A Fine Pyrrhonism; or, (Put Your) Faith in Crisis
Hello! I’m going to be talking about Animal Man by Grant Morrison for a good long time–although the posts may not come in as rapid a succession as the Watchmen posts did, given the fact that I feel a virus taking possession of my skull as we speak–so if you haven’t read the series in a while (or ever!) you might want to check out this convenient summary of the character’s history…or just ignore me for a while!
Awwright! As that shambling undead-Kennedy likes to say: “Bring…it…on!!!”
A lot is made of Morrison’s assault on the “4th wall” in this series–as if the whole thing was some damn-fool excercise in a Matrix-style revelation of “the way things really are”… (or, for you Plato fans, as if it’s the story of one character’s ascent out of the cave of superheroic convention–which reminds me, there’s a bit of cave-talk going on at the Commonplacebook; and a lot of fine Watchmen talk!) So, um, take the blue pill and, uh… take the red pill–it’ll…uh… Actually, I forget which did which, but my point is that Animal Man has nothing to do with this tradition! This series is not about “false consciousness” dispelled by a glimpse of The Truth. We don’t get anything like a vision of “the Truth” in this book (despite what the peyote scenes imply)–what we get is a character who travels back and forth between several levels of narration. Emerson’s “Circles” is the key text here…
What’s special about Buddy Baker?
Just one thing–he occupies a liminal position between the pre- and post-Crisis DC Universes. (he’s like a Kanga that way–right H?) For whatever reason, the reconfigured Animal Man of 1988 remembers his origin story exactly the way it was printed in 1965. As Buddy discovers in issue #22–“the mystery is solved. and the mystery is me.” All of that stuff about a creator/God/writer up there pulling the strings is fun, and offers up boffo critical opportunities to the kinds of folks that use the word “liminal” in every second sentence, but the heart of this series (as with all meaning in Animal Man) is elsewhere. We’ve just spent a fun week with the ultimate structuralist super-hero work, but Animal Man is post-structuralist–nothing has any final relationship to anything else in the text (Morrison even brings in the names of lettercol habitues in issue #26!). We are never permitted to get comfortable with an interpretation of what’s happening to Buddy (hmm…the government’s messin’ with him…no it’s those aliens…no, wait, it’s Grant Morrison!–or maybe, as the final flashlit peephole out of the author’s browned-out layer of the abyss implies, it’s all some character called Foxy’s doing! and do you really suppose that the creative bleeding stops there? it’s an infinite egress!)
One thing’s for sure–no one’s got any free will. Morrison does some big talking about the prerogatives of the artist, but he leaves some pretty crucial stuff out. For instance: “crisis-II”–what the Hell’s that all about? Does anyone think that Morrison wanted to banish all of those wonderful Discontinued Characters back into the medusa mask? Why sacrifice a character like Highwater to the greater glory of the “new DC”? Did the author understand the anguish of the Time Commander, who wished to abolish the boundary between past and present–thus “rebooting” the Adventures of Adam and Eve? Did he empathize with the Psycho-Pirate, who remembers the whole mountainous corpus of a lost multiverse gnawed into a more Digestible Continuity by “the Wolfman”, and whose tears sneak the unmentionable back into the conversation–even if it’s only as wet colour-slicks on the pavement in the playground of “the real”? And did he feel the full impact of these characters’ failures?
I would have to answer “yes” to all of these questions, which is all to the good! The only thing an artist requires more than “childlike madness” is a sense of limitation (and Grant had it here in spades! perhaps because of his earnest attempt to grapple with the insoluble contradictions of an animal rights commitment–let’s not forget what generated this series in the first place!)–and whenever you find these moods in tension, “another circle is created”, and the Crisis raves on!
Tomorrow I’ll be more specific, I promise!
Good night friends