Do You Remember?
Before I begin, I just want to thank those who responded to my plea yesterday on the Comics Scholars’ Discussion List for Animal Man material! Brett Bossard, Mark Rogers, and Marcus Singer all came through with thought-provoking items! Mr. Singer’s essay, “On Byron Shelley and Crazy Jane: Romanticism and Modernity in the Comics of Grant Morrison”, deals only tangentially with Buddy’s adventures, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t all read it as soon as possible! It’s available online here.
Right now though, what I want to know is–what the hell is Morrison doing with that monkey-at-the-typewriter in limbo? On the surface, this figure seems like just another avatar of the author-creator, in the proud-mad tradition of the Art Martyr, the Time Commander, and the Psycho-Pirate. But is it really that simple? Let’s not forget that this scripter-God shares a level of Hell with the alienated dregs of the DC universe… The monkey enjoys none of the world-historical significance that his predecessors did. The Art Martyr almost blew up the planet. The Time Commander did manage to destabilize the timestream. And the Psycho-Pirate reverses the Crisis on Infinite Earths through an act of memory/will. But our simian friend just types out a passage from The Tempest, smiles, and keels over–becoming a dead-weight in Buddy’s arms as the latter wanders purposefully nowhere through the meaningless tundra. What’s it all about? The creator as a burden upon the created? Well, yeah–but what else?
Bolland’s cover for issue #25 shows us the monkey nervously scripting the issue at hand… and the first two panels deliver as promised. However, that second panel is a close-up of these words on a page:
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon’d be,
Let your indulgence set me free.
Prospero, in his last extremity, asks the audience to abrogate the dire chain of cause-and-effect at work in the narrative… And this is exactly what Morrison does! Merryman tells Buddy that the monkey “used to be famous but no one’s allowed to say his name anymore. He sits on a hill writing, you know? He did the complete works of Shakespeare, purely at random. There’s a kind of legend that says one day the monkey will write us all out of limbo.” This sounds like a joke, but if you think about, it’s damned serious–The Tempest is believed to be Shakespeare’s last play, and if this “omnipotent creator” is merely creating according to a predetermined plan, then of course it stands to reason that he would collapse immediately after “completing Shakespeare”! Is anyone free in this book? I would say no. Morrison saves the characters he has grown to love by splicing his hopes to the Shakespearian comedy, which brings something out of nothing by calling for a (customary) sympathetic response… But maybe it’s just luck (the last play could have been a tragedy!)–Buddy’s fate could easily have been Crafty’s…
The creator himself collapses in issue #25, and the figure of the monkey metamorphoses into a stand-in for Morrison’s dying cat, Jarmara, whom the author had carried back and forth on endless trips to the vet that ultimately proved to be of no help at all. Some may scoff, but Jarmara’s death is THE preeminent symbol of limitation in this book. Literally anything else can be changed on a whim–but not this. As Morrison tells Buddy, her death was “not fair. But who do I complain to?” Clearly, there is no one…
But this is not the case with Buddy’s family. They are inhabitants of a “world created by committee” (I interpret this concept, which Morrison introduces in #26, to mean more than just “created by a group of professional writers”–the commenters are boardmembers as well!), and this committee is quite as capable of conspiring to bring dead characters back to life–no matter (as letter-writer George Gustiness puts it in #23) “what sleazy stunt [they] have to pull”–as it is of visiting horrific persecution upon its’ charges. It becomes a question of which convention the audience will embrace–comedy or (“grim n’ gritty”) tragedy, which, paradoxically, has always been far more satisfying to the tortured human psyche.
In issue #25 (page 12), the mysterious typing figure who proves to be Morrison thinks (in response to Merryman’s question: “Let’s face it, who cares about the space canine patrol agents in this day and age?”) “I care. It’s stupid, I know, but I care. All the things that meant so much when we were young. Under the blankets late at night, listening to long-distance radio. All those things: lost now or broken. Can you remember? Can you remember that feeling?” Shades of the Ramones! (and very apt, I would say!) The monkey cannot unilaterally write these characters out of limbo. That’s the Psycho-Pirate’s way. Cyclopean visionaries cry out for a corroborating eye–when that transcendental ball rolls back in its’ socket, you don’t get a “poetry of insight”, you get distorted bogeymen with nukes! (or perhaps these two things are synonymous?) The author-figure is right to bring in the names of specific letter-writers on page 17 of issue #26, because, ultimately, it is they, as a community of wellwishers, who agree, for old time’s sake, to waive their right to a sacrificial lamb, thus empowering Morrison to restore Ellen, Maxine, and Cliff to Buddy’s world… Strangely enough, comedy–which is generated by a recognition of the Other, and the limits of the imperial self–makes anything possible (and everything meaningful), narratively speaking…
Good night friends!