Archive for Grant Morrison

Holiday Gift Bag: We3

Well, it’s the day after Thanksgiving, and we all know what that means. Time to head out to the mall in the middle of the night, fight our way through jam-packed parking, and commit major felonies just so you can get our hands on — what’s the hot toy this year? Furbies? You’re kidding, right? Furbies? I’m supposed to beat up housewives so I can buy a freakin’ Furby?! That does it, I quit Planet Christmas.

But wait, we have an alternative to irritating Black Friday shopping! Comics! Yes, go visit your friendly local comic book store, where the parking lots are less crowded, the customers are more sophisticated, and the employees are dedicated to helping you find the perfect gift. We’ll spend a few weeks looking through our Holiday Gift Bag to find some great presents for any comic-lover on your list.

So let’s get things started this year with a book I’m honestly amazed I’ve never reviewed before now: We3 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely.

This was released as a three-issue Vertigo miniseries in 2004, then put out in a trade paperback in 2005. It focuses on three animals that have been turned into cybernetically-enhanced war machines by the government. They are:

  • a dog, called “1” who functions as the leader and mini-tank;
  • a cat, called “2” equipped with flechette weapons and a very poor attitude; and
  • a rabbit, called “3” who specializes in dropping bombs and poison gas.

All three animals have brain modifications that allow them to speak — but not very well. Most of what they say looks like very simple leet-speak, with the rabbit only able to manage very simple words, never sentences. They’re just animals — they’re not as smart as people, they don’t think like humans, so their speech is strange and bestial, while still retaining emotional resonance.

After a very successful testing program, the government decides that the We3 project is to be decommissioned and the animals killed. Their trainer releases the locks on the animals and lets them free, but they’re pursued by the military and other animal-machine hybrids, including a bunch of cyber-rats and a terrifying mastiff killing machine. And for the most part, the We3 animals tear through everything that comes after them. They massacre the soldiers who chase them, they blow up a train, they kill civilians who have the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But they can’t run forever. They run out of ammunition. Their health deteriorates when they don’t get the drug treatments they need to stay healthy. The military gets smarter, and their opponents get deadlier. The odds are stacked against them, and they may never manage to find the fabled land they long for — “Home.”

I think this is an amazing story. I love how much Grant Morrison obviously worked to get into the heads of the animals — 1 prizes loyalty above almost everything else. He loves helping people, and obsesses over being a good dog. 2 is perpetually bad-tempered and sarcastic, challenging 1’s leadership and intelligence, and gleefully using his advanced weapons to shoot down helicopters — or just songbirds. And 3 is simple and direct — he wants to be fed, he wants his equipment fixed, and he wants someone to take care of him. He’s slow to anger, but is more than capable of dishing out the violence when his team is threatened.

Morrison’s emphasis is on the animals, but he also writes empathetically about the humans as well. Dr. Roseanne is We3’s trainer and advocate, loyal and loving to her animal charges, willing to sacrifice her career and more to make sure they’re happy and safe. The lead scientist spends most of the story trying to capture or kill We3, but when he eventually sees the error of his ways, it’s a great moment — heartbreak, sorrow, love, compassion, all in one or two beautiful panels. And the bum the animals encounter is a great character, too — ultimately, I think he’s Morrison’s viewpoint character, in that he believes the best thing you can do for an animal is to love it.

And Frank Quitely’s art is absolutely amazing. When the animals escape, we watch it happen through dozens of different security cameras. When We3 attacks the military or blows up a drug cartel, we see it through a prism of tiny windows, each showing a brief second of action, all the details we’d never be able to make out in a full page — an eye getting pierced, a finger being severed, a bullet exiting a skull. The effect is very much like watching a movie that you can rewind, that lets you zoom in on small details.

It’s a very violent book. It doesn’t glory in violence — it’s depicted graphically, but not with glee or romance. We3 are war machines, and what they do is commit violence, not for fun (well, the cat probably thinks it’s fun), but because violence is part of their functions and programming. It’s the violence of the battlefield — not a good thing, but not something that can be glossed over and prettied up.

Amazon’s actually out of stock of this right now, but it looks like they may be expecting more. It might help if you contact your local comic shop or bookstore and ask when they expect to have them in stock. The hardcover is going to run you about $16; a Kindle edition is $10.

We3 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Go pick it up.

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Children of Supergods

Supergods by Grant Morrison

So we got Grant Morrison, who is pretty much the most important comic book writers working in the industry today. He’s written “The Invisibles,” “Animal Man,” “Arkham Asylum,” “Doom Patrol,” “Flex Mentallo,” “JLA,” “New X-Men,” “We3,” “Seven Soldiers,” “All-Star Superman,” and tons more. And he’s gone and written a book — a real book! With mostly words and not so many pictures! — about the history of superheroes. Not the history of comic books, but the history of superheroes. So what do we think of it?

This isn’t really a straight history. Sure, we start with Superman’s creation, move on to Batman, Captain Marvel, the Silver Age, Flash, Green Lantern, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, and on and on and on. But around the middle, the history starts mixing together with a Grant Morrison autobiography. Not a bad thing at all — like I said, he’s one of the most important guys working in comics right now — so it becomes a personal history of the superhero. From time to time, it becomes a full-on autobiography, as we follow Grant on trips around the world, doing drugs, experiencing ecstatic visions of the beings behind the universe, and working to create his best-known comics.

Where I think things really start kicking off strong is when Morrison starts talking his theories of superheroics — what makes superheroes work vs. what doesn’t make them work. He says — and I mostly agree — that the best superhero fiction is optimistic in tone and speaks to a desire of mankind to aspire to better things. While you can create great superhero comics founded on pessimism or realism — Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” and Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” — if you use those to build an expanded comic universe on, you don’t get anything that’s a lot of fun to read. You get the grim-and-gritty ’90s.

Now I’m not the most optimistic guy in the world. I’ve never seen a speck of evidence that wishing for good things to happen is any way to drive off the inevitable disasters that plague us. For every football player who credits God for his latest touchdown, there are dozens of kids dying of cancer, scores of dirty cops looking for a way to cheat citizens of their rights, hundreds of homeless people trying to sleep on park benches, and thousands of newspaper commenters waving their “I’m a PSYCHO” flags like it’s their ticket to heaven. It’s a horrible world we live in, a horrible life to suffer through, and the only escape is no real escape at all.

But having said that, you really gotta have optimism in your superhero stories. They’re just not any fun otherwise. They’re big, over-the-top, thrill-of-the-future science fiction melodramas, and the entire point of all the spandex and capes and spitcurls is, aside from the obvious power fantasies, the desire to live in and create a better world. Why does grim, unsmiling Batman fight crime? To make a better world for his city. Why do the X-Men fight for a world that hates and fears them? Because they want to make a world that doesn’t hate and fear them.

The articulation of the ultimate optimism and aspirations of the superhero genre is probably the best and most thrilling part of Morrison’s book.

It’s not a perfect work, by any stretch. Morrison’s recent interview with Rolling Stone suggests that he soft-pedaled a lot of his opinions to spare others’ feelings. He’s quite complimentary of Brad Metzler’s “Identity Crisis” in the book, but he savages it in his interview. He mentions his disagreements with Alan Moore and Mark Millar in the book, but really uncorks on them in the interview. I think the book would be a great deal stronger if he’d been more honest with readers. (And his Rolling Stone interview would’ve been better if had acknowledged that, yes, he has also written comics that featured rapes.)

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a fun read. It’s a pretty insightful read. Its flaws don’t detract from its strengths. If you like superheroes, you should give it a read.

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The Hero Sandwich List of Favorite Comics for 2010

I don’t think I’ve ever tried to do a year-end retrospective list — it’s always too difficult for me to pick out a list of things I enjoyed the most out of 12 whole months. But what the heck, I’m gonna try it today.

This list is strictly listed in alphabetical order. I can’t claim it’s a list of the best comics — I haven’t read all the comics, after all — but it’s the list of the 15 comics that I enjoyed the most.

American Vampire

Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, and Stephen King came together to re-invent the vampire for the rough-and-tumble American West. Outstanding characters, close attention to setting, and rip-snorting horror make this a must-read for anyone who loves non-sparkly bloodsuckers.


The adventures of Stephanie Brown as the newest Batgirl are full of great humor, great action, great dialogue, and great characterizations. This is one of the best superhero comics around.

Batman and Robin

Grant Morrison’s triumphant run of Batman comics had its most epic stretch in these stories of Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne, as well as Alfred, Dr. Hurt, and the Joker. The scale of Morrison’s storytelling here was breathtaking.

Blackest Night

Possibly the most successful crossover storyarc in years, this grabbed readers’ imaginations and didn’t let go for months. Even better than its commercial successes were the overall excellence of the plotline. At its height, there was nothing as good as this story about zombies, power rings, and emotions.


I’m not a fan of the new series, but Garth Ennis’ original Crossed miniseries was the most harrowing, brutal, relentless, depressing, and terrifying horror comic to hit the stands in a long, long time.


This was, without a single doubt, the best comic series of the entire year. Nothing else came close. Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon deserve to win so many awards for this one. If you missed this series in the original run, you should definitely keep your eyes open in the next few months for the trade paperback.

Detective Comics starring Batwoman

Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III didn’t create the character, but they crafted her best stories. While Rucka brilliantly fleshed out her backstory, personality, and supporting cast, Williams took the stories and created some of the year’s most beautiful artwork and design.

Hellboy in Mexico

This story of, well, Hellboy in Mexico was my favorite, but I also loved all of the other collaborations between Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and fantasy artist Richard Corben. These two meshed together creatively in ways that very few creators are able to do, and all of us readers were the beneficiaries.

Joe the Barbarian

Grant Morrison’s fantasy story is both epic and mundane in scale, which is really quite a trick — Joe is in diabetic shock, and he’s hallucinating that his home and toys have turned into a fantasy kingdom. But what if he’s not really hallucinating?

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Outfit

The second chapter of Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of Donald Westlake’s crime fiction is a beautiful tribute to Cooke’s retro-cool art sensibilities and the pure fun of good pulp crime novels.

Power Girl

Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Amanda Conner created the best version of Power Girl ever for a year’s worth of funny, smart, sexy, exciting superhero stories. These creators loved this character, and you can tell that in every story they published about her. I still hope they’ll be able to come back to this title eventually.

Secret Six

Far and away DC’s best team book, Gail Simone has hooked us a bunch of people who are extremely likeable and also completely crazy and prone to trying to kill each other from moment to moment. This shouldn’t work as well as it does, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s colossal fun to read every single month.

Strange Science Fantasy

Scott Morse’s retro-pulp series packed a heck of a lot of audacious fun into six short issues. This was a treat visually, emotionally, intellectually — even on a tactile level, what with the heavy, rough paper it was printed on.

Thor and the Warriors Four

The Power Pack go to Asgard. I didn’t really expect much of it, to be honest, but readers were treated to godlike quantities of humor, excitement, whimsey, and awesomeness, thanks to writer Alex Zalben and artists Gurihiru, and to Colleen Coover’s excellent backup stories.

Tiny Titans

Probably the best all-ages comic out there right now. These comics are smart and funny and cute and just plain fun to read.

Aaaaand that’s what I got. There were plenty of other comics that just barely missed the cut, but these were nevertheless the ones that gave me the most joy when I was reading them.

So farewell, 2010. And hello, rapidly onrushing 2011. Hope you’re a better year for all of us, and I hope we can all look forward to plenty more great comics to come.

Now y’all be safe and have a good time tonight, but call a cab if you need it — I want to make sure all of y’all are here to read me in 2011.

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Friday Night Fights: Brain Pain!

Alright, kiddies, it’s Friday, time for the weekend, and we need some comic book violence to get things started right. Let’s jump right into… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

This is one of my all-time favorites — possibly the most epic battle ever from Grant Morrison’s run on “JLA” — during the “Rock of Ages” storyline, we get a glimpse into an alternate future where the evil New God Darkseid has taken over the world. So from January 1998’s JLA #14 by Grant Morrison, Howard Porter, and John Dell, here’s the all-powerful Darkseid vs. a guy who shrinks and a guy who shoots arrows:

And the coda to that fight, just because it’s a great coupla lines:

Everyone have a great weekend — I’ll see y’all Monday.

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Holiday Gift Bag: All-Star Superman

Oh boy! It’s the biggest shopping day of the year! Thousands of people at the malls and the discount stores, taking up all the parking spaces and hitting each other with purses and axes and pontoon boats and whatnot! But it seems like a good time to kick off this year’s “Holiday Gift Bag” series — over the next few weeks, I’m going to offer you some ideas and recommendations for holiday gifts you can give the comics fan in your life. So if you’re tired of getting crushed and pushed around at the mall, head on over to your friendly neighborhood comic shop!


Let’s start off this year with All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. This was originally a 12-issue series that ran from 2005-2008, designed to boil Superman down to his essence in continuity-free stories.

It starts off with a shocker — Superman is dying, poisoned by excess amounts of solar radiation by Lex Luthor. On the bright side, this means that, for as long as he lasts, he’ll be more powerful than ever. But he still has to worry about his legacy, about wrapping up his life’s loose ends, about saying good-bye to friends without letting anyone know that the Earth will soon be without its strongest defender. We get all the familiar supporting cast — Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Lex Luthor — plus a few new characters, like mega-wealthy super-genius Leo Quintum. And the Man of Steel has plenty of new challenges to face — he gets exposed to Black Kryptonite, gets stranded on Bizarro World, and faces attacks from Solaris, rogue Kryptonians, and a super-powered Luthor.


This one is really something else — it may be the best take on Superman ever, with epic storylines and beautifully humanizing characterizations. Lex is an arrogant, self-absorbed genius, Jimmy is the king of the amazing, mad scheme, Clark Kent is a bumbling, doughy wallflower who no one ever suspects is really the Man of Steel. Even minor characters like macho blowhard Steve Lombard and Lex’s niece Nasthalthia get their moments to shine. Morrison and Quitely turned in some of their best and most enjoyable work ever with this one. It’s great fun for longtime Superman fans, and it’s accessible enough for non-comics readers, too. If you know a comics fan who hasn’t read it yet, or a Superman fan who doesn’t read a lot of comics, they might like this one a lot.

“All-Star Superman” is available in two volumes — the first one is out in paperback, but the second is still only out in hardcover. Go pick ’em up.

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The New Dynamic Duo

Batman and Robin #1

Grant Morrison is the writer. Frank Quitely does the art. The two guys behind “All-Star Superman.” Like you need any other excuses to buy this one, right?

Unlike “All-Star Supes,” this one is going to be in-continuity — so that means that, after the recent “Battle for the Cowl” series, Batman is Dick Grayson (former Robin, former Nightwing) and Robin is Damian Wayne (Batman’s son by Talia al Ghul). It’s a shaky partnership — Dick was raised by a superhero, Damian was raised by supervillains and assassins — and Damian thinks he’d be a better Batman than Dick is. Damian is also rude to Alfred and unstoppably arrogant. Damian is really a bit of a, um, word-they-don’t-want-me-to-use-here.

So Batman and Robin capture a frog-faced criminal called Mr. Toad, who is transporting a briefcase filled with an unlikely number of dominoes. Toad is apparently waiting for the arrival of someone named Pyg, who seems to have a talent for horrific medical disfigurement and mental enslavement.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A good first issue, and a nice introduction to the new Batus-quo. Good dialogue, excellent art. Loved Damian’s rotten attitude. Not much happening yet, though, and I want to see some of Morrison’s trademark mind-blowing pretty darn quick.

Justice Society of America #27

Obsidian is holding Flash, Green Lantern, Wildcat, and Liberty Belle in the JSA headquarters, because he senses danger to them. And Hourman has had a one-hour-into-the-future prophetic flashes that says they’re all going to be killed. Stargirl gets possessed by evil spirits that use her cosmic staff to force Obsidian out of the building. The spirits then coalesce into a WWII-era Japanese shapeshifter named Kung, who transports Flash, GL, Wildcat, Liberty Belle, and Hourman to Hiroshima 1945 so they can all be killed by the atomic bomb.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A bit of a weird story so far, but fill-in writer/artist Jerry Ordway seems to have a good grasp of the characters, and that goes a long way.

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On the Dark Side

These two new comics surprised me. I was expecting some fairly predictable superhero hijinx — and there was some of that, sure. But there was something extra plugged in there that I wasn’t expecting to see.


The Flash #240

Okay, lately, this comic has not been very good, but this issue showed up and dropped the awesomebomb on me. First, we have previously lame supervillain Spin who’s summoned none other than Gorilla Grodd all the way from Gorilla City in Africa. And Grodd ain’t happy to be here. He ends up freeing a psychic freak that Spin used to control his powers, and that means Spin’s mind-control starts affecting almost everyone. So everyone starts acting out the tabloid threats pushed during sweeps-weeks news broadcasts and talking like cheesy news anchors. Drunk drivers drone about the failure of the system to control drunk drivers. Disgruntled gunmen warn viewers about the looming crisis of disgruntled gunmen. I never thought Spin really worked as a villain before, but just like that, they’ve turned him into a first-class threat.

Oh, but that’s not the really awesome thing. The awesome thing is the guys who are hunting Iris and Jai — they’re minions of Dark Side — no, not Darkseid, the powerful and evil Lord of Apokolips — we’re talking the extra-nasty crime boss from Grant Morrison’s “Mister Miracle” miniseries in the “Seven Soldiers” mega-series. Yeah, he was basically Darkseid, with a stylish urban gangsta exterior. But he was fairly rockin’, and no one really knew if we’d ever see any elements of that character or that miniseries again. The minions spout a pitch-perfect pastiche of Jack Kirby/Grant Morrison phraseology — the “Boom-Drive,” the “Sister Box” and about a billion extra exclamation points!!! And when Dark Side’s goons catch the kids, it triggers a very unexpected reaction from Iris…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Pages 4-5 are just about the best single scene I’ve ever seen of Grodd — the visuals and dialogue are just perfect. And the complete flabbergasted glee I felt when I realized that this was gonna be a Dark Side story was just about the happiest I’ve been all week.


Birds of Prey #118

And this one’s part of the same crossover, so it’s all about Dark Side, too. Misfit and Black Alice have been abducted by Dark Side’s crew, and Granny Goodness and the Female Furies — yes, the same stylish urban gangsta versions of Granny Goodness and the Female Furies that were in Morrison’s “Mister Miracle” miniseries — are keeping ’em doped up on angry-juice so they’ll participate in gladiatorial matches. So far, Misfit’s been the reigning champ, but Alice was only recently picked up. Alice steals Misfit’s powers to make her escape, but she gets caught by Dark Side himself just as she learns a really surprising secret about her past. So they stick both of them in the arena to see who’ll kill the other, but Alice actually manages to steal the powers of Etrigan the Demon, of all people, and then takes the fight to Granny herself.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Not as skull-crushingly manic as the “Flash” comic, but still lots of fun with a couple of my favorite characters.

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