Monday, April 10, 2006

This Is Not A Contest

Lately, I've been asking my customers a question and the results have been incredibly interesting.

The question is a simple one. The answer not so much so. Here it is:

To who will comic book history be kinder, Alan Moore or Grant Morrison?

See? I told you this one was tough:

Let's look at the stats, shall we?

Nearly 20 years ago, Alan Moore wrote what many consider some of comics' greatest works: Swamp Thing, The Watchmen, Batman: The Killing Joke, Superman: Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow , Miracleman & V For Vendetta. All classics that will certainly stand the test of time but what happened after that?

A run on WildC.A.T.S. that while good wasn't quite the "Alan Moore" everyone was looking for. An arc on Todd McFarlane's Violator? Well... they can't all be classics. Rob Liefeld's Supreme? Good stuff but would you put it between your copies of Watchmen and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns?

Then, seemingly, out of nowhere Moore gives us his comics line, America's Best Comics. ABC produced, among others, the pulp fiction throwback Tom Strong, the ethereally cerebral Promethea, the cop drama of Top 10 and the wonderful League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Winners all and strong on beautiful prose but most people I've spoken to lament the lack of "grab-you-by-the-cerebellum" goodness of Moore's earlier works.

Moore also wrote Captain Britain which, in my opinion, was the closest thing Moore has ever come to writing "pure" superheroics. Captain Britain, while good reading, caused me to reconsider Moore's "superhero" work, leading me to this conclusion: Moore writes superhero comics that fit his sensibilities. Honestly, I don't really think Moore likes superheroes. To paraphrase Warren Ellis, "they wake up with wet spots on their pants." Nothing wrong with that but ask yourself, "Would Alan Moore participate in something like DC's upcoming "52?"

...and that leads me to Grant Morrison.

Morrison has, over a fifteen year period, written some of comics' better comics: Batman: Arkham Asylum, The Doom Patrol, Animal Man & the criminally out-of-print Kill Your Boyfriend.

People will probably remember his run on Animal Man simply for the story of "The Coyote Gospel." In Doom Patrol, he took a team concept many believed dead and made it jump up and dance. Kill Your Boyfriend captures post-Eighties angst as well as anything ever could.

What has he done since? Turned The Justice League into the powerhouse franchise it is today. His version of Batman as DC's Swiss Army Knife of Justice is, perhaps, the most significant version of Batman since Frank Miller's "Dark Knight." We3 proved he still has a place in the universe he helped create.

The Invisibles, 7 Soldiers & The Filth may have failed in some of the things it tried to accomplish but you have to admire the man for trying to push storytelling in new directions.

Morrison re-created a whole new set of fans for himself with his work on New X-Men and Marvel's "first" Ultimate title, Marvel Boy. I'll go on record as saying that I rejoined The X-Men with his run and ended it with his run.

Morrison may not have penned as many classic stories as Mr. Moore. I believe, though, if you consider Morrison's track record, what stands out is the wide scope of the things he's written. The same man who wrote JLA gave us The Brotherhood of Dada. The same man who wrote a new millenium X-Men wrote one of comics' most romantic tales, All-Star Superman #3.

Soon, we will see him redefining anew, The DC Universe versions of Batman and Superman. Soon, he will "team-up" with three of comics' finest writers to bring us one of comics' grandest experiments, 52.

So...there it is your "tale-of-the-tape." Two fine writers, both still making comics great. Because of this, we all win.

What do you think?

22 comments:

William said...

It really is a hard answer. I honestly believe that history will more fondly remember Morrison . My reasoning is that Morrison seems to like to get his hands dirty with legends, while Moore doesn't.

Morrison seems more willing and excited to use all of the DC toys at his disposal, and he finds new ways to make us think of these characters. But as you pointed out, Moore doesn't seem to actually like superheroes. Sure, his "final Superman" tale is classic, but other than that, he has preferred to stay on the fringe, with his toys. Also, let's keep in mind that, as great as "Whatever Happened...?" was, it's non-canon. Now, some people won't care about this, but I find it interesting that his greatest mark on the Superman Universe "never actually happened", while Morrison's contributions have always furthered organic growth in established franchises. Sure, Marvel's trying to retcon his X-Men run as much as they can, but no one can say that he didn't further that franchise. And he is almost the godfather of present-day DC, with Geoff Johns sitting at his right hand.

Before anyone calls me a "Moore Basher", I'll point out that Alan's great in his own way. Let me put it this way: Grant changes the way that we look at the legendary characters, such as Batman & Suuperman, while Alan changes the way we look at comics as a medium. Just after I saw "V", I wrote a post on my blog about how proud I was that the medium could inspire a movie with that kind of resonant message. So, I guess your original question's answer depends on who is doing the answering. If you're asking a "fanboy", Morrison wins. If you're asking the "champion of comics as art", then Moore wins. I'm sticking with Morrison.

Steven said...

To pick up a point William made, I think it's a question of medium and genre.

For his innovation with the comics MEDIUM, there's no question that Moore will be more fondly remembered. Not only can the entire Vertigo line be traced back to his Swamp Thing run, but between Watchmen and From Hell, Moore has done a lot to earn mainstream comic books literary merit. Perhaps only Neil Gaiman has done more for the major publishers.

But when it comes to the superhero GENRE, Morrison is clearly a better innovator. I don't think Moore hates superheroes. I think he loves them as much as any superhero writer must (yes, even Ennis). Moore writes very good superhero stories. But, with the obvious exception of Watchmen, his most innovative work has been on the fringes of or completely outside the genre of superheroes.

Morrison, on the other hand, has a way of really playing with superheroes that make you go, "Oh, wow, I've never thought of Superman that way." His gods of olympus JLA, his seven superheroes in seven genres Seven Soldiers, his completely wacky X-Men, all very original stuff that really changed, for the better, how other people write superheroes.

So yeah, for comics in general, Moore will be more loudly praised. But if we're just talking superheroes, then yeah, Morrison in a walk.

rambozus said...

What do I think? I think that in the eighties, Alan Moore took comics, a medium that had a massive stigma of only being for children, and put it through puberty. Watchmen is a testament to what comics can be.

Morrison has been able to write some of the most wacked out, psychotic and yet relevant comics I've read in my few years.

Alan Moore was a big fish in a little pond; as time has gone by, the pond has grown to a lake and the fish have gotten bigger with it. To say that he is past his prime or out of his element is a falacy. But, to say that he is the end-all, be-all of comic book writers is just foolish. I have to agree with William; I believe history will look more fondly on Morrisson than Moore because he loves what he does and it shine through in his work.

Duncan said...

Hah, this is like my favourite question in all of comics. Even if I don't like the answer, particularly.

As previous correspondents state, in terms of legacy, Moore's always going to win because of the greater range, and because he is the progenitor. ALL of the contemporary Brits making American comics, with the possible sole exception of Peter Milligan (no, honestly) are still evidently working in Moore's shade. Gaiman's the most obvious, given Sandman is essentially the Swamp Thing tribute act. Morrison's no exception; witness the various tropes rebooted, from Weapon XV=The Fury to the recent revisit of Zatara's death in Zatanna. Also, stealing all ABC's artists for Seven Soldiers.

I like Morrison a good deal better; he's funnier, more allusive, less patronising (cf: Zatanna v. Promethea) but in the final result, he's never going to escape Moore's legacy at this rate.

Duncan said...

I can't agree that Moore dislikes superheroes, at all. ABC is an absolute testament to that, but he'll not go back in the Big Two pool again. He's on record as being deeply mistrustful of the variety of incredibly venal acts both Marvel and DC have perpetuated on their employees over time, and this is an important distinction. Supreme also serves as notice Moore loves Superman, but not the company that publishes the character. So, syllogistically: Moore loves superheroes, including corporate ones, but hates corporate politics; ergo, will not work on corporate superheroes ever again.

Iron Lungfish said...

Alan Moore. He knows what he wants his finished projects to look like a hell of a lot more than Morrison does, and he goes into his stories with a lot more of a plan, while Morrison is a lot more likely to spray stuff all over the room and end up with the kind of gibberish that takes a message board full of Barbelith posters to make sense of/apologize for. Moore's body of work shows a lot more variety and a lot more compolexity; Morrison, for all his vaunted "crazy ideas," is often rehashing the same stuff that made him big back in the '80s. How many times has he done that "breaking the fourth wall" scene from Animal Man? He did it in Zatanna, he originally did it in Mister Miracle until someone sane cropped it out, and he's doing it again with the Question in 52. That's not creativity, that's recycling. Morrison uses metafiction so often it's practically a fetish, but the way he uses it hasn't matured in thirty years: it's never anything more than a metaphor for control, or worse, a visual gimmick to remind you that hey, you're reading a comic book! Well congratulations, Sherlock, I didn't figure that out when I paid $2.50 for the damn thing at the counter.

I like quite a few things Morrison's written. His run on JLA is a lot of fun, his New X-Men reinvigorated a stale franchise, The Filth is an underrated classic and "Seaguy" may be one of the best minis ever published by Vertigo. But nothing he's done compares to Watchmen, From Hell or Top Ten. Morrison transparently aspires to be Alan Moore, but he's got a long way to go before he comes close.

Jon said...

I don't see this phrase on near enough blogs, but here goes: "I agree with Iron Lungfish."

And I do have Supreme: The Story of the Year shelved next to Watchmen. I don't know what any of this says about me.

Matthew Craig said...

"Would Alan Moore participate in something like DC's upcoming "52?"

It is, of course, too early to say either way, but I seriously seriously doubt that any future discussion of the VERY BEST that Superhero Comics have to offer is going to include 52. Seven Soldiers might make the cut, but not 52.

"Honestly, I don't really think Moore likes superheroes."

With that back catalogue? No. Sorry, but no. You're wrong. Of course he does. He's just not LIMITED to them, or their past, or their more iconic characters.

Neither, of course, is Grant Morrison, even if he keeps coming back to them.

"Morrison may not have penned as many classic stories as Mr. Moore."

It's not quantity, but quality that counts. Morrison may be more of a populist writer than Moore, with works such as WE3, The Invisibles and SeaGuy (and even The Filth), but both writers have done a great deal to open up non-superhero comics.

Not that it bloody matters, of course, as people would rather read "The Captain Yesterday Brigade Presents 'Turn The Clock Back'" than something smart and sexy and new.

I mean, for my money, Seven Soldiers is far more important than All-Star Superman, because it's a concrete attempt at trying something new and exciting - even if it uses sixty year-old trademarks. All-Star Superman, on the other hand, is less about creation than reinvigoration.

I'd swap Morrison's Batman for more SeaGuy, any day of the week. In fact, I'd travel back in time and delete his JLA from existence to make it happen, even though - especially though? - it would unmake The Authority and The Ultimates in the process (a mercy killing).

..well, maybe I wouldn't do that. But for god's sake, I'd rather have one issue of SeaGuy than all of 52.

To answer your question: it depends on your perspective. Do you read Comics, or are you here for the same old superheroes? Because I think Morrison already has many MANY more pages in the latter category than Moore ever will. But people who care more about the former than the latter will be able to appreciate them equally for their strong voices and important contributions to the medium.

//\Oo/\\

Michael said...

I think comparing Moore to Morrison is like comparing Michael Jackson to Prince. Moore, like MJ, made contributions that clearly had more impact in the moment, and it's easier to rattle off a list of greatest hits that made headlines. Plus, his legacy will always be tainted by the fact that his gifts and vision carry the baggage of what can generously be described as eccentricity.

On the other hand, Morrison is a lot like Prince. Solid, in every way. Endlessly experimental. Weird, and yet harmless, unlike Moore who looks more and more like the unabomber with each passing day. And though many of Morrison's individual works (i.e. Arkham Asylum) have been brilliant, what is most striking is his continued contribution to the medium and how he seems to keep pushing the creative envelope both in and out of the comic mainstream.

So while Morrison will probably never write a Watchmen caliber graphic novel, Moore will probably never breathe life into existing characters the way Morrison does. When comic historians (AKA geeky dudes arguing on a Wednesday evening) issue their verdict, the works of Moore will outshine the man and the man that is Morrison will outshine his individual works.

That is, unless the Wachowski brothers decide to make a crappy Doom Patrol movie, in which case I will probably set myself on fire.

Scipio said...

I don't see this phrase on near enough blogs, but here goes: "I agree with Iron Lungfish."

I do, too.

AnthonyF said...

Count me as another vote for Moore, more largely the reasons iron lungfish said.

Also, I think Supreme is one of Moore's best works and to call it "Rob Liefeld's Supreme" does it a horrible disservice. It's nothing like Liefeld's book had been. It's just a crazy tribute to as much of Superman history as Moore can squeeze into it.

Cove West said...

I'd have to go with Alan Moore on this.

I think it's like comparing Leonardo DaVinci to Jackson Pollock or Pablo Picasso. DaVinci turned painting from essentially a pop-biblical advertising medium into a highbrow artform fit for galleries. Though not the pioneer of the techniques he used, he was the first to use them all at once, creating masterpieces of such technical brilliance that they blew everything else away. Pollock and Picasso, on the other hand, were painters of imagination. Though I'm sure they could approach the then-commonplace techniques of Leonardo, their artistry wasn't aiming for Mona Lisa or The Last Supper. I'm sure most people would look at both Mona Lisa and a Pollock-splattered wall and judge DaVinci's work the masterpiece, and at the same time acknowledge Pollock as the imaginative visionary of the two.

Without Alan Moore, we might not have the same Grant Morrison. Not to say that Grant is dependent upon Alan to be a good writer, but Alan opened the marketplace for the Vertigo Brits and set the standards of compositional excellence. We would still probably have Animal Man and Doom Patrol, but the rest of Grant's works are a little iffy. Does DC publish Arkham Asylum without Swamp Thing (for that matter, do they consider Gaiman and McKean at all without Moore and Bissette/Totleben/Veitch)? The Invisibles without V, Watchmen and Captain Britain? I think you can draw a straight line of works that, without the work preceding it, probably never happens (or at least happens without the same success):

Swamp Thing – Sandman – Invisibles – JLA

And personally, I just think Moore is the better writer of the two. Watchmen and From Hell are simply great literature, irrelevant of medium. The only works of Morrison that I would even consider in the same ballpark are “The Coyote Gospel” and WE3 (granted, I have yet to read Flex, Sebastian O, Marvel Boy, Vimanarama, The Filth, and Skrull Kill Krew).

That said, Grant Morrison entertains me in a way that even Alan Moore's beard can't approach. JLA is my gold standard of DC superheroics. Doom Patrol and The Invisibles make a drug habit unnecessary. Arkham Asylum didn't become < ominous music > Arkham Asylum < /ominous music > until Arkham Asylum. I will love JLA: Classified if for no other reason than “sci-fi closet”, an idea I probably hate and can't rationalize yet somehow is completely perfect. DC: One Million is my all-time favorite event. And WE3 made me cry, damn him! I'm more apt to blindly pick up a new Grant Morrison comic than a new Alan Moore. He's the modern-day Jack Kirby, bursting with visions so amazing that you can't believe he has more. And an infant universe in a petri dish on Omnitropolis, Wonderworld that grows up to be a malevolent adult universe that goes back in time to fight the JLA, become home to the Ultramarines, and join forces with the little-men-who-ride-bugs-and-control-your-mind Sheeda...Coolest. Idea. Ever.

Of course, all this leaves out Neil Gaiman. If Moore is on the top tier alone, then Morrison and Gaiman are on the tier below. It's an even harder duo to compare because they're so dissimilar in style, but I think they so clearly display the two paths of Moore's legacy. They form the triumvirate of mainstream literate comic writers, each carving their own niches of genre: Gaiman in fantasy and horror, Morrison in sci-fi and adventure, and Moore in between taking elements of both as the comic-book equivalent of what would be the “novels” section of a bookstore.

Scotus said...

If history is judging them solely on their work, Moore takes it. Morrison's done a lot of great stuff, but in 20 years, will people be discussing "Seaguy" or "Seven Soldiers" the same way fans today discuss "Watchmen" and "Miracleman"? Maybe, but I doubt it.

But if we're looking at the whole picture, I think Morrison will be the more fondly remembered of the two. There's just something about the guy that fans seem to dig. Maybe they're comforted by the fact that he balances the deconstructionist stories and Vertigo books with unpretentious mainstream superhero stuff. Maybe it's that he still seems to be having fun writing comics, while Moore doesn't. I don't know. But I think in the long run, history will be slightly more critical of Moore than Morrison.

Chance said...

Reagarding Moore and superfolks, he wrote that story where Superman gets a birthday "present" from Mongol and is rescued by Batman and WW and Robin. That's easily one of the best things ever written about the Big Three.

Anonymous said...

Morrison's crazy love for the Silver Age and Kirby heroes, and even the weight that his relationship with Moore carries, limit the intelligibility of a lot of his work to the already-intiated. You can give From Hell or V for Vendetta to someone completely innocent of the superhero genre; you can't do that with Animal Man or even Flex Mentallo in the same way. So "history" is on Moore's side, if history's denizens aren't all comic geeks like ourselves. That said, I care more about Morrison's characters --in part because it seems to me that, while Moore is much more original in his aesthetic concerns, Morrison is way ahead of him in addressing ethics in fresh-looking ways. Or thought-provoking ones: I know exactly what I think of V's behavior but have no idea how to judge Mr Nobody.
--Mr Ripley

Scarlett Drake said...

I like the question, and I think it is a good one, but it is missing that key element in that neither man has ended their career yet. People are judged by how they ended more than they are judged by how they began. Alan appears to be withdrawing from mainstream comics and I suspect we have yet to see his best work. Morrison however is becoming more of a part of mainstream comics and I have to worry that his brilliance will be diluted.

If I have to make a quick prediction, I would point to Morrison as getting the better treatment. It blows me away how much people praise his run on JLA even though his last year was so predictable and deja vu of everything he had run. No one ever brings up his final arc which dragged forever. If people can forget that so quickly, I have a feeling it'll be nothing but praise for him in the future.

philip said...

Moore has a kind of fame rare to the comic creator. That is, he's famous outside of the comics context. I think for that reason alone he will be better remembered than Morrison.

Who's actually "better" or more deserving of kind remembrances can be debated for all time, but Moore is an icon while Morrison is merely a very good writer.

I like them both and I think they have both turned out some amazing work as well as their fair share of crap, but Alan Moore is Alan Moore and Grant Morrison is Grant Morrison . . .or Garth Ennis . . .or Warren Ellis. I still get them confused sometimes.

My two cents. Spend 'em wisely.

Gary said...

I think Grant Morrison will be remembered more fondly-but that that has nothing to do with the work either of them has produced.

People just seem to be far more willing to label Moore as a weirdo because of extraneous concerns. He looks a little more intimidating, he's not really excited to meet fans or have people adapt his work and he's made odd statements about "magic" when it'd probably go over better if he just said "using ritual as an element of performance."

Tom Foss said...

I think history will more fondly remember Grant Morrison. Alan Moore is already perceived as a grumpy, moody, eccentric recluse, while Grant Morrison is weird, but personable. Plus, as has been noted, Morrison is more willing to play in the shared-universe sandbox.

Besides that, Moore will always be associated with the movies based on his work. Non-comic fans do not think "intellectual literature" when they hear "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" or "Constantine."

Comic fans, on the other hand, will remember Moore more fondly, methinks. Besides the fact that most of Moore's works are self-contained, and therefore easily collectible, the man has already ascended to legendary status. He's the uber-legend who influenced legends like Gaiman and Morrison. He's an icon, a satanic wordsmith who hides behind the sort of beard one only finds on Norse gods. While Morrison may be canonized by comic fandom, Moore will be deified.

BENN said...

I agree with Tom Foss. While Alan Moore's early work and contributions to the medium are nothing to belittle, Morrison is more consistent in his efforts to be innovative. He is a playful comix superstar who loves to experiment, and I suspect his very best is yet to come.

plok said...

I expect Morrison's best is yet to come too (and that's really saying something!), but come on. Is this a contest, after all? I can think of a lot of reasons, many of them probably a little unfair, for history to prefer Moore. But I can't think of any reasons for history to prefer Morrison! Why prefer him? I think the reasoning that says he's more personable, imaginative, affectionate, daring, consistent...this must all fall flat, because it isn't true. It's manifestly untrue, in fact, and there just isn't any basis for a comparison of this sort. If we consider the artist as influence, then if we start from today Moore must take it...even if my friend's daughter does want a Chubby Da Choona T-shirt (attention DC, you're blowing it!) instead of tickets to V For Vendetta.

Of course it'd be good to remember that neither Moore nor Morrison is trying to produce favourable historical judgements in their work, but only favourable reading judgements. That's the important thing. So, does a dog have Buddha-nature? Be careful: if you answer, you lose your own Buddha-nature...

Mike Loughlin said...

Moore was the original innovator, and continues to produce comics that open people's eyes to the untapped potential of the medium. I can't wait to read "Lost Girls."

Morrison is the current innovator, but his work can be a little too weird for people who don't already like that sort of thing. Really, I dig most Morrison comics but I couldn't get into the Invisibles or the Filth, which some consider his magnum opera. Too trippy.

Silly as it may seem, I think Morrison will not achieve Moore's stature because he writes a lot of really odd comics.

And Gaiman? It seems very few people blogging like (or will cop to liking) Sandman. When I was a teenager, Sandman was _it_. No other comic came close, and I don't think any other comic got out of the geek ghetto as thoroughly. I still like the series, and I consider its mark on the medium nearest to Moore's. Morrison's name will get me to try anything, but I don't think he's produced a series that ranks with the best of Moore's or (heresy!) Sandman.