“The Miser’s Coat”
What strange reviews Grant Morrison’s works receive. There, I said it.
The issue of Seven Soldiers of Victory that essentially tells us “In my end is my beginning” received a five-bullet review in which the reviewer stated, “I’d have to argue that this experiment was an interesting failure.” Granted, that by “this experiment” the reviewer is referring to all 30 issues as a whole, but he goes on to note that this five-bullet issue “feels a little too disjointed to act as the grand finale.”
Curiously, the reviewer mentions a specific part of the issue that addresses the disjointedness, but does nothing with it when he notes, “Morrison opens the book with the metafictional tailor—who [. . .] seems to know he’s in a comic book.”
Indeed, a character who seems to be aware that he’s a character in a book, and who is tailoring together a coat from scraps in a story entitled “The Miser’s Coat,” seems like a point worth exploring. Okay, so let’s call this my four-and-a-half-bullet brief analysis of “The Miser’s Coat.”
However, getting back to a review of the reviews: Quite correctly, J.H. Williams III has received a great deal of praise for his work on this issue. Still, I only recall one reviewer pointing out that the changing artistic styles used by Williams must have come at the direction of Morrison. How do I know Morrison instructed Williams to use these various styles? The answer to that lies with that metafictional tailor-as-narrator—of which, more anon.
In a two-and-a-half-bullet review, another reviewer asserts that most of this issue “is so confused and erratic that I can’t help but be disappointed.” Hmmm. A confusing and erratic story narrated by a tailor who is making a coat out of scraps of material?
Finally, in a different five-bullet review, Shawn Hill, who usually begins his reviews with a summary of the plot doesn’t do so this time around. Instead, he states, “your reviewer laughs giddily at the insanity of applying his usual formula to a book like this.” However, Shawn later provided an excellent summary of the patchwork plot (albeit on the Silver Bullet Comic Books message boards ).
I have one disagreement with Mr. Hill’s review (and it’s what has caused be to drop a half bullet in my own review). I disagree that “despite occasional bumps and delays, [the series] actually went largely according to plan and achieved the things its creator promised it would do by the end.” I’m not at all sure that Morrison believes his series “went largely according to plan.” More to the point, I’m sure this final issue didn’t turn out the way he wanted it to at all. How do I come to this conclusion? By analyzing that “metafictional tailor," that’s how.
The tailor-as-narrator in “The Miser’s Coat” is wearing a DC Comics logo pin on his tie, and he bears some resemblance to Grant Morrison (though perhaps a bit older than Morrison actually is). He is also sewing a “miser’s coat” for the person to whom he is narrating the story—a person named Zachary Zor (page 34), whom the narrator claims is a “dead ringer” for Cyrus Gold, the kiddie killer—except that Zachary Zor has a “fancy beard and mustache” that Cyrus Gold didn’t have (page 12). I’ve seen speculation on the Internet that Zachary Zor was a character in the Zatanna series. However, it seems obvious (based on the breaking of the fourth wall and the perspective from which Zachary Zor is being addressed by the tailor) that the reader is Zachary Zor. I am Zor as you are Zor as we are Zor and we are all together.
So, who is the tailor-as-narrator? It turns out that it’s Grant Morrison himself. The evidence is in the Manhattan Guardian crossword puzzle (page 14). The clue for number seven down is “One of the Seven Unknown Men.” The Seven Unknown Men are seen at the end of issue #0, and one of them is the tailor-as-narrator. The answer to number seven across is “Gloriana,” thus giving us a “G” as the first letter for number seven down. Furthermore, we’re told at the top of the page that “The answers are right here in the paper that counts.” I believe we are supposed to be able to figure out the answers to all of the crossword puzzle clues. The only answer that would obviously work for the two-letter answer that begins with “G” for number seven down is “GM,” for “Grant Morrison.”
So, what does Grant Morrison have to say to us (the readers as Zachary Zor)? Here are the pertinent bits (of course, all of the following statements that I’m quoting work on two levels—as statements by the tailor within the story and by Morrison outside the story):
"I haven’t forgotten about you, if that’s what you’re thinking” (page 1): First, it is the tailor in the story speaking to “Zachary Zor.” Second, though, it is Morrison telling the readers that despite the delays in getting this issue out, he hasn’t forgotten about us.There are many more things that I noticed about this issue, such as Morrison’s merging of Kirby’s The Eternals (a Marvel title) with Kirby’s New Gods, or that Morrison has imitated the style of the novel USA by John Dos Passos. Still, suffice it to say that Morrison is well aware of the fact that this issue (indeed, this series) doesn’t “cohere” the way that fans wanted it to cohere.
“I’ve a job to finish before I get around to you” (page 1): Within the story, the tailor had another tailoring job to finish before working on Zor’s miser’s coat. Outside the story, Morrison is telling us that he had other jobs to finish before he could get back to completing Seven Soldiers.
The tailor then begins to tell Zachary the tale of the Seven Soldiers (the tailor is a teller of tales, get it). Notice, however, that the panels have been getting very crowded here, and that the tailor actually seems to knock on the side of a panel—indicating that he is being boxed in.
Notice, too, that the panels are not simply square or rectangular panels. They interlock—like puzzle pieces. These panels symbolize the scraps that are used to construct the miser’s coat as well as the pieces of the Seven Soldiers series that must now be interlocked as a puzzle, but which the tailor feels boxed in or restricted by.
“And the suits we tailors make are lives, if you follow. Do you follow?” (page 1): There is really no way to “follow” the logic of this line within the story, since a tailor making a suit is not “making a life.” However, it does “follow” once we realize that Morrison is stating that “the tales we writers make are lives,” as in the characters are like living, breathing people.
“I have a confession to make. This coat’s not for Cyrus the miser. Not really. It’s for you” (page 12): Cyrus Gold (the miser) was, of course, Solomon Grundy’s name before he died (back in All-American Comics #61 in 1944). Gold was a miser who was murdered in the 18th century in Slaughter Swamp outside of Gotham City. When he was resurrected, he took the name Solomon Grundy because he was born on a Monday.
In the story, the tailor is making a coat that is not actually for Cyrus Gold (who is now a Grundy) but is for Zachary Zor who looks like Cyrus Gold except for having a beard an mustache. I don’t know what all that means, but it’s something I’m going to keep in mind when I eventually get around to re-reading the entire series.
Outside the story, of course, Morrison is simply telling the reader that he is writing this issue (or this series) for us (the readers)rather than for Gold (i.e., rather than for “money”).
Near the end of the story, the tailor tells Zor, “I’m just about done. Heh. Imagine you in a miser’s coat. Threadbare and ragged . . . the work of too many hands to ever fit properly” (page 34). Within the story, the tailor is putting the patchwork coat on Zor. Outside the story, Morrison is potentially telling us a variety of things simultaneously.
First, he’s acknowledging that the story is just about finished (both the issue and the series).
Second, he’s telling us that the story is “threadbare and ragged,” essentially agreeing with those reviewers who have stated that the story doesn’t cohere, and that this last chapter isn’t a “proper fit” to the rest of the series.
Third, he’s explaining why the story doesn’t cohere and/or why this issue isn’t the ending he wanted it to be; it’s the product of “too many hands.”
This last bit is applicable in a variety of ways. First, the issue isn’t the “proper fit” to the rest of the series that he wanted it to be because too many other people had their hands in it, possibly indicating that he had to make changes to his original script due to editorial demands and/or changes in the DC universe that took place in such titles as Infinite Crisis and 52.
Second, the series as a whole may not have come out the way he wanted it because it also had “too many hands” involved in its creation:
Different illustrators on each miniseries to three different illustrators on Mister Miracle, and
Editorial changes that were demanded regarding the sexual material in Bulleteer in relation to Sally Sonic’s apparent age.
Third, Morrison may also be commenting on the creation of comic books within a company universe for readers who often demand an adherence to continuity despite the fact that hundreds of creators have created thousands of stories within that company universe.
Finally, “We played by your rules, Eighth of Seven. And you lost. So you get to stay here forever” (page 34). Within the story, the tailor seems to be sewing up Zor within the miser’s coat—much like Montresor seals Fortunato behind the wall in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado.”
Outside the story, Morrison is telling us that the demands and expectations of the readers are impossible for him (and other creators) to meet while still telling the story he wanted, so the readers are stuck with the story as it is.
I have a suspicion though, that Morrison’s Seven Soldiers actually does cohere (much like Ezra Pound’s Cantos coheres despite Pound’s opinion that it doesn’t). However, I will have to re-read the series to see the Postmodern patterns that make it coherent.
I would call this series a worthwhile experiment with a last chapter that is self-referential and filled with notions that need to be considered, such as whether I should lighten up on my criticism of Geoff Johns who faced an even more difficult task than Morrison given the “too many hands” that were involved in the creation of Infinite Crisis and its related miniseries(es).
What did you think of this book?
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