This 424 page trade paperback collects about the first third of Grant Morrison’s run as writer, issues 19 to 34 of the 1989 series. I know I read some of them, probably not all. I remember the weird vibe, the surreal approach more than the actual stories, so in many ways it was like reading them for the first time.
Grant’s initial stories introduce clever ideas and he strips down the team to a few previous members: Robotman (Cliff), Caulder (the Chief), Larry Trainor (now a composite of two people plus the Negative Man) takes the name Rebis, and one new member: Crazy Jane, a woman with many split personalities, some of which have powers. A few other new characters emerge and become part of the team, but that’s the active core, though Caulder is never all that active, being confined to a wheelchair. Jane is the most interesting of the bunch, allowing Morrison to play all kinds of mind games with the other characters and the readers. We never know which of her personalities is present until she tells us, or what each will do. Cliff is the anchor to the past, and seems the weary veteran. Rebis is mysterious and not well explored in this book.
Much of the fun of the series is in the inventive villains Morrison brings forth, and they are a very entertaining horde, from nihilistic teams and death-driven hidden worlds to a painting that eats Paris and a giant eye in the sky that will devour everything. Among the more human-like foes, the best are Mr. Nobody and his Brotherhood of Dada, Morrison at his most playful and absurdist.
In the early issues it’s very much a chess game, but gradually Morrison gets into the minds of the characters, letting us see more than the surface struggle. This reaches a pinnacle in issue 30, where the mind of Cliff is sent into the mind of Crazy Jane in an effort to bring her back to consciousness. It’s a disturbing and wonderful journey through the underground system of her complex personalities, and how she got that way. Much more than a super-team book, this one shines out like a diamond of excellent storytelling.
The art team on the book does a good job, with Richard Case pencilling most issues under a variety of inkers. At times, early on, Case seems to be having a hard time keeping up with Morrison’s complex ideas, but as the issues role on, he gets more and more innovative and creative in his own approach, making a more unified effort. When Simon Bisley becomes the cover artist on issue 26, his manic approach helps sell the surrealism and I suspect pushes Case to keep up, leading to the ground-breaking package we remember.
This is fun reading and well worth your time, highly recommended. I also really dig the John Workman lettering!