4.17.2009

Specific Atlantic


I've tried to write a coherent post about Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart's Seaguy more times than would be cool to admit, and this might not be that time, but I figured with the first issue of the second volume of the Seaguy saga - Seaguy & the Slaves Of Mickey Eye - in comic stores now, I figured I may as well give it another go, to try and get across just what it is about this ridiculous little book that resonates with me.

See, the biggest problem in talking about the first volume of Seaguy is that you have a tendency to want to summarize it, and when you do that, when you start mentioning the talking, floating, cigar-chomping fish who serves as Seaguy's best friend or the chess games with Death the Gondolier or Seaguy's unrequited crush on that hirsute and ravishing She-Beard, or the mummy on the moon, the sentient foodstuffs; it all starts to sound like some sort of joke. And it sort of is. It's a ridiculous adventure, a goofy lark, a quasi-superheroic picaresque, beautifully rendered and masterfully paced.

But that's half the story. That's the surface of the thing, the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Beneath the veneer of goofiness, of Disney-ness, lies a heady, complex tale about, well, lots of stuff. I've found that I'm really attracted to things that are simultaneously goofy, heavy and sad, and nothing fits that bill like Seaguy does.

It's a story of determination, of friendship, of cruelty, of oppression and the innate desire to overcome that oppression, no matter how cloaked it may be. To me, Seaguy is about being a hero, being an individual in a world where you're constantly being told that such notions are not only unnecessary, but are dangerous and should be stopped. Like Patrick McGoohan's (may he rest in peace) The Prisoner, it's a tale about the resilience of mankind and their need for individuality and liberty in a world that is not too keen on either of those things. It's about standing against power and protecting goodness, regardless the personal cost.

But why the superhero trappings? Well, first off, it's Morrison's medium. (Jog also points out that there may be more than a little bit of Morrison's experience in writing New X-Men for Marvel in there as well and that Seaguy may serve as meta-commentary on the perpetual status quo/continuity reboots of superhero comics in general) But it also speaks o the core of superhero comics. They exist to remind us that when all is said and done, we have to do the right thing by our fellow human beings. That if we're given a gift - in Seaguy's case, the desire for adventure and heroics - we have to use it in the service of others. Evil has to be stopped, wherever it rears its head, whether it's the guy hassling an immigrant at the corner store or an invading army or an evil super genius in purple and green battle armor.

And to be frank, the evil we face most often is the small stuff, the invisible stuff. The little indignities we allow to happen all around us that or perpetuate ourselves that, once put together, trap us in a world we no longer recognize. The evil that we allow (and, I believe, is part of the nature of this fallen world) to happen that creates a prison (which PKD refers to in VALIS - and Morrison lifts in his ├╝ber-gnostic-mystical-conspiracy adventure tale The Invisibles - as "the Black Iron Prison") around us that can only be overcome by us choosing to do the right thing, to slowly perfect ourselves, to hold ourselves to a higher standard than the rest of humanity. Whether that standard is that of a Superman or a Savior, we have to look beyond where we are, we have to travel to the furthest reaches of our world to do that thing which has been set before us.

Because, see, Seaguy's world is a world where the bad guys won, but nobody knows it. They're too busy living in or around the Mickey Eye (a giant, anthropomorphous unblinking cartoon eye, always watching, always recording) amusement park, which gets bigger by the day. People ride the rides, eat the weird, pink, moving food while their children cry and the moon gets seized, branded and vandalized. Now even the moon watches over you.

The whole world is now a Disney World. Literally. It's mystery, magic and strangeness have been replaced by mechanical imitations of those things. Think of how Disney has hollowed out our collective imagination through its adaptations of stories that have been around for centuries. Think about how when you read the words "Snow White," how the Disney version has replaced any vestige of the original tale in your mind. Now imagine an entire world like that, its inhabitants literally being amused and distracted to death while an unblinking, shadowy, fascist group rewrites history wholesale and gets rid of any unsavory characters. In issue #1 of volume 2, Mickey Eye's guards, with their black jumpsuits and giant eyeball helmets, literally arrest Death - a fact of life - and cart him off. You can't have him around, reminding the masses of their mortality, now can you? Why, they just might try and do something with their lives beside consume and obey and we can't have that.

It's not so goofy, now, eh?

As I said, in Seaguy's world, the bad guys won. Evil prevailed. The heroes - like Doc Hero who spends his days getting drunk and riding rides to remember what it was like to fly - all live thinking they are no longer needed in this brave new world. There is no more evil. The Anti-Dad has been defeated. Let's just spend our money, play around, watch TV, don't rock the boat, don't step out of line. If you do, you're crazy, a terrorist, or both.

And step out of line is exactly what Seaguy does. He liberates talking foodstuffs, visits Atlantis, travels to the moon and learns that history lied to him. He peers behind the curtain and sees just how evil the world really is. And what does he get for his troubles? His best friend dies, his memory gets erased and he's given a new familiar - Lucky el Lorro, a ridiculously caricatured Spanish parrot - who's there to keep a close eye on Seaguy, just in case he gets the itch to carouse around again. One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest crossed with The Prisoner, leavened with a heavy helping of gnosticism.

At the end of the first book, you hope that Seaguy will remember, that his indomitable spirit will break through the prison he's been stuck in. You wonder if it's the first time he's been wiped like this, if maybe this is another in a long list of psychic breakouts that he's orchestrated. You want him to win. You want him to be the hero you know he is.

And that's why I believe in superheroes. Not as corporate icons or trademarks to be renewed or revered, but as fictional people who remind us that we need to confront evil and unjustness and not let ourselves be distracted by the prison we've been unwittingly interred into. Why there aren't more superhero comics like this is a real shame.

Seaguy is, simply put, the most heroic superhero book I have read. Hands down. The fact that it contains a floating, cigar-chomping yellow and blue tuna fish is just an added bonus.

1 comment:

Man Called Sun said...

I can't believe I just read that whole thing.