By Jim Kiernan
Grant Morrison is no stranger to comic book fans. He is the prolific writer responsible for some of the most iconic modern era stories in the DC Universe. From “Final Crisis,” to “All-Star Superman,” to “Batman Incorporated,” to his recent run on “Action Comics” that re-booted and re-defined Superman in DC’s “New 52.”
Morrison’s work has taken the mainstream spotlight lately, making headlines with the high profile death of Robin, who also happened to be Batman’s son Damian Wayne, in last month’s “Batman Incorporated” #8. His epic run on “Action Comics” just closed with issue #18 and took Superman into a multi-dimensional game changing tragedy laden battle with the Fifth Dimension’s Lord Vyndktvx, which was fought through three time periods in the Man of Steel’s life.I had the pleasure of talking to Mr. Morrison for MTV Geek during a phone interview where we discussed his groundbreaking work on “Action Comics,” what the fan reaction has been to the violent death of Bruce Wayne’s adolescent son Damian, his future projects in regards to re-defining Wonder Woman, and his thoughts on Superman’s next big screen adventure in the upcoming Man of Steel.
And be warned: Major spoiler ahead!
MTV Geek: You have re-imagined Superman with an 18-issue origin journey in “Action Comics,” which culminated in a battle with a villain that appeared on the first page of your first issue. Did you have this all meticulously planned from the outset?
Grant Morrison: I kind of knew there would be a big finale, obviously involving that character. I had the notions to implant that character [Lord Vyndktvx] into Superman’s continuity, a new Fifth Dimensional villain, but I wasn’t actually sure I’d tell the story. I imagined leaving after six issues of Superman and basically just telling the first story arc. But then other strands came into it and became really interesting, so I ended up expanding it in to what you’ve seen. I think it was the best thing to do with it really. It kind of tied the whole run together from the beginning to the big finale.
Geek: When you were planning the epic scale of the story, did you at times ever feel it wasn’t big enough and had to keep raising the stakes even higher?
GM: One of the things I didn’t really do is I didn’t have the Red Kryptonite hallucinations originally. And suddenly you know that gave me a bigger idea for the story and that was Superman actually fighting on a symbolic level as well. So things like that came into it but I always knew there would be something where everyone would say their name backwards at the end, and I wanted to implicate the readers in that so if you’re reading the book and you say your name backwards then you’re kind of on Superman’s side.
Geek: Superman always emerges as the ultimate force for good, even after being put through the ringer in a battle of life and death with his toughest adversary to date.
GM: It just shows no matter what you put him through. We chose the last image quite carefully, which was Superman sitting with his dog and he’s basically beaten up to hell, but he’s smiling and says “You should see the other guy.” And that to me is Superman. He won’t go down. It doesn’t matter. You can send anything against him, which is what we did in that which was the impossible, the mind bending, the symbolic, the literal, the physical, and he comes up smiling at the end. I think that is the ultimate message of Superman for me. So no, it’s not about he has suffered, and now you have to suffer in every coming issue of “Action Comics.” I think what you see is how superheroes deal with the biggest threats to their existence, the very sense of self, and they deal with it the same way they deal with everything else, and they beat it down and then smile.
Geek: You did something here which really worked and made colorful impish characters of the Fifth Dimension extremely menacing. What inspired you to take such whimsical characters to terrifying if not devilish levels of evil?
GM: I always thought those kinds of characters had that potential you know. The Fifth Dimension was kind of weird. What I actually did was try to tie into ideas of aliens and the greys and those kinds of creatures. Mister Mxyzptlk looks a bit like one of the greys, and then I tied it into ideas of the devil and demons. But maybe there is a Fifth Dimension somewhere and these archetypes exist there, and they affect the mythology and our way of seeing things. So it was more about that. I thought the mainstay element was always pleasant and fairy tales, but I wanted to take it back so these characters didn’t just feel like comedy cartoons but had a strange sort of life cycle and agenda all of their own.
Geek: Do you feel this battle with Lord Vyndktvx, who is responsible for so much of the tragedy throughout Superman’s history, from Krypton to Ma and Pa Kent, has turned the Man of Steel darker in any way?
GM: He’s learned a lot of things about himself and there are other things as readers we know that he doesn’t really know yet. I don’t think he knows that Lord Vyndktvx is involved in the death of his parents. I think that would have been too much. Things like that he doesn’t know but we know. We know there’s slightly more tragedy there and also he was able to defeat this villain who was involved in so much of the bad things in his life.
Geek: How has the Superman we know now in “Action Comics” #18 evolved from the Superman we first met in “Action Comics” #1?
GM: We saw him up against trains and wrecking balls, and in this issue he’s up against ideas and he’s up against actual ideological threats. He’s even capable of fighting those. Going from being this young Superman who doesn’t really know what he is since the concept of a superhero doesn’t exist, and as we continue through the books, suddenly he’s got a secret headquarters, and then he’s got his super dog, he’s got super villains, and then he fights the devil. So by the end I think we’ve taken him from a very street-level Superman in Issue #1, who represented early Superman in the Golden Age in the depression, and we’ve taking him through the Silver Age Superman who’s a different person, and at the end of this issue he’s the ultimate superhero. He’s faced villains that happen on all kinds of levels from the physical up to the symbolic. The journey has been from the street to the Fifth Dimension, and hopefully adding to Superman along the way.
Geek: Between “Action Comics” and “All-Star Superman,” what do you feel your lasting mark on the character has been?
GM: I don’t think in those terms. That’s for other people to say. All I’ve done is try to tell stories of Superman and other characters that would appeal to me, and I’m quite a demanding reader. That’s what I’ve done I don’t see it in terms of legacy and I don’t know if there’s any reasons to be remembered in fifteen years. So it’s not that at all for me, just about getting the story out and having people reading it and respond to it.
Geek: Then what do you feel has been particularly the most fun about re-imaging Superman?
GM: Particularly Superman’s character. In All-Star Superman we had him at the end of his life, he was very dignified and mature and it was really nice to write that kind of Superman as a Buddha Superman. But in Action Comics he’s a much younger Superman who’s much rawer. I’ve been able to write him as slightly arrogant, confident, critical and masculine in a younger way. So that’s mostly what I’ve enjoyed doing in this version of Superman. I’ve been able to in jeans and a T-shirt to show this icon of Superman still works even when you take it back to something as simple as a jeans and T-shirt and a blanket for a cape. It was about that. It was about re-introducing an element of confidence and masculinity to Superman that maybe had been vetted over and to present him as a symbol of America or ideals. We made him physical again basically.
Geek: Let’s switch gears to headlines made by “Batman Incorporated” #8. It’s been several weeks since the high profile death of Robin/Damian Wayne. What has been the reaction to that?
GM: It was interesting to see how many people were actually affected by it or touched by it or even enraged by it, you know which is just as good a response. The things that I’ve seen, and I don’t follow much or check things out, it seems to have been a very interesting mixed reaction. A lot of people wished I hadn’t done it and I think that’s a good reaction too because that means they cared about him. I’ve been pleased about what people have been saying I hope they enjoyed the finale and Batman gets his wind back.
Geek: It’s always interesting that when ever given the choice, even when his son is involved, Batman will still chose cold logic and disconnect from his emotions. He would rather send Damian back to his mother Talia al Ghul rather than chance him inheriting the Batman cape and cowl.
GM: I think that’s true of Batman. That’s probably always been his weakness. He’s learned a little more but the logic makes sense. But ultimately Batman tried to stop Damian from being Robin even though he know it’s what Damian wanted more than anything. He’s indulged him to a certain extent but ultimately locked him in the cave and it was only because Damian was able to escape that he got himself into a situation where he was killed. So it’s kind of Batman having to deal with something that he tried to prevent which is almost even worse because it wasn’t his fault to the extent that he tried to stop the boy from being Robin and Damian just would not stop.
Geek: Was there any hesitation regarding the violence on the pages that depicted the brutal death of such a young character like Damian?
GM: No. Originally Chris Burnham’s original drawings were even more visceral, but we all agreed that maybe it was too much. Although I think creatively it’s just a drawing to an extent that looks like a real child being mocked up. So I don’t think there’s a problem there, but at the same time we thought we’d cast into it a little bit more shadow. So yeah there were slight problems about how to present that. But from my point of view I just wanted to present it as shocking as possible because I thought that’s what the story was about, and for me this is not an issue of children dying. This is a character in a story who was created for a specific tragic purpose. So as long as that tragic purpose works I don’t bother with the graphicness of the violence. It’s the stuff you would see in plays and restoration dramas and it’s not real people. Anyone who is offended or upset by it I always think should go out and maybe contribute to some charities and helping out real children in the real world rather than get upset about cartoons.
Geek: Batman has been shaped by his fair share of tragedy, how will you deal with the repercussions of the death of his son?
GM: With Batman we have four issues to deal with it I think effectively. I didn’t want Batman to do what Batman has done in the past and to be weeping or grieving in kinda that operatic sense. I wanted to see Batman as a superhero in the DC Universe who’s seen people die and come back to life, and has himself died and come back to life and traveled through time. So I really feel his relationship to death is very different from what any of us might be or any normal person might be. And that seemed much more interesting to explore than the grieving Batman because we have seen that before. Here’s a guy who has such a weird different approach to death that would probably shock some people.
Geek: Moving on to another DC icon, what does the future of Wonder Woman look like in your hands?
GM: Its quite far away. It always gets out early and people always ask me about it. I’ve only seen the first three pages of artwork so far of a much longer story, so I don’t want to say too much about that one because its quite away in the future. But basically again its me trying to do with Wonder Woman what I did on something like “All-Star Superman”: To do a story that encompasses the whole character for me and kinda how it should work and what she represents.
Geek: Joss Whedon always described her as a tough character to crack, especially when he talks about his attempt to bring her to life on the big screen. Even recent television versions have had problems getting off the ground. How have you approached your version?
GM: Part of what I did actually came out of a few years back I was part of a team with Geoff Johns and Marv Wolfman as consultants at Warner Bros. and we did actually talk about a Wonder Woman movie. We all contributed ideas, so a lot of what I’m doing right now comes out of those discussions. I think I’ve come up with a way to crack Wonder Woman if that the way people want to see it a viable character. You never can tell what people may think. But I do think I’ve got an approach to the story that makes it more contemporary.
Geek: What are you looking forward to with the big screen DC Universe?
GM: I’m certainly looking forward to “Man of Steel,” I think they’ve probably got it right this time. I know David Goyer the writer has really studied the material. He knows how to make these things work. I have high hopes for that one. I think its gonna be good and people are gonna like it and it will be that moment when suddenly everyone is into Superman rather than Batman.
Geek: You will have tackled the DC Holy Trinity in Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, do you see yourself writing a new story with this trio even further down the line, placing your unique stamp on it?
GM: Yeah, I don’t write anything off. I don’t have a story for that. If I come up with one I’d certainly do them all together.