I Consume Media - MOSAIC and the question of identity (part 1)
I've known Geoffrey Thorne for years now, and I got a special kick out of reading a Big 2 (Marvel or DC) comic by someone I know. It was especially interesting, as I know Geoff has never viewed getting a job with the Big 2 as being the ultimate dream-job. He's always been much more interested in doing his own thing, and producing great work along the way. That said, producing good work brought him to Marvel's attention, where he's now written 2 series, and is the current executive producer on the animated series Avenger's Assemble: Black Panther's Quest. Mosaic teams him up with the artist Khary Randolph, who has been producing some really dynamic, energetic art for various companies for years now.
Despite being in the Marvel universe, Mosaic is not really a superhero story. Our protagonist, NBA superstar Morris Sackett, gains bizarre superpowers, and finds himself thrown into the world of superheroes, but he always stands apart from it. In fact, as the series went on, I became fascinated with how Sackett doesn't know where he stands, and how his power and his character arc work to gether to question how well we can really know ourselves.
Morris Sackett starts off with a firmer sense of identity than most of us will ever have - he's the MVP, the player who is the reason for all of his team's success, an A-Lister with a megastar popstar girlfriend. He displays a confidence (arrogance) and ego that is astounding, but also backed up by facts.
Of course, then it all changes, when the Terrigen mist (Marvel's current maguffin, a cloud that is passing across the world, poisoning mutants, and turning people with a certain rare, recessive gene first into coccoons, and then into superpowered "Inhumans" like Ms Marvel, Moon Girl or Daisy in the Agents of SHIELD TV show) catches up with him, and he is transformed into the Inhuman who comes to be known as Mosaic.
Mosaic is split into two chapters, each with a particular theme that examines the very idea of identity:
Chapter 1 has Morris' identity broken down in every way possible. The superstar basketball player with the pop star girlfriend is turned into a hulking beast - in one moment, his old life is stripped away from him.
Of course, then it gets even worse. A misunderstanding caused by his terrifying new form leads to his powers being activated, forcing his consciousness out of his body, and leaving him with no physical, or even visible presence. Morris has gone froma superb physical specimen, to a monster, to little more than a ghost. Soon, he finds that he can only interact with the world by taking over other people's bodies, where he also absorbs parts of their skills and memories, setting up the status quo for this part of the story: the supremely arrogant celebrity, who demanded the world alter to suit him, finds that he has to be altered in every way to touch the world.
Morris' first instinct is to try to reach out to the only people he felt any actual connection with, Fife, his number one fan (and the first body he inhabited after being transformed), his girlfriend Tia, and his father, Mason. Having lost almost everything that defined him, he is desperate to make a human connection, and reconnect with his old self as much as he can.
When he tries to reach out to these people he trusts and feels a genuine connection to, his greatest fan rejects him for being the selfish arse that he is, his girlfriend turns out to have only been in a relationship with him because his father paid her to boost both of their careers (she's always been secretly in love with her assistant), and his father...
His father has been manipulating and exploiting him for his entire life. Taking over the body of Spider-Man (more on that later) in an attempt to free his body and several kidnap victims from the mysterious Brand Corporation, Morris reaches back to childhood memories that make him realise that his father had already made him the property of the Brand corporation as a child, because he already knew about the secret waiting in Morris' Inhuman DNA. Another piece of his identity falls away, as he accepts that the one person he relied on had never been what he thought.
Everything Morris is, everything he's defined himself by has been constructed, and was always intended to fall down one day. He had been a passenger in a life he thought he was controlling.
This is when I realised the subtlety of Mosaic. A story of someone being transformed, and trying to get back to their old identity is a well-trod trope. Thorne and Randolph take that narrative a step further - what happens when you realise that your old identity, and everything that made you you was never real? Even if Morris could get back, what would he go back to?
When Morris confronts his father, his father has no regrets. It was just business. No evil mastermind manipulating him, no supervillain scheme for world domination. He just looked at his son, and looked at the value he could extract from him, and made the choice that gave him the most capital.
The end to Chapter one offers no answers. Morris doesn't know who he is, or what he's going to do. He finds a degree of freedom in abandoning the last of his old identity, but ultimately, he has no idea who he is, or who he is going to be.
When I say it offers no answers, that's not a criticism. Morris has spent his life until now thinking that he had all the answers, or that he knew who to turn to for the answers. That certainty turned out to be a trap, and the arrogance and self-absortption caused by that certainty only closed the trap tighter. Chapter One ends with Morris having lost his fame, his body, his sense of self, but that vulnerability offers him the chance to gain some real freedom.
I didn't want to leave Chapter One without examining one of the best sequences, when Morris 'Mosaics' his way into the body and mind of Pater Parker AKA Spider-Man. I love how Thorne uses this sequence - Spider-Man is by far the highest-profile character to appear in Mosaic, and this sequence uses him to properly cement Morris' abilities for both the reader and Morris, and tell you a lot about both characters.
Firstly, Morris has hijacked Spider-Man for his abilities, but he also gets the unexpected benefit of sharing Peter Parker's intellect. Peter's scientific expertise becomes part of Morris, and nearly overwhelms him.
Also, with all the memories on display in Peter's mind, Thorne reminds us that few Marvel characters have the breadth of experience that Spider-Man has (only Superman, Batman and Wolverine have more appearances than him). With that experience now incorporated into Morris, he instantly understands himself as an Inhuman, and why he has no physical form. We also get a look at just how much Peter Parker views himself and Spider-Man as separate personae, as Morris realises he has only seen "Super Hero stuff".
When Morris gets a peek at a personal memory, that of Peter's dead girlfriend Gwen Stacey, it triggers a 'mental auto-immune response', with versions of Spider-Man appearing to fight off Morris' mental invasion. This is actually a fascinating insight into Spider-Man, as he's a character who has had his mind invaded before, by the Venom symbiote, and just before this story, by his enemy Dr Octopus, so it makes sense that his mind would be sensitive to someone else being in there.
Anyway, that's where I want to leave it. The second part of Mosaic is drawn into another big crossover event (a hazard of following Big 2 comics), but has some really interesting stuff about Morris trying to decide who he is going to be now. I'll cover that soon, but I hope you've enjoyed this look at Chapter One of Mosaic.