Just a Misunderstood Rebel

Seaguy: The Slaves of Mickey Eye #2 (of 3)

Well alright, first off: how funny is it that a big chunk of this issue is a loose, playful burlesque on a classical work of opera -- Georges Bizet's Carmen -- that just happens to arrive in stores on exactly the same day as another cockeyed extravaganza of inaudible evocation, Alan Moore's & Kevin O'Neill's The League of Extraordinary Gentlement: Century #1, so sturdily steeped in The Threepenny Opera? Shit, I don't even think Grant Morrison planned this one, which makes it all so much better.

(of course, it would have been even nicer if every Direct Market outlet had actually gotten their copies of Century on that official release date, but Diamond never has claimed to run a perfect Death Star)

Naturally, comparison proves useful. As is his wont, Moore throws himself into his studies, picking apart his favorite tunes line by line and substituting appropriate refurbished verses to fit the all-fiction jam-up that is the extended LoEg society; for its citation, the larger work is also highly self-referential, nodding past the likes of From Hell and Watchmen (do note how Moore conspicuously refrains from naming a Black Freighter) all the way back to the pseudononymous works of one 'Curt Vile,' though it couldn't have slipped the Magus' mind that the Threepenny itself is an amalgam of sources, and indeed a marshalling of the 18th century characters and concepts of John Gay -- already satirical even on their own -- toward modern and political ends. Tight as a watch, tall as time.

Morrison, meanwhile, has his own ideas. I like Seaguy for a lot of reasons, but right now I'm digging on how it's the writer's license to be sardonic right on the page. Often nakedly so - there's a funny opening bit this issue with the titular, errant, much manipulated superhero-concept-as-flesh-and-blood-naïf trying to escape from the all-seeing forces of Mickey Eye with a 'trio' of similarly-dressed young champions who've been inspired by his prior exploits, which is to say 'inspired to shrink down to tiny size and launch into opponents' eyes. Our Hero is duly shocked by their profane spandex antics, and eventually we find out it's actually only one guy with the power to embody several extremely similar personas at once, and anyway he's just the licensed rebellion faction of the terribly extensive Mickey Eye Empire.

Sure, on the surface it's just boilerplate 'oh that superhero decadance' commentary, but there remains a certain kick to it when you look back to those old JLA issues, and you try and track the widescreen action line into The Authority and The Ultimates. Morrison isn't Seaguy himself, but he specializes in characters searching for higher understanding, and the crux of his commentary is that the volume, the attitude only got broader while the scope remained essentially safe. Seaguy the comic isn't just about the superhero genre, remember - it's about pressing through the boundaries of safety to glimpse the cynical workings of things, and trying to maintain some idealism while the mechanisms of power try and lull you into soft security. Spoiler: you never really succeed.

Obviously you can look at Morrison's recent output and ponder if he doth protest too much, but I've gotta concede that even super-flawed DCU happenings like Batman: R.I.P. and Final Crisis managed to collapse in striking ways, at least. They had ambition's scope, if not happy endings. Maybe it only gets harder, every new struggle, struggling and searching, failing like Seaguy.

That's the real meat of this issue - Seaguy winds up temporarily removed from Mickey Eye's psychologically destructive cycle of superhero revamps, planted into the all-new, all-different life of a macho (El Macho, even!) bullfighter in Los Huevos (ha ha), which, as per the boundless literalism of Morrison's world, means he must specifically emasculate rampaging bulls by dressing them in frilly ladies' underthings, which takes the stereotypical fight right out of 'em. Carmen, as expected, loved it madly.

Morrison die-hards have heard it all before, granted; for a while, before it was certain this sequel would actually be published, the writer was prone to performing these scenes at panels and showcases before unsuspecting audiences. It's still amusing to see it played out as a piece of the larger superhero-publishing-industry-machinations-as-literal-conspiract Seaguy universe; apparently Mickey Eye's imagineers can't think of a substitute life for Our Man that isn't somehow a heroic epic of manly conquest, which is a rather sly poke on its own.

But it's the particulars that really get the joke going. It's not actually Bizet's Carmen that Seaguy finds himself living in - it's a sequel! Or, rather, the latest chapters in an ongoing series of exploits inspired by Bizet's Carmen, had it never been allowed to end, since all projects are perpetual under the ownership of Mickey Eye; Seaguy's only the latest bullfighter (er, dresser) to win Carmen's heart, with the Escamillo character displaced as a seething runner-up. Hell, it may be "Cortez" (a conqueror, at least formerly) is only the latest in a long line of champs laid low, since the concept apparently ran out of gas after that Don José dude left. Everything's just a little sturdier. A bit less of an adventure, if awfully high on conflict!

Morrison doesn't go verse-for-verse like Moore, at least not according to my fading undergraduate opera studies. There is a song, but it might as well come from somewhere totally different, or totally obvious. Still, there's the metaphors: Carmen as the wild love, the force that can never be tamed, her climactic resistance matching her with the bull Escamillo fights, and the toreador's heroism compliments Don José's murder of Carmen, the force he cannot understand. Naturally, Morrison's Carmen is still 'alive' -- couldn't be much of a Carmen: The Ongoing Series without her! -- but fake. She's the chess game with Death, the universe-shattering Events, the thrill rides going round and round.

The bull, however, is something still real, just like the Xoo from the first series, and Seaguy finds himself drawn to team up with such purely inhuman forces, stripping naked before the bucking beast and denying all this mannish nonsense, since it's really respect and compassion that wins you the fight, not splendid adherence to gender roles, and so on and so on. And the untamed force lashes out, and the larger society remains the same.

And I don't think it's out of line to note that Slaves of Mickey Eye does tend to come off as slightly more a reiteration of the first series than a development of its themes, all conflicting issue closers aside(vol. 1 #2: Seaguy crazed & lost at sea, trauma; vol. 2 #2: Seaguy diving into the sea, healing); these metaphorical vignettes have a way of sticking in clusters, although Cameron Stewart does bring an extra element in the form of his own development as an artist since the original, leaving Seaguy at least looking matured. He's also full of fun little design tricks, like how fake rebel supervillain Octo-Mariner always seems to be looking at both Seaguy and the reader, even though he never moves his head.

That's a potentially interesting character, there - mean old Seadog, who's coming to defy Mickey Eye itself out of distaste for the 'nobody really dies' ethos of the modern superhero malaise. Maybe the final part of this chapter will rely on bad behavior to get things done? Is that how Seaguy will find his adulthood? Hell, after reading some of these recent superhero comics -- some of them Grant Morrison-written, sure -- I'm ready to see some authentic pain myself. And this is nothing if not a book of pain: a regular pinch to keep you awake.