John Pistelli

writer

Grant Morrison, Sebastian O | The Mystery Play

Sebastian O/Mystery Play by Grant MorrisonSebastian O / The Mystery Play by Grant Morrison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the one hand, the best audience for this book might be Morrison completists, those willing to hack through the wilds of the author’s varied oeuvre to find rare specimens and paths not taken.

The 1993 Vertigo miniseries, Sebastian O, originally conceived for Disney’s never-realized adult-comics Touchmark imprint (along with Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo’s similarly queer-themed masterpiece Enigma), reimagines Oscar Wilde as a super-assassin in a steampunk setting. The literary style is an amusing pastiche of fin-de-siècle Aestheticism and Decadence, the amorality of the narrative faithful to its Wildean and Huysmanian inspirations. The art by Steve Yeowell is magnificent when it comes to architecture, but an artist who could have done a tribute to Art Nouveau, similar to what Morrison does with late-Victorian literary style in the narration and dialogue, might have served the project better. All in all, very entertaining, and recommended for all lovers of Wilde and Co.

The somber 1994 graphic novel The Mystery Play could not be more different in tone and style. An early Vertigo graphic novel reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s collaborations with Dave McKean, The Mystery Play features a Yorkshire town trying to revitalize by staging medieval mystery plays until the actor playing God is murdered. Enter Detective Frank Carpenter (his flagrantly allegorical name is typical of Morrison’s lack of subtlety here), who begins a hallucinatory investigation into the death of God within the postmodern world. Jon J. Muth’s spectral watercolors are perfect for this graphic novel’s tenuous grip on reality. If Morrison’s allegory is far too transparent (“The house is empty,” says Carpenter, peering into a replica church on a miniature golf course) and his tone too dour, his slowly-paced script and Muth’s haunted paintings are unforgettable, to me anyway. Not subtle enough? Not as zany as Morrison’s other work? Well, I first read this book at some excessively young age, 13 or so, and I fear it permanently affected my sensibility. Zaniness and subtlety are overrated.

So, to finish the thought with which I began, the question of audience: on the other hand, these two projects might work best not so much for fans of Doom Patrol or The Invisibles, but rather for those curious about experimental approaches in the comics medium to the classics of the literary canon.

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Grant Morrison and Jon J. Muth, The Mystery Play

View all my reviews. If you would like to support my work, you might please buy, read, and review Portraits and Ashes or The Ecstasy of Michaela (or even just pledge via email to exchange a free ebook for an honest public review). Thanks!

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