Saturday, April 09, 2005

Grant Morrison's 'Seaguy'

I just finished reading the collected edition of Grant Morrison's recent mini-series, Seaguy. This book is part of a series of three three issue miniseries he's doing for Vertigo, and it's the first one I've read.

This is a book that took me a while to get into. The first issue sets up the world of the book. Seaguy and his sidekick, Chubby da Choona, live in a world that used to be dominated by superheroics, but now the heroes have retired and Seaguy lives a boring life, the only excitement coming from the adventures of Mickey Eye on TV. The thing I really like about the first issue is the sense of malaise you get. Seaguy may be living in a crazy world, but he has the same malaise that a lot of people in our world feel. Modern life is devoid of adventure and excitement, and that launches in him a desire to do something exciting.

This leads him to Mickey Eye theme park, a place clearly modeled on Disney World, right down to the giant Mickey Eye ball in the center of the park. While at the park he runs into Doc Hero, an old superhero who can only find thrills by going on an amusement park ride.

A crucial thing to understanding Seaguy is to get that even though this seems to be a fantasy world, the book is really a brutal satire of modern life. It's essentially about the modern malaise that people feel in a world where thrills come from television or amusement parks, rather than from actual adventures. Morrison presents the Mickey Eye show as something that will brainwash you, something similar to reality TV, just pointless viewing that you watch because you've got nothing else to do. There is this weight of generations past, who had adventures and did important things, while in our own world, the only thrills are artificial, created in carefully controlled theme parks. But the thing that's missing from amusement parks is any real sense of danger or change. It's just going around in loops.

So, adventure presents itself in the form of Xoo, a highly commodified substance that is the building block for the world's first artificial living foodstuff. This brings Seaguy to a ship where Xoo is produced, and here the Xoo reacts against the people who are creating it, and destroys the ship. The image of Seaguy with Xoo on his spoon is devestating, and I really love the sequence in which Xoo destroys the ship. The attempt to control this living foodstuff inadvertantly leads to the corporation's destruction. Basically, the commodified object rebels against the world that created it.

While being interrogated by the Xoo gang, one of the suits voices what will become the essential question of the series: "Xoo is multi-purpose. Xoo is low cost. Xoo makes people happy. And what's so wrong with happy?" In this case, the point is that the world that Seaguy lives in, the 'happiness' he had, is just artificial surface happiness, it's not real fulfillment.

Almost all of Morrison's protagonists are dissatisfied with their status quo, and want something more, a drive that leads to investigations that bring them into contact with different layers of reality. Jack, Buddy in Animal Man, Greg in The Filth, Flex Mentallo, they all seek a better, more exciting world. And in Seaguy's case, that better world means coming into conflict with a corporation that wants to spoonfeed happiness to people.

The first two issues of the book were good, but I didn't really get the sense that this was any more than a twisty revisionist superhero story. It was all pretty simple until the last issue where stuff goes crazy. The issue opens with the harrowing image of Cubby's cartoony head on a body that is now only a skeleton, and then Seaguy winds up on the moon.

The end of this issue raises a lot of questions, both about what exactly happened and about consumerism and society. At the end, Seaguy is basically reprogrammed, his need for adventure removed, and he is placed back into normal society. When I finished it, I was wondering what work it really reminded me of, and it just clicked that the ending has a lot of similarities with my own movie, Tabula Rasa. It's basically the same idea, someone decides to rebel against the system, they're chased down, reprogrammed and things loop around at the end. Though, Morrison's work is much better than my own, it's still cool that we're working on really similar ideas. Tabula Rasa was heavily Morrison inspired.

Anyway, the pages where we see Doc Hero being tortured and then Seaguy getting reprogrammed were amazing. The one page with Seaguy in the room with a bunch of TVs with Mickey Eye on is so Morrison, pure genius. That page alone makes the series worth reading. So, basically, the ruling power in this society, Mickey Eye is rounding up heroes, and replacing the drive for adventure with an artificial happiness. And then these people leave the rebooting camp going around in sort of a daze. Is this the first time Seaguy has been rebooted? I would lean to yes, but I'm not positive.

I think the thing that Seaguy gets so right is the way people feel this lack of purpose in the modern world. We can distract ourselves all we want, but there seems to be the need for an adventure, or just excitement outside the daily routine, it's what Seaguy feels. Seaguy longs for an age where adventure was the norm, and when he finally does have his adventure, he winds up on the moon, which is actually a 5,000 year old Egyptian tomb. There's a deliberate tie in to an age that seemed more interesting and vibrant. The pharoah is looking for heroes, but only one has turned up and that's Seaguy. And ultimately, the whole call for heroes turns out to be a trap. The pharaoh is being maniupated by the Mickey Eye group, and they lure Seaguy to a place where they can capture him and reprogram him.

So, this corporation wants to prevent real adventurers from returning because that would take away their control of global entertainment. They couldn't brainwash people anymore if there were real adventures to experience. Morrison is someone who's decidedly not reactionary, so I don't think the point of all this is to say that we should go back to a more exciting time in the past. I think it's more that we should seek out adventure in the modern world. Seaguy wants to change his life, he wants adventure and he finds it. That ties in with Morrison's ideas on chaos magick, that if you want something enough, you'll get it. So, Seaguy is the only one to recognize and interrogate his unhappiness and this allows him to change his life, and for a brief moment, find a sense of purpose and excitement in life. So, Morrison is imploring the reader to find their own adventure in the world, even if it seems like you're locked into a boring routine.

The end of the work is difficult to judge. I would say that even though it seems like Seaguy is back living this boring life, things have changed a bit. The crucial thing is that this time he chooses to be black when playing chess with death, implying that he is really going to be playing the game, instead of seeking the artificial comfort of cheating to know he can win. Basically, rather than accepting the boring routine of life, and not taking risk, he's taking a huge risk with this chess game, he is finding the adventure in the everyday, and he has not forgotten the lessons of what happened to him earlier.

So, I thought this was a great book. It's one that you're not really sure where it's going, but in the end everything comes together. I've got to give props to Cameron Stewart's art, which is just gorgeous, and perfectly captures the odd cartoony vibe of the world. It's really artificial, yet also emotionally real. And also the fact that GM is able to make the story work on so many layers. It's at once a fantastical superhero tale, and a brutal critique of modern society. There's so much casual surrealism, particularly in the moon scene, crazy images presented without explanation that you accept because it's in tone with the world. This is a work that plunges you into a crazy world with no easy guide, it lets you figure things out on your own, and that's part of what makes the end so rewarding. It's not Morrison's best, but it's another great addition to one of the greatest canons of a storyteller in any medium.


Patrick said...

Thanks man.

Anonymous said...

I just finised the book and needed to have someone who could gave me his impressions (too weird for me !) : I really appreciated your analysis - it makes things clearer. Thanks ! said...

Oh my god, there's so much useful material in this post!

Anonymous said...

also i noticed a small but interesting detail in the book. On the splash page featuring
the heroes fighting anti-dad, you see that one of the heroes is a snail-man with a
green shell. Later, in micky eyes interrogation chambers you see there's a giant green snail shell. i took this to be the heroic snail man from earlier in a shell shocked state due to micky eyes intense interrogation.

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