Exuma, the Obeah Man
& Hedwig, the Witch.
This is...complicated. In fact, it is complicated for precisely the reason that I'm having a hard time parsing my reaction to it-- that is, as a white cis male, I don't really feel qualified to muck about in these waters. That is-- well, notably in this collection Morrison includes a voodoo story & a major arc involving the genderqueer member of the Invisibles, Lord Fanny. The problem is...well, as a white cis male, I'm not sure Grant Morrison is the right voice to tell those stories, either. Now hold on, I know that sort of sounds like sacrilege-- part of writing is telling stories that are outside your personal experience-- but there is also a line where that becomes appropriative. I'm not sure Morrison crosses that line but...well, it is a whole complicated stew, & I think we need to examine it in context. I am also bringing a lot of my own baggage along for the ride, too; as a white cis guy, sometimes I know I need to shut up & realize that it isn't my turn to talk, especially in issues of race & gender. How about instead of talking in general, I get specific? The voodoo story is about a black member of the Invisibles, named Jim Crow.
Now, first thing first; I have a very passing familiarity with voodoo. As much as I have for a lot of types of mythology-- & yeah, I realize that it is a real religion, so I don't mean to be dismissive of it, but rather to put my own knowledge into perspective. Morrison's knowledge of voodoo is deeper than mine by a long shot, & handled respectfully; that isn't really one of my concerns. What is more to the point is that voodoo is tied up with issues of racial injustice. In slavery & the African diaspora. There are issues of taboo & transgression built into it-- hence the houngan naming himself Jim Crow-- along with issues of rebellion & a long standing struggle against injustice. Again, so far so good, I just...don't quite think Morrison sticks the landing. The story in Apocalypstick is one tied up with the "gritty" stereotypes of the black community in the 90s, notably crack & hip hop. One of the perks of fiction is that you can make subtext into text; the systemic oppression of black people, for instance, can have a bogeyman of a table of evil white corporate rapists who possess the bodies of people they have sold poison crack to. The thing is...see how that just doesn't sit right? When the black characters fight the power, when they use the n-word to refer to each other...well, I am eager to except a division between author & character, but I'm also just aware that a white author is writing all this.
The issue with Lord Fanny is similar. As I mentioned in Say You Want a Revolution, I think Grant Morrison can sometimes forget that as a cis man, he's swaddled in privilege; in fact, I think his use of transvestitism in magic has left him particularly blind to his invisible backpack on this issue. Now, I will say this: at no point in the story does Grant Morrison ever act as though he's making a grand statement about gender, the queer community, or transgender people. That said, while I find Lord Fanny to be the best character of the series so far, I was pretty disheartened to see her lose agency in her origin. That is, like Hedwig & the Angry Inch, we have someone whose gender identity is created by someone else. For Hedwig, it was gender reassignment to sneak away with her lover; for Fanny it is living as a woman to learn her familiars matriarchal magic. Fanny takes to it like a fish to water, but I was sad to see that external force. Here again...well, I don't really have the tool kit to do a deeper analysis.
I find Morrison to be on point & at his best when he attaches "two-spirit" connotations to Lord Fanny, precisely because he doesn't try to universalize it. It isn't "trans people are shamans" but but "Lord Fanny is a shaman." That I like. What else do I like? I like how we see King Mob's backstory slowly unspooled. I like how we see cool insect loa. I really like how Morrison invents the internal "magic mirror" & then realizes as he's writing what a cool idea it is, bringing it back over & over again in later stories. Oh! Creepy magic mirror monster! That is right out of my first Oubliette campaign! I like that he humanizes one of the mooks that is gloriously murdered in an earlier story, though I find the "grim n' gritty" milieu of the series-- of Vertigo in the Iron Age-- to be tiresome. All in all, I liked this volume but...I want to discuss it further. It needs more processing, which is one reason I'm glad I can talk about it at Eleven-Books Club.