All Becoming Starchildren: An Evening With Grant Morrison

By Kevin M. Brettauer

It’s very apparent, to anyone who’s analyzed his work to any degree, that living comic book legend Grant Morrison loves the human race and wants us to be the greatest versions of ourselves that we can be. “The Invisibles” builds, over the course of three separate series, into a crescendo of salvation for the human spirit, creating not a technological but a spiritual singularity that would make Eckhart Tolle blush. “All-Star Superman” culminates with the titular Last Son of Krypton making the ultimate sacrifice – at least for now – as Lex Luthor realizes the value of the interconnectivity of the human race. “The Filth” wraps up as a reimagined millennial Gaia is approached by the desperate lead, who is literally clutching the “filth” his life has become, asking what to do with it. Telling him to turn lemons into lemonade, she tells him to “spread it on [his] flowers”.

On Thursday, May 9th, DC Entertainment opened the doors of its Burbank offices to a group of reporters for an evening with Morrison himself, showcasing original artwork for the upcoming Shazam issue of the miniseries “Multiversity” (art by Cameron Stewart) and his long-rumored collaboration with former “Batman Incorporated” and “Swamp Thing” artist Yanick Paquette, the graphic novel” Wonder Woman: Earth One.” Also in attendance were DC higher-ups including Diane Nelson, Dan DiDio and Jim Lee, as well as Executive Director of Publicity Alex Segura and Morrison’s wife, Kristan, among others.

Among the light fare served were specially-created cookies featuring the cover art from some of Morrison’s most well-known recent DC work, including the New 52 covers for “Action Comics” #1 and “Batman Incorporated” #8, as well as the Christ-like Kryptonian seen on the cover of the “All-Star Superman Omnibus.” A special cocktail called The Heretic, seemingly in honor of Damian Wayne’s assassin, was prepared for the attendees amidst joking cries of “too soon.”

DCE President Diane Nelson introduced Morrison to those in attendance, discussing his immense value to DC and describing how, when she started the job three years previous, “renaissance man” Morrison and his wife were two of the first people she met, describing the meeting as a “fantastic introduction” the company’s creative stable.

Jim Lee thanked Morrison for his “creative leadership”, comparing the scribe to the great creators of the Golden and Silver Ages of comics, citing his accessibility as a means to “rub shoulders with the greats here and now” for both creators and fans. Continuing, the artist says it’s “amazing to see a guy of his stature and ability” continue to work so prevalently in the field, noting that with Morrison’s large body of work he could easily have retired by now, and that it’s great to still see his love for comics shine through.

DiDio, who has been with the company for roughly eleven years, cited Morrison’s return to DC in the mid-aughts, following the culmination of his work on “New X-Men” for Marvel, as a “turning point” for where the company wanted to go creatively, noting that it not only “elevated the quality of the books” but also “the work of everyone around him”. DiDio cited the experimental weekly series “52 “as a clear-cut example of this. Applauding Morrison’s decision to stay in the industry and not forsake it for larger, more lucrative creative endeavors, DiDio praised Morrison’s continued “A-game full time”. Noting that Morrison’s seven-year Batman epic is about to wrap up, DiDio noted that the entire story, from first to yet-to-be published last, is exactly what the Scottish writer had pitched him years ago. He joked that “we did everything to knock him off his game. We relaunched the line, we did everything possible…he was undeterred…he told the story he wanted to tell and stayed true to it every step of the way. Not only that, but he re-energized Batman, he launched Batman and Robin, he launched Batman Incorporated, and…created three strong franchises just on the story and the strength he brought to those characters.”

The assembled DCE heads also noted that while penning his Bat-epic, he also found time to create other masterpieces for the company, including his dense, brilliant “Seven Soldiers” story that featured Shining Knight, Klarion, Zatanna, Frankenstein, and others.

Re-iterating a common axiom heard from DC these days, Nelson said that Vertigo is a big part of the company’s future, but threw a Morrison-shaped wrench into the works by stating that they’re “relying on Grant to help us drive them forward,” citing that the mature readers imprint is “really where he began” with legendary runs on books like “Animal Man” and “Doom Patrol” in the 1980s.

Joking that he felt like he was on “This Is Your Life” and was about to be dragged off to the guillotine, Morrison discussed his strong love for Batman at length. “I love Batman. Batman is…so cool, and I love Batman in every incarnation, and for me that was the secret of the character. When [former editor and current “Batman and Robin” writer] Peter Tomasi came to me…he said, ‘Do you want to do Batman?’ And I kind of thought I’d said what I had to say about Batman” in the 1980s “Arkham Asylum” and “Gothic.” “What could I do with Batman?” The writer wondered. “Everything cool had been done with Batman.” Listing an amazing group of writers and artists who had already worked on the character, “everyone cool has done Batman,” including Alan Moore and Frank Miller. He realized that the Batman stories and creators of the past, that the entire Batman bibliography, was the story. Deciding to approach the entire Batman catalogue as a sort of “biography,” that “all of those stories from 1939 until now were true, and they were part of this guy’s biography.” Figuring that Bruce Wayne has had fifteen years behind the cape and cowl and that he must have started around nineteen and that “he’s kind of thirty-four now, heading for thirty-five”, he realized “you could fit all that stuff in”, and that, for the scribe, is “when the floodgates opened…I love the Adam West [television series], the animated Batman…the character can encompass any interpretation, which I think is what makes that character so brilliant and why it’s survived across so many media, is you can do the comedy Batman, the camp Batman, the super-serious dark existential Batman, you can do the adventure Batman, the detective Batman, the street-crime Batman, the fantasy Batman, the superhero Batman, and the character bends” and morphs to work in all those varied situations.

Morrison, discussing his approach to the character, went into more detail into his “Bat-biography” than he ever has before.

“To me, to take the totality of Batman, and to imagine that when this guy was twenty-four, he was Adam West, y’know, and the Joker wasn’t killing people anymore, he was just tripping on his own chemicals, everyone in Gotham was tripping, Batman and Robin were tripping, and it looked like the Batman TV show, y’know, but then a year a later, suddenly Neal Adams comes in, Denny O’Neil comes in, and I thought that from the TV show Batman, there’s this crazy psychedelic pop-art Gotham and suddenly Batman sits down and says ‘I’ve had enough of this gas, I’ve had enough of these fumes, and [Dick Grayson’s] getting old enough that he’s going to college…and suddenly Batman is moving into a penthouse apartment and he’s got a sexier car and suddenly Talia Al Ghul is like grabbing him with his hairy chest, the top’s off, the cape’s gone, the hair’s out…So suddenly…he’s lost the kid and he becomes this James Bond Batman, and you can take [that kind of tonal shift] to the entire history of the character. So that was the 70s Batman coming out of the 60s Batman into 80s Batman where you have a little bit of the Frank Miller stuff. Suddenly Robin dies, he’s beaten to death by a crowbar in a phone-in stunt. And what does that do to that man if you imagine that entire thing as a singular timeline, and he’d lived all those years and lived those moments? That, for me, was the Batman, that was the Batman that I wrote about, and tried to tell a very long seven-year story about…I hope I’ve done it justice, you know, incorporated as much of that, you know, even the dumb stuff, the 1950s stuff where Batman was up against weird, modernist space aliens and bizarre psychedelic adventures and things that seemed not to suit the character at all, to be able to integrate that as well and to say ‘this is when he was twenty-three years old and Gotham went really weird. Y’know, it might not have been aliens, but it felt like aliens.’”

Calling it “appropriate” that much of the New 52 Batman series “discards” most of what Morrison worked with in order to build even newer takes, he makes particular note of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s flagship “brilliant” Batman series, praising the “forward motion” of the series. “That’s how Batman works. He’s undying. He’s one of the smartest things anyone has ever come up with.”

Laughing, the “Joe the Barbarian” and “We3″ writer said “Batman is really cool, is the basis of my thesis.”

Discussing the end of his run with the character, Morrison says his work with Batman has always been circular, “and the circle that it made was always this idea of the Eye of the Gorgon, which was Talia, which was Ra’s Al Ghul, and they were always the ‘bad people’ in this, and I was always trying to remind you of that.” Noting that as the run ends many elements come back into play, he promises “a sort of coda for Doctor Hurt”, the fan-favorite villain who claimed to be the Devil, and teases the impending inclusion of “invisible Batman”.

Moving onto Superman, who he wrote in series like All-Star Superman, Action Comics, Final Crisis and JLA, he notes that the Man of Steel started out as a “socialist crusader in 1938, he was a depression-era hero who was created by kind of marginalized young men, and he went on to become, in the 40s, during the war years, a patriot, and then in the post-war years he was suddenly a suburban dad trying to make sense of his weird extended family and his role in the world in the same way that a lot of men in the war must have felt, those exact feelings. In the 60s, he became a sort of cosmic seeker. In the 70s, you know, he kind of extended that slightly into a sea of frozen gestures. In the 80s, he became a yuppie. In the 90s, he died! And the entire mechanism of Superman was then examined in a weird kind of post-modern way through the comics.”

Citing that while obviously Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne have different histories, he notes their clear similarities, all of which line in their abilities to change with the times. “Batman and Superman,” Morrison says, “tell us what’s going on in the culture at each stage of their development.” Discussing the poster for this summer’s Man of Steel film, which features the Last Son of Krypton in restraints and in the custody of peace officers, he says that that image alone “has to tell us everything about where we are right now in the Military Industrial Complex, in a world that runs on industrialized war, and the way the media presents that. Superman is there all along. So again, for me, it was trying to encompass the entirety of that character, the character who” embodies all of humanity’s collective hopes and dreams. “Superman stands for our individuality.”

For Morrison, part of what inspired him to return to the character of Superman for the first leg of Action Comics’ journey in The New 52 was the ways in which he could rework the character. The series’ first arc posits Superman, once again, as the world’s first superhero. “All he has is the cape”, Morrison notes, discussing the reboot’s early “Bruce Springsteen Superman” look of blue jeans and a t-shirt. “You see the beginnings of what the superhero may become…didn’t we all once run around with our capes, and our little jeans and our blue t-shirt?…It’s always been part of the appeal of Superman. Underneath all of our everyday shocks lies this blazing ‘S’, and we should basically learn from this character that we’ve created who kind of reminds us of that. It’s kind of our responsibility…to save the day.”

Morrison then segued into his upcoming work, starting with the impending 120-page first volume of “Wonder Woman: Earth One,” displaying a giant two-page Paquette spread of Hippolyta in mortal combat with a losing Hercules. “This is the moment…where she gets those chains around his neck where they belong” after his years and years of enslaving and torturing Amazons.

Although it opens with Hippolyta and a lot of inspiration from the actual Greek mythology for the first fifteen pages, the story will primarily be about Diana. Having done a lot of research into creator William Moulton Marston, feminism and Greek mythology, he hopes the book encapsulates how the sexes see each other, how Wonder Woman should be allowed to full-tilt represent ideology in the same way that Superman, and more.

Marston, who also invented the lie detector (a device often linked to Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth), had a noted bizarre sexual appetite, and that is something that Morrison plans to explore in Earth One.

“The Amazons, over many thousands of years of living eternally, have developed some very strange and ritualized ideas about sex,” the writer, known for his fascination with ritualism in all its forms, admits. “This is what happens when you have a utopian community of women,” dismissing the recent direction taken by Brian Azzarello in the New 52 Wonder Woman series in which the Amazons historically raped seafarers to conceive children. “Other things happen. Three thousand years [after Hercules’ death], you’ve got maybe a couple of thousand women. Two hundred and fifty years later, they’ve all kissed one another. A thousand years later, what’s going on? Two thousand years later, what the hell is going on? And then we take up the story a thousand years after that…I thought we owed the world something new.”

He hopes that the strong mother/daughter relationship in the book will make it a book that mothers and daughters can share with one another. Growing up carefully watching the female interaction in his family, he was able to draw on his own upbringing while writing the characters. “The primary dynamic of the story”, Morrison says, “is that Wonder Woman has a mother” who she can received advice from and share visits with at her leisure, which is something Superman and Batman cannot do.

Also shown was a two-page spread from the long-gestating universe-spanning epic “Multiversity.” Shown were pages from the Shazam-mythology-centric issue entitled “Thunderworld”, showcasing iconography familiar to any comics fan, reinvented by Morrison’s Seaguy collaborator Cameron Stewart. “It’s told, I guess, almost in a Pixar kind of way”, Morrison says, before letting out a chuckle, “as if this forty-page story was the first movie in a big franchise.”

Discussing the structure of “Multiversity” and its forty-page nine issue run, Morrison says the first and last issue, ostensibly bookends, act as an “80-page giant DC super-spectacular story, in between which we have seven comics, each of which come from a different parallel universe, so they all have a slightly different trade dress…a different storytelling approach…each one is drawn by a different artist.” Briefly discussing the history of the DC multiverse, wherein each alternate reality vibrates at a frequency slightly out of phase with the other earths, Morrison gushes over the idea of “comic book universes as music”, a concept he played with in Final Crisis. “When you hear them all together they make the most beautiful music you’ve ever heard, and you can choose whatever [music] you want that to be.”

Going back to the classic multiverse-introducing “Flash of Two Worlds”, wherein Barry Allen could read about Jay Garrick’s adventures in comic books, so too will that meta-structure return for “Multiversity” in order to highlight what Morrison calls “the most terrifying threat anyone’s ever created in a comic. I don’t do hyperbole,” he laughs, “BUT. This is the one. We’ve discovered, what I think, is actually a technology…it’s like hypnosis…this is a new thing we are doing” that will highlight the increasing threat over the course of each issue, as one world has to pass portents of doom along to the next. “Something is bringing down the structure of the multiverse.”

“Like I said, we have seven different books dealing with this,” he continues. The initial story will feature a multiversal Justice League, with Calvin Ellis, the black President Superman from Final Crisis and Action, as the protagonist. The second story will be a pulp adventure tale, using both old pulp characters and repurposed characters who could easily fit the mold, including an Indiana Jones by way of John Constantine “Doc” Fate. Also present will be Lady Blackhawk, the Atom and the Immortal Man in a story set in the year 2013 after a world war has decimated the human populace down to two billion people. Following that will be “The Just”, taking place on Earth-11, showcasing the return of the Super-Sons and the children of other superheroes. Surprisingly citing The Hills as an inspiration, the disaffected super-kids will be introduced in ways similar to that program, and the utopian world brought on by their parents will be echoed by their dull, meaningless, “shallow” conversational patterns. We’ll also see the remnants of a bored Justice League, filled with nearly-forgotten 90s characters with nothing to do but superhero/supervillain battle re-enactments. When asked who would be appearing, Kyle Rayner will be the Green Lantern featured in the book, but Guy Gardner will be present. Other 90s characters set to appear include Bloodpack, Bloodwynd, Anima, Walker Gabriel and, yes, Wally West, amidst a host of other legacy characters introduced in the era, hinting at appearances by Azrael and the “replacement” Supermen. Knowing that it would always come back to the most iconic versions of the characters, such as Bruce Wayne, Barry Allen and Hal Jordan, Morrison wanted to give these heroes “a world they did inherit, but they didn’t inherit anything” worthwhile.

Next up is “Pax Americana”, Morrison’s long-awaited take on the Charlton heroes, such as Blue Beetle and Captain Atom, that Alan Moore’s Watchmen was based on. His take on Watchmen itself, Morrison has altered that series’ famous nine-panel grid into an eight-panel grid for “Pax Americana” in order to drive home the concept of “the musical harmonics that kind of underpin the whole series. It’s all based on the number eight, which becomes really important.” He refers to the artwork as “beyond what most people in comics are doing”, claiming it’s the next stage in Frank Quitelty’s continued artistic evolution. He firmly believes it’s the “best thing” that he and Quitely have yet accomplished in the world of superhero comics. “Thunderworld” will be in an all-ages style and will immediately follow “Pax Americana”. After that, readers will be due for a trip to Earth-10 (formerly Earth X in the pre-Crisis world) home of the Nazi superheroes that helped defeat the Allies in World War II. The issue, which Morrison gleefully revealed “opens with Hitler on the toilet reading Action Comics” and yelling about Superman. Morrison reveals that in this world, Superman’s rocket landed in 1938 in Nazi-occupied territory and Hitler raises the child. Everything in the story (which Morrison compares in scope to Shakespeare and HBO epics) will evolve from that point, with Superman realizing, in his twenty-fifth year of life, the precise nature of Hitler’s evil and realizing “who the baddie is”. Deciding instead to take down the Nazi regime and create a utopia, Superman won’t stray too far from how he’s been raised, with Morrison promising sweeping Wagnerian architecture and a melodramatic world. He promises the story will delve deep into Superman’s inner conflict; he’s created a Utopian society that looks perfect but “is built on the bones of the dead” and has to come crumbling down. At this point in the story, in 1956, Morrison will re-introduce the Quality characters known collectively as The Freedom Fighters, this time making them both literal and figurative enemies of Hitler. Uncle Sam, the last remaining vestige of America, will again form and lead the team. Quoting Emma Lazarus (“Give me…your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”), Morrison teases a team featuring a version of Dollman who’s a Jehovah’s Witness, a homosexual Ray, a gypsy Phantom Lady and an African version of Black Condor in what Morrison calls “the return of the oppressed.” Thematically, the story will deal with a society under siege by terrorists who are in the right, and the regime they’re striking against knows it.

“Ultra Comics” will be a story set in the real world and involves the technology Morrison had mentioned earlier, which he refuses to talk about before the issue is released because “it will blow your mind. This comic will possess you. This comic is haunted, is all I’m going to say.” He promises to “make a superhero in front of” the reader in our own world. Morrison also promises a guidebook to the Multiverse will accompany the series, which he calls his magnum opus.

To Morrison, when it comes to writing, it all boils down to “connecting” with people who will share the work. “Find the others”, he’s said numerous times. “We’re all feeling the same shit. We’re not alone…I ended [New X-Men on a] Scott and Emma kiss, and I don’t think anyone ever really got it, but a kiss is an X…it’s how they represent a kiss. So I always wanted to end on this final representation of the X as being a kiss, the contact, the moment. It’s what X-Men’s always been about. Find the others. Kiss. Get on. Don’t fight.”

“The world we have to deal with,” he says, “is the world of the meat and the bone and the blood and death and decay”, he says of the genesis of The Filth, his personal favorite of his works which he describes as the flip-side of the coin that is The Invisibles. As he approached forty, “everything that upset me or freaked me out I tried to turn into comedy or poetry in order to absorb it a little bit more and learn from it and hopefully everybody could learn from it ‘cause we all go through the same crap.”

“We all have attachments,” he says. “One of my cats who was born during the creation of The Invisibles just died a month ago and it was just devastating…but we all have attachments, and the existential weirdness of being human and being self-conscious in a universe where you know you’re going to die and you know you’ve got agency and all kinds of things could happen and they tend not to, and that was The Filth. It was kind of trying to be honest about the moments in our lives when they aren’t really working. We’re all becoming starchildren.”

Finally, Morrison the humanist, Morrison the writer, Morrison the shaman had one final message for the human race he so intensely loves.

“Do your own thing. Be honest to yourself. There’s no genius, there’s no any of that. It’s just all of us. Just express yourself. No one will ever have your life, so tell me what it feels like. That’s all I’m trying to do. No one will ever see things the way I see, so here’s what it looks like! And, anyways, we’re all kind of the same, so….Turn it into poetry, turn into stories, turn it into something meaningful, and pass it on. The mind is all, we’re all together in this…the chances of being alive in the universe, the chances of existing as opposed to not existing, it’s so massive. And here we are, all existing right now, at the same time as Lady Gaga and George Clooney, and we’re all together in this…It’s not like Shakespeare and all of these people who are dead. It constantly blows my mind.”

Spread it on your flowers.