Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks (more or less), with each week devoted to a single writer. This week: Grant “Bow to the Bald Buddha!” Morrison. Today’s page is from 200AD Prog #477, which was published by Fleetway and is cover dated 5 July 1986. Enjoy!
Before I consider this page, I want to say a few things about my favorite comic book writer. I can barely encapsulate his career in seven days – I could probably have a month devoted to the God of All Comics and do a pretty good job. Since he started working on Animal Man, I own almost everything he’s written (there are few short stories I’ve missed, and unless I misfiled it in my long boxes, I don’t have Sebastian O, although I thought I did). Thanks to reprints, I own a chunk of stuff he did before he came to the States, too. I know I own more comics written by a writer, thanks to people like Claremont and David working for over a decade on books I really liked, but I probably own more different comic book series (or mini-series, of course) written by Morrison. So narrowing down seven representative comics from throughout his career is really, really difficult. I won’t have any Animal Man this week, for instance. No Invisibles. No X-Men. No All Star Superman. No Seven Soldiers. No Batman. I didn’t want to use his most popular comics, because a lot of people have read them. I wanted to look at some of his more obscure work to show how he developed. I did select an issue of JLA to represent his straight superhero work, but I also have this sucker (plus tomorrow’s entry). So yes, I know I’m skipping some important Morrison comics. I doubt if anyone except me, Bill Reed, and maybe Our Dread Lord and Master would be interested in me doing an entire month of Morrison comics. Because I could! Don’t you tempt me!
Anyway, this is one of the earliest Morrison comics I own, reprinted in The Best of Tharg’s Future Shocks, which Rebellion put out in 2008 (Fleetway published 2000AD back in 1986). I don’t know if the original was in color, and I’m hesitant to post stuff that’s not as close to its original form as possible, but since we’re focusing on the words and not necessarily the art this month, I figure I can let it slide.
John Stokes does a nice job with this page, though. “Future Shocks” were extremely short stories (this is three pages), so both writer and artist have to get to the point, and Stokes sets the scene quickly in the first panel – it’s an alien world, and we’re heading inside Beel’s Omnimart, which proudly proclaims that they “sell everything!” Stokes gives us Siva Goth in the second panel, who’s an impressive fellow, dominating Mr. Beel (or just Beel?), who does seem to quiver in his presence (it’s all an act, though). Siva Goth dresses like some kind of space Mongol, which is kind of cool. Stokes positions the two characters on the page so that our eye goes from the top right to the bottom left, against the grain, so to speak, but which leads us to panel 3, which is underneath panel 1. Here we see Mr. Beel for the first time, and Stokes does a nice job showing that he is, in fact, not that intimidated. In the bottom two panels, we get a good vexed look on Siva’s face when he says “I’ve already got his other four!” and the final panel again shows a good contrast between the giant Siva and the tiny Mr. Beel. Looks, of course, can be deceiving.
Morrison’s script is economical but informative, as it must be. He uses the establishing panel to give us establishing dialogue, and the fact that Siva says “You can quiver, shopkeeper …” with an ellipsis helps to move us to the second panel instead of down to the third panel, because Siva continues his thought in panel 2 with “Quiver in the awesome presence …” Siva Goth is in bold, and so is “atom heart,” which must be deliberate on the part of Morrison and letterer Tom Frame, as the atom heart will be important in the story (unlike some comics today, which seem to emphasize words randomly, this feels very deliberate). Morrison’s script lets us know some things: Siva is a big tough guy, but he’s also a bit of a whiner, plus he has kind of a childish streak because he proposes the bet. This will allow Mr. Beel to turn the tables on him, of course. Mr. Beel doesn’t get to show how clever he is, but we can infer it from the fact that he doesn’t appear all that disturbed by Siva Goth. In a three-page story, the creators need to get to it, and Morrison does a good job with that. Plus, this is kind of weird. It’s a trend!
Morrison was only 26 when he wrote this. He’d get weirder and, naturally, more confident. So next time, we’ll look at another early comic that was reprinted within the past few years and which features a big time superstar artist! Okay, it was some years before he became a superstar artist, but still! If you can’t get enough first pages of comics (and really, who can?), be sure to take a tour through the archive!