Animal Man and Grant Morrison

By | Monday, April 09, 2007 7 comments
Okay, so I read the first two TPBs of Animal Man courtesy of Spencer Carnage. (Thanks again, Spencer!) But, as I noted earlier, I'd never run across anything really worthwhile in Grant Morrison's writing; it was supposedly Animal Man that was key to understanding everything Morrison's ever written.

Let me say first that I'm going to focus on the writing and not the art. It was largely serviceable but lackluster (with the exception of two issues by Tom Grummett and the covers by Briand Bolland). There are a few instances where it's hard to tell where problems occurred because of the writer or the artist or some miscommunication between them, but I'm going to try to give Morrison the benefit of the doubt in those cases.

So, what do I think of Morrison now that I've read Animal Man?


I was decidedly unimpressed. Oh, the stories were definitely superior to what I'd read from him before, no question. I was coming to this with zero fore-knowledge of the character -- I've never read ANYTHING featuring him so it was a completely blank slate in that regard. But Morrison did make sure all the basic elements were there. He identified each character and their relationship to one another pretty readily; the stories were fairly clear about what was going on, and the Animal Man world, as it were, is fairly well-defined.

As I was reading the books, I was making some mental notes about things I felt worked or didn't. And I will say that there were bits that looked initially liked random elements or dangling sub-plots did wind up getting expanded on later, which was pleasantly surprising. I suspect, too, that some of the elements that did NOT get tied up in the first two collections are finished in the third. Seems to me a risky gamble to extend a sub-plot like that over several years, but I'll give Morrison credit for it.

But there were a number of things that I didn't like, too.

First, the book was preachy as all get-out on the animal rights issue. I whole-heartedly disagree with hunting for sport. I completely sympathize with vegetarians. I get disgusted when I see animals treated poorly. I appreciate that an "Animal Man" would get behind those types of issues -- and I'll give Morrison credit here for making that connection -- but it got really heavy-handed, I felt. Not that it was the focus of every issue, just that every time it came up, the message was very blunt and obvious. There was no nuance or elegance to it. I kept thinking, "Yeah, I got it. You could've stopped after he saved the fox, and not gone through the whole speechifying afterwards."

Second, I didn't feel the characters were very consistent. Animal Man himself seemed well-defined enough (with a few noticable gaffs in character, like dropping a couple of people from heights that would likely kill them) but everyone else seemed to go through variations of character. His wife was all over the map, and never did get around to dealing with any consequences of the near-rape she faced for the first three issues. She threw an enormous fit when Animal Man decided the family should become vegetarians, but didn't miss a beat when engineers showed up to install a laser-based security system that almost killed her son.

Third, there were some functional questions within the story that don't make sense. Why team up with water-breathing, dolphin-speaking Dolphin when Animal Man could (and did!) do the exact same thing himself? The "What If Wile E. Coyote Were Real" story? Why use that as an introduction to the comic-creator-as-God bit that the series was obviously heading towards? It's a pointless story aside from introducing the concept, which he went ahead and introduced again (much better this time) with the yellow aliens. Lots of stuff like that which didn't make sense structurally.

Indeed, that seemed to be a big problem throughout the series: the structure was poorly paced. Some ideas and concepts were introduced slowly, over the course of several issues, to the point where it really seemed disjointed with the main story. Other plot points were dropped in a bombshell fashion with little or no forewarning. The book kept shifting gears and never seemed to develop any sort of rythm and/or momentum.

I'll grant that Morrison (pun intended) isn't quite as miserable a writer as I had believed before; he can string his thoughts together sufficiently well to get his point across. I'll grant that he's actually got some good story ideas. But good ideas don't necessarily translate into good stories. I don't see in Animal Man anything that really says Morrison is a good writer. The execution of his ideas left a lot to be desired, I think, and it seemed a shame to waste some honestly good concepts on someone with his mediocre writing ability.
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That there was the sound of the majority of the comics internet rolling its eyes and disowning you.

I agree with you, though. I only read the first Animal Man TPB and was similarly unimpressed. The spin on Morrison has always been "he's got such great ideas" but ideas without execution are the stuff of fan fiction.

Well, I disagree with you, but I respect how well-thought-out your post was, and how you had your opinion of him changed slightly. It takes a brave man to admit, 'hey, I may have misjudged him' - even ever so slightly as you did.

Kudos to you, regardless of your opinion.

That there was the sound of the majority of the comics internet rolling its eyes and disowning you.
Oh, I was disowned LOOONG ago!

"You know that Kleefeld dude? What's his deal anyway? Must be a total nutter!" :)

Kudos to you, regardless of your opinion.
Hey, I'm an open-minded guy; if you give me proof that one of my opinions is invalid or unfounded, I can buy into a better arguement. Most of the time, people just don't give a better arguement. Even here, just saying Animal Man is better material than other Morrison stuff doesn't carry much weight. WHY is it better? Give me something to work with.

Too much of the Internet is filled with tastes great/less filling types of arguements. That doesn't do anyone any good, and is never going to sway someone's opinion in either direction. If more people would actually provide cogent remarks and other people would listen to them... well, I'm not saying we'd all be singing Kumbaya together, but I'm sure there'd be at least a little less strife online.

Anonymous said...

I liked Animal Man a lot, but I don't think it's all that representative of what Grant does, so even though it was a Morrison gateway drug for me I wouldn't think it'd automatically work for someone else the same way, and especially not after the fact. Doom Patrol's really a much better way to go, in my opinion: his command of craft is (I think) better at the same time that his lunacy is more pronounced, so there can be no excuses like "oh, you just didn't read the right Morrison!" No, this is the right stuff, all right. You might like this, even if you hated everything else. On the other hand, if you didn't like this...well, probably no need for further tests, then.

(rolls eyes; disowns Sean)

Nah, but it's definitely a taste thing, I think. Morrison is a taste, after all: isn't that a big part of what makes his defenders so ardent? Me, I like him more and more all the time: loved Seaguy, for example, which I think I heard you say you hated, somewhere around here...but I know that's because of the taste thing as much as it's because of other factors like whether it's good or not. I know, when reading a Morrison story, that it's off-putting to somebody, because it is almost off-putting to me...kind of like hot peppers, radishes, or mustard. Or opera. Pain can be part of piquancy, and only little children exclusively like what is sweet and good-tasting. But, that's not to say that all adults must like the same partly "bad" flavours! I happen to like the taste of orange juice after I've just brushed my teeth, for example, but I'm well aware that puts me in a very minor minority, and don't see why I should ask other people to like it just because I do...I mean, I'm not a big one for drinking pickle juice, just for a contrast...

(Sean rolls eyes; disowns me)

Anyway why I've rambled so long I don't know. But I think it's highly unlikely you'll ever find the door into the secret garden of Grant Morrison,, I think that came out a bit wrong...although I would encourage you to read the first Doom Patrol TPB if it ever falls into your lap. If nothing else, Morrison's Cliff Steele is a great character.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Animal Man isn't really Morrison in full form. I'd recomend Doom Patrol, and if you get into it, then the Flex Mentallo miniseries, which is probably one of the best comics I know; but try to avoid anything he did for Marvel, at least at first, except maybe Marvel Boy.


Just out of curiosity; you like Peter Milligan?

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I'd also recomend All-Star Superman, if you want something not as old as Doom Patrol.

Hmmm. Interesting that both you and plok cited Animal Man as distinctly not Morrison's best work. As I said, in the conversations I'd had with other people, it always ranked very high. (Not a commentary on either your or their judgements, BTW... just an observation.)

As for Milligan, I've only read one of his stories, those two issues of Spider-Man's Tangled Web. As I recall, it was a solid enough story but it didn't bowl me over or anything. Nothing there to make me avoid him, but nothing to make me want to actively seek him out either.

Thanks for the suggestion. If I happened across a dirt-cheap Doom Patrol, I'll consider picking it up.