Grant, Joe and Vertigo


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Grant Morrison has had a lot of up and downs in his mainstream work, but his Vertigo work always seems to shine. We look back on his career as his latest Vertigo effort, Joe the Barbarian, hits stores.

It is only natural that Grant Morrison would feel so at home at Vertigo. After all, he was one of the people who inspired the creation of the imprint.

Morrison got his start like many of Vertigo’s early creators did in the United Kingdom. His over 30 year career began with writing in various anthologies that were popular at the time. This eventually led to him writing for some major British comic publications, most notably Doctor Who Magazine and the ever present icon of British comics, 2000 A.D. His creation, Zenith, for that magazine marked an early example of his particular brand of superhero deconstruction and garnered Morrison attention across the pond in America.

When Alan Moore broke through in the American market with his work on Swamp Thing, he opened the door for a whole “British Invasion” of comic creators to get work in the U.S. Morrison was on the front lines of this invasion, and his first salvo was his work on Animal Man.

Morrison took a similar tact as many other comic book creators. He took an obscure DC character that no one really cared all that much about and put his own unique stamp on it. Animal Man became sort of what a Silver Age comic would be if someone slipped LSD in with the printing ink. Morrison’s run was inventive, satiric, and broke with many conventions of the comic book form. The run is most remembered for Morrison’s breaking the fourth wall between the character and the reader and writing himself in as a character in the series.

His success with Animal Man led DC to tap him to revitalize the Doom Patrol series. The latter was one of DC’s most obscure and weird concepts. It was at the time Morrison took it over more of a typical superhero book. Morrison shifted gears, took the series back to its oddball roots, and gunned the gas—driving past odd into total weirdness.

Morrison’s esoteric writing style and subject matter might seem passé looking back on it today, but it was revolutionary for the time. Morrison, to what should be his eternal shame, spawned a cadre of impersonators—writers who thought being weird for weird sake was good enough for them to be as good as Morrison. But they lacked his intelligence, his sense of humor, and his storytelling ability.Morrison might not have been writing any books at the launch of Vertigo (he left Doom Patrol the month before it joined the imprint), but he was an impetus for it to begin. He was a founding father of the alternative mainstream, which Vertigo showcases.

DC and Marvel called upon the duke of the alternative to revamp and reboot some of their most cherished franchises. Morrison was tapped to do a Justice League reboot. He reigned in his more esoteric writing style and characterization to create a big blockbuster summer film of a comic book. These were some of DC’s biggest character’s facing some of their biggest threats. It was a resounding success.

 Morrison allowed himself to be more like himself while revamping Marvel’s X-Men series. He brought about a second mutation for Hank McCoy, added former villain Emma Frost to the team, and made Magneto a drug-snorting power freak who was killed in the end.

This last plot point was later removed from Marvel continuity after Morrison’s run ended and was a sign that the powers that be were perhaps not ready to allow Morrison free control of their money making characters. Morrison’s event stories such as “Batman R.I.P.” and Final Crisis were some of his worst received worked and seem plagued by editorial mismanagement.

But Vertigo, which prides itself on more creative freedom, is where Morrison can let loose the fetters and write the way he wants. Joe the Barabarian is about a boy who must fight in a fantasyland where his toys are fighting a battle for survival. The plot seems rather pedestrian coming from Morrison, but I trust the author will be able to find a unique point of view for the series. After all, Grant Morrison allowed to play in his element makes him one of the best writers working today.

Also out this week:

Captain America #602:

Forget about the fact that Captain America: Reborn still isn’t finished yet (here’s a hint, Marvel, the next time you want to hire Bryan Hitch for an event book with a defined deadline, don’t), we all know that Steve Rogers is back. Now, the world has three Captain America’s to deal with.

Three? Yes, in addition to Bucky, the Captain America of the 1950s has been up and running around. No one knows what he has been planning, but it has been two months since anybody has even seen him. That’s a lot of time for the insane replacement Cap to start some trouble. And that trouble involves him joining up with a like-minded paramilitary group—the white-supremists known as the Watchdogs.

Ed Brubaker (W), Luke Ross (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Ongoing Series.

Barack the Barbarian: Fall of Red Sarah!:

The news that the current American president was a fan of comics sent thrills through the comic book community. Said community’s use of the president to sell comic books worked better than anyone could have ever expected. So now we are at a stage where putting Barack Obama in a comic book is like printing money.

This one is a bit different from the rest as it casts Obama in a similar role to one of his favorite characters, Conan the Barbarian. Other political leaders fill out the cast (such as a former Alaskan Governor in the Red Sonja role) and the tales are not-so-thinly veiled political satire. So if you like your political commentary to be barbaric or just wondered what Sarah Palin would look like in a chain-mail bikini, check this one out.

 Larry Hama (W), John Christmas (A), Devil’s Due Publishing, $5.99. One-Shot.

Solomon Kane: Death's Black Riders #1:

Say you are interested in the world of Robert E. Howard and you have read everything he’s written about Conan and Kull and are looking for a more modern version of a Howard hero. What should you do? Well, obviously, you need to check out Solomon Kane, his Puritan-era vigilante. And you’re in luck because Dark Horse is starting up a new series this week.

This series follows after last year’s The Castle of the Devil series (although you don’t need to have read that to pick up on what’s going on in this one) and combines two Howard Solomon Kane works—the fragment Death’s Black Riders (which only a few lines were written for) and the Rattle of Bones short story.

Scott Allie (W), Mario Guevara (A), Dark Horse Comics, $3.50. Four-Issue Miniseries.

G-Man: Cape Crisis #5:

By Great Man cutting up G-Man’s cape to sell it to the people of their town, he inadvertently caused their loss of powers. Now, the only way to get their powers back is to undergo a perilous quest, fraught with danger at every turn. The only way they can succeed is if they work together, which is hard to do when they are constantly getting on each other’s nerves. Will they be successful? Or will their sibling rivalry prevent them from ever being super again?

If you are a fan of Mini-Marvels and shied away from this one because it didn’t feature the Marvel characters, you have made a big mistake. This is Giarrusso at his kid-friendly, charming best. You might be able to pick up copies of the whole series at your better comic stores, or be on the lookout for the trade compilation. You won’t be disappointed.

Chris Giarrusso (W/A), Image Comics, $2.99. Final Issue.

Starman #81:

If DC’s new event revisiting long cancelled series as part of its latest Blackest Knight has made anyone happy, it’s the long time fans of the characters and series returning. But there is a little extra added excitement when the original creators come back.

James Robinson’s Starman was one of the best books to come out of the 1990s. Now, he returns to the title for this week’s special issue. And the book will not focus on Jack Knight but rather popular supporting character, The Shade. And co-creator Tony Harris provides the cover. So, if you were a fan of Starman when it was first around, then this week will be an extra treat for you guys.

James Robinson (W), Fernando Dagnino (A), DC Comics, $2.99. One-Shot.

Avengers vs. Agents of Atlas #1:

The title says “Avengers vs. Agents of Atlas”, but it starts off with the Agents of Atlas asking the other team for help. A temporal disturbance requires assistance more than they can offer alone. So which version of the Avengers do the Agents of Atlas turn to? New? Mighty? Dark? How about “old-school” as the Agents team up with Avengers from years gone by.

The plan of putting the ongoing series on hiatus while running special miniseries seems to be working in this case. Of course, The Agents of Atlas are teaming up with and/or fighting some of the biggest heroes Marvel has to offer. But that’s okay. Anything that exposes these great characters to a bigger audience is alright with me.

 Jeff Parker (W), Gabriel Hardman (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Four-Issue Miniseries.


William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer and daughter Vanessa. He also is a comic reviewer for PopMatters, has written for Comic Foundry magazine and is the comic book movie editor for Film Buff Online. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

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  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Jan 19, 2010 at 8:40am

    I hope Starman is NOT a to-be-continued comic that I got suckered into pre-ordering like with the SUICIDE SQUAD one GRRR

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