“Curdle Your Pilgrimage”
(Soundtrack: Frank Black–Teenager of the Year)
I just re-read “Crawling From the Wreckage”, phase one of Grant Morrison & Richard Case’s revamp of the Doom Patrol, from issues #19-22 of the series… Suffice it to say: if there weren’t huge gaps in my collection (where is #26? How about #29? I just don’t know man!), I wouldn’t be here at the keyboard right now…
I also took another look at blogospheroid Marc Singer’s conference paper: “On Byron Shelley and Crazy Jane: Romanticism and Modernity in the Comics of Grant Morrison”, which, in addition to presenting some interesting ideas about the DP that you ought to read, advances the notion that Modernism and Romanticism are, in a way, complementary aesthetics, and I’m 100% behind that kind of talk!
But let’s crawl back into the wreckage for a sec hunh?
The Doom Patrol, circa early 1989, was an awful mess! (and thanks to John Byrne, I’m sure it will be again soon!) I like Paul Kupperberg, but the man succumbed to Claremontian angst-demons in DP #1-18, and once that happens friends, the victim cannot help himself. There’s nothing to do but call for the exorcist.
Fortunately, DC had one under contract.
Most of Kupperberg’s overwrought zombies were laid to rest in issue #18–an Invasion tie-in for chrissakes!–and this cleared the operating table for a stab at the eerie core of experience that those crocodile tears had drowned out.
Morrison begins his tenure with a postcard from within the mind of Cliff Steele, a (Robot)man on the edge, if ever there was one. The first page of issue #19 is so reminiscent of Miller’s opening to The Dark Knight. Nightmare vision/memory of a man in a speeding racecar on a collision course with death. Simonsonian artwork. Catastrophe averted (sort of!) at the last minute. In DKR, the protagonist controls the narrative–he decides that this death isn’t “good enough” and goes home to drink instead… Cliff isn’t so lucky–or, rather, Cliff isn’t in charge. The crash comes, as it must; however, Morrison “saves the beautiful bit” of his protagonist. His brain.
In just one page, we’ve cut to the heart of what superhero comics (like all romance narratives) are about: how does a mind, trapped in a body it never made, relate to the world? Morrison doesn’t give us any answers. Narrative was born to scratch this epistemological itch, and God help you if it ever subsides!
Dirk Deppey is talking out of his ass when he claims that superhero comics are “repressed” (unlike “cool”, “liberated” porn); but he’s close to being right about one thing, while superhero comics aren’t asexual, they are presexual. You have to get partway out of your own head before you can actually have meaningful sex… It isn’t easy to crawl from the “wreckage” of an inescapable subjectivity. In fact, it’s pretty much impossible. But of course that struggle is what life’s all about. As soon as you give up on trying to find something real outside of yourself, you might as well be dead–you might as well be watching porn 24-7.
So Cliff wakes up screaming, encased in his metal shell.
“Dreaming about our accident again, are we?” a nurse asks. “That’s what happens…when we refuse to take our medication.”
Emerson wrote in Experience: “It is very unhappy, but too late to be helped, the discovery we have made that we exist. That discovery is called the Fall of Man.” That’s the “accident” that Morrison is referring to here…
Cliff, “Rebis”, “Crazy Jane”–these are archetypal romance characters. By necessity, they spend more time fighting themselves (not, as in Claremont’s soap opera world, each other) than their enemies… It’s not easy to calibrate your senses to reality–you have to make adjustments constantly.. Get complacent and that beautiful metaphorical swirl of otherness will reify into a silicone breast-pumpkin in two seconds flat.
Is life a pilgrimmage without a destination? The scissormen are onto something! Every stopping point is a curdling of the human spirit.
More of this madness later!
Good afternoon friends!