This review first appeared in the Comics Journal.
“[S]uper-hero comic books…aren’t taken seriously in the critical community,” Timothy Callahan claims in the introduction to his monograph *Grant Morrison: The Early Years.* If that’s true, books like this are the reason. Instead of in depth analysis, Callahan provides his readers with lists of themes, like *chaos* and *sacrifice* (and yes, the themes are printed in italics.) Rather than synthesis, he gives us tedious, page by page plot summaries of every single damn issue. And rather than attempting to arrive at any complex conclusions, Callahan merely gushes out bland fanboy boosterism. As the final sentence states, “…Grant Morrison is, indeed, a master of the medium.” And then there’s this gem: “[*Arkham Asylum* is] a more fully realized combination of words and images than almost any comic-book story every published.” Or, translated, “Manga? Underground? Duuuh…what dose?”
The book is amateurish in every bad sense of the word. There’s no index. The proofreading gaffes are sometimes so overwhelming as to make the text difficult to read. And there are multiple errors of fact. Callahan claims, for example, that “the reader isn’t told” why Cliff Steele’s robot body explodes after a brain transplant in Doom Patrol #34 — but, in fact, Morrison takes a panel to tell the reader exactly that (the body wired itself to detonate in case of brain transplant.) In another instance, Callahan states that Morrison’s filching of older copyrighted characters has made it difficult to collect and distribute the Zenith comics in trade paperbacks. But in an interview at the end of the book, Morrison says that the problem is actually a rights dispute between him and the publisher over ownership of the Zenith comic itself.
This interview at least, is worthwhile. Callahan’s questions are sturdily innocuous, but Morrison is game, talking about his interest in magic, his time on the dole, his relationship with his artists. He also politely punctures several of Callahan’s pet theories, which (given the level of animosity I had worked up after trudging through all 200-odd pages) is quite satisfying. But overall, this book just made me embarrassed of my 12-year old self, who probably would have had enough sense not to enjoy reading it, but might well have written something like it if he’d had the chance.
*Grant Morrison: The Early Years* is supposed to be the first in a series from Sequart “devoted to the study and promotion of comic books as a legitimate art.” From now on, I plan to avoid them all: including the next one, entitled “Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy From Comics to Screen.” ‘Nuff said.
Update: Callahan and others have at me on a thread here. Callahan argues that I have a prejudice against super-hero books. As regular readers of this blog know, that is simply false. I hate everything indiscriminately.
Updeate 2: In comments, Julian Darius, the publisher of the book, notes that many of the errors I point out have been corrected for the recently released second edition. He also provides a lengthy rebuttal, and (politely) upbraids the Comics Journal for its lousy proofreading — a palpable hit.