By Graeme McMillan
“Psst! You should open up your bustier.”
For all that Grant Morrison is one of the great superhero comic book writers in the industry’s history — and I genuinely believe that he is, with few able to match his output over the past three decades, from Zenith onwards — there’s absolutely no denying that he has some very big weaknesses in his writing. Perhaps most obviously of all, Morrison has a real problem writing any character that isn’t (a) a Silver Age superhero or (b) some variation on himself. Which is a real problem when it comes to The Bulleteer #3, in theory a character piece with few Silver Age superheroes, and absolutely no sensitive Glaswegian writers turned counter culture shamen.
The set-up for “21st Century Schizoid Superman” is straightforward: Having decided that she’s going to be a superhero, Alex Harrower attends a superhero convention, ostensibly working as a bodyguard for Suri Stellamaris, an outspoken movie star who’s also a mermaid. Why is a mermaid movie star a guest as a superhero convention? Don’t think about it; she’s basically a Macguffin who becomes a punchline at the end of the issue when she ends up dead anyway, murdered by her own son.
The story is actually about the oddness of the superhero convention scene, an impressively unsubtle parody of the comic book convention scene, down to the well-meaning-but-awkward panels and the number of scantily-clad women being ogled by the male attendees. In addressing the convention circuit the way it does, it offers up a similar disdain for superhero fandom as the previous issue did for superhero crossover events — as the series does as a whole for much of the superhero genre, to be honest — but it’s not saying anything new or particularly interesting. Viewed on this level, the issue is little more than the comic book version of an album track by an aging rock star about how hard it is to live life on the road during their most recent tour.
Instead, the lasting impression of the issue comes from the way that what I’m going to assume are Morrison’s best intentions are entirely undermined by his inability to write for a diverse cast. Midway through the issue, someone complains, “even the fact that this panel is called ‘Sweethearts and Supervixens?’ I mean, these are our choices as women in the superhuman community?” It’s a double-edged joke; Morrison attempts to ape a discourse that was still waiting for the term “woke” to be coined, but in doing so, underscores the fact that those are basically the only two women he himself can write. It’s funny because it’s… self-aware… I guess…?
Even if the women in this issue weren’t reduced to bitchy asides or well-meaning exposition delivery, it’s still troubling that the most memorable — and arguably, most fleshed-out — character in the issue is one who debuted more than three decades earlier.
Mind Grabber Man debuted in 1969’s Justice League of America #70, created by Denny O’Neil and Dick Dillin, and gets recast here as Morrison’s second attempt to have a straight man pretend to be gay for entirely unclear reasons. If it was confused and offensive in his New X-Men run when the Beast did it two years earlier, it’s arguably more coherent, yet more offensive, here, with MGM declaring that he’s pretending to be gay for the publicity (and to get out of fucking another superhero) while simultaneously propositioning Alix. “Do I look gay?” he asks, incredulously. (There is, apparently, a gay look for superheroes to aspire too.)
He’s clearly intended to be more pathetic than anything else, yet it’s still uncomfortable to read his self-justified rant when it finally appears: “I’m a damn good guy and I want to be recognized for that before all my potential just… just turns sour with neglect,” he declares like the proto-Men’s Rights Activist he is, before breaking down in tears. Worse yet, he literally succeeds as a result of this. “I want a team-up!” he yells, and a page later, Alix offers, “How about we all team up?”
This is definitely an intentional choice on behalf of Morrison, setting up what is intended to be the big moment of the final issue when Alix finally stands up for herself, but it’s difficult to overlook the fact that Alix Harrower spends a full three quarters of her own comic book series doing nothing except trying to please everyone around her, and having little desire or drive of her own. It’s not unclear what Morrison is attempting to do with Alix’s character arc throughout this series, but upon finishing this issue, my first thought wasn’t, “I can’t wait for Alix to come into her own,” but, “Would Morrison waste this much time showing a male hero being so passive?”
Seven Soldiers of Victory: Bulleteer #3
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Yanick Paquette
Inker: Serge LaPointe
Colourist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher