Home is run. No. More.
One definition of genius is somebody who pursues a singular artistic or scientific vision that is recognisably and uniquely their own, a vision that remains broadly the same throughout their creative lifetime and around which all their work is wrapped. Their work continually plays and replays variations on that vision, the themes it unlocks, always finding new ways to unfold them in different patterns.
Okay, I admit it, that’s a very personal definition of genius. But it works for me.
By my lights, Grant Morrison is a genius. Unfortunately he’s also writes comics, which means that his work doesn’t reach the large audience it merits. From his earliest work on Zoids through Animal Man and Doom Patrol (which were like a crash course in postmodernism to my young mind) to the philosophical gangbang of The Invisibles all the way through to the fever dream that was Seven Soldiers. Morrison has chased that vision. If you want to know what that vision is, then you’ll just have to read the books.
So where does We3 fit into this scheme? It was one of three series that Morrison wrote at around the same time – the other two being the radio rental SeaGuy and the not-quite-as-insane Vimanarama – presumably as a way of excising some of the toxic byproducts generated by working on mainstream comics. Pop comics, each series three issues long, packed with hook moments and throwaway ideas woven together with some fantastic art – and none more so than We3, where the man Frank Quitely handles the picturing. And if you know Frank Quitely, expect some serious handling.
The short version: We3 is Plague Dogs with heavy weapons. Yet while the action sequences are some of the most visually stunning work I’ve ever seen, the scene that made the most impact on me manages to sum up the entire series in a single line. After unsuccessfully trying to save a man – and despite having earlier killed several – Weapon 1 (the friendly dog) takes the initiative to bring all 3 of the weapons to safety.
“Home is run. No. More.” makes me well up inside. That’s right, you insensitive jerks, even a mountain man such as myself can cry at a comic. For anybody who’s ever been in trouble of the deep and enduring kind, this is the definition of home – the place where you can stop running, the sanctuary that will sustain you. At the same time, that home doesn’t really exist – and that trouble that you found? It’ll always find you, even if it has to follow you home.
So we watch the weapons trying to find a place where they can stop running, even though we know they’ll never find it. The tragedy is that while they’re smart, they’re not smart enough to realise that; the twist of the knife is that we recognise ourselves in them. The tragedy at the heart of We3 is not something amenable to persuasion.
In fact I am wrong, as I frequently am. It turns out that We3 (or at least two of them) will find a place where they will run no more. The last issue of the 3-part series scales up the action with a battle sequence with the monstrous Weapon 4, but bottles out right at the end. Morrison is strong on closure – think of The Filth, with it’s last line of “We have love” – but he isn’t usually afraid to make that closure painful for the reader. We3 gives us a Hollywood ending – perhaps designed for the inevitable bidding war over movie rights – but as a result my disappointment was palpable.
I’ve got no fundamental objection to Hollywood endings, but if you’re going to flirt with tragedy, eventually you have to consumate the relationship. Otherwise you’re selling everybody short: readers, characters, yourself. We all need to know that the flaws in our personalities hold, that we don’t live happily ever after, that the battle is more important than the victory (because the outcome of the battle is a foregone conclusion).
So We3 makes me cry twice – once for the truth of Run No More, and once for the lie that the ending tells us, a lie that lessens the truth.
October 12, 2008