I was pleasantly surprised when writer Grant Morrison's "JLA" took the comic book world by storm in 1997. Grant's work went through issue 41, with a few guest writing appearances by Mark Waid, writing in Grant's odd style. I had been following Grant's quirky writing for many years and was very pleased to see him receiving the recognition I think he justly deserves.
Grant has a different way of looking at the world around us and a poetic way of putting that viewpoint into words. Add to that his obvious respect for comic books past and his interest in of cultural movements over the last 40 years and you have a recipe for a wonderful gumbo of spy stories, '60s hippie sensabilities, old DC adventures and world religous symbols.
My first exposure to the writer was an early series for DC, Animal Man, in 1988. Luckily, with my newly organized comics, I should be able to read his entire run, one through 26. Grant starts the series exploring mankind's horendous treatment of animals, but soon becomes bored with the mistreatment-of-the-month stories and by the end of his run, the book has taken some decidedly wierd turns. In book 26, after a post-Crisis trip through a land filled with forgotten DC characters (including the Inferior Five), the hero meets his creator - Morrison himself, who with godlike casualness explains why he screwed up Buddy's life. In issue six, the Invasion crossover tie-in, Grant comes up with the single cleverist solution to the classic "ticking time bomb" scenario. This series, although ground in DC "reality," is very clever.
His next DC assignment was simply off the wall. When Grant took over Doom Patrol, in 1989, it was very much a typical comic book treatment. He stood that treatment on its ear. This is Grant at his best, looking inside characters (Crazy Jane is still one of my all time favorite comic book characters) and making the reality around them a result of their own fears and perceived shortcomings. Also in 1989 Grant wrote Arkham Asylum, a book I consider to be one of the best Batman stories ever written, indeed a milestone in graphic storytelling. It is illustrated ("painted" is too limiting a word for what this guy does) by Dave McKean (Sandman covers). This story has so many layers I hardly know where to begin. After you've read it once for plot, start looking for Alice in Wonderland references. Also, it took me three times to figure this one out: Dr. Arkham was RIGHT!
This brings Grant into the mature works titles of his American writing career (I'm not ignoring his other work in the UK and elsewhere - he's just so prolific I'm trying to focus), when Doom Patrol went Vertigo with number 64. If you're interested, Grant did many of those great, early Vertigo miniseries that were so much more CLEVER than today's Vertigo: FlexMentallo in 1996 (four issues); Kid Eternity in 1991 (three issues); Kill Your Boyfriend in 1995; The Mystery Play in 1994 (Grant really knows how the insane think - I've spent years trying to make sense of this and I know, the older and more senile I become, the more it will speak to me). He had a stint on Swamp Thing (140 through 143, when they were trying to pump up sales with a new direction) and a wonderful story in Hellblazer (25 and 26).
The culmination of Grant's Vertigo work to this point is The Invisibles. Begun in 1994, this series is a rich, involving story that is a pleasure to read. Think spy movie mixed with mysticism mixed with X-Files mixed with Lovecraft mixed with conspiracy mixed with - oh, jeez, whatever Grant wanted to talk about that minute. Like the best novels, each page can be read and appreciated for what it is. This is NOT the kind of comic book you read to reach the end. Plot is hidden behind layers and layers of meaning and non-meaning. No, this is the kind of comic you read to enjoy the page you're on.
Apparently, Morrison nearly died during the first year of The Invisibles and the writing in the book reflects it. King Mob nearly bites the dust around the time Grant was sick. I suspect there must be an alternative ending written out there where the whole thing ends with Grant/King Mob's death.
The Invisibles was presented in three series and the third numbers BACKWARD from 12 to one, which can be a real pain to collect (now, did I need series two issue four or series three issue four?). But the good news is it is completed now, so you know you have a finite goal, yes, most everything is wrapped up at the end and there are graphic novels that collect the series (although I'm not sure whether they collect the WHOLE series). Unlike series like the X-Files that, once they start explaining things the tension crumbles, The Invisibles had a wobbly direction that built speed until a train wreck of an ending.
A caution: don't let the sex in the end of the first story arch put you off. There is much more to The Invisibles than the Marquis de Sade. Look beneath for what Grant was trying to SAY about power and money and society.
Grant started writing the New X-Men with issue 114 this summer, something I'm warming up to. By the end of the first story arch I was saying, "Wow." BUT, he doesn't seem to have the affection for these characters he had in JLA. He's writing more Vertigo-like for this series, something I don't think it needs. But I'm sure this is the big money opportunity for him he richly deserves. For, in my opinion, better entertainment, check out the short-lived Marvel Boy he wrote for Marvel. And, one of my favorites, funny and odd, issues one through five of the Skrull Kill Krew.
How he talked the Marvel guys into THAT one, I'll never know!