Review: The Anatomy of Zur-en-Arrh by Cody Walker (Sequart 2014)

Rarely do I get to say that something is insightful while also in bad need of an editor and much of which is superfluous. Cody Walker is probably one of the best close readers of Grant Morrison’s comics and what he has done here is a 250+ apologia and analysis of Morrison’s run on Batman. Furthermore, Morrison’s run was long, dense, meta-textual, controversial, and–while I doubt Walker would see it this way–uneven, so this would be an interesting undertaking. Walker is a teacher, and it shows in both the virtues and flaws of The Anatomy of Zur-en-Arrh. The explorations and explications of theme are, while not exactly scholarly or critical in an academic sense, insightful and show evidence of deep (and scholarly) engagement with material of Morrison and of treating popular culture as literature.

So here’s the problem: this book suffers from this teacherly trait in a way that undermines a lot of its readability. There are far, far too many summaries of every issue and arc Grant Morrison ever touched on Batman, and little discussion of how this really related to other Batman writers and other works by Grant Morrison. While Walker’s exegesis is strong, the pages upon pages of summaries are unnecessary for those who would be interested enough to read a defense of Morrison, but give too much away for those unfamiliar with the work. This kind of explication with intensive summary is often a teaching tool in a literature class–where one cannot assume everyone has read the work–but an editor should have cut at least fifty pages of this out. Walker’s style is reading and personable, but the summaries slow this way, way down.

Furthermore, comparing the differences in say Morrison’s work on Animal Man–which has the same deconstructive tendencies with Morrison would later take issue with his bete noir, fellow chaos magician Alan Moore–and his later Batman work would be really illuminating. It would also be interesting to compare Frank Miller’s or Jeph Loeb’s Batman to Morrison’s reconstructive work explicitly. Normally, I think it is unfair to critique an author for writing a different book than what one wants, but in this case, it really would help. Walker’s brief discussions the contrast between Moore and Morrison is insightful and so I know Walker could do this.

Lastly, while this is an excellent apologia for later Morrison’s deconstruction of capitalism around comics and his attempt to re-introduce archetype, camp, and de-humanizing artifice into comics from a philosophical point of view, Walker isn’t critical of where this doesn’t work unless the fault isn’t with Morrison. Walker’s discussion about how the conflicts between marketing, the New 52, and Batman, Inc, really undercut some of Morrison’s better writing at the end of his last run on Batman is actually one of the best part of the books, but one often feels like Walker is reading Morrison a bit too “occultly” to justify seeming incoherence and searching for hints to make things fit better than they do. Even good apologias need to be critical of their subject matter sometimes.

Ultimately, this makes for an very uneven read itself (perhaps this is ironic given Morrison’s Batman run). Devotees of either Batman or Morrison will skim a lot of this book because the summaries aren’t necessary to them, and the neophyte will be utterly lost. This is a shame because, like I have said, Walker is a strong reader with a penetrating mind and a good eye for detail as well as a pleasant and enjoyable writer. I suggest this book only with those caveats strongly in mind.

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