The Jolly Corner

 The Jolly Corner:

I’m deeply indebted to folks like Tim O’Neil for giving me opportunities to jump back into discussions of comics that I acquire later than most of my blogopeers, due to financial limitations… (there’s an excellent review of We3 just waiting for you at Tim’s place…)

Tim and I rarely agree, and so it should come as no surprise that I take issue with his approach to this book. As is often the case, it comes down to a difference of opinion concerning authorial intention (or agency, pure and simple). Here’s Tim:

It’s one thing to change the rules as you go (which, as Dave Fiore accurately points out, is pretty much what Dave Sim did for the entirety of Cerebus), another entirely to insert a blatant deus ex machina simply because you have written yourself into a corner.


…the basic fact is that if the animal’s armor could be taken off with the apparent ease that my dog can slip out of the cone we put around his neck after a visit to the vet (which is essentially what Bandit and Tinker do in the final pages of the third book), there is no conceivable way that the plot hangs together. If the doctor who freed them from the lab knew that the animals could be liberated from their metal armor in just a few moments, and that their cybernetic enhancements were no more involved than something a homeless man with no obvious medical training could harmlessly remove, than even if you accept that the Powers That Be wanted the animals dead (which is a dicey proposition considering the nature of the science involved), if she had been so set on ensuring the animals survived despite her bosses’ wishes, she could simply have absconded with the three of them – sans armor – and taken them home in her car.

He’s right of course. And yet–from where I sit–so wrong!

Please don’t take that the wrong way… Let’s just say that I think it’s a storyteller’s job to write her/himself “into a corner”… Anything less would be false to the human condition… Let’s face it–we’re all cornered. A great story doesn’t place us on the freeway, it studies the alley–and a “laughing philosopher”, like Morrison, will always find a way to throw a block(ed)-party, just before they hit the wall… As I noted, in Tim’s comment-thread, he’s like Capra and Dickens that way. This is what melodrama is all about–it exhibits the “improbably human” in action… This whole series (like Animal Man before it) progresses inexorably toward that shining moment in which an omnipotent–but simultaneously human, and very flawed–deity (Morrison himself in AM; Doctor Trendle in We3), motivated by a newfound respect for the puppets that he’s been manipulating (for his own purposes) throughout the story, allows something ridiculous to happen…  Dr. Berry couldn’t have just slipped the armor off of the animals and gone home, because it wasn’t her decision to make. It’s Trendle’s. That’s why the final moment is so powerful–it’s not the “family tableau” itself–it’s the fact that we know it defies all logic…and we are joyously complicit in the smashing of commandments that the text itself sets in stone! The abrogation of the law. That’s why Jesus came here, remember? What else could goodness be? The only appropriate response to a cul-de-sac is deus ex machina

Good Afternoon Friends!


  1. As I mentioned over on Tim’s comment thread, is there, in your mind, a difference between what I would call a blatantly obvious deus ex machina (a la Animal Man) and a more subtle (or insidious, a word I love) one like in We3? Morrison’s presence in Buddy’s life is a true manifestation of the divine, while the appearance of the homeless guy in We3 (Dr. Trendle, I presume?) does not feel that way, and I think that might be what Tim takes issue with – he seems to be functioning within the parameters of Morrison’s storytelling devices and <>is not meant to be<> a deus ex machina figure. I could be wrong.

    Also, this is ultimately a storytelling device, correct? How often can someone use it before it becomes hackneyed? Can Morrison always go to this particular well, and that would be all right with you? I know he hasn’t, but what would you think if his narratives <>always<> ended this way?


  2. that homeless guy–he’s just a cog in the d-e-m… I really think that you have to focus on Trendle to get the most out of the story…

    and sure–this is Morrison’s thing–he reveals, not that “things aren’t what the seem”, but that the characters you’ve been following aren’t the true protagonists of the story… every Morrison story is a bid to forge/earn an affective alliance between writer and reader against the facts of the narrative… (witness the letters in Animal Man that beg Morrison to find some way to reunite the Baker family–it’s a new formulation of Prospero’s call and the audience’s response in The Tempest)… Goodwill itself–embodied in the reader–is the only protagonist of any serious Morrison story…

    whether it works, in each case, is up to you! But I don’t see any reason for him to stop doing it… For me, this is what all storytelling ought to aspire to, every time out! (even in a tragedy–like Mulholland Dr.–it’s our goodwill–and our conviction that “there must have been another way”, even if we cannot figure out what that way might have been, that makes it a tragedy…)


  3. Inspired no doubt by reading your site, I came up with a theory that not only explains how the animals survived, but postulates that the ending wasnt a deus ex machina at all, but rather the logical culmination of the series. I posted it over on that thread if anyone is interested.

  4. Forgot to sign my name again. That last one was me.


    Oh and the more I think about this theory of mine the more I like it, I may have to go back to the text and see if there is as much support as I remember.

    Dont know if it was what Morrison intended of course, but I doubt I have to make that argument here…

  5. I love your theory Doug!

    and I think it helps to explain our (the readers, I mean) ecstatic assent, when the scientist that’s been persecuting them all along elects not to bring the external story crashing down upon the animals’ internal narrative… in effect, the deus ex machina (if want one, I mean) is simply a bridge between the two stories…

    and yeah–I always prefer an analysis that focuses upon what’s there, rather than “what’s wrong” (on the technical plane, I mean–disagreement with the philosophical questions raised by a text is a different matter!) with what’s there (but then–I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the “no-prize” taught me everything I know about criticism!)


  6. I also like Mike’s suggestion just after mine, that its a fairy tale, where “they lived happily ever after” is the expected ending.

    Though both theories assume that the story is not what it seems on the surface, not just a story about animals turned into hunter killer cyborgs. Which is an easy enough assumption to make if you are familiar with Morrison’s work.

    But what about someone who ISNT familiar with Morrison? Would they be confused?

  7. Hope this hasn’t been mentioned before…

    But how can you take the armor off of animals that have ran free and wouldn’t want to have said armor taken off? They have a mission, which is to find home, and their enhancements are a help to them because they are being chased by the miltary.

    And the animals would have to be destroyed in that case. There’s also the argument that, what if word about the animals leaks into the public conscienceness? PETA would be asking for blood, and having their members blowing up military recruitment centers around the nation. YOU WOULDN’T WANT THAT TO HAPPEN, WOULD YOU???

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