Saturday, 1 September 2007

DC Morrisonverse Part 2: Things Fall Apart, The Centre Cannot Hold


Before I start this post, I just want to let people know I've started a second blog, at http://olsenbloom.blogspot.com , where I'm going to be posting about music and songwriting. If you're interested, check it out - the first post is on Brian Wilson.

Anyway, on to the second of what appears to be an interminable series of posts about the themes of Seven Soldiers.

I finished my post from Friday by talking about entropy. Entropy has been a recurring theme in Morrison's work (see for example the Invisibles volume Entropy In The UK) but never more so than in Seven Soldiers.

For those of you who don't know, entropy is a measure of the amount of chaos or disorder in a system. The Second Law of Thermodynamics, possibly the single most fundamental law of physics there is, says that in a closed system entropy must increase.

I've written before about how this applies to the Mister Miracle mini - and how that only made explicit what was implicit in Kirby's original conception of the Fourth World characters - so I won't go over that material again here, save to say that Morrison's relationship with the concept of entropy appears a very ambivalent one.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics means that no authority can ever have ultimate control - there will always be a random factor outside their control, and that random factor will always increase until there is no authority - definitely an idea that would appeal to someone of Morrison's politics (I've not seen Morrison put a label on his politics, so I don't know if he regards himself as socialist, anarchist or what, but all his interviews and writings place him pretty firmly in the lower-left quadrant of the political compass ...). In that sense, the second law is undoubtedly A Good Thing (if you share Morrison's anti-authoritarianism, as I do).

However, Morrison is also a hopeful writer, in the most fundamental sense. And the Second Law is a fundamentally pessimistic law. It says that in the end, the universe will simply fade away, that everyone and everything in the universe, everything that has ever existed or will ever exist
, everything will decay, crumble, and vanish and there will be nothing at all left. Any effort to stop this can only make things worse - every single act increases entropy. Even by reading this, increasing the information in your brain, you are contributing to the heat death of the universe. Everything is futile and life is a hollow joke. In comparison to the Second Law of Thermodynamics seen in this light, Ozymandias is positively Norman Vincent Pealesque - after all, those two vast and trunkless legs of stone are still standing, even if nothing else is. The Second Law is a true Anti-Life Equation.


So throughout Seven Soldiers there is a tension between these two views. In Zatanna #1 entropy is represented as the ultimate Big Bad:

"Doesn't the red god look just the way he's described in the Omninomicon?"
"...I'm witnessing large-scale entropic decay"
"Thank Tahuti your father trapped the beast here when he did"
"Well, see, that's the thing... dad couldn't stop the red god. All he could do was freeze him. He'll eat the universe in the end."

And throughout the series, entropy and decay are portrayed as something negative, but fighting against them as being pointless or outright evil. Alix Harrower's husband tries to preserve her perfect physical form from decay, but ends up killing himself - he can't breathe once his superskin is applied (breathing of course being an oxidation reaction, as are most forms of decay - again going back to the theme throughout that the only way not to change is to die). The world of the Sheeda, a billion years from now, is "steaming in the squalid, luscious decay of the refuse-littered slopes at Summer's End".

But at the same time, entropy can be used to the advantage of the forces of good. I've gone into this in the Mister Miracle article linked above, but there's also Ed Stargard's plan - making sure the Seven never meet, so they remain a random factor, unaccounted for by the Sheeda.

But in the end, though, Morrison points out the get-out clause - "In a closed system entropy will always increase". From the same double-page spread as the above Zatanna dialogue, the line straight after what I quoted before is "I'm hoping we all get a bigger place to stay in before that happens". Later on the same spread, we get:

"No way out of a closed system! Don't you see how it all has to fall down in the end?"
"teg su tuo fo ereh! If I say there's a way, there's a way."

I'll go into this more tomorrow - there's much more to say here. But in Seven Soldiers Morrison is talking about closed systems - systems of thought, the DC Universe that endlessly recycles the same tropes with little or no influence from the larger culture, and our universe as well - and saying that there are two choices - stagnate and die, or open up to new possibilities and live free.

Tomorrow, I'm going to talk about magic, metatextuality, and Zatanna...

4 comments:

Ben said...

As a whole, 7S is my favorite thing that Morrison has done so far. I think the manipulations of the Terrible Time Tailor support your thesis too. The way he seems to change both the present and the past of the Newsboy Army so they can better suit his purposes... Well, it's like publishing the editor's meetings for "Identity Crisis" as a comic in itself.

Anyway, keep up the good work.

Batiduende said...

"Well, see, that's the thing... dad couldn't stop the red god. All he could do was freeze him. He'll eat the universe in the end."

This reminds me a lot of the second or third Morrison Doom Patrol story where the DP stops the Anti-God the very same way.

Ariel said...

This essay was wonderful. Incredible food for thought.

Morrison is definitely, as you say, essentially an optimistic writer. Still, in entropy, ANY action contributes to decay, whether we classify it in our moral code as 'good' or 'evil', 'optimistic' or 'pessimistic.' Hence, it's ALL 'evil' in the end, in that it will contribute to universe's eventual sputtering out, not with a bang, but a whimper.

So then, what is the definition of a hero to Morrison by this rather dark view of things? To Morrison, a hero is one who straddles a fine line between being quixotic, tilting at the windmill of inevitable universal decay; and a legend, a hero fighting against absolutely impossible odds, and despite being presented with the obvious futility of existence, still desires, loves and celebrates the struggle to find meaning and order. THAT is truly optimistic, and explains why every time I read Morrison's works, I feel refreshed, as if I've done something good for my soul.

plok said...

Yup.

Say on!