On the Shelf
By Grant Morrison
Del Rey: 448 pages, $28
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“Luda,” the debut novel of world-famous comics author Grant Morrison, is a sprawling camp postmodern novel during which patriarchy is outlined as a form of magical Oedipal drag. Like Morrison’s work on every thing from Batman to the X-Males, besides much more so, the e book is wildly and generally tediously self-indulgent. Additionally just like the comics, it’s in components wildly, and weirdly, good.
The principle character is a kind of sideways Morrison stand-in, Graeme Mott, a.ok.a. Luci LaBang. Morrison’s pronouns are they/them; Luci’s fluctuate all through the novel, as befits one identified for “declaring war on fixed gender identity in French Vogue.”
An ageing rock star/comic/artist/wizard/drag queen, Luci spent a decade in decline earlier than reapplying the glitter lip gloss and towering wig to play a intercourse bomb/termagant/laundress in a drag mashup of “Aladdin” and “Phantom of the Opera” known as “Phantom of the Pantomime.” The manufacturing is a play inside a play, during which Luci is each Aladdin’s mom, the Widow Twankey, and — within the framing story — a mysterious masked villain killing off the opposite actors for obscure causes. Inevitably, actors within the “real” manufacturing begin having horrible accidents too, as life places on the gaudy face paint of artwork.
The drama is, inevitably, a giant booty-shake distraction from the drama. Particularly: the turbulent relationship between Luci LaBang and Luda, the youthful drag queen who sashays into the position of Aladdin and into Luci’s life, coronary heart and loins.
Luda needs to study the Glamour, the artwork of being somebody — or everybody — else, and particularly the artwork of being Luci. Luci envies and loves the “luscious doppelgänger” and pulls Luda below a perfumed wing — although as the road between Luci and Luda blurs, it begins to turn out to be unclear who’s pulling which witch the place, and the place all of the feathers are coming from.
Their relationship is classically and plainly Oedipal. Luda is changing the daddy and sleeping with the mom, although on this case the daddy and mom are the identical particular person in barely totally different heels.
The Oedipus fantasy is not only about dad and mom; it’s about patriarchy. The novel’s protagonists are gender renegades, however masculinity stalks them like a hungry phantom. Morrison’s backstory for Luda is a gothic kaleidoscope of the horrors that may afflict a baby who doesn’t match parental preconceptions. Neglect, bodily and sexual abuse, conversion remedy, genocidal hatred.
Luda, we study, was initially a homeless youth, picked up by a bereaved couple who wished to switch the kid they’d misplaced. In doing so that they erased the boy Luda had been, each metaphorically and actually, after which blamed the kid for the erasure. “If I were to tell you the Antichrist had come among us, in the form of a soulless child .…” Luda’s former caregiver tells Luci with lip-licking sadism.
Morrison makes repeated, express allusions to “The Omen,” a movie a couple of nightmare baby decided to switch his highly effective father. In doing so, the writer intentionally invokes the historical past of invidious trans predator stereotypes, from Norman Bates in “Psycho” to Buffalo Invoice in “The Silence of the Lambs.” Gender nonconforming persons are typically introduced on movie and in in style discourse as distorted hyper-masculine predators. We’re presupposed to consider Oedipus is much more damaging if he wears his mom’s attire. Patriarchy builds its inheritor in its personal murderous picture, then insists that picture isn’t patriarchal sufficient.
That’s the hateful story, which Morrison follows but in addition parodies. If the Glamour is the ability to make your self right into a story, it’s additionally the ability to deal with the story as a tease — one thing you placed on so you may slip out of it later.
“I’ve always known I lack the commitment to be any one thing or the other,” Luci LaBang humble brags. And the novel is absolutely as a lot a humble brag as it’s a narrative, with Morrison (as Mott, as Luci) letting unfastened a torrent of gossip, shade, in-jokes and burlesque slapstick in lieu of the anticipated denouement, tragic or in any other case.
Some longtime comics followers will in all probability see within the generational dynamics a wink at Morrison’s longtime rivalry with Alan Moore, the older British writer of such comics as “Watchmen,” “Swamp Thing” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” Moore can also be obsessive about the magical energy of artwork, and he and Morrison have a long-running quasi-Oedipal love-hate feud.
It’s unclear how severely Morrison takes the rivalry — or, actually, the father-son obsession of the novel. It typically appears like a hip grind to throw off pursuit. If Luda is a satan who needs to be LeBang, and LeBang needs to be devilish Luda, that’s solely as a result of they’re the identical satan sporting the identical masks. Morrison’s Glamour can also be Morrison’s reward of gab, into which, on the conclusion of the “story,” Luda and Luci disappear like drag artists right into a mirror.
Oepidus kills his father to take his place. However drag artists gown up as another person to be themselves. “Luda” is about that stress between how tales form you and how one can make your self with a narrative. For Morrison, transferring from comics to literary fiction can also be a form of self-remaking, and on the floor a typical one — towards seriousness, credibility. In its excesses and its feral fabulousness, although, the novel doesn’t really feel like a well-worn path. As an alternative, “Luda” feels just like the Morrison that Morrison was at all times meant to be.
Berlatsky is a contract author in Chicago.