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Grant Morrison: The Early Years Paperback – March 15, 2012
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Having said that this is a monumental undertaking and one wonders how there can be a market for such a book at all, given that it focus on an authors decidedly esoteric years, but also an author who have chosen comic books as a medium. May there be more studies such as this.
The interview at the end is alone worth the price of the book.
Intended to provide clarification and analysis of five of Morrison's earliest mainstream work (Zenith, Animal Man, Arkham Asylum, Batman: Gothic, and Doom Patrol)this work provides a good overview but lacks in real depth.
First of all, the title is something of a misnomer: works like The new adventures of Hitler and Gideon Stargrave are either ignored or only briefly mentioned. This is really about Morrison's first breakthroughs into the mainstream.
There's a massive amount of content in Morrison's work - both his fans and detractors point out that the sheer mass of information he includes easily overwhelms many readers. This book is intended to reduce and simplify that onslaught so that readers can get an appreciation for Morrison's subtext.
The section on Zenith is especially welcome, since Zenith is not widely available to those of us who don't have the wherewithal or interest in procuring original copies of 2000AD. Not having read the work, this section provided a good amount of background and detail and acts as an effective introduction to the themes explored throughout this book.
In general, this is a great book - I'm just going to address the relatively few flaws I found below. I'm much more familiar with the other works featured herein and as a result, subsequent sections were somewhat lacking. Callahan mostly concerns himself with categorizing the various themes of each work, demonstrating how they fit together both internally and in the larger context of Morrison's career. Unfortunately, this means that, given the relatively short length of the book, explanations remain fairly shallow and a lot gets overlooked.
The Animal Man portion focuses heavily on the earlier issues, analyzing Morrison's attempts to imitate Alan Moore and discussing the groundbreaking Coyote Gospel. This was nice, but the later issues in Morrison's run are largely glossed over, even the surrealist metafictional ending that could have easily been one of the highlights of the book. It almost seems like Callahan was getting tired of writing, as he begins to limit himself to brief synopses of each issue instead of going into greater detail. The Doom Patrol chapter, which is the longest in the work, suffers from similar issues but its greater length ameliorates these problems.
The Arkham Asylum portion is much more detailed than the Animal Man chapter. Unfortunately, that is because the section is almost entirely based around Morrison's notes for the 15th anniversary edition. Since Morrison has so nicely laid out most of the symbolism in the work, this section could easily be considered extraneous. Luckily, he provides enough new insights to make this one of the more enjoyable sections.
The work is extensively footnoted, providing explanations for many of the concepts mentioned, but it seems inconsistent: There are explanations for Jungian psychology, the implicate order theories, fractals, and the more obscure references to silver age comic book characters, but explicit references to occult concepts like the Abyss go unexplained. It's not clear if this was a space-saving measure or just an oversight.
I would still highly recommend this work. It's not perfect, and somewhat hampered by a too-ambitious scope, but it is still a great read for both dedicated fans and confused Morrison readers. It would be a perfect book for somebody reading these works for the first time, providing insights that help explain the underlying order of Morrison's anarchic early work.
And the interview in the back, after the main text, is also very eye-opening, allowing Grant to reflect back upon his early work through the eyes of an older, perhaps(?) wiser man.
Truly wonderful stuff, and one of the very, very few serious books about comics out there -- one that's not too stuffy or too slight. I'm eagerly awaiting a second volume!