Seriously though, folks. A while back I was doing research on Morrison for a (as of yet to be released) Author Retrospective on the man. I mean, I did pull the title for the website out of his “I’m going to make this one day” bin. When I did that, I found about a million books I’d never heard of that he’d written, all of which I then wanted to read. I’ve slowly been releasing my reviews for all of these books as I hunt them down and read them, and now I own books like Sebastian O, Kid Eternity, Kill Your Boyfriend, Vimanarama, and of course, Seaguy. However, one book I could never find no matter how hard I looked was The Mystery Play. I didn’t know much about it other than it was an original graphic novel from Morrison released in 1994 on Vertigo, but that was enough to pull me in, and the hunt was on. Eventually, as much as I hate to do this, I ordered it online from Amazon, with no forseeable mail date. And then, one random day last month, The Mystery Play was sitting on my door step.
So what is The Mystery Play? Well, I’d say it was one of the most dense things by him I’d ever read, but that’s not true (the winner goes to Kid Eternity, which was so crazy I had to put it back on the shelf to come back to at a later date when I knew I could focus). The Mystery Play is simply another completely allagorical and somewhat hard to follow but ultimately genius books that we come to expect from Morrison, and this pre-dates a lot of the work I’m most familiar with him. Without checking the dates on all the other books I’ve read by him, I’d say this is the earliest (maybe beaten by Kill Your Boyfriend. It’s also one of the most complex, despite it’s seemingly easy to follow nature. You have to look at it with two hands. The first hand is a straight forward murder mystery tale. The second hand? This is the hand that Morrison writes with.
The Mystery Play, at it’s most basic, is a murder mystery. A small town is putting on a play (entitled The Mystery Play) that tells the tale of creation. It opens with God casting Satan down into the pits of Hell, moves forward into Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and then goes so far as to the crucifixtion of Jesus Christ. Of course, it’s never that simple. As Adam and Eve eat the apple and gain awareness of their nudity, they call out for God, but there is no response. As it turns out, the actor playing God has been murdered, and now? Now God is dead. A detective from out of town comes in to solve the case, and the local reporter, looking for her big story, follows him in the hopes that this story will be her big break. As the detective investigates the prime suspects (such as the man who played Satan, the local Reverend, the Mayor), we learn that not all is right even with the detective himself, and something about the whole situation doesn’t seem right. As the reporter discovers the shocking truth, everything comes crashing down in an explosive and existential finale that left me saying, “…oh?”
Now, often times when I don’t “get” something, I’ll hop onto Google. That is why it was invented, right? And as I found out after a quick Google search, Grant Morrison has never revealed what the ending of The Mystery Play means. Similar to how Brian K Vaughn insists that the truth behind the plague in Y: The Last Man is in the book, Morrison says that the explanation is there, you just need to read between the lines, and he’s not going to help you. Apparently, him giving you the answer would take away from the ultimate meaning of the book, and believe me, the book is FULL of commentary. Did I mention that the book opens with God being murdered? Not to mention the dialogue for the entire book is incredibly reminiscent of Chaos Theory and ideas that Neitzsche would read and say, “Good point.” Essentially? It’s classic Morrison. And considering the release date of 1994, I’d say that classic is an all too appropriate word, considering the man’s output.Continued below
As far as I’m concerned, the mystery of the ending isn’t all too big of a deal. Yes, it’s obtuse and confusing, but it still makes sense in it’s own odd way (you’ll have to read it to understand what I’m saying). It’s not so obscure that you can’t read the ending and take nothing away from the book? The ending is highly enjoyable, how everything literally comes crashing down furiously around you and the book dives into a brand new path. The detective, as it turns out, is solving two mysteries at once: both the murder, and a mystery surrounding his own past, and at least one is revealed with frightening results. The story itself is very much a wonderful and demonic little tale that sticks with you and haunts you for the rest of the day as you contemplate the actions that you have just read. A good book will do that to you, and Grant Morrison writes the best.
I should also point out that the artwork of this book by Jon J Muth is FANTASTIC. I remember the first time I read Kingdom Come and was floored by Alex Ross’ paintings inside, and this is somewhat similar to that (especially thematically). Jon J Muth goes for gritty photorealism using watercolors, and if you’ve ever played the game Max Payne then you have an idea of what the visual style is already. The people look very much real, and the darkness of the surroundings doubly so. In fact, the story would not survive without Jon J Muth’s clever use of art in several scenes, such as his dark renderings as the detective interviews the actor who played Satan. This both very much reveals truths later told in the book as well as continues the religious allegory held by the book throughout, and all done with a wickedly devious fashion. My favorite thing, however, is how the book opens with all the actors in the play appearing as the characters they represent, with Satan in full demonic mode, and once God is murdered they all appear in costume. This is a queue you can assume Morrison wrote for Muth, but Muth presents it with such a fashion that I was really hit in the head when the panel arrived. I knew that the story was being presented as a play, but just seeing the play from such different perspectives was an amazing touch.
Suffice it to say, the Mystery Play is a Morrison title that belongs in any readers home. It is a short but well written original graphic novel that really shows talent in two amazing men. Morrison’s high profile writing coupled with Muth’s photorealistic artwork left me captivated, and I didn’t put this down until I finished it. I look forward to many more read throughs as I try to figure out the truth behind the mysterious ending that Morrison swears is there, and I highly recommend you searching the book out. It’ll be a bit difficult so you might just need to go hit up Amazon, but even so, this is the best “obscure” Morrison title I’ve procured so far.