Grant Morrison doesn’t do anything by half measures, but he outdoes even himself in Action Comics #9. In 20 short pages, he manages to level searing indictments against comic fans, comic publishers, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, possibly Zack Snyder, and definitely almost anyone who’s written Superman between 1986 and 2011.
At best, this book might – just might – be Morrison’s comment on the upcoming Before Watchmen series. However, at worst it is, for all intents and purposes, a giant and ringing “fuck you” to just about any human being anywhere who might touch it, with the possible exception of Morrison himself. But that’s okay, because that gives me something to do.
On its surface, Action Comics #9 is the kind of story that Morrison thrives upon: a Multiverse story about the Superman from Earth 23 (I assume; the dimension is never mentioned anywhere except on the cover). This version of Superman is an African-American (African-Kryptonian? Kryptonian-American of color?) gentleman who disguises his secret identity as Calvin Ellis, mild-mannered President for the United States.
Morrison is, for all intents and purposes, writing Obama as Superman, which would be original if Alex Ross hadn’t painted it four or five years ago, and would be believable if I hadn’t spent the past four or five years watching a large percentage of the American electorate screaming for the long-form birth certificate of a black president who didn’t arrive here in a fucking rocket.
After Superman defeats Lex Luthor (off the page, before the book even starts) and Luthor claims he hates Superman for every reason except race (Making Luthor the only Tea Party candidate of Earth 23), the remainder of the story revolves around alternate dimension versions of Lois Lane, Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen who arrive via a “musical meta machine” and claiming that they created the idea of Superman using a machine that “used sound vibrations to make thoughts you can touch.” How do these machines work? The book doesn’t say, but my guess is that they are powered by Mescaline, or whatever other hallucinogen Morrison was using at his word processor.
We discover that Lois, Clark and Jimmy created a “pure” version of Superman, who had a “code of ethics so pure and simple and good [they] all wept.” What was the code? Morrison doesn’t tell us, but I’ve got five American dollars on “Ass, gas or grass; no one rides for free.” The trio then sells the idea of Superman to subtly-named Overcorp, who baldly tells them that they intend to retain all rights to the Superman concept and exploit the concept mercilessly as a marketing symbol. So, faced with this stark corporate reality that contraindicates all their designs on the concept… the trio sells out anyway, because they can’t be bothered to get lawyers and because at least it’ll make them famous. Y’know, comic book famous. Walk up to a chick in a bar and tell them you write comic books and see how much pussy you wind up having to imagine later while utterly alone. But I digress.
Okay: let’s stop and take our inventory so far: the meta commentary here is as subtle as a rousing round of Prison Shower Slap and Tickle. Clearly Lois, Clark, et al are stand-ins for Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who created Superman and sold the rights for some writing work and 125 clams. Overcorp is obviously DC Comics, who not only intends, but frankly states that they intend, to take this original work and exploit it in any way that can make a dime; we’re shown the Superman logo on everything from billboards for Homeland Security to the ass end of women’s panties.
So in its most cynical interpretation, Morrison is calling shame upon two guys looking to make a buck on their cartoon during the depths of the Great Depression. In its most charitable interpretation, this is Morrison calling shame upon the corporation who exploited that creation for maximum profit without any regard for the original intentions of the creator. On that latter basis, this book might be an indictment of DC for Before Watchmen, where they are ignoring Watchmen creator Alan Moore’s wishes and cranking out more Watchmen pink slime to squeeze a few more bucks out of the property. Either way, I think we can assuredly say that we have learned that, rather than using Twitter, the best way to criticize DC from the inside is to have an Eisner and bank on Dan DiDio having reading comprehension no deeper than a urine sample.
All of this is somewhat interesting, and even intriguing to dig into. However, then Morrison called me – and you – an insipid douchebag.
You see, Lois tells Superman that Overcorp exploted the brand so effectively that we, the public – and by extension based on the metaphor, comic book readers – began consuming it mindlessly.
Everybody wears its brand. It makes people feel part of something big and new and cool. Superman helps them forget the reality of their drab, obedient, lonely lives.
You get that? That’s you, Bubba. Morrison’s taking your four bucks to talk shit about you, despite the fact that without you and your monthly four bucks, he’d be writing advertising copy right now, at least until his employer made him pee in a cup.
But don’t worry – it gets worse. Morrison goes on to indict the comics reader for demanding change and variation in their favorite heroes. He has Lois tell us that the version of Superman they created mutates and destroys other versions of the hero. He has Clark Kent himself croak:
The curse of Superman… he becomes anything you want… him… to be… our world… wanted that.
Really, Grant? You’re gonna give me, the reader, shit over wanting characters to sometimes change and evolve when you personally have been a major overseer of the most major revision of Superman since he had blue electrical powers? Which you also wrote during your JLA run?
Look, maybe I’m overreacting. It is possible that Morrison is taking the piss out of non-comic readers who have merely glommed onto the Superman, and other superhero’s, logos, in an effort to appear hip or something. But that interpretation would go utterly against the (again) charitable interpretation of the misappropriation of Superman as an indictment of Before Watchmen. If I must believe that Morrison is talking about comics writers, creators and publishers, than I am forced to believe that here he is talking about comics readers.
Again, that’s you, Bubba. And it’s me. And Morrison seems to think of us as “drab, obedient [and] lonely” for wanting change in existing characters now and again, while he happily takes our money for providing those very changes and calls Batman a homo in Playboy when he can spare the minute.
Look, let’s take a step back and assume the whole thing is actually a diss against everyone who wanted Before Watchmen, be it readers, writers or publishers. It still means that Morrison is using a comic character he himself tore down and built back up not one year ago to indict all of us for wanting more stories about characters we love.
I’m sure Morrison sees himself as a bastion of integrity, calling out injustice from the belly of the beast. However, in this comic book, he comes across as a petulant, hypocritical asshole; a heroin dealer sniffing disdainfully at a liquor store owner and his customers.
No matter what Morrison meant, this issue comes across as a giant “fuck you” to comics readers. Right back atcha, buddy.