an old group going back thousands of years (it is hinted
that Jesus of Nazareth was a member). Their operations are based on the paradigms of Chaos Magic: new members are discovered through the invocation of God-forms as well as pop culture icons–in the first issue, new member Dane McGowan, a Liverpudlian, is led to the group by an
invocation of John Lennon. Also, leaders are chosen at random and each member of the group
represents an element, either earth, air, fire, water, or spirit. Hence, each group or cell has five members. The other group, to which the Invisibles are in opposition is known as The Outer Church. The Outer Church is composed largely of demons, alien intelligences, human military personnel and others who hold influence over humanity. Their purpose is to keep humanity from evolving until such time as they can be taken over by otherworldly beings who, like the Many Angled Ones in Zenith would enslave humanity and impose their own unyielding order upon everyone. Essentially, The Invisibles begins with the chaos vs. order conflict. But very soon it begins to change. The newest member Dane, later known as Jack Frost, saves the life of a member of the Outer Church along with the life of King Mob, one of his teammates. We are told in the story that Dane is the savior of humanity and very quickly he sees beyond the conflict. By the end of the series, Morrison comes to the conclusion that both chaos and order in balance are necessary for humanity’s continued growth. While too much of one or the other could be disastrous.
In The Invisibles, gnosis and trials of initiation are important. At various points throughout the series we see the five main characters—Dane, King Mob, Boy, Lord Fanny and Ragged Robin all go through the process of spiritual awakening and understanding. The entity behind this awakening is referred to as Barbelith. Barbelith is portrayed as a glowing red satellite that exists on the dark side of the moon. Barbelith is very similar to the satellite VALIS that appears in the fiction of Philip K. Dick, about which more will be said later.
Morrison also stresses in The Invisibles the importance of symbols and language, both written and spoken. At times this importance is shown metatextually. In one issue Morrison included a sigil in one of the letters columns, the purpose of which was for readers to concentrate
upon it as a means of improving sales and spreading the ideas presented in the story as wide as possible. Incidentally, the series was able to run to completion and in 1999, a movie, The Matrix was released that borrowed heavily from the the first few story arcs of The Invisibles, and was a
world-wide success. Whether or not these things has anything to do with the sigil is debatable at best. At various points in the story, Morrison describes an alien alphabet or a secret alphabet with letters representing sounds that can cause change or control people. Morrison believes that language can be used as a means to set people free or control them. Also of note is a drug called Key 23. It has the ability to turn words into reality, at least for the person under its influence. At various points in the storyline, Key 23 is used by members of the Outer Church as a method of torture as well as control. Later it is used by The Invisibles as a way to cripple the Outer Church. Morrison is suggesting that the power of language, both written and spoken is absolute, and within it lies the key to our salvation or destruction.
The concepts mentioned above are but just a few of the many ideas included within The Invisibles and this paltry bibliographical entry can not possibly due justice to the complexity of the storylines in the series. The Invisibles is one series where it is best experienced than summarized.
Morrison, Grant. J.G. Jones et al. Marvel Boy #1. New York Marvel Comics, August 2000.
—. Marvel Boy #2. New York, Marvel Comics, September 2000.
—. Marvel Boy #3. New York, Marvel Comics, October 2000.
—. Marvel Boy #4. New York, Marvel Comics, November 2000.
—. Marvel Boy #5. New York, Marvel Comics, December 2000.
—. Marvel Boy #6. New York, Marvel Comics, March 2001.
Marvel Boy is the story of an inter-dimensional alien whose ship accidentally crash-lands on earth killing everyone but himself. He is taken to a secret laboratory and experimented on and his ship, a storehouse for dangerous and infectious ideas is raided. One of those ideas escapes and is
quickly taking over the earth.
For Marvel Boy it appears Morrison wanted to tell a fast-paced action story, and Marvel Boy’s pace is indeed break-neck. Morrison explores the idea of memes here, much as he did in
Doom Patrol and as he will do later in Final Crisis. Specifically, Morrison examines their potential
for absolute control over the populace. In Marvel Boy, the meme in question is a corporate entity known as Hex. Once Hex establishes itself it quickly becomes viral, taking over advertising and broadcasting and swallowing up other corporations until ultimately everyone on the planet works for and is served by the Hex corporation. As we see in Doom Patrol, such an enemy cannot be defeated with violence, instead the only way the Hex can be stopped is by leaking the information of its infrastructure and holdings to other corporations. Information is the only way to kill a viral idea.
Morrison, Grant. “Pop Magic.” Book of Lies: The Disinformation Guide to Magick and the Occult. 2003. Ed. Richard Metzger, New York, The Disinformation Company, 2007. 16-25.
After the success of The Invisibles, Morrison was asked to contribute an essay that outlined his beliefs with regards to magic, reality manipulation and paradigm shifting to the Book of Lies: The Disinformation Guide to Magick and the Occult, originally published in 2003. In “Pop Magic,” Morrison gives advice and instruction on ways to construct sigils, however the ideas originated from British painter and occultist Austin Osman Spare, about whom more will be said later. Morrison also suggests methods for contacting God-forms and draws comparisons between the gods of mythology and modern pop-culture characters. In the essay Morrison suggests that it is possible to make contact with icons of popular culture, just as it is possible to make contact with God-forms since both spring from the human mind and are heightened and idealized aspects of humanity.
Morrison, Grant. J.H. Williams III et al. Seven Soldiers of Victory Vol. 1. 2005. New York, DC
Morrison, Grant. Simone Bianchi, et al. Seven Soldiers of Victory Vol. 2. 2005. New York, DC Comics 2006.
Morrison, Grant. Frazer Irving , et al. Seven Soldiers of Victory Vol. 3. 2005, 2006. New York, DC
Morrison, Grant. Doug Mahnke, et al. Seven Soldiers of Victory Vol. 4. New York, DC Comics 2006.
Seven Soldiers of Victory is the story of another team of super heroes but with one important difference: the heroes never once meet each other. Yet their stories are completely tied together and it is only together that they can defeat the threat of the Sheeda– a fierce race that is all that is left of humanity one billion years in the future who survive only be traveling back in time and devouring human culture.
For Morrison, Seven Soldiers of Victory was a homecoming of sorts. He had spent the past few years working on The Invisibles as well as other creator-owned comics for DC Comics’ mature imprint Vertigo as well as working on a few titles for Marvel Comics. For Seven Soldiers Morrison went back, and as with Animal Man and Doom Patrol, he took some long forgotten characters from the DC Universe and updated them and put them into a massive storyline consisting of seven four-issue miniseries,each one spotlighting a different character, along with two Seven Soldiers of Victory bookend issues.
Seven Soldiers is all about spiritual awakening. Through trials and initiations the characters come to an ultimate understanding of who they are and what their potential is. It is also about transference of understanding from beyond space and time, drawing from a pool of collective unconscious as a catalyst for the gnostic awakening.
As for Conflicts, Morrison seems to have put to rest the conflict between chaos and order with The Invisibles, reaching the conclusion that both are necessary for humanity. With Seven
Soldiers, Morrison has moved on to another conflict of perceptions and that is between the two dimensional (2D) world and the three dimensional world (3D). This can be seen in the Zatanna storyline. Zatanna, a magician undergoes an initiation of sorts in order to defeat a mystical foe. At
the end of the initiation she can be seen almost reaching beyond the comic book page. Later in the
last bookend issue of the series it is Zatanna who casts a spell that brings all of the characters, the Seven Soldiers together for the final confrontation with the Sheeda. The characters never meet or interact in any way, yet they all serve a specific purpose. The conflict between two-dimensional and three-dimensional perception seems to represent the differences between the unenlightened and the enlightened individual. The unenlightened individual sees the world only in a linear fashion while the enlightened individual sees all sides. That the initiation trials are shown from the perspective of the magic-user in the group is significant, considering Morrison’s affinity for the occult.
That the characters all serve a specific purpose leads to the next point, that the Seven Soldiers are themselves archetypes of all the heroes in the DC Universe. Morrison suggests in “Pop Magic” that comic book characters are aspects of traditional mythological god-forms, and that these god forms are aspects of humanity, then the Seven Soldiers themselves are aspects of the soul of humanity as well. Morrison seems to have used William Burroughs’ interpretation of the Egyptian depiction of the soul as it appears in his novel The Western Lands as a guide for the symbolism of the Seven Soldiers themselves. This is explained in detail in the Western Lands entry.
Morrison, Grant J.G. Jones, et al. Final Crisis. 2008. New York, DC Comics 2009.
Final Crisis is the story of the evil “New Gods,” characters originally created by Jack Kirby for DC in 1970 who take on human form and attempt to enslave the earth. The leader of the evil New Gods, Darkseid, enslaves humanity with something called the “Anti-Life Equation” a mathematical proof for the futility of will. Every hero in the DC universe has to come together to stop Darkseid.
The synopsis above does not do justice at all to the story Morrison created for Final Crisis. He seems to have taken an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to it. All of his themes: Memes, awakenings, perceptual conflicts are on display as is the fast-paced storytelling seen in
Marvel Boy. Morrison seems to be attempting with Final Crisis to bring his ideas about magic,
reality and the mind to a wider audience. Indeed Final Crisis at times reads like The Invisibles, except with the mainstream DC universe heroes replacing his own characters. The DC universe occupies a unique place in fiction. Stories have been coming out of it for over seventy years, most of them featuring characters that are also cultural icons and recognized the world over: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman. In using these and other well known characters to illustrate his ideas, Morrison is also placing his ideas in a context that is more identifiable. Although at the time it was released, Final Crisis was heavily criticized for it’s supposed unintelligibility, though this could be due in large part to Final Crisis not conforming to the standard “action-packed” story structure so common in “event” books.
Memes and language play an important role in the Final Crisis storyline. First there is the Anti-Life Equation used by Darkseid and his minions to enslave humanity, much like the Hex Corporation in Marvel Boy and the fictional reality Orqwith in Doom Patrol. The heroes also have their own meme to counter the Anti-Life Equation. This one, given to humanity as they were beginning to evolve by Metron, another New God, is a letter of the alphabet of New Genesis (homeworld of the good New Gods with Apokalipse being the homeworld of the evil New Gods) that means “freedom from restriction.” Indeed the whole of Final Crisis can be seen as a war of language, first between the Anti-Life Equation and the sigil of Metron and later with the Monitors, a race of intergalactic super-beings whose purpose is to guard the multiverse. The Monitors lead lives of quiet observation, yet gradually their society becomes infected and corrupted by “stories” seeping out of the Multiverse. They find themselves expressing emotions and acting out their own versions of these stories, even going so far is to introducing an adversary in the form of Mandrakk,
the Dark Monitor. For the Monitors, language is giving them life by introducing emotions and conflict, yet it could potentially destroy them. In the end, the Monitors make the choice to close themselves off from the Multiverse as a means of preserving their race.
It is in Final Crisis where Morrison seems to put a capstone on the chaos vs. order conflict
that has been such an important theme in in so many of his stories. In Final Crisis: Superman
Beyond, Captain Adam, the quantum Superman of another earth sees the truth: “There are no dualities, only symmetries…I am beyond conflict”(135,136). Chaos and order are two essential parts of existence. In the story, this understanding is crucial to the heroes’ victory over both Darkseid and his controlling Anti-Life Equation as well as Mandrakk who desires that all of existence be wiped away.
As previously mentioned, Final Crisis was heavily criticized upon its initial release, yet it is a story that will most assuredly grow in stature as the years go by and eventually it will be recognized as a masterpiece of superhero fiction.
Books About Morrison’s Work
Callahan, Timothy. Grant Morrison The Early Years. Sequart Research and Literary Organization, 2007.
Beginning as a series of articles posted on the Sequart site, Callahan presents a thorough examination of all of Grant Morrison’s comic writing from Zenith until Doom Patrol. He makes connections between all of the books covered. Callahan is particularly interested in what he sees as a conflict between mind and body that seems to be a recurring theme throughout all of the stories. Callahan briefly mentions a conflict between chaos and order, saying in Morrison’s cosmology, chaos trumps order. This is not an unusual perspective in scientific circles, but traditionally, in comic books, order is the goal and chaos the corrupting force (26). Yet, careful examination of Callahan’s mind/body interpretations lead to the larger theme of chaos against order.
Of particular interest in Grant Morrison: The early Years is an interview between Callahan
and Morrison from 2006 that covers the themes, motifs, and inspirations for the stories examined in the book. The interview also offers insights into Morrison’s creative process and the evolution of his work:
In a lot of cases, I’m not really writing stories, and it’s a miracle I’ve gotten away with it for so long [laughs]. I’m actually trying to evoke feelings. In my head and in the way I approach
the work, it’s a lot more like music. It’s more of an evoking state, rather than being rational or linear or whatever. So I think the thematic unity comes from the fact that you’re actually watching someone working shit out in their head, you know, through a succession of projects. (255)
Klock, Geoff. How to Read Superhero Comics and Why. New York, Continuum, 2002.
Klock takes a unique approach to reading and critiquing superhero fiction. First, he focuses only on comics written from 1985-onward, avoiding the progression of comics from the gold (1930’s to mid-1950’s) to silver (late1950’s to 1970’s) to modern ages (mid-1980’s to late 1990’s), Klock focuses on what defined this latter period. He examines what he calls the birth of self-consciousness in the superhero narrative…the revisionary superhero narrative (2). Instead of relying on Joseph Campbell-inspired takes on the genre as modern mythology, Klock examines superhero comics using the ideas of critic Harold Bloom, specifically those ideas regarding influence, misreading and misprision. Although Klock, in his book focuses only on Morrison’s Justice League of America run for DC comics, his adaptations of Bloom’s theories can easily apply to many of Morrison’s other stories as well. Bloom says “influence” is a metaphor, one that implicates a matrix of relationships—imagistic, temporal, spiritual, psychological—all of them ultimately defensive in nature (12). Regarding misreading, Klock again quotes Bloom, who says the anxiety of influence comes out of a complex act of strong misreading (12). Morrison has always drawn upon and effectively used a lot of disparate sources for his stories, as this bibliography will hopefully reflect.
This wide range of influences makes Morrison’s work stand out, especially in a field where a large number of writers are influenced by and large only by past writers in the same field, and often on the same character or group of characters. By studying the books and writers that influenced Morrison, his stories take on a much deeper meaning.
Neighly, Patrick Kareth. Cowe-Spigai. Anarchy for the Masses: The Disinformation Guide to the
Invisibles: New York, Disinformation 2003.
Anarchy for the Masses is designed to be a companion piece to Morrison’s massive Invisibles series. It is an indispensable resource for decoding the layers of story, influences and ideas that Morrison assembled. In addition to exhaustive page by page (and often panel by panel) annotations of every issue, Anarchy for the Masses also includes interviews with Morrison as well as a number of the artists who worked with him on the series. In addition to the annotations and interviews, Anarchy for the Masses also has interpretations of storylines and symbols, criticism, character biographies and a bibliography for further study. It is an essential text, not only for The Invisibles but for a lot of Morrison’s other work as well, since just about every theme Morrison has used and expounded upon in his other stories is present in The Invisibles. The 29-page interview with Morrison in the book is especially illuminating with regard to the magic/esoteric elements in the story and how he blends those elements with other ideas. Regarding the occult elements in The Invisibles, Morrison says: “I’d used magick. The first arc is about Jack learning about magick, and it’s my ideas about magick, which was something I was interested in at the time, taking Situationist ideas and applying them to magick. So it was basically the notion of shamanically empowering your own town, because that’s what a shaman would do” (233).
Wolk, Douglas. Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean: Da Capo, 2007.
Wolk’s book Reading Comics focuses largely on individual creators, mostly writers or
writer/artists. He also devotes some time to discussing the medium of comics. Since comics contain elements of both the visual and the literary, they cannot be critiqued solely as a visual medium or a literary medium. Instead, Wolk sees comics as a separate art form. In analyzing Morrison’s The Invisibles, Wolk says a lot of The Invisibles is explicitly concerned with the way that time and space can be represented on a printed page, and the idea that if time is the province of language and space is the province of visual art, then the relationship of the two is the comics medium (261). It is this
relationship that makes all comics, and not just The Invisibles unique.
In the chapter Wolk devotes to Morrison, he focuses on both The Invisibles and Seven Soldiers of Victory. For The Invisibles, Wolk examines the many metatextual elements Morrison uses in the story. For example, in the story, The Invisibles is a novel written by Ragged Robin in the future. She is shown revising it and changing elements that she does not like. Later we discover that her novel was also based on another book called The Invisibles that was written in the 1950’s by Sir Miles Delacourt, future member of the outer church. In addition, the whole story is narrated by Dane McGowan to his dying friend in the year 2012. These metatextual elements subvert the expectations of the reader and at the same time reflect Morrison’s ideas about enlightenment and an enlightened person: someone whose perspective is multiplied—no longer stuck in the track of moment and place…(271).
Multiplied perspectives are also part of Seven Soldiers of Victory, as stated earlier. Regarding Seven Soldiers, Wolk says the implication of Seven Soldiers is that you become a superhero by evolving beyond your cultural context—by becoming enlightened and acting on that enlightenment (280). Wolk goes on to examine in greater detail each of the Seven Soldiers. He concludes that the premise is that when two-dimensional characters and their stories take on enough complexity and depth, they effectively become real, bursting through the fourth wall or the surface of the page, slipping into their readers’ world and charging it with the energy of the fantastic (288).
Literary Influences on Morrison’s Work
Borges, Jorge Luis. Labyrinths. trans. James E. Irby and Donald Yates. New York, New Directions, 1962.
The short stories collected in Labyrinths are largely about perceptions of reality and the nature of infinity. Throughout his career Morrison has included homages to Borges’ work in his own stories. The fictional reality of Orqwith in Doom Patrol is similar to the country of Uqbar in Borges’ “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” the first story in Labyrinths. Later in Final Crisis: Superman Beyond,
Superman, while in Limbo encounters a book that has within it every book ever written, echoing
Borges’ “The Library of Babel.”
Beyond the surface homages, Morrison seems to find inspiration in Borges’ ideas on the relationship between the creator and the created. In Grant Morrison the Early Years, Morrison says “I was really into Borges…and people like that. And a lot of their stuff was about the relationship between the creator and the created. It was kind of the idea of the work being aware of itself—being able to question the author” (Callahan, 246). This is literally the case in Animal Man when Buddy Baker meets Morrison and they discuss the truth behind Buddy’s role as a fictional character and the nature of the fictional universe. With The Invisibles’ King Mob, Morrison included another, somewhat more abstract avatar of himself that he could insert into the storyline as a means of commenting on the relationship between fiction and reality.
Burroughs, William. The Soft Machine. New York, Grove Weidenfeld, 1961.
—. Nova Express. New York, Grove Weidenfeld, 1964.
—. The Ticket that Exploded. New York, Grove Weidenfeld, 1967.
The three novels The Soft Machine, Nova Express and The Ticket that Exploded comprise what is known as “The Nova Trilogy.” They are also known as the “Cut-Up Trilogy” since they were written using the cut-up and fold-in technique, originated by the surrealists and revived by Burroughs and painter Byron Gysin in the 1960’s.
The novels tell a loose story about a time-traveling secret agent named Bill Lee (a common pseudonym for Burroughs) working to free humanity from a shadowy group known as the Nova Mob, who, like the Lloigor in Zenith, The Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E. in Doom Patrol and The Outer Church in The Invisibles wish to control humanity through rigid conformity.
Even more than the plot that runs through the three novels, the technique in which they were written has had a great deal of influence over Morrison’s own work. As mentioned above, the cut-up
method is used by the character Crazy Jane in The Doom Patrol as a means to open a gateway to
another dimension. The way Morrison uses cut-ups in Doom Patrol, as a kind of divination and a way to open gateways to other dimensions is suggested by Burroughs in the afterward of The Ticket that Exploded:
take any text speed it up slow it down inch it and you will hear words…new words…different people will scan out different words but some of the words are quite clearly there and anyone can hear them words which were not in the original tape but which are in may cases relevant to the original text as if the words themselves had been interrogated and forced to reveal their hidden meanings (206)
Morrison also seems to have applied the cut-up technique to the panel layouts in Final Crisis. Final Crisis begins as a very linear story, but as it progresses (and as the plot continues) time and space begin to break down. While the idea of time and space breaking apart is not exactly revolutionary in comic books, the methods Morrison used–panels disjointed, rearranged, scenes changing abruptly–seems to have been borrowed wholesale from Burroughs’ Nova Trilogy and in Final Crisis are effectively used to convey the feeling of a universe gradually breaking apart.
—. The Western Lands. New York, Viking 1987.
Published in 1987, The Western Lands is meant to be the last book in a trilogy consisting of the novels Cities of the Red Night and The Place of Dead Roads. However, as a novel it stands easily on its own and can be read without having read either Cities of the Red Night or The Place of Dead Roads, hence their exclusion from this bibliography.
The Western Lands is the story of an unusual group of travelers from different times and possibly different universes on a quest for knowledge, immortality and all looking to gain passage to the Egyptian Land of the Dead. Along the way they travel through time and space, die, get resurrected and possibly attain the enlightenment and immortality for which they have been searching.
The Western Lands at times reads like a blueprint for so much of Morrison’s work: a group
of morally questionable characters from different time periods all on the same quest, some of whom never actually meet each other, whose fates are tied to a mysterious writer-figure. Plot elements from both Seven Soldiers of Victory and The Invisibles correspond closely to The Western Lands.
Early in The Western Lands, Burroughs gives his interpretation of the ancient Egyptian model of the soul:
The ancient Egyptians postulated seven souls. Top soul, and the first to leave at the moment of death, is Ren the Secret name. This corresponds to my Director. He directs the film of your life from conception to death. The Secret Name is the title of your film. When you die, that’s where Ren came in. Second soul, and second one off the sinking ship, is Sekem: Energy, Power, Light. The Director gives the orders, Sekem presses the right buttons. Number three is Khu, the Guardian Angel. He, she or it is third man out…depicted as flying away across a full moon, a bird with luminous wings and head of light. sort of thing you might see on a screen in an Indian restaurant in Panama. The Khu is responsible for the subject and can be injured in his defense – but not permanently, since the first three souls are eternal. They go back to Heaven for another vessel. The
four remaining souls must take their chances with the subject in the land of the dead. Number four is Ba, the Heart, often treacherous. This is a hawk’s body with your face on it, shrunk down to the size of a fist. Many a hero has been brought down, like Samson, by a perfidious Ba. Number five is Ka, the double, most closely associated with the subject. The Ka, which usually reaches adolescence at the time of bodily death, is the only reliable guide through the Land of the Dead to the Western Lands. Number six is Khaibit, the Shadow, Memory, your whole past conditioning from this and other lives. Number seven is Sekhu, the Remains (4, 5).
it is possible that Morrison used this model when he put together the characters that would become the Seven Soldiers, as each character can correspond to each aspect of the soul. Ren corresponds to Zatanna, at least with regards to the director aspect. It is Zatanna who ultimately unites the Seven Soldiers into a single purpose, though they themselves don’t know it. Sekem is Frankenstein, a character brought into existence with energy. The flight aspect of Khu is analogous to Shining Knight, simply because of the horse. She also sustains a few injuries, and her appearance (with the bound breasts) is of someone wounded. The treacherousness of Ba follows with Klarion, who takes control of Frankenstein and becomes the leader of the Sheeda, also, the animal/witch-folk connection with the familiars as well as the Horigal beast that is a combination of the two, both
important aspects of Klarion’s race. Alix Harrower, before she becomes the Bulleteer, is a teacher,
specifically a teacher for autistic children. Very much a guide for children lost within themselves. This, in addition to her looking after an infected Helen Helligan and helping her to stop her sister’s marriage as well as taking care of Sally Sonic by driving her to the hospital, make the Bulleteer correspond with Ka, the guide. Guardian is a representation of Khaibit as he is a man haunted by his past. However, he overcomes his doubt to become a true hero. Mr. Miracle, as character who dies, is buried and rises again is analogous to Sekhu, the remains.
Dick, Philip K. Valis. New York, Vintage, 1981.
Valis is about awakening to a spiritual truth, and the pain that can come from such an initiation. In Valis, Dick has, as the agent of this gnostic awakening, a satellite called VALIS—Vast Active Living Intelligence System. Valis is essentially a representation of God or alien intelligences. Its exact nature is unclear and incomprehensible to those who have not been awakened. Morrison, in The Invisibles, uses Dick’s concept of an alien satellite that he (Morrison) calls Barbelith, which resides on the far-side of the moon, its presence only known to those whose vision has moved beyond the linear.
Valis is also a very metatextual novel. Its two main characters, Horselover Fat and Philip K. Dick both represent aspects of Dick himself. In the novel, Horselover Fat is actually a separate and imaginary creation of Philip K. Dick the character. Upon making contact with Valis, the two aspects, Horselover Fat and Philip Dick fuse together for a time, representing the character’s awakening. As shown above, Morrison is quite fond of inserting himself or rather aspects of himself into some of his stories, appearing as basically himself in Animal Man and as King Mob in The Invisibles. The King Mob characterization is especially interesting, because as Morrison was writing The Invisibles, he shaved his head (King Mob is bald) and began dressing like the character.
Morrison says in Anarchy for the Masses that in the same way that Dick used his
experiences for his work, Morrison also used his in The Invisibles (248). Dick wrote Valis as an
attempt to explain a mystical experience he had had some years before involving a pink laser beam and the sudden awareness of a serious medical condition that was secretly endangering his son’s life. When Morrison began writing The Invisibles, he did so partly to explain a vision that he had while in Kathmandu.
Moorcock, Michael. The Cornelius Quintet. Running Press, 1993.
The Cornelius Quartet is a collection of four novels: The Final Programme, A Cure for
Cancer, The English Assassin and The Condition of Muzak originally published in 1965, 1969, 1972 and 1977 respectively.
The novels all center around the character Jerry Cornelius, an international and inter-dimensional man of mystery. Like many of Morrison’s own characters, Jerry Cornelius fights against controlling authority. He is young, hip and very dangerous. Moorcock originally intended the character to be a kind of open-source creation that other authors could use as they saw fit. King Mob from The Invisibles seems to be patterned in part on Jerry Cornelius, while Gideon Stargrave, a character created by King Mob as a kind of alter-ego (with King Mob being an alter-ego of Morrison himself) in several story-within-a-story segments is based almost wholly on Jerry Cornelius.
O’Brien, Flann. The Third Policeman. Dalkey Archive, 1967.
Published in 1967, the year following the death of Brian O’ Nolan (Flann O’Brien’s real name), The Third Policeman is a novel about one man’s journey into the surreal and unknown. The unnamed narrator, attempting to steal money in order to publish a book finds himself first in strange police barracks and later in an underground chamber where machines can produce anything he desires. Ultimately he discovers that he died in an explosion and is in a kind of hell, repeating
endlessly. The characters of the two policemen in the barracks, Sergeant Pluck and Policeman
MacCruiskeen seem to have influenced some of the secondary characters with which Morrison populates his stories, particularly in Doom Patrol with the Cult of the Unwritten Book and the Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E. Morrison also seems to have based his appearance in Animal Man somewhat on that of the mysterious third policeman, Fox who appears at the end of the novel, just as Morrison appears at the end of his Animal Man run. Like Morrison in Animal Man, Fox exerts control over the other characters from the confines of his secret police station. and is almost omnipotent in his knowledge of everyone and everything in the novel. In The Invisibles, Morrison explicitly mentions
Flann O’Brien and The Third Policeman. Stylistically, The Third Policeman, with its unusual (at the time it was written) blend of mind-bending scientific concepts, philosophy and literature is practically a template for much of Morrison’s comic writing.
Pynchon, Thomas The Crying of Lot 49. New York, HarperCollins, 1965.
The Crying of Lot 49, Pynchon’s second novel, was originally published in 1965. It is the story of a young married woman, Oedipa Maas who inadvertently stumbles upon a conspiracy involving two groups, Trystero and Thurn und Taxis who have been waging a secret war for hundreds of years over courier service.
The Crying of Lot 49 seems to have influenced Morrison’s writing in regard to both themes and style. The struggle between the Trystero group and the Thurn und Taxis group is essentially a struggle over the control of information. Information effects perception after all, and Morrison’s work over the years has been concerned with perceptions and the entities warring over control of perception—The Invisibles and the Outer Church in The Invisibles, The Lloigor in Zenith, and the Legion of Dada and Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E. in Doom Patrol.
Stylistically, it is easy to see the influence that Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 had on Morrison’s work as well. Pynchon devotes part of his novel to a Jacobian play, The Courier’s
Tragedy that tells of the history and the struggle between Trystero (called Tristero in the play) and
Thurn und Taxis. The characters and plot of the play mirror the intrigue and paranoia of the characters in the novel. Pynchon’s use of this metatextual element is echoed in Morrison’s use of metatextual layers in The Invisibles, where the reader discovers that the whole story was a novel written by one of the characters, Ragged Robin, in the future before she is sent back in time to be one of the characters in her novel. Ragged Robin’s novel The Invisibles is also based on another novel, also called The Invisibles, which was written in the 1950’s by Sir Miles Delacourt, a future member of the Outer Church.
Pynchon references in The Crying of Lot 49 a painting by Remedios Varo titled Bordando el Manto Terrestre. The painting depicts a group of women in a tower weaving a tapestry that has within it the whole of existence. The painting is analogous to Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory, and the characters known as the Seven Unknown Men, also known as the Time Tailors, a mysterious group of men (who all happen to look like Morrison) who, through their machinations bring together the Seven Soldiers by tailoring time and space and weaving together the threads of each characters’ arc, uniting them as a single unit that can stop the threat of the Sheeda.
Pynchon’s playful use of acronyms in The Crying of Lot 49—D.E.A.T.H. (Don’t Ever Antagonize The Horn) and W.A.S.T.E. (We Await Silent Trystero’s Empire)–seems to have rubbed off on Morrison, who, in his Doom Patrol run created the mysterious group of villains known as The Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E., appearing in Volume 3, Down Paradise Way. N.O.W.H.E.R.E., however has no set meaning and when asked what it stands for, the characters all offer different answers—Never open William’s head, evil reptiles emerge. Naked old widows hover earlier around easter. Now or when hospital earrings arrive earnest (24). In addition, throughout their time in the story, all of the words spoken by the Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E. can be made into acronyms of N.O.W.H.E.R.E. The irony is that these bizarre characters are on a crusade to erase from existence. all that is strange or unusual.
Philosophical Influences on Morrison’s Work
Baudrillard, Jean. Simulations. trans. Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and Philip Beitchman. Semiotext[e], 1983.
Baudrillard’s Simulations, first published in 1983 is about reality and perception and control. In it, Baudrillard writes of abstractions, simulations, and hyperreality. His argument is that symbols and simulations are more real than the objects they represent. Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a
hyperreal (2). Baudrillard, using religious iconography as an example, also suggests that a certain level of control exists over the creation and dissemination of symbols.
It is easy to see a lot of the ideas in Baudrillard’s Simulations in Morrison’s stories. Baudrillard’s take on the controlling power of symbols manifests itself in Morrison’s Marvel Boy with the viral Hex Corporation, a sentient virus that exists as a corporate entity whose symbol gradually appears in advertisements, but soon takes over the populace until every being belongs to it, body and soul. The many layers of metatextuality in The Invisibles and the act of two-dimensional characters being able to see into the three-dimensional “real” world (which is yet another abstraction) as seen in both Animal Man and Seven Soldiers of Victory reflect Baudrillard’s ideas of reality and hyperreality.
Baudrillard also writes of the importance humanity places on history, saying we need a visible past, a visible continuum, a visible myth of origin to reassure us as to our ends, since ultimately we have never believed in them (19, 20). Continuity and history are two aspects of comic books and comic storytelling that are often seen (by fans) as being very important for giving weight to the stories, especially superhero stories. Morrison’s Final Crisis is a story about time and space breaking down, which can be seen as story continuity breaking down as well. The unease felt by the characters in the story who are living in a universe where time is breaking apart is also felt by the
reader who tries to make sense of the disjointed panel lay-outs and abrupt scene-shifts. In the end
though, continuity is restored, at least for a while. In Final Crisis, Morrison offers vague hints that the DC universe is a sentient place and ultimately acts to preserve its continued existence. Along with restoring history, which Baudrillard says is important, the supposed sentience of the DC universe is also a metatextual comment on the need DC Comics has to continue publishing stories.
Bohm, David. Unfolding Meaning: A Weekend of Dialogue. New York, Routledge, 1985.
Unfolding Meaning is a collection of lectures and dialogues that occurred in the spring of
1984. In the lectures, Bohm explains his theory of Implicate Order—that everything in the universe is connected to everything else, saying in the implicate order, everything is folded into everything (12). Bohm goes on to say that we are proposing, to a large extent, on the basis of an understanding of recent development in physics, that matter is also that way. And if we were to extend it to say that brain matter and nerve matter are that way, then in some way perhaps, mind and matter interweave (20). So the universe, including tangible things as well as intangible, like thoughts, creativity and emotions, can be seen as one whole and possibly conscious entity. The dialogues that follow the lectures are between Bohm and a number of people from different professions, nations and ethnic groups and serve to explain and expand upon Bohm’s Implicate Order theory.
Morrison seems to have been influenced by Bohm early on in his career. A copy of Unfolding Meaning is clearly visible on the desk of the unknown writer (whom we later discover is Morrison himself) in his Animal Man run. The idea of a universe that is connected and possibly conscious can be seen playing out in Animal Man, as Buddy Baker discovers that his universe is all a work of fiction. In Deus ex Machina, when Buddy confronts Morrison, Morrison tells Buddy that he lives in a world created by committee (216).
In Arkham Asylum, when Batman confronts the Mad Hatter, the Hatter tells him the apparent disorder of the universe is simply a higher order an implicate order beyond our comprehension…
sometimes I think the asylum is a head. We’re inside a huge head that dreams us all into being (60).
Morrison, through the Mad Hatter sees Arkham Asylum itself as a map of the universe—a place seemingly composed of nothing but chaos, but which is in fact composed of an order existing beyond normal human comprehension.
Morrison later uses the theory of a completely connected and possibly sentient universe in both his Seven Soldiers of Victory and Final Crisis stories. In Seven Soldiers, the main characters, although separated by time and space are all united by their own actions and the actions of others at one specific moment to save the world. While in Final Crisis, even after the world has been
completely taken over and the multiverse is about to collapse, the universe, acting through Superman and his numerous counterparts from other universes unite to stop existence from being erased and to return the multiverse to its original state.
Hofstadter, Douglas R. Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid. New York, Basic Books 1979.
Published in 1979, Douglas Hofstadter’s book Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid examines information and the way it is interpreted by both human brains and computer systems. The book uses the mathematical theories of Kurt Godel, the art of M.C. Escher and the music of Johann Sebastian Bach as well as dialogues inspired by Lewis Carroll as a means of exploring how humans interpret information, how information is ordered, sorted and recalled. Of particular interest to Hofstadter are paradoxes, recursions and the nature of infinity.
In the afterward of Crawling Through the Wreckage, the first volume of Morrison’s collected Doom Patrol run, he specifically mentions Hofstadter’s book as an influence. This influence is readily apparent in the last part of the “Crawling Through the Wreckage” story, where a fictional universe, Orqwith has almost taken over the “real” universe. The creators of Orqwith also created a method by which it could be destroyed, which is a paradox. Inside Orqwith resides two priests, one
called the priest in black and one the priest in white. One is a liar and one is an honest man. Rebis, the Negative man and member of the Doom Patrol (himself a composite of opposites—man, woman, black, white, positive energy and negative energy) asks the liar priest: “Why is there something instead of nothing?” The liar priest replies: “There is something instead of nothing,” and Orqwith immediately disappears and the world is returned to normal (103, 104).
Morrison seems also to have been influenced by Hofstadter’s meditations on language and meaning. In chapter five of Godel, Escher, Bach, Hofstadter examines languages, saying that meaning is part of an object to the extent that it acts upon intelligence in a predictable way (165). In
The Invisibles, Morrison writes about the drug Key23, a drug that, once ingested, makes the mind interpret written words as reality. Key23 acts in a way that removes the predictability of interpretation, causing the brain to translate language into sensual perception. Key23 bypasses what Hofstadter refers to as a “decoding-mechanism” and converts language, an inner message into something apparently physical, a frame message. By altering the way the brain interprets information, the Key23 drug is at first a devastating method of torture, but once unleashed upon its creators, the Outer Church, it becomes a means of salvation for humanity.
Carroll, Peter. Liber Null & Psychonaut. San Francisco, Weiser, 1987.
Originally published as two separate volumes in 1978 and 1981, Peter Carroll’s Liber Null and Psychonaut introduces Chaos Magic, an esoteric belief system that is by its nature difficult to define. Chaos Magic incorporates elements of Vodoun, paradigm shifting (the altering of consciousness or beliefs on a whim), a belief in in the importance of dualities—conscious mind /unconscious mind, chaos/order, light/dark etc…, interacting with the subconscious through sigils or symbols and ideas about the nature of reality taken from quantum physics as a means of expanding human consciousness.
Of particular interest are Carroll’s ideas on duality: Duality describes humanity’s usual
condition. Happiness exists only because of misery, pain because of comfort, good because of evil, yang because of yin, black because of white, birth because of death, All phenomena must be paired, as the senses are only equipped to perceive differences (27). Chaos magic therefore exists to train the mind to move beyond dualities, and the perception and transcending from these conflicts is a central theme through most of Morrison’s work, from Zenith to Final Crisis.
Morrison seems to have had an interest in Chaos Magic from at least the mid-1980’s. As mentioned earlier, in his Zenith story he includes a character named Mantra whose symbol is the eight-pointed star of chaos and who administers the Chaos Magic rite of Extreme Unction to a
fallen teammate. Morrison has also used the conflicting natures of chaos and order to great effect in many of his stories. His Invisibles comic at times reads like an illustrated Chaos Magic textbook, with its depictions of initiations, invocation of non-traditional god-forms, and conflicts over control of human perception. Also, Morrison’s essay “Pop Magic” explains his interpretations of sigils, invocations, and the purpose of magic, most of which have as their foundation Peter Carroll’s writings.
Crowley, Aleister. The Book of Thoth. San Francisco, Weiser , 2007.
Originally published in Crowley’s self-published periodical The Equinox, Vol. III in 1944, The Book of Thoth is an explanation of the symbolism within and the meaning of the cards of the Thoth Tarot, or the Egyptian Tarot. The book examines each card in great detail, elaborating on its history, changes in symbolism and interpretation over the years, and its significance with regard to the god-forms it depicts. Crowley defines the Tarot as being a pictorial representation of the forces of nature as conceived by the ancients according to a conventional symbolism (45). Of the symbolism in the tarot, Crowley says of the cards that at first sight one would suppose this arrangement to be arbitrary, but it is not (3), which compliments Morrison’s use of Bohm’s theory of Implicate Order in Arkham Asylum.
Throughout Arkham Asylum, Morrison uses images taken from Crowley’s Thoth tarot, specifically from the Major Arcana or trump cards: The Fool, Adjustment, The Hanged Man, The Tower and The Moon. The Fool, as depicted in Arkham Asylum represents the Joker. Crowley says of the Fool that it depicts a kind of divine madness, and that the connection between foolishness and holiness is traditional…In the East, the madman is said to be possessed, a holy man or prophet (55). The Joker in Arkham Asylum is the mastermind. It is he who starts the riot and it is he who goads Batman into exchanging his life for the hostages. He is also said to be possessed of a kind of super-sanity, where he sees everything, but lacks the means to filter the information his brain receives, a
kind of omnipotence. Crowley says of the Adjustment card that it is the feminine compliment of the Fool (86), and although the card is said to be feminine, Morrison uses Adjustment as a symbol for Batman, who compliments the Joker. The original name of Adjustment is Justice, and Batman’s entire life has been devoted to the idea of justice. The Hanged Man represents a willing sacrifice. The first thing Batman sees upon entering the Asylum is a representation of the Hanged Man, which symbolizes Batman’s willingness to sacrifice himself for the sake of the hostages. The Tower represents destruction and rebirth. Its appearance in the story coincides with the psychiatrist, Dr. Ruth Adams explaining how psychiatry rebuilds the mind once it has been destroyed, which relates to the larger story of Arkham Asylum, of Batman having his own psyche torn down and rebuilt during the course of the story. In representing all prejudice, all superstition, dead tradition and ancestral loathing (112), The Moon symbolizes in Arkham Asylum both fear and madness. The madness comes from the inhabitants of the Asylum as well as its founder, Amadeus Arkham, while the fear is from Batman, who believes that he might be just as insane as the Asylum’s patients.
Spare, Austin Osman. The Writings of Austin Osman Spare: Sioux Falls, NuVisions, 2007.
The Writings of Austin Osman Spare is a collection of books originally self-published in the early 1900’s that detail Spare’s ideas on the occult as well as the true nature of humanity, or “the
self.” An artist as well as an occult writer, Austin Osman Spare postulated methods of communicating with the subconscious by means of automatic drawing as well as using sigils and what Spare called “the alphabet of desire.” It is with sigils and their creation that Spare made his greatest contribution to the occult and 20th century esoteric philosophy. Spare says of sigils that they are the art of believing; my invention for making belief organic, ergo, true belief (88). The purpose of sigils is to communicate desire to the subconscious through the use of symbols. Spare believes the subconscious is the epitome of all experience and wisdom, past incarnations as men, animals, birds, vegetable life, etc…, everything that exists, has and ever will exist (89). Regarding sigils,
Spare says they are monograms of thought, for the government of energy…a mathematical means of symbolizing desire and giving it form…escaping detection of the ego, so that it does not restrain or attach such desire to its own transitory images…but allows it free passage to the subconscious (91,92).
Spare’s method of creating and using sigils influenced Peter Carroll’s development of Chaos Magic as well as the stories of Grant Morrison. Spare was first mentioned by name in Doom Patrol, as one of the artists responsible for creating a painting that can absorb its surrounding reality. Later Morrison would use sigils in The Invisibles as a means of increasing sales of the book. In his “Pop Magic” essay, Morrison explains his method of creating sigils which is based very closely on the method given by Spare. In Final Crisis, the symbol of Metron given to humanity as a weapon against the Anti-Life Equation meme, is also a kind of sigil.
By David Faust