About the Author:
A British comic book creator, Grant Morrison began working in the industry in 1978.
AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
3.6 out of 5
Doom Patrol: Crawling From The Wreckage
(Art by Richard Case, Doug Braithwaite, Scott Hanna, Carlos Garzon and John Nyberg)
Book one of Morrison's relaunch of the Doom Patrol. The survivors of the Doom Patrol are all scattered and tormented by the break-up of the team, but as reality begins to fracture around them they are pulled together, along with new members, to reform the team and save the Earth.
Before reading this book I was a total novice when it comes to Doom Patrol. I had a vague sense of who they were and I've seen clips of the TV series, but I'd never read any of their stories. So I can say unequivocally that this is the perfect jumping-on point for anyone in the same boat (even though this book actually collects issues 19 through 25). Although there is some allusion to what has come before, this tells a totally new tale and give us more than enough to get to know the key players without any foreknowledge.
I've always liked reading superhero stories about underdog or oddball teams and the Doom Patrol certainly qualify. Each of the team members suffers from a disability, either physical or mental, and part of their struggles here are in coping with those disabilities, be it Robotman's despair over his lost humanity or Crazy Jane's multiple superpowered personalities. They're weird and wonderful characters, but their personal struggles make them entirely human and sympathetic.
I also very much enjoyed the type of antagonists the Doom Patrol have to confront, with their stock-in-trade being the weird, the existential and the metaphysical. The baddies here aren't supervillains or aliens but are instead ripped straight out of a tormented dream, actually putting me very much in mind of Neil Gaiman's Sandman books. The pinnacle of this nightmare-as-antagonist on offer here is Red Jack, a twisted being that thinks itself God and lives off of the suffering of countless tortured butterflies. All in all, it's just brilliantly surreal.
5 out of 5
Doom Patrol: Down Paradise Way
(Art by Richard Case, John Nyberg, Kelley Jones, Mack McKenna and Kim Demulder)
The third book of Morrison's relaunched Doom Patrol. Here the World's Strangest Heroes are called upon to defend a sentient street from the forces of normalcy before become embroiled in an ancient alien war between the denizens of the Kaleidoscape and the people of the Insect Mesh.
As that brief summary will probably attest, the weirdness of the series continues unabated here as Morrison continues to indulge his weird, dreamlike fantasies and, if you've got this far in the series, that's what makes Doom Patrol brilliant. For me the best idea on offer here is Danny the Street, a benevolent sentient boulevard who materialises in different cities around the world and whose very nature (along with his transvestite tendencies) makes him anathema to the self-proclaimed forces of normalcy and their Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E. It's bonkers, but it's a kind of bonkers that is, if you'll pardon the pun, right up my street.
The second half of the book is, admittedly, less engaging but it's still great to see the bizarre members of the Doom Patrol trying to get to grips with both sides in an war even more strange than they are themselves.
4 out of 5
Doom Patrol: The Painting That Ate Paris
(Art by Richard Case and John Nyberg)
Book two. Here the Doom Patrol have to save Paris from the villainous Brotherhood of Dada, travel into Crazy Jane's fractured psyche and prevent the destruction of the universe at the hands of the Uncreator.
This book begins very strongly with the machinations of the wonderfully bizarre Brotherhood of Dada. Their leader, the abstract representation of a man called Mister Nobody, is so gleefully absurd in his behaviour, his methods and his goals, that you can't help but find him endearing. I also liked that when Paris (yes, literally the city) becomes trapped in the titular painting, the heroes of the Justice League just stand around scratching their heads whilst the Doom Patrol dive in to save the day. The second act of the book, where Cliff ventures into Crazy Jane's mind to save her is also brilliant, literally showing us the inner turmoil that spawned her sixty-four separate personalities.
It is when the story moves onto the Cult of the Unwritten Book and the threat of the Uncreator that it slips a little in quality. The problem is that Morrison throws too many bizarre and horrific concepts at us in too short a space of time, so that none of them get enough exposure to really develop as a threat in the same way the Scissormen and Red Jack did in the first book. It's a shame because it feels like some of these ideas, given enough space, could've been really brilliant, but they're fired at us so quickly that none of them have much impact.
The book does pick itself up at the end again, however, with the absurdly comic struggle for control of Cliff's now-sentient robot body. This comic climax sees two disembodied brains in jars being rolled into one another, causing one to cry "Hated enemy! At last we are face-to-face in open combat!"
4 out of 5
JLA: American Dreams
(Art by Howard Porter, Oscar Jimenez, John Dell, Chip Wallace, Ken Branch and Anibal Rodriguez)
Here the Justice League of America, finding themselves short-handed, begin seeking new recruits. Meanwhile they have to face infiltration, the legions of Heaven and an old enemy; the Key.
There are actually three separate by contiguous stories here, with the first being the length of a single comic issue and the other two being two issues in length. This means that none of the three gets much room to develop and they all feel pretty shallow and rushed. The first is a call-back to comic stories of old, with a one-off android hero finding their humanity before being destroyed. It works as an homage to the classic style of story, but feels weirdly out of place in the continuity it's set in. The second story is just pure bizarre as the JLA find themselves fighting literal angels. The implications of this (i.e. God is real, the Bible is all true etcetera) are never explored and everyone just shrugs this all off as one of those things. The final story is the best overall, with the JLA incapacitated in a computer-generated dreamworld which sees them having very personal hallucinations such as Kal-El becoming Krypton's Green Lantern and Batman being old an acting in the Alfred role as Tim Drake goes into action as Batman with Bruce's son (with Catwoman) as Robin. There's some interesting stuff in the dreams and Batman's in particular put me in mind of an updated 'The Dark Knight Returns' (by Frank Miller) universe.
Unfortunately the dream sequences are too short to redeem this otherwise bizarre collection of mismatched storylines. And that's before you get into the fact that this was the era when Superman was blue and made of lightning (the 90s... what can I say?). Credit is due, however, to the cool introduction of the young new Green Arrow to the team.
2 out of 5
JLA/WildC.A.T.S: Crime Machine
(Art by Val Semeiks, Kevin Conrad and Ray Kryssing)
A crossover between the titular super-teams from DC Comics and Image Comics (and yes, I know the WildC.A.T.S were later folded into the DC universe, but they weren't in 1997). The Justice League confront the time-travelling supervillain Epoch but are unable to prevent him from doing untold damage to the timeline. Attempting to return to their own time, they accidentally find themselves in an alternate universe where they have to form an alliance with some of that world's superheroes to save both of their timelines.
Now, I had never read a WildC.A.T.S story before this and the 90s were notorious for dodgy ill-thought-out crossovers, so I wasn't expecting a great deal from this book. Perhaps those low expectations are why I actually found myself quite enjoying it in the end. Or perhaps it's because Morrison strikes the balance between the crossing-over characters perfectly, with their interactions feeling organic and not just like fan-service. In fact my favourite moment of the book is the (inevitable) initial fight between the titular heroes where Grifter, seeing the Batman in action, decides to quietly sit the fight out until the two teams reconcile.
Epoch is a better villain than he initially seems too. He starts off as a run-of-the-mill one-off villain spouting megalomaniacal rubbish but across the book begins to evolve into an ever more powerful and, frankly, weirder foe. By the end he's so weird that I could easily imagine him being pulled from the pages of 'Doom Patrol' rather than those of the JLA.
Basically, a far better crossover story than it has any right to be.
4 out of 5
New X-Men By Grant Morrison Book 8
(Art by Marc Silvestri, Batt, Joe Weems, Billy Tan, Eric Basaldua and Tim Townsend)
150 years in the future, the timeline has gone horribly awry. Humanity is on the brink of extinction and mutantkind is not far behind them. This apocalyptic world is ruled by the Beast Almighty, who uses stolen genetic power to create cloned armies of mutant killers. The only power capable of stopping the Beast and putting time back on the right track is the reborn Phoenix, but she has fallen under the Beast's sway.
First off I'll try to figure out the numbering of this book. The different way it's titled shows that this is part of a different run of trade paperbacks of Morrison's New X-Men run than those I've previously read ('New Worlds' and 'Riot At Xavier's'). As near as I can tell, this Book 8 coincides with Vol. 7 of those other reprints (both seem to present issues 151-154, the substory entitled 'Here Comes Tomorrow'). So, hopefully that clarifies where this book stands in relation to the other ones reviewed here.
This is the last story of Morrison's run on the series and, frankly, it's pretty weird. Clearly trying to recapture the popularity of 'Days of Future Past', we're presented with a post-apocalyptic future and then have to work backwards to figure out where it went wrong in the present day. It's handled fairly clumsily, to be honest, but there were definitely elements of the future we see that were really intriguing. The partnership between Tom Skylark and the antique Sentinel Rover was my favourite element, but I also really enjoyed the way the new generation of X-Men react to the old-school veteran that is Logan. The evil future version of the Beast, actually being controlled by the sentient bacteria Sublime, makes for a great antagonist and his army of clone Nightcrawlers is a great idea, particularly in the way he keeps playing with their genome to add powers from other X-Men, such as Angel's wings or Cyclops' optic blasts.
Ultimately, however, this story is just too disassociated with the X-Men I know and love to actually be great. It may be because I've only read small bits of Morrison's New X-Men, rather than having the whole story up to this point, but this story just fell pretty flat for me. It's certainly not helped by the anticlimax of exactly what decision point in the present day caused this terrible future to happen. The moment in question never really feels justified as a significant tipping point in the timeline.
3 out of 5
New X-Men: Ultimate Collection Vol.1
(Art by Frank Quitely, Igor Kordey, Ethan Van Sciver, Leinil Francis Yu, Tom Derenick, Prentis Rollins, Tim Townsend, Danny Miki, Rich Perotta, Scott Hanna, Sandu Florea, Mark Morales, Dan Green and Gerry Alanguilan)
The X-Men face one of their most dire threats when an apparently all-powerful and entirely malevolent woman name Cassandra Nova unleashes a new type of Sentinel. Reeling in the face of an unparalleled mutant genocide, Cassandra then sets her sights on her true target: Professor Xavier and his dream.
This book collects the very beginning of Morrison's reinvention of the X-Men, dramatically changing the style and tone of the series whilst also dramatically altering the characters themselves and the world they live in. It's a little bit unsubtle in how it does some of these things, particularly the Genoshan genocide, and the real-world influences sometimes overshadow the in-universe logic. However, this was originally written in the wake of the success of the first X-Men movie and that film showed that shaking up and modernising elements of the X-Men mythos could really work.
There are a couple of stand-out characters in this book whose presence I particularly enjoyed. The first is Cassandra Nova herself, whose origins could sound cheesy and contrived if it weren't for just how malicious a character she is. This is a powerful antagonist who genuinely feels dangerous not only to the X-Men, but to the whole universe and the fact that she's undertaking all these horrors out of pure spite makes her even more compelling a villain. The other stand-out for me was Emma Frost. Here we see her officially join the X-Men but despite doing so she lets go of none of her natural nastiness or vanity, making her feel more complex than some of the more traditional mutant heroes. It's a bit of a shame that she spends the majority of her time half-naked, which feels like pandering to the traditional teenage male audience, but at least it can be said that she owns her sexuality and it's not out of character for her to want men drooling over her.
The problem with this book, and why I've not scored it higher, is that Morrison tries to cram in too many subplots and sideplots, making the whole feel messy and disjointed. It would've been enough to focus on Cassandra and her plans, but we're also given a mysterious Chinese mutant called Xorn, the dynamics of the new class of mutant students, the Beast struggling to cope with his new mutation, the U-Men trading in mutant organs, Scott and Jean's marriage problems, the establishment of a global network of X-Institutes and the collapse of the Shi'ar Empire. It's just too much for one book.
3 out of 5
New X-Men: Ultimate Collection Vol.2
(Art by John Paul Leon, Igor Kordey, Phil Jimenez, Ethan Van Sciver, Keron Grant, Frank Quitely, Bill Sienkiewicz, Andy Lanning, Norm Rapmund, Tim Townsend and Avalon Studios)
As Charles Xavier's mutant outreach programmes run into challenges across the globe, a group of students at the Xavier Institute decide to stage a misguided revolution. When Emma Frost is then murdered at the institute Bishop is called in to investigate and unravel who is responsible.
The first two thirds of this book collect shorter graphic novels that I've previously read, 'New Worlds' and 'Riot at Xavier's' (both individually reviewed below), but I found that re-reading them collected together and immediately after having read the Ultimate Collection Vol.1 actually gave them a context and cohesion that felt lacking the first time around. Added to that is a third act in which the Jean Grey telepathically assaults Emma Frost for her apparent affair with Scott and Emma is found shot and shattered into countless diamond pieces shortly thereafter.
The book deals with three main themes. The first is the idea that since Professor X was outed as a mutant by Cassandra Nova, mutants have become more mainstream in the world around them, with some humans admiring them even as other continue to hate and fear them. The second theme is the love triangle between Scott, Jean and Emma, which whilst the least interesting part of the book, does have some real impact when Jean breaks into Emma's mind and finds the latter and Scott telepathically in flagrante. It's made worse by the fact that Emma is wearing Jean's old Phoenix costume at the time. The third and most important theme examines what happens when students begin to doubt the wisdom of their teachers. It shows our familiar X-Men heroes as the outdated has-beens to a new generation of mutants growing up in a very different world.
Overall this book is definitely better than the sum of its parts.
4 out of 5
New X-Men Vol.3: New Worlds
(Art by Igor Kordey, Ethan Van Sciver, John Paul Leon, Phil Jimenez, Bill Sienkiewicz, Andy Lanning and Norm Rapmund)
Charles Xavier's worldwide X-Corporation and the mutant heroes who populate it face numerous trials around the globe including the products of the Weapon Plus progamme, ghosts in the wasteland of Genosha and an enraged Shi'ar Empress.
Now I've not read books one and two of this series, so I found myself a little adrift with this book. Because there are numerous, largely unrelated stories going on throughout the book, you never get a sense of a cohesive story which perhaps you otherwise might if you've read the rest of the series. Personally, however, I like my graphic novels to be able to stand on their own merits and not require me to buy other graphic novels in order to understand them.
I'm not saying what's here is bad, in fact the stories focusing on the mysterious new mutant Fantomex (a bit like a saner French Deadpool) and on the aftermath of the Genosha genocide were quite compelling. Overall though, for me, this book wasn't much cop.
2 out of 5
New X-Men Vol.4: Riot At Xavier's
(Art by Frank Quitely, Keron Grant, Avalon Studios, Tim Townsend and Norm Rapmund)
The young mutants at the Xavier Institute struggle with their growing powers and with the prejudices of the world arounds them, whilst simultaneously chafing against the restrictions placed on them by their teachers. One group of students, led by Quentin Quire, begin to take violent action in order to overturn the status quo established by Professor Xavier.
This was a far more engaging book than the last one in the series, telling a cohesive narrative about the rise and fall of a rebellion within the ranks of Xavier's students. I also enjoyed the way that the rebellion by Quire and his peers is juxtaposed with the development of the so-called 'remedial' class, who grow beyond their original natures with help from Mister Xorn.
I particularly liked seeing the more familiar X-Men such as Wolverine, Beast and Cyclops try to reason with Quire's revolutionaries from a position of experience where once they themselves might have shared the revolutionaries' righteous anger.
4 out of 5
(Art by Frank Quitely)
A secret government weapons project has been using lost pets as test subjects to turn them into cybernetic killing machines. The first three, a dog, a cat and a rabbit, are scheduled to be destroyed but instead escape to seek their freedom. Pursued by government troops and the deadly fourth test subject, they have to work together to survive.
The three cyborg animals that make up WE3 can all talk, but where Morrison shows his masterstroke is by having their mode of speech and their thought processes be unique to each animal. 1, the dog, is loyal, protective and driven by the desire to be a 'GUD DOG'; 2, the cat, is antisocial and scornful and 3, the rabbit, is full of energy and thinks of little but food. Although this is a relatively short graphic novel, I defy anyone not to have become emotionally engaged with these characters by the end. It's sort of like 'Homeward Bound' but with killer cyborgs.
The bond between the three main characters is almost instantly engaging and carries the book through to its bittersweet conclusion.
4 out of 5