Tuesday, 6 December 2016

En Attendant Morrison: The role of the author after the death of God: Orientation

At the climax of his run on Animal Man (1988 - 1990), Morrison imagines a confrontation between his protagonist and the creator. After building a meta-fictional narrative from issue five onward - in which an 'expy' of Wile E Coyote descends into the DC Universe and becomes a Christ-like figure, Morrison guides the characters to recognise their status as fictional. During a peyote trip, Animal Man and his ally are able to 'see' the readers, and postulate that their suffering is an entertainment for these other dimensional beings. After Animal Man's family are killed, his revenge attempts lead him to a limbo-like dimension, where unpopular comic book characters await their return to continuity, and finally to the meeting with Morrison.

Morrison's Animal Man is frequently considered part of the 'British Invasion', a period during which American mainstream comics employed British writers, following the success of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's Watchmen. Morrison was initially employed for a four issue mini-series: this was expanded into an ongoing series. Indeed, The Coyote Gospel (issue five), marks the shift in duration and tone, as Morrison introduced the artist as a character (represented by a paint brush that adds blood to the coyote's final scene).

The accepted description of this transition observes that the first four issues reveal the influence of Moore's style, but The Coyote Gospel deliberately moves towards something different. 

In this interview with Blair Butler, Morrison remembers his desire to 'reconstruct' comics, moving away from 'superheroes in the real world', specifically citing Watchmen as an example of the 'let's bring them into reality' school. 

Morrison's subsequent career in comics has followed this enthusiasm for the highly colourful and hyper-real tropes of the superhero. Unlike Alan Moore, or even fellow 'British Invasion' superstar Neil Gaiman, Morrison has repeatedly worked on familiar superheroes, becoming the writer of X-Men, Batman and Superman, frequently re-inventing them as heroic rather than 'realistic' or 'gritty'. While Morrison and Dave McKean's Arkham Asylum shares the brutality of many 1990s' 'adult comics', and The Invisibles reflects on Morrison's personal interests in the occult and critical theory, he has applied his meta-fictional style to the 'mainstream' comic book universes of DC and Marvel.

The final issue of Animal Man, then, sits at the end of Morrison's earliest successful run on a mainstream comic book. Although the choice of hero rescued a generic and marginalised character - Animal Man still does not have the same cachet as Batman or Superman - his adventures were firmly within the DC Universe. Before meeting his maker, Animal Man chats with Superman and Martian Manhunter, joins the Justice League of America (itself a signifier of his acceptance by mainstream continuity) and even receives his own 'rogues gallery'. The bold finale, in which the continuity of the DC Universe collides with 'reality' (depicted as a Glaswegian canal in dark colours) is remarkable not merely for 'breaking the fourth wall' but doing it within an established continuity.

As NerdSync points out, breaking the fourth wall is not unique to Morrison - his allusion to Deadpool is a reminder that one of the most popular characters in the Marvel Universe is based upon this ability. However, uses the fourth wall as a way to examine notions of fictionality and authorship, and challenges the status of the author as a divine creator.

The presence of the author is in sharp contrast to the manufactured absence of the author in En Attendant Godot. While one of the protagonists, Vladimir, expresses a meta-fictional understanding of the play ('I begin to weary of this motif,' he complains of one routine (Act 2, line 623)), and Pozzo asks whether he has entered 'the board', an allusion to the stage, Beckett does not allow his characters a sustained awareness of their fictionality (in Endgame, however, the repetition of performance is both a metaphor for the repetitious relationship of Ham and Clov and a running commentary on the nature of performance).

Yet despite Beckett's own denial ('if I had meant God, I would have said God' quoted in The Essential Samuel Beckett, 2003 p. 75), Godot's arrival provides a meta-narrative for the protagonists: their various antics become a way of filling in the time until his arrival. His absence becomes powerful because of the character's expectation, and considerable commentary exists that attempts to define Godot's identity, from Hobson's 1955 review in The Times of the first production in English, which suggests that a moment of respect at the mention of the divine implies a Christian theology lurks behind the surface absurdism.

Lucky's speech - which begins as philosophy before descending into stream of consciousness gibberish - does recognise a theological vision, but rapidly degenerates. References to the crucified thieves - and the Gospel writers' failure to give a consistent account of the Crucifixion - and Estragon's bootless appeal to God's salvation at least set up the notion of a creator, which is endlessly disappointed.

No comments :

Post a Comment