It begins with cheating Death (at chess); it ends with a wink. It’s Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart’s Seaguy volume 1 – the first part of a trilogy Morrison has called his Watchmen.
Squadron Supreme and the later issues of Miracleman both tell stories where superheroes try to vanquish evil utterly and remake the world in their own image; in Seaguy they’ve succeeded (or appear to have succeeded). The question, then, is, “What next?” What does an aspiring hero like Seaguy and his loyal side-kick Chubby the Choona get up to?
He wants to impress a girl, but he yearns for adventure anyway. He inhabits a world, however, that is designed to disempower heroes by getting them to buy crap they don’t need, urging them to visit a bizarre theme park, and controlling their mind using television, brainwashing, and drugs. After some kind of Crisis on Infinite Secret Wars event, the heroes won (or seem to have won), and Mickey Eye and his deputy, Sea Dog, have made it their job to keep the heroes quiet and the world in line.
All this is effective on Seaguy and the other heroes, who are generally blasé about the weirdness surrounding them, but everyone else in the world is terrified. This isn’t a world for normal people; it seems to be designed for heroes by heroes. At the Mickey Eye Park, Seaguy has an okay time, and at least one ride seems to be designed to pacify another hero, Doc Hero, but the children in particular are disgusted and frightened.
Somehow, Seaguy has become inured to all of this. I guess he’s been blunted by this Big Brother/Mickey Mouse industrial complex. He lives in a world where strangeness and wonder surround him – there are bowler hat flavored chips, ridiculous iron umbrellas, and talking horses and fish – but he doesn’t seem to find any of this interesting.
So of course, Seaguy gets his great adventure. He rescues a sentient food-stuff that Mickey Eye has developed and is marketing called Xoo, and he gets pursued by agents of Mickey Eye. He finds the wasps of Atlantis (the Atlantians created them to transform pollen into oil), and he pretends to be an octopus shepherd among cigarette smoking Maoi.
He meets a mummy on the moon and learns the moon’s terrible secret: in Ancient Egypt, the mummy had created it as a mausoleum; how did it get there? Launched by millions of Chinese firecrackers! Everything is excessively weird, funny, and sentimental. During the first two issues, moon rocks have been falling to earth, and at one point, Seaguy looks up and says the moon must be weeping and crying for help. It’s melodrama of the highest order.
But amid all of this, somehow, it becomes meaningful. Early in the first issue when Seaguy is pining after his love, Chubby the Choona, his ridiculous tuna side-kick who has an even more ridiculous catchphrase (“Da fug!”), tells him, “Yeah. And I’m just some weird lookin’ thing dat shouldn’t even exist.” Chubby wears a sailor’s hat and partners with a guy named Seaguy, but he despises water and somehow floats. It’s ridiculous, but in the second issue, when Seaguy and Chubby are stuck in their boat on a hardened chocolate Sargasso Sea and Chubby lies dying in Seaguy’s arms, it’s heartbreaking. These characters, who are exaggeratedly absurd, become significant. They start to look not so different from our other characters in our other comics, whose weirdness and melodrama is more toned down and familiar. Looking back, Chubby’s complaint – “I’m just some weird lookin’ thing dat shouldn’t even exist” – maybe sounds a little like “This is an Imaginary Story. . .Aren’t they all?”
Chubby dies, but Seaguy escapes goes to the moon and finally gets to investigate the moon rocks that have been falling since issue one. He meets a moon mummy, and they go on Seaguy’s last adventure. They will fight the beetle god Zullibdig; they will turn the moon.
But it’s all a joke. The moon mummy is senile, and Mickey Eye’s lawyers get him to sign away his moon kingdom. Zullibdig is taught to sing Mickey Eye’s theme song. Seaguy is brainwashed by Mickey Eye and company, and at the end of the book, he’s left right back where he started.
It turns out that Seaguy is just like Animal Man. He goes on adventures and tries to fight for what’s right, and he genuinely helps people, even if he never really knows what’s going on. The whole adventure started, for instance, when he hears Xoo cry for help, and he comes to the rescue without understanding the victim or the danger. But evil is insidious. Evil isn’t on the moon or in the sea – it’s back home with Mickey Eye. It’s the system that’s broken. Even Sea Dog, who betrays Seaguy time and again, is just an agent of the system. Maybe Mickey Eye is just an agent – we never see him, and we don’t know.
Anti-Dad, the great evil vanquished in the Crisis on Infinite Secret Wars type event, may have been a figment of the system too. Even if he wasn’t, he was much less insidious. He was a great, dark being with three glowing eyes.
But the system is the tv Seaguy watches; the food he eats; the drinks he drinks; the friends who give him advice; the places he goes to have fun. But like Animal Man discovered – and Seaguy may even have an inkling – what confines him is even more than that. He is a fictional character at the mercy of a cruel imagination. When he and Chubby are stranded, he says he’ll write their way out of it.
Heartbreakingly, his message in a can winds up among the crabs on the sea floor. He’s not in charge here. And whoever is isn’t very good at it. In the beginning of the book, after Seaguy cheats Death and wins at chess, Death complains:
It’s a superhero comic; of course death is practically irrelevant. But Death also sounds like Animal Man as he complained to Grant Morrison in Animal Man 26 about how nothing in his life seems to make sense anymore. It’s a fictional universe manipulated from a world above, where the ground rules and the characters are obeyed or not as the drama demands.
Also in the first issue, Seaguy sees a news report about a “balloon animal” laying waste to a cruise ship; in issue 2, we see the renegade Xoo Seaguy saves become that “balloon animal.” During their adventure, it merges with a big vat of Xoo, starts running wild on the high seas, and later in that issue he finds the ruined cruise ship it attacked in Atlantis on the sea floor. How did the Xoo attack a cruise ship before it was created? Holey continuity, Batman!
In the first issue, one of the moon rocks punches a hole in a talking horse’s head as Seaguy and Chubby are about to catch a ride with it.
In issue 3, after Seaguy falls back into Mickey Eye’s clutches and is brainwashed, that horse is running around again and saying the exact same thing. Is it a continuity error? A retcon? Really, it’s part of the trap: like Mickey Eye Land, the brainwashing, and the rampant consumerism, the retcons and the illusion of continuity are a part of the system that imprisons Seaguy. They give the illusion of linearity and normalcy, that the wonders in the world and the tragedies Seaguy saw don’t matter and never happened. Chubby the Choona is gone, replaced by a talking parrot named Lucky El Loro (his catch phrase: “Ay yi yi yi!”). Sea Dog’s betrayal has been erased, and he’s Seaguy’s friend and mentor again. Seaguy’s been infantalized once more, or rather rebooted.
But it’s not all the same. Seaguy is somehow different, maybe more confident. When he shows back up, Death is surprised – he thought he had seen the last of him. In the background in a store front, a sign reads, “No Xoo today.” At least for now, Seaguy has saved the Xoo. And rather than Death challenging him to chess, Seaguy challenges Death – adventurously, and unlike in the first issue, Seaguy chooses black. He winks. Your move, Death.
It’s the old Superman wink; maybe it recalls the wink at the end of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, but surely it’s closest to Superman’s wink at the end of The Kingdom.
At the beginning of The Kingdom, we see the Superman of the future pounding at the sky, and the narration tells us that, given who he is and what he’s done, he deserves heaven, not a prison. In the last issue, we discover what this means: the Linear Men’s brutal and simplistic continuity is the prison – but, over the course of The Kingdom, Superman has discovered Hypertime. He’s found that there are other worlds, times, and lives than these. The narration in the last issue tells us that Superman has now found a door, even if he’s not going to use it.
Maybe that’s true of Seaguy, too. He’s no Superman; he’s just a Buddy Baker. But he’s no sea dog, he’s a sea guy, a good man who wants to help people, and he’s glimpsed beyond the veil, though maybe he doesn’t realize its nature or really remember all of it. But he’s different now, somehow better. And, in his next iteration, who knows? Maybe he’ll write his own story. Maybe he’ll exorcise the demons of his world. Maybe he’ll face down evil and win.
There’s a lot to Seaguy – so much it’s hard to talk about. My main interests are superheroes, superheroism, and fiction, and that’s what I’ve focused on here. But in discussing it in those terms, there’s so much I’ve left out. I’ve glossed over the full extent of the anti-corporatism and anti-consumerism; the ongoing obsession with reinventing human history as different and more wonderful (this is more prominent in Seaguy volume 2); the various mythical cycles Morrison is playing with (Odyssean adventures at sea; pseudo-scientific Egyptian stuff; even the Grail cycle); and maybe most importantly, the extraordinary humor of the comic. It’s one of the funniest I’ve ever read, and maybe Morrison and Stewart’s greatest achievement with Seaguy is in making a book that is by turns strange, sad, meaningful, and hilarious.
Given all of this, I’m surprised to find so little about it on the internet beyond reviews noting its strangeness and either praising or criticizing it. The reviews from Jog and Bart Croonenborghs are among the exceptions to this; both (rightly, I think) see some significance in the fact that Morrison wrote Seaguy shortly after leaving a no doubt painful tenure writing X-Men at Marvel. I haven’t found much else about this extraordinary book, and perhaps Seaguy is simply, as I mentioned, a difficult book to discuss.
Someday, I’ll talk about Seaguy volume 2 here, and we’ll see Seaguy’s adolescence. He has adventures that are even more wild, and he goes on the run, fights evil, and gets the girl. The third book, I suppose, will be his adulthood and even his death. Like Buddy Baker, I wish him only the best.