Morrissey, the uncomfortable superhero
Former Smiths frontman Morrissey is the ultimate comic book anti-hero, according to an expert on the singer’s work.
Dr Gavin Hopps, of the University of St Andrews, suggests that the singer’s “championing of the weak” and moral stance on animal cruelty can be likened to the vigilante tactics of the Dark Knight.
Dr Hopps, author of an academic study on the lyrics of Morrissey, compares the outspoken frontman to Frank Miller’s revisionist Batman in a new collection of comic strips based on the songs of The Smiths.
Writing in the introduction to Unite and Take Over: Comic Stories Inspired by the Smiths, Dr Hopps commented, “When Morrissey appeared in the 1980s, he was a reclusive, celibate, bookish teetotaler, who became an icon of ailing, melancholic introspection. There seems little danger of such a figure being mistaken for Superman. And yet, upon closer inspection, certain surprising analogies emerge.
“What we can see in comics and pop music in the 1980s is the analogous appearance of a ‘deconstructive’ vision – manifest in Morrissey’s ‘anti-pop-star’ persona and the fallen or fallible superhero.”
The new collection of 42 comic strips is the brainchild of Shawn Demumbrum, a Phoenix-based comic writer and Smiths fan. The anthology re-imagines songs such as “Girlfriend In A Coma” and “Meat Is Murder,” with thirteen writer/artist teams taking on a different Smiths classic in the 172 page illustrated volume.
The collection features cartoon images of Morrissey in various guises – with striking illustrations of the muscular singer bursting out of his clothes, Superman-style, as well as a depiction of the singer as a Vegetarian Vigilante, which resembles the more troubled and ‘humanised’ heroes such as The Dark Knight.
In the book, Dr Hopps, a Lecturer in Literature and Theology at St Andrews, compares the playfulness of Morrissey, once famous for his gladiola throwing, to the 1960s TV series of ‘Batman’ – which features a lycra-clad Adam West clutching a flower and singing Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘I’m Called Little Buttercup.’”
He remarks, “Morrissey now looks as if he’d fit the Dark Knight’s armour better than Christian Bale, though his work also has something in common with the cartoon campiness of the Golden Age heroes, whose elasticated antics take place in a cosmos where levity and gravity have yet to be separated.” Dr Hopps also outlines the darker elements of Morrissey’s work – such as the appearance of gothic adversaries and forces of darkness – which feature in this collection of comic strips.
In the opening essay, Dr Hopps notes that The Smiths appeared around the same time as the publication of Frank Miller’s Batman and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen.
He commented, “Morrissey is obviously an entertainer, not a law-enforcer, who prides himself on being on the outside of everything, whose public pronouncements on matters of ethics are shaped by very particular grievances as well as equally particular allegiances, such as his defence of animal rights.
“And yet isn’t the superhero – and in particular the ‘revisionary’ superhero – also, crucially, on the outside of everything, including the law?
“We should bear in mind too that the superhero – who has demons of his own and is a disturbing presence – only intervenes on very particular issues, and is a supplement to, rather than a reproduction of, the law.
“Seen in this light, Morrissey’s ‘vigilante’ defence of the underdog (the maladjusted, the unlovable, the voiceless or disempowered) may start to resemble the ‘eccentric,’ problematic logic of the superhero’s contribution to justice.”
Dr Hopps, Associate Director of the Institute for Theology and Imagination in the Arts (ITIA) concluded, “Turning Morrissey into a superhero and Smiths’ songs into comics is more appropriate than the tweeifications of the John Lewis Christmas ad, which stitches a domestic happy ending onto a narrative of unterminated and outsideless longing.”
ITIA is an interdisciplinary research institute at the University of St Andrews, which seeks to explore the relationship between theology, imagination and the arts. Previous work in the Institute includes research on J.R.R. Tolkien, Terrence Malick, Annie Dillard, James MacMillan, comic writer Neil Gaiman, and Scots artist Peter Howson.
‘Unite and Take Over: Comic Stories Inspired by the Smiths’ is available to buy on Amazon.com and will be available in limited numbers at Salford Lad’s Club in Manchester.
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