Grant Morrison And The Superhero Renaissance was an academic symposium held at Trinity College Dublin on 14-15 September 2012. The conference was organised by Dr. Darragh Greene (UCD) and Dr. Kate Roddy (Trinity) In the second of a two part column, the Andy Lukes of different timelines commune to call forth their notes and memories of the experience. You can read the first part of the report here.
Katie Chaos’s Joker-like rampage across Dublin betides woeful hangovers upon those who accompanied her trail. It was 4am when we got in. I went to sleep resigned to missing the early presentations, and remembered Gar Shanley told me foxes congregated outside the room were I slept and cried like babies. Gar lives almost entirely on boiled eggs, and so restored me to health, fit to return to the Long Room Hub for the second day of the conference.
GOOD AND EVIL
Muireann O’ Sullivan’s ‘God is Dead: Long Live Superman!’ discussed the sociology of fan culture. It looked at the relationships between gods, man and superheroes to find an inverse relationship between the first two and latter two. The talk apparently looked at Morrisonian characters in terms of faith, (“these heroes are creations in man’s image, rather than humanity being created in God’s), and belief, and why the superhero genre is so magnetic while rejecting conventional religion.
O’ Sullivan’s peer at Trinity, Nicholas Galante looked at the author’s use of Christian religious symbolism in ‘Our Father, Who Art in Gotham.’ It seems to have been largely a study of Arkham Asylum, looking at character shifts relating to each situation within the chaotic, illogical environment that the book examines.
Dr. Will Brooker (Kingston University London) was good enough to forward me his paper, ‘The Return of the Repressed: Grant Morrison’s Batman RIP’ . It describes a particularly stimulating work of collection (52 worlds), and integration: Morrison sews together the differing tones, including 1950s and 1960s stories Batman might like to forget. Tales of The Dark Knight encountering pink tentacled monsters, UFO aliens, The Joker with his helicopter which looks just like him, Bat-Mite, and others, in a manner which would probably have turned Frederic Werthram onto cannabis. Brooker informs that sometimes these came as dreams or hallucinations or X-Files adventures, but have been re-pushed by Morrison to sit alongside the inter-weave of the works by Miller, Moore, Grant and O’Neil, and create a new conservatism. Just as with the ‘Spectrum of Supermen’ discussed by Will’s student Philip Bevin on Day 1, Morrison treats Batman to a “Prismatic Age”, as suggested by Duncan Falconer. This was a great paper, so I’m going to take the opportunity to quote from it some.
“Morrison returns Batman and Joker not to a single earlier era, but to something more complex: a matrix, a network, a conversation between past and present…… Rather than containing him, neutralising, deadening and dampening his meanings, as the title Batman Rest in Peace initially suggests, Morrison digs up the character’s past and encourages a sense of unrest, of activity, diversity, carnival and liberating uncertainty. The story’s central protagonist is still a Dark Knight and grim vigilante, but we – and Batman – are never allowed to forget the rest, the repressed: the rest of the Batmen, shattered, scattered and surrounding him, in every rainbow shade of the spectrum, like ghosts from alternate earths and other histories, like fragments of a magic mirror, in a halo of mosaic pieces.”
HUMANITY AND SUPERHUMANITY
Two more papers on All-Star Superman: Jennifer Harwood Smith looked at the narrative were solar poisoning saw the man-hero make farewells to his loved ones, intertwining the senses of the personal and the epic. The Trinity speaker also spoke of Superman and history and how this informed relationships as death approaches.
Shaun Treat from the University of North Texas explored the supermythos ret-con in myth and commodity, as “a quasimystical medium for expanding consciousness, altering perceived reality and exploring themes central to the human condition.” Morrison’s Utopian MystiFiction in the “holy alien trinity of Kal-El, Clark Kent and Superman.” This was a gripping piece, and I think it addressed my problems with Arno Bogaert’s notion on Day 1 that realistic, pro-active superheroes are on “a slippery slope.”
“the holy alien trinity of Kal-El, Clark Kent and Superman operates as a global Lacanian fantasy wherein the power of the story ennobling humanity to being/becoming/be stronger than we think ourselves to be also demands we accept and channel our inner-Ubermensch. Because Superman is a fictional meditation upon the Nietzschean and Fascistic potentialities of the Ubermensch fantasy, a desirous circuit that is inspired by rather than inspiring the ambivalences of the human condition for what Henry Jenkins finds is a multiplicity of ‘becoming’. Morrison invents a fantasy that inverts and mystically re-shapes our conditions for ‘reality’ as a ritual enactment of invented fictions. In short, within this Utopian Mystifiction of Morrison, readers are invited to become participant co-authors with a SuperGod who is dreaming the promise and perils of all humanity…and ourselves.”
There was a great camaraderie amongst the twenty odd attendees, and a sharing of tales and tips. I perched myself on the sidelines though, having broken the rule of Con gatherings: Don’t drink heavily on the night of Day 1. Darrin O’Toole mentioned a local group of comic creators were having a launch party: the Lightning Strike people, and I’d promised to look in, so the two of us took to the streets.
After twenty minutes of maze-work we hit upon the art space/shop type venue, marked out by beautiful girlfriends, Victorian adventurers (hello, Ciaran Marcantonio), and storm-troopers. Large comics arts pages graced the walls by a fellow who might
give the super-improved Stephen Downey a run for his money, and I discussed a project I was pitching, and our mutual plans on distribution and profile-building. A quick goodbye inside, yelling at Ger Hankey, “You and Me For IDW” before returning to the conference. Ger talks about his contribution, Hybrid, and the launch, in interview with Ciaran Flanagan on the great 2dcast earlier this week. Ger’s art featured heavily in the promo material, re-interpreting the Lightning Strike character collection for publicity. Although I adore his 1980s-ish Transformers stuff, his approach of mostly drawing with ten year olds in aim doesn’t appeal to me. Lightning Strike looks to be an incredibly diverse anthology with painted Vertigo Hellblazer stylings of intrigue, steampunk people riding dinosaurs, and monkeys, just because. So yes, toss aside your scepticism and pick up a copy.
And so I managed to miss most of the second leg of Day 2 as well. I was really looking forward to hearing from Tim Pilcher, an ex-editor for DC Comics when they were operating in Londonduring the 90s. A friend of Grant, we’d swapped our own Morrison stories, and some of these may have been recounted in his talk on the author’s use of playing multiple personalities when in front of the media lens. ‘Transvestitism, Transgenderism and Transformative Personalities in the Life and Work of Grant Morrison’ also looked at ‘liquid personality’ and a malleable sense of self across his characters, manipulated by internal or external forces, including Morrison for use on himself, as noted above.
Dr. David Coughlan from the University of Limerick gave us From Shame Into Glory. The subject was the hyper-masculine; armoured against the feminine, yet read as expressing shame and inadequacy. Coughlan spoke of “the idea of diffusing the hard body” present in Animal Man andFlex Mentallo, and the life defined by shame, guilt, fear and hatred in the character of Ned Slade in The Filth. Slade’s secret identity is that of a paedophile, but he is a super-cleansing hero dedicated to his cat. The Filth, according to Coughlan, examines the superhero’s part in redeeming man from shame “through the interactions of perversion and policing.”
Charles Stephens from Texas A & M University presented Morrison Meta-Continuity Within the DC Universe: Creativity as the Ultimate Superpower. Touching upon many of the themes of the conference so far, he also brought in more view to Seven Soldiers and Final Crisis, and the subject of continuity. Charles looked at the subject of Grant’s metafiction avatars, and the movement by other authors and contemporaries to do likewise. My memories of this are hazy – this may be when we discussed John Byrne’s run on She-Hulk (around the same time as Animal Man #26), but my notes tell only that I should read the book on Jerry Siegel, ‘Men of Tomorrow’and Susan Blackmore’s The Meme Machine, which picks up where Dawkins left off on The Selfish Gene.
Clare Pitkethly (New Zealand?) presented Alienated in the pages of a Comic, on the subjection of his characters to comic book textuality. Inhabited by alien discourse are his characters, while Morrison in his comic assumes the role of language himself (through means of his proxies and signifiers) The characters and their environments take on “self-reflexivity” qualities recurring. acquiring “a distance from the illusory worlds around them”, yet become aware of this. Language speaks the speaker (written from somewhere else), and characters are spoken by the author.
The final talk was by Roy Cook of the Universityof Minnesota. Royis the author of The Art of Comics which we should for in paperback shortly, and a contributor to Pencil, Panel, Page a comics theory blog. His talk sounded frivolous, but in fact was fun and infectiously brain-occupying. The Writer and The Writer guided us through The Death of The Author in Suicide Squad #58. Written by John Ostrander, the Squad was joined on three or four pages by Grant Morrison, as visualised in Animal Man #26, with the power of prophecy, events unfolding on his word processor. Until blown up. Cook’s theory is that Old School Ostrander is having some fun poking at the young hipster writers with their kooky ideas and fancy literary foppery. But, he remarks, here’s where it gets interesting. “This issue forces us to re-conceptualise the relationships between the author as creator and the author as meta-fictional construct within his own creation, at least when this creation is a massively fictional universe like the DC continuity.” Rob then goes on to lay out five universes:
1. Wily E. Coyote, Road Runner cartoons
2. Crafty, Wily E’s Animal Man avatar and Chas Truog, who precedes Morrison and appears by paintbrush.
3. Grant as The Writer, along with his house, nearby parks and paths (visualised through Truog’s interpretation of course), appearing in Animal Man #25-26.
4. The Writer’s appearance in Suicide Squad. Technically,John Ostrander’s avatars for Grant and Chas, filtered his own perspective.
5. Our world, were everybody above and everything mentioned exists.
Dr. Chris Murray summed up the conference was “a rich view of Morrison’s oeuvre and his techniques.”
Someone suggested Moore was a guru, but yet an old school teacher standing at the front and instructing, while Morrison was an escatonic new ‘we’ll all be friends’ teacher.
There was chatter about the rise of writers along Morrisonian lines.
Speculation we would yet see a diverged Superman, and coalesced Batman.
Consensus: to learn about continuity, go to Morrison.
Two things we didn’t talk about at all: the Kathmandu experience, and Quitely and Morrison’s conversation with the stranger who dressed and looked exactly like Superman.
Two things we did talk about: The Black Zoid saga, and what Grant might have thought of all this – that he’d be interested, surprised, but mostly amused.
It was a fantastic few days of thinking, learning and cooking academic esteem. I’m really glad it happened.
I got back to Gar’s place and we had a good old bitch, while eating more healthy boiled eggs. We watched his award-winning Foxes, which was fantastic and very creepy, and I enjoyed my first views of Cloverfield, and The Mist.
Thanks to Darragh, Kate, Gar and everyone who worked so hard for such a unique weekend. I hope Dublin has another comics barcamp or conference in 2013.
Andy Luke would like 1,000 readers to check out his great comic, Optimus and Me, so he can justify publishing the beautiful colour sequel, The Moods of Prime, on his website for free. He’s currently working on strips for Courageous Mayhem, including ‘Underwater Billiards: A True Story’, due out in Winter 2013.