“It’s a kind of war against a world where art is ruled by accountants, so I still believe it should be art. For me, art may come across as trying to complicate things, but it’s really just about looking at things from a lot of different angles.”
With “Action Comics” #18, Grant Morrison says goodbye to Superman by tying up his multi-dimensional tale of the legend of the Man of Steel with a throwdown between the Big Blue Boy Scout and Lord Vyndktvx. Morrison is shifting his focus from monthly superhero comics to more creator-owned work. He’s not entirely parting ways with superheroes, he’s just stepping away from the monthly grind so he can tell stories that are more appealing to him, and therefore more appealing to readers. I spoke with Morrison over the phone about his ambitious storytelling, his feelings about superhero comics, and why he thinks he’s such a heavily scrutinized writer. Plus, get a look at never before-seen art from “Action Comics” #17.
MTV Geek: We recently heard that your run has been extended by an issue, what led to that decision?
Grant Morrison: It’s a really big ending to the story and it felt like it needed a little room to breathe. You’ve fighting a 40 foot monster, you don’t want to cram it into 6 panels a page, so it was a more about letting the story breathe and giving it the kind of scale that it needed to finish off this part of the story.
Geek: What can you tell us about the finale?
GM: It’s possibly like no Superman story before, there’s a lot of stuff going on it. The readers themselves are implicated in the story. We’re going to se a lot of Red Kryptonite hallucinations. The idea is basically; the villain is from the 5th Dimension, this character Lord Vyndktvx is acting Superman in a lot of different levels. I thought it would be fun to show what it would actually be like to be attacked by a being from a higher mathematical reality who’s got control of all your life and can enter from any point. And from that it seems that would be a kind of big battle, it wouldn’t just be a big physical battle it would happen in all kinds of levels. So I think what we’ve done to the comic is we’ve created this battle between Superman and a monster that resonates across a whole bunch of different ways of attacking Superman including conceptually and morally and physically. So it’s a real big assault on the idea of Superman and of course our hero fights back.
Geek: When you come up with a storyline like this, when it’s multi-dimensional and there’s so much going on so many different levels, do you have the idea for the story and figure it could be a Superman story or do you come after you find out you’re writing Superman?
GM: This came afterwards. The original 5th Dimensional character Mr. Mxyzptlk is a Superman villain, so for me it’s about when I’ve done “All-Star Superman” I tackled Lex Luthor and I did Brainiac in “Earth 2,” so I kind of handled a lot of the popular Superman villains, and I haven’t really done much with Mr. Mxyzptlk of the 5th Dimension so it seemed to that that would be an interesting place to go for the story and because of the nature of these 5th Dimensional characters that kind of have access to all of Superman’s history so it allowed me to show a lot of flashback stuff but without it just being boring flashbacks. It becomes important to the story and intrinsic to what’s going on so I wanted to jump about through time and see a lot of different parts of this new Superman’s life and the forces that shaped him as he was growing up as well. So to go back to that original question, it came from Superman rather than from me having a big crazy story about the 5th Dimension that I could fit Superman into.
Geek: Is this somewhere your mind naturally goes, or do you force your mind into these places so that the stories will be more interesting for you?
GM: It feels natural now [laughs] it kind of makes it more interesting for me. It comes from me to me what basically is, a comic is a two-dimensional sheet that shows the life of a character over a very long time, so I always think a comic has a particular relationship to our world, say that Mr. Mxyzptlk would have to Superman’s world in the sense that we can look at all of Superman’s life from 1938 to now. If we laid out a big pile of comics on the floor, you’d have his entire life in one place and you can look down on it. So I guess the dimension stuff just comes out of that for me. I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of the physicality of comic and what the page actually is and the way we relate to two-dimensional characters having two-dimensional lives, and it’s always funny to take it up another level and image what our own lives might look like from a higher perspective.
Geek: Storytelling and myth-making – especially within the narrative – is something that seems to really interest you. There’s a story being told about Superman, while we’re reading this story about Superman. Is that something you consciously try to include?
GM: Again, I guess it’s become unconscious, but yeah, when I started in comics…I’ve always felt, I don’t really buy into the reality of these worlds. There isn’t a real DC Universe in another dimension. Or maybe there is [laughs] and we haven’t bumped into it yet, or a Marvel Universe. And then we place these characters as actually physically real as on the page. My whole approach comes out of just trying to deal with the reality of that, so if I’m going to write a Superman story, also for me it’s about what dos Superman represent to real people? Because I think it’s got to mean something to real people, otherwise it’s just a story about fantasy figure bashing each other. But if he represents some thing a little more. Part of what you’re talking about is how Superman’s been treated over the years by generations of writers and artists, then I think it gives you a little bit of extra depth and it lets the fight stuff to at least be tied into something that’s got its roots in the real world. Because Superman does exist in the real world – although in our world he’s purely a fantastic figure – he has movies, he has comics, so I’m kind of interested in our relationship to that figures, I think it always plays into the story.
Geek: Do you have a feeling or a fear that you’re making it too complicated, that you need to simplify? Do you ever doubt yourself in that way as writer?
GM: Always! Especially, you read things and maybe people don’t get it, but so many other people do get it that I’d rather speak to people than speak down to them. I find that enough people get it and I’ve been popular for quite a long, long time so I guess it’s working somehow. For me, it’s like, comic fans have always been intelligent people, they’re readers that are interested in sc-fi, that are interested in fringe stuff – and I would just never talk down to them. And I kind of prefer stuff that treats me as an intelligent person. I like Steven Moffat’s “Doctor Who” or I like William Burroughs because they don’t treat me like an idiot and they don’t spoon-feed me story structures that have been dictated by Hollywood executives. It’s a kind of war against a world where art is ruled by accountants, so I still believe it should be art. For me, art may come across as trying to complicate things, but it’s really just about looking at things from a lot of different angles.
Geek: And what led to the decision to step away from “Action Comics”? If it was your decision.
GM: No, it was my…I was actually only committed to do six issues, was the plan at the start and when I spoke to Dan [Didio], Dan said, “Do you want to do this new Superman?” So I had some big ideas about his early years, and I wanted to do this young Superman, who hadn’t quite grown into who he would become, so it was initially it was going to be six issues and to show how that young Superman got his costume, his new Jim Lee costume, and slightly developed from the Golden Age idea into something that he recognize now. But then, in the middle at that came Rags Morales, the artist, was behind a little bit, so a fill-in came in by Andy Kubert, and because I had to do this fill-in story, it kind of opened up the story a lot more, and I’ve done this fill-in and I’ve kind of hinted at a lot of stuff here and I can’t leave it alone [laughs], so I find myself intending to go another eight issues and I ended up doing, I think, another ten, or something more…twelve…I’ve done twelve more issues than I intended to. So it was going to be a smaller project, but I got caught up in it and this is just the point where that story has reached its end, so I’ve said what I wanted to say.
Geek: In an interview with CBR, you said your relationship with superheroes has changed, can you tell us what you meant by that?
GM: After I wrote the book about them and after spending more than a decade working with them very closely – in fact much more than a decade if I count things like “Justice League” – I’ve kind of been doing this monthly for a long time, and it just got to a point where I really just like exhausted with what I had to say about them. You know if I write these things in the future it’ll be from a slightly different perspective, so it was more to do with that. You know, I’d written a whole book and I’ve done such a long time working them, really to the point where I feel like I’ve just said it all, and there’s nothing else there to dig into.
Geek: Speaking of the way you’re going to approach superheroes in a different way, you’re working on “Wonder Woman” and “Multiversity,” can you tell us what the statuses are on those?
GM: Yeah, “Multiversity” is chugging along right now. Frank Quitely is almost finished his issue. I think Cameron Stewart is about to start on his. I’m just putting the last touches on most of them. The project is now underway. I have no idea when it’s going to come out; I think I told you the end of the year sometime. Same goes for “Wonder Woman,” the first 20 or so pages have gone in and I think the artist will be working on them soon. But, I can’t say who he is, yet. But yeah, those projects are going to hit. Readers will see there’s a kind of difference between those projects and the stuff that I’ve been doing now, particularly “Wonder Woman,” which I think is a completely different approach to doing superhero characters than anything I’ve done before.
Geek: You’re a pretty scrutinized writer. I think it’s because you’re popular and you’re well-liked. I’m thinking specifically of this guy who ate your book…
GM: Yeah, I hope he enjoyed it. [laughs] It goes very well with a lovely peppercorn sauce.
Geek: When you’re working on superheroes – like Superman and Batman – do you feel like that you’re more highly scrutinized as opposed to your more creator-owned, independent stuff?
GM: Absolutely. With the creator-owned stuff, people haven’t seen it before so they don’t have anything to weigh it up against. It really comes down to is it really a good story or not. But with characters like Superman or Batman or X-Men, or any of these long-running superhero characters, people have relationships with them. And in some cases those relationships can go back decades, and they may have very different ideas in their heads than you about how these characters work or speak or operate. I mean, all I can is in most case they’re wrong [laughs]. You’re always aware of that, but that’s that writer kind of thing, I have to just tell the Superman story that I want to see because I’m a big superhero fan, so if I get a story that excites me I have to hope that it’ll also excite other fans like me.
Geek: Thank you very much for taking the time to do this.
GM: That was fun, thanks.
“Action Comics” #18 is out March 6, 2013 as a 48 page double-issue.