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And what can ail the mastiff bitch?

(Soundtrack: Silverchair — Frogstomp)




Just read Morrison & Quitely’s We3 #2, and, while it’s hard to comment on a work in progress, I can’t very well keep quiet about it either!

Let me tell ya, this is definitely not a “feelgood” series… One of the defining moments of my childhood was going into an emotional coma after seeing Watership Down on television long before I was “prepared” to see the “battle of life” dramatized in so unsentimental a fashion. Something very similar happened, around the same time, when I was forced to sit there and watch the animals being frozen by the witch in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (I know, they are eventually saved, but I was long gone by then!) I suppose it didn’t help that I grew up in an anarchic household characterized by an almost fatalistic succession of feline appearances and disappearances… I was pretty well situated to see that, for good or for ill, animals’ lives are in our hands…


I happen to think this is a good thing! I’m not one of these wildlife fetishists that has a problem with pet ownership, or “domestication”. My reasoning on this subject is of a piece with my other political commitments. I’m dedicated to the concept of the “improbably human”. I don’t believe, with Rousseau, that humans are “born free”, or noble, or good. At the root, we’re just here to spill blood, milk and semen, like the rest of the creatures we share the globe with. And yet, somehow, we got the idea that there’s more to life than biological imperatives (although many would disagree with me–including this assholehunting is “natural” and therefore just like a loving sexual relationship? how’d you like to be involved with that guy, hunh?). It started with the first word. The first concept. The first time someone noticed the difference between “is” and “ought”.

Grant Morrison has called this series a story of “meat and motion”, and some critics have lauded the creators for refraining from “anthropomorphizing” the protagonists of We3. To the first comment, I say: Grant, stick to prognosticating about the endtimes–you’ve never said anything helpful about your own work; and to the second, I say, if having animals speak (and think about whether they are “good” or “bad”) isn’t anthropomorphizing them, I don’t know what is! And that brings us to another issue–“domestication” is anthropomorphization. I may not have turned my cats into humans, but I’ve done my best to raise them as people. No, they don’t speak. But they do understand words, and they also know that there are things that they should and should not do. Now, Dashiell and Simpson are a long way from mastering the Kantian Critiques, but one thing they do understand is “friendship”. I know they understand it, because I see the looks on their faces when they fail to live up to the ideal by giving in to biology and losing their tempers with each other or me!


Anyway, that’s where I think this series is going. Yes, “home” is the goal. And the soldiers of all species are the superficial obstacles. But, as always with Grant Morrison, this is a story about relationships and “counsels of perfection” (not just Bandit’s concern for “the good”, but Pirate’s notion of “friendship”–and, before you say it, please note that Tinker understands these concepts…understanding is not the same thing as paying heed!). Of course, as humans, we have good and bad lessons to teach animals–and We3 unleashes the full chiaroscuro effect of “anthropomorphization”.

It goes without saying that my interest in narrative trumps all other aesthetic considerations (which is why I find this kind of list so alienating–forget about the fact that I don’t believe in “Top 100’s” in the first place… all I’m saying is that, if I did believe in them, I wouldn’t ghettoize the media into novels/films/comics, I’d make it a “top 100 narratives”, and TomAnimal Man and The Filth would be on it!!!). And yet, I do appreciate the specific opportunities that diverse media offer to creators (I just don’t believe in “grading” works of art on technique. that’s microcriticism, as far as I’m concerned!) Case in point–We3 #2 pages five, six, and seven. As Jim Henley and I discussed in a comment thread several months ago, one of the greatest things about comics is their unparalleled capacity to convey (rather than merely suggest) simultaneity. That’s one of the reasons I’ve always loved the ol’ Cockrum “time becomes visible to the naked eye” splash in Giant-Size Avengers #2 (would someone do the world a favour and scan that thing onto the web? please?) In these pages, Morrison and Quitely have built a tragic “Wall of Violence” that could not have been assembled out of any other materials, and I tip my hat to them.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some weeping to do!

Good Evening Friends!
Dave

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5 comments

  1. Great commentary, Dave. I haven’t bought comics regularly for probably 10 years, but I picked up issues 1 and 2 of this and am lovin’ it!

    I also agree with you on the “domestication” question. C.S. Lewis said that in our relationships with animals we allow them to participate in our “logos” and, hence *the* Logos. I’ve always liked that…

    -Lee

  2. “It goes without saying that my interest in narrative trumps all other aesthetic considerations”

    I think this is going to weaken your analysis here – and I think it’s probably your weak spot generally in terms of comics. Your favoured techniques are best in formally dead mediums – and when something is as alive and twitching as We3#2, I can’t help but think you’re missing glossing over the nature of the orgasm in favour of just describing the fluid’s smell.

    Er… I may be having one of those days. That metaphor suggests so.

    Generally good stuff, however.

    KG

  3. “I may not have turned my cats into humans, but I’ve done my best to raise them as people.”

    And I’m betting they’ve done their best to treat you like a cat. Maybe this is the point of having animals still act like animals while using language.

    “It started with the first word. The first concept. The first time someone noticed the difference between “is” and “ought”. “

    What about a cat looking over the edge of a counter, not sure whether to jump or not? Seems like there’s a least a primal is/ought struggle going on there.

    “forget about the fact that I don’t believe in ‘Top 100’s’ in the first place… all I’m saying is that, if I did believe in them, I wouldn’t ghettoize the media into novels/films/comics, I’d make it a ‘top 100 narratives'”

    1. Everyone has a top 100 list, at least de facto. We can either analyze and evaluate what it is and how we got it, or say everyone’s judgment is equally worthy.
    2. Even reducing such a list to narrative, one is still confronted with the possibility that media have different ways of instantiating narratives. Acknowledging this is hardly a form of ghettoization.

    There’s this week contribution to “messing with Dave,”

    Charles

  4. Please Charles–keep harrying me! That’s what I’m here for!

    Let’s see now–the cat on the ledge…well, that’s a problem, for sure, but it’s not a moral problem–it’s a problem in instrumental reasoning (Coleridge would call this “the understanding”, which is distinct from “Reason-with-a-capital-R”)

    Do my cats try to influence me? For sure! But that’s because (as Lee notes–where’s that Lewis quote from Lee? C.S. was one hell of an interesting guy!) they are now participating in the logos…

    on top 100 narratives–I think I’m going to do one Charles, just for you! And we can analyze the principles behind my selections together if you want–but, at bottom, I’m sure we’ll find that the only thing they have in common is that I like them! Aesthetic judgement comes down to “taste”, and a willingness to argue in a work’s favour–there are no transcendent principles to guide us in the evaluation of art!

    My problem with Tom’s list, and the TCJ list, and any other “pure comics” list is that they’re too focused on the cartooning qua cartooning (this is like judging a novel by the sentence-to-sentence value of its prose–and who the hell does that?), and that’s not why I read comics. I can’t see any other reason why you’d leave Morrison’s best stuff off a top 100 list!

    Kieron,

    do you really consider film and the novel dead art forms?… Say it ain’t so!!!! As I mentioned above–there’s no reason to ignore lyrical moments like the “wall of violence” pages that Quitely has drawn, but I’m a narrative junkie, and that’s never going to be my focus… But if you’re more interested in the lyrical potential of comics, that’s certainly your right (and I’m pretty sure that most of the comics canonizers are on your side of the divide)

    Dave

  5. “do you really consider film and the novel dead art forms?”

    Sadly, yes. At least when I’m posturing terribly. If I’m being more serious, I do consider them, to a lesser or greater degree, played out.

    “(and I’m pretty sure that most of the comics canonizers are on your side of the divide)”

    Heh. It’s rare for me to be on the larger side in any critical consensus. I’m not quite sure whether to feel proud or ashamed.

    KG

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