Grant Morrison's Opus Interruptus

How many masterpieces does one man get? By my count, Grant Morrison has had three already: Animal Man, Doom Patrol, and The Invisibles. His next one, Seaguy, is only three issues in, but already boasts a plot so Byzantine and world so rich that you suspect Morrison’s been grinding copies of Gravity’s Rainbow in with his coffee. Unfortunately, DC Comics’ Vertigo line has not given the man the go-ahead to continue his new magnum opus for reasons that are, at best, unclear. There’s an online petition here designed to convince DC Comics to let the man finish what he’s started, but online petitions have, thus far, mostly proven unworthy of the paper they’re not printed on. Consider the non-rescue of beloved cult tv shows Firefly and Wonderfalls. Anyway, Morrison’s one of the most interesting talents working in comics today, one of the few working to take comics to the next level Leonard Pierce discussed in these (virtual) pages, and it’s a shame that work as rich as Seaguy hasn’t been embraced by the industry.

Discerning comic book geeks know that Grant Morrison soars in confinement. Slap the loosest restrictions of genre superhero books on him, as with Animal Man, The New X Men, or Doom Patrol, and the man delivers genre-smashing, philosophical writing with bone-real characters and enough advanced plotting to shame Charles Dickens. By the time you reach his twists (which, in a real twist, are not merely surprising, but actually shocking), you find yourself furiously flipping back to the beginning of the book to if he really laid the groundwork. He did. You missed it.

But Morrison knows why the caged bird sings, too. When he’s working under his own rules, he has a far more novelistic and challenging approach. His stories are a convoluted, sometimes nonlinear, twisted morass of brilliant ideas. Take his greatest achievement to date, the Illuminatus!-and-X-Files-inspired, long-running-yet-finite series The Invisibles. Morrison imposed certain rules on the series to make it feel somewhat like a superhero comic, and then broke them with the same deliberate deconstructive instinct with which he broke his major title superhero books to make his overarching point about the limited nature of comics and fiction and the uncertain nature of reality. The best moment in the whole series, and perhaps the best moment in any comic series, comes towards the end, after he’s spent the best part of the series inviting the reader to sympathize with his icon King Mob. In several previous action sequences, King Mob dons a horrible fright mask and storms secret fascistic government facilities, shooting government soldiers with barbaric glee. His compatriots and ex-girlfriend have already called him out on his penchant for cold-blooded murder. King Mob more or less shrugs it off with a lame touchy-feely excuse (and Morrison invites the reader to do the same), but suddenly here it is — an entire issue looking back on the life of a scared, dying man who has been shot by King Mob: his abusive brother, his cerebal-palsied daughter, his promises to his wife that he will try to stop hitting her and learn to live his life well. The fear and sympathy that Morrison cooks up with that issue is the real deal, and it smacks the reader into looking at the story in a completely different way. It is, quite simply, satori.

Seaguy (drawn in an appropriately cheery and visually appealing style by Cameron Stewart) questions the idea of heroism. This is somewhat familiar territory for Morrison, and indeed for the whole slough of Great British Comics Writers, and Morrison has answered the question differently in the past. In Doom Patrol, heroism was nobility in the face of insanity and loss. In Flex Mentallo, which is highly deserving of reprint, lawsuits be damned, heroism is a profound re-creation of the universe. In Animal Man, heroism is questioning why one can be thrown about by an arbitrary god. In Seaguy, Morrison has raised the stakes by approaching heroism without some Grand Guignol bugaboo evil (in fact, this evil has been destroyed prior to the events of the story), but in the face of subtle corporate fascism masked as entertainment. Seaguy’s world is crying out for a more subtle type of hero, but unfortunately, heroism is so subtle that no one can see it. Spoilers aplenty following.

Seaguy himself is a wetsuit-sporting Peter O’Toole-type longing to prove himself a hero in his highly corporate post-superhero world. Seaguy lives in the seaside villa of New Venice (which appears to be in California or Florida), and the story opens with him playing a gondolier Death (complete with combover) at a chesslike game. Seaguy wins by taking advantage of Death’s colorblindness, as he is unable to tell black from white (naturally, ahem). Morrison’s point is that this guy was born to cheat Death.

Seaguy has a sidekick, Chubby Da Choona, an anthropomorphic hovering fish with a sailor’s hat. As with so much of Seaguy, Chubby is drawn to be cute, adding an extra dimension of weirdness in the story. We learn later that Seaguy found Chubby at some point in the past, and they’ve never been apart since. Maybe Chubby is the manifestation of Seaguy’s soul. Their bond is essential to the story. In a May 2004 interview, Morrison states that Chubby is the questing beast of Medieval Grail romances, and that Seaguy is Sir Percival.

Although full of oddly dressed people, Seaguy’s world has no heroes; they became unnecessary some years before with the defeat of Anti-Dad, a world-spanning evil. Seaguy reflects on Anti-Dad’s defeat while gazing at a statue of Teknostrich, a mechanical bird who was someone instrumental in Anti-Dad’s defeat. Cut to a splash panel showing hundreds of little heroes fighting the gigantic Anti-Dad (and each other) high above Australia, looking like nothing so much as Gulliver at the hands of the Lilliputians. A careful inspection finds a tiny Teknostrich picking at Anti-Dad’s volcanic fingers — nothing overly notable, given the activity in the panel. Anti-Dad is an interesting way to describe the essence of all evil, too, and Morrison is surely drawing on William Blake’s Nobodaddy.

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The present-day corporate master of the world is Mickey Eye, a surreal, fascistic Disney satire. Chubby and Seaguy rush home to watch Mickey Eye on the television, as they always do, and go to Mickey Eye’s theme park the next day, as they always do. The TV show makes both feel depressed about themselves (Chubby: “I’m a weird-looking thing that shouldn’t even exist.”). What we see of the show has Mickey Eye, an eyeball with legs and a right arm (but no left), smashing birds eggs and killing the mother bird while saying, “Am dek eyeeee. Gidt! [Your guess is as good as mine here about what this means] Equals ambiguity!” Mickey Eye is pretty clearly what evil has become: a corporation operating in the open as entertainment. Our first view of Mickey Eye Park shows crying children and frightened adults wandering through such exhibits as the boiling gumpit (a Mickey Eye worker is tossing shovelfuls of boiling gum at a terrified child), the Future Swamp, which is littered with destroyed buildings and fallen airplanes, and a giant geodesic Epcot Center colored to resemble a blankly staring eye. The font that Mickey Eye uses, both for his words when he speaks on the TV show and on the park exhibit signs, is made up of missiles and telephones. As Seaguy buys improbably named food for them (Seaguy: “What flavor is ’bowler hat’?” Concessionist: “Harsh and ashamed. How should I know?”), Chubby notices Mickey Eye minions shoving crying people into sacks through a grate in the street. Chubby tries to bring this to Seaguy’s attention, but is diverted by a piece of falling rock from the moon.

Moon rocks have been falling since the fifth page, when Seaguy’s mentor, Old Seadog (unnamed until later) shows Seaguy and Chubby a moon rock covered in Egyptian (well, Boustrophedon, to be exact) hieroglyphics. Their discussion is, however, interrupted by the appearance of She-Beard, a hirsute woman who practices her swordplay while lamenting the lack of real men. She-Beard is the reason Seaguy wants to prove his heroism: he’s horny, not trying to better the world. When the rocks fall in the park, Seaguy notices that one of the rocks has an American flag in it.

Enter Doc Hero, a remnant superhero wearing Agamemnon’s helmet and golf attire. Doc Hero is riding a Mickey Eye tilt-a-whirl (true to the nature of the park, all the other riders are shown in tears or puking). He soon explains that it’s the only thrill he can get since he lost the power of flight, and that he’s never missed a ride since. Seaguy shows Doc Hero the moon rock with the American flag, and, using his powers, Doc Hero carbon-dates it to four or five thousand years old. Doc Hero mentions that the flag is Buzz Aldrin’s flag from the first lunar mission, and makes a reference to using it as a weapon against giant moon-scarabs made of intelligent pewter. Seaguy tries to interest Doc Hero in joining a superhero team, but Doc Hero runs back to his ride. Chubby tries to bring something else to Seaguy’s attention involving the ferris wheel, but it is unclear what has shocked him.

This is where Xoo comes into play. Xoo is a new foodstuff that is suddenly everywhere in Seaguy’s world. Seaguy drinks Xoo Cola (and shows how deeply controlled he is by corporate slogans when he makes a face and says, “Weird taste, but mmmmm … Good.”), and buys as much Xoo as he and Chubby can eat. However, in the park, his mouthful of Xoo Cola refuses to go down. He spits up a shapechanging pink thing that pleads that he “help Xoo.” Hordes of Mickey Eye minions and police helicopters with Mickey Eye insignia appear out of nowhere. Seaguy’s heroic instincts kick in and he and Chubby follow Xoo to their boat. As they race off, blazing rocks from the moon destroy the helicopters and police boats following them. Seaguy instantly knows that the moon is crying for help, and that this is his chance to be a hero. On to the second issue.

This one opens on Easter Island. The giant stone heads are smoking huge cigarettes as Mickey Eye police copters land (Mickey Eye apparently employs the sole police and military forces in Seaguy’s world). Eye-helmeted police confront Seaguy, who is “disguised” as an octopus farmer wearing a baseball mitt on his head, a Texas flag, and huge distorted lenses over his eyes. When Seaguy pretends to attempt mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on an octopus (played by Xoo), the Eye Police run off, afraid that his insanity may be catching. Chubby, pretending to be a fish, reveals that he hates water. Three one-page adventures follow: Seaguy, Chubby, and Xoo head to Cape Horn, then steal chocolate from the ice caps (which have been covered in chocolate to prevent them from melting) while being chased by a brown polar bear, then listen to a whale sing — badly — during a terrible storm.

Xoo’s home turns out to be a huge floating industrial ship belching waste into the air and water. Seaguy is captured and Xoo is revealed to be the first artificial living foodstuff. The corporate suits try to feed Xoo to Seaguy after drugging him, but, because he is the hero, he suddenly is no longer drugged and escapes. Unfortunately he and Xoo (his friend) falls into a vat of Xoo (the foodstuff). His small sentient friend becomes a giant hostile sea serpent (which also turned up, strangely enough, in the first issue as a giant pink balloon destroying a cruise ship in a news flash during the Mickey Eye tv show), which kills the men aboard and destroys the industrial ship. Seaguy and Chubby flee by boat, only to run into a signpost directing them down to Atlantis.

Leaving Chubby with the boat on the surface, Seaguy swims to Atlantis, which is, as he says, “exactly as Old Seadog described Plato describing it in his Dialogues.” It surrounds a sunken mountain. Seaguy reads a pamphlet telling him that heroes of old proved themselves by climbing the mountain, so Seaguy (who is still underwater, mind you) climbs the mountain. The peak is sticking out of the water, and Chubby has brought the ship, now covered with melted chocolate, over to the island. Chubby cheerfully bumps a wasps’ nest and is immediately covered with tiny mechanical wasps.

Later, the ship can’t move because of melted chocolate in the sea (cleverly commenting on how quick fixes are often worse than the problem themselves). Seaguy picks 800 wasps from Chubby while explaining that the mechanical wasps were build to turn pollen into oil that ran the city. Chubby is ill, covered in wasp stings. Mickey Eye copters fly overhead but refuse to rescue them. They run out of water, and Seaguy sings Chubby a song while fireballs fall from the moon. In the morning, gondolier Death is there, and Chubby is dead. On to issue three.

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Seaguy is still stuck in the chocolate. Chubby is a desiccated corpse. With no water for days, Seaguy is a raving lunatic. Buckets fall from the moon and yipping jackal-men capture Seaguy. The buckets are pulled up through space to an Egyptian palace on the moon. Cannons fire moon-rocks at the Earth while Seaguy’s bucket lands. With some water in him at last, Seaguy looks up at a nearby pyramid and says that “it looks like science lied about this place big time.” Naturally enough, the pyramid is occupied by a mummy, who demands that Seaguy read his story from a nearby wall. Luckily, Seadog has taught Seaguy to read Boustrophedon. The mummy turns out to be a hubristic Egyptian pharaoh who, five thousands years previously, spurned family and bankrupted his country to build a testament to himself — the moon. When he proves to be long-lived, his furious descendents attempt to explode his tomb (which has his face engraved on it), sending it into space (and creating the Nile Delta for good measure). The mummy breaks in (in Esperanto, which is revealed to be Seaguy’s native tongue), explaining that Doc Hero and Teknostrich taught him the language when they visited.

Seaguy asks about a particular hieroglyph, Zullibdig, represented by a giant scarab. The mummy explains that he sent down the moon-rocks to summon heroes to turn the moon. Australia was destroyed when Anti-Dad fell on it, and the mummy has been heartbroken by the loss of his favorite continent, so he wants to turn the moon. The mummy, Seaguy, a butterfly, and two jackals head out across the moon to fight Zullibdig, who is apparently a god. A giant scarab leaps on one of the jackals, but Seaguy wrestles it, getting bitten in the process.

The jackals run off from the group, pointing at Seaguy. The mummy tells Seaguy and the butterfly that the inner part of the moon is taboo. Seaguy asks the butterfly how it became a hero, and it explains that it flew from Earth to Moon on one deep breath. They arrive at the dark side of the moon, which is unfinished. The mummy is a bit embarrassed by this, explaining that he meant to get to it someday.

The butterfly tells Seaguy that the mummy has Alzheimer’s, and that Zullibdig is a construction site. Zullibdig is a giant scarab lying in a milky reservoir. There is a spaceship parked next to it, and men all over its back. Hordes of giant scarabs surround the reservoir. The men (or the spaceship) are singing about Mickey Eye. The butterfly tells Seaguy that they’re giving it a makeover and teaching it the song. Seaguy becomes agitated and leaps into the reservoir, which is filled with Mickey Eye scuba divers. As Seaguy comes out of the water (or whatever it is), the butterfly is making a deal with the mummy for the rights to develop a lunar Mickey Eye theme park. Seaguy screams, “You can’t do this! Zullibdig’s from mythology! It’s taboo!” The butterfly mentions Seaguy’s bite from the scarab and all they’ve done to make him happy. As we leave the scene, Seaguy is overrun with scarabs.

Next we see the butterfly huffing and puffing as it lands on the finger of a powerful suited man with an office somewhere in the geodesic Mickey Eye. They discuss Xoo briefly, which was somehow the suited man’s fault. The butterfly tells him (calling him “Lotharius”) that he looked away when he should have been watching Seaguy. As the suited man changes clothes, he mentions how the games with the gondolier (Death) will keep Seaguy out of trouble, commenting “The sooner romance and love and all that rot’s wiped out, the happier we’ll be round here.” This breaks the butterfly’s heart, who starts lamenting their lost love. The suited man is revealed to be Seadog, secretly Mickey Eye’s (and I-Pol’s) Chief of Security. Seadog tells the butterfly (who’s now named Vertzebelion) that when it kissed him beneath the moonlight in Madagascar with its three tongues, it was over.

Seaguy is being dragged down a hallway by Eye Police past a rocket-mounted shell that was worn by one of the heroes who fought Anti-Dad back in Issue 1. The Eye Police tell him he was bitten by a crazy thing. In another room, a group of Mickey Eyes circle Doc Hero telling him that only bugs and birds fly. He cries that his hat isn’t stupid, and they suggest that he take a few more turns on the Eye-Go-Round.

Seaguy is now bolted to a chair in a room filled with cheery Mickey Eye images. The monitors say “Am Dek Eyeee!” while Seaguy, in a daze, explains how much he misses Chubby. Men in containment suits, telling him that he’s only missed one episode of Mickey Eye’s tv show, push a nearly dead Xoo at Seaguy’s face. Xoo is running down his chin. Behind him a ghostly Chubby yells at Seaguy not to forget him. Seaguy, his eyes rolling back in his head, says Chubby’s catchphrase: “Da Fug?”

In the end, Seaguy wanders wordless through New Venice with a talking parrot on his shoulder, ignoring She-Beard, the Teknostrich statue, Seadog, and a talking horse who was killed in the first issue by moon rocks. He walks up to the gondolier Death, who is unsuccessfully trying to interest passers-by in a game of chess, and says that he’ll play. Death is visibly unnerved by Seaguy’s presence. Seaguy says he’ll play black and, in a close-up, winks while saying that Death will play white. They sit in opposite chairs from the first image of the first issue, playing opposite colors, and the moon above them is now colored as a blankly gazing Mickey Eye. End third issue.

There is much left to explain here. If Seadog is Mickey Eye’s chief of security, why did he teach Seaguy Boustrophedon? Why did he try to interest Seaguy in the moon rocks in the first place? Does Seaguy remember Chubby and what has happened to him? Is Mickey Eye a manifestation of Anti-Dad or is it, as conjectured here, a completely new kind of evil? Why does Mickey Eye only have one arm? How did Seaguy know that Zullibdig was sacred and that teaching it the Mickey Eye song was taboo? How does Seaguy fight a corporation holding the world in thrall (mirroring the living corporation from Morrison’s short series Marvel Boy)? Who runs Mickey Eye? What role does the butterfly play? As Seaguy and Death have traded positions at the end of the three issues, does this imply that Seaguy will become a killer? What happened to all the other heroes?

DC Comics needs to allow Morrison and Stewart to complete Seaguy. The series shows all evidence of being one of the smartest comics ever produced. There’s too much at stake to stop now.