In part 2 of an interview with acclaimed Scottish superhero comics writer Grant Morrison, he talks with PWCW about his attraction to the superhero genre, his work on DC’s Final Crisis mini-series, a new Batman series coming in the spring, and new work to be published by Vertigo. The first part of the interview is located here.
PWCW: How do you think the superhero concept and the ways in which some writers approach superheroes have changed over the decades?
GM: Immeasurably. Superhero comics, like all pop trash art, tend to function as reliable barometers of cultural change. You have only to look at the different versions of Superman in each decade since his creation—the ferocious, feisty Socialist reformer of the Depression years became the upstanding law-abiding super-cop of the 40s, then the cosmic-suburban ‘dad’ of the 50s, the endlessly shape-changing ‘LSD’ Superman of the 60s, the troubled seeker of the 70s, the confident yuppie of the 80s, each step of the way matching, reflecting and, in some cases, even predicting social change.
In recent years, we’ve seen the superhero as celebrity and as super-soldier, tool of the Military Industrial Complex. The coming wave is more escapist, more psychedelic in tone. The Hero home from the War. The superhero always mirrors the emotional needs of his audience, and comic book creators adapt—sometimes quite unconsciously—to provide the kind of protector and role model each age demands.
PWCW: Another major project you’re working on at present is Final Crisis. What inspired this event and (for those who may not have read it yet) how would you characterize the ideas and concepts in play within this epic series?
GM: The “inspiration” came from DC [Universe editorial] boss Dan DiDio who suggested I tie some of my ideas about reviving Jack Kirby’s brilliant New Gods characters into an “event” story which would lead DC’s summer 2008 publishing schedules. I took it as an opportunity to tell a modern story of Gods interacting with superhumans in the contemporary setting of the DC Universe. What would an evil God look like? How would it operate? What exactly is a God? Are there Gods of Suspicion? Or Terror? These were questions that seemed worth answering in the context of a sturm und drang ‘doomsday’ scenario for our heroes.
It’s an operatic story about endings and the apocalypse so I decided it ought to mark the close of a long period of daily work with these characters. It’s a farewell to the DC Universe for me in many ways so I was able to work that elegiac tone into the atmosphere of the series in a way that gave it more emotional texture. Final Crisis draws together a lot of the story threads and themes that have run through my work going all the way back to Animal Man, JLA [Justice League of America] in the 90s, and more recently Seven Soldiers and 52 so yes, it’s very much intended as a capstone or culmination of a few familiar themes and ideas.
PWCW: How did the story develop? What was your thought-process in terms of story development?
GM: When I started Final Crisis in 2006, I decided this story about gods, parallel universes and the End of The World should aim to be a myth about Now, about the way the world was feeling five years after 9/11. I was responding to a definite sense that the future had been cancelled, even that evil had ‘won’ during those years, and I think many of us were aware of a kind of sombre, heavy, ‘end of civilization’ mood and a retreat from progressive values into a kind of reactionary witch-hunting Puritanism. I was watching our young soldiers dying in the Middle East while our “emo” kids back home took to cutting and slashing their own flesh with razors as some bizarre, inarticulate response to the whole looming zeitgeist and I saw correspondences there and things worth responding to with this kind of fiction.
For me Final Crisis, is about the type of guilt-ridden, self-loathing stories we insist on telling ourselves and, especially, our children—about the damage those stories do and about the good they could do if we took more responsibility for the power and influence of our words. Narratively, it’s inspired by the big “end of the world” stories from mythology and the Bible—the Norse Ragnarok, Revelations, the Mahabharata etc. It’s about events, ideas and consequences, rather than characters, in that respect but hopefully it encompasses struggles we all understand and tackles some big ideas in a new way.
PWCW: How does Final Crisis fit within the context of the rest of the DC Universe?
GM: Right in the middle, right now, as part of the vast ongoing story that is the DC shared universe continuity. At the same time, I wanted it to be something that could be read on its own—my version of the ultimate superhero battle between good and evil—so it’s quite self-contained.
PWCW: In writing Final Crisis, to what extent, if any, were you influenced by Crisis on Infinite Earths? To what extent were you influenced by Jack Kirby?
GM: I was influenced to the extent that Final Crisis is in some ways a sequel, so they share a cast of characters and certain narrative touchstones. With the Kirby material I was trying to find a way to refresh his concepts—which were created to be relevant to a Post-War, Vietnam 60s baby boomer generation—for a contemporary audience. Kirby was a great mythmaker in the William Blake mould and his big archetypes of the Modern Age, his Gods of Science, Surveillance, Information and Industrialization, lend themselves well to reinterpretation in a War on Terror context
PWCW: Why are projects like All Star Batman and All Star Superman so successful, creatively and also from a publishing point of view, in your opinion?
GM: They’re successful because they don’t shackle themselves to the long-running, ongoing soap opera known as ‘continuity’ in shared universe stories. They’re attempts to synthesize many decades of interpretation into one ‘definitive’ portrayal, aimed at an audience more familiar with these characters from film and TV.
PWCW: The superhero concept continues to resonate so strongly with contemporary audiences, evidenced by the successful box-office films like The Dark Knight have earned. What do you think makes the superhero concept so appealing to so many so many years after most of the most popular characters, such as Superman and Batman, were first created?
GM: People like superheroes, particularly in stressful times, because there are very few fictions left which offer up a utopian view of human nature and future possibility. I suspect that’s some part of the appeal. The superhero is a crude attempt to imagine what we all might become if we allowed our better natures to overcome our base instincts. If we are not a race of predatory monsters intent on murdering ourselves with toxins and famine and war, then the superhero is the last, best shot at imagining where we might be headed as a species. The superhero occupies a space in our imaginations where goodness and hope cannot be conquered and as such, seems to fill what I can only describe as a spiritual hole in secular times.
PWCW: Your plans for future projects within the superhero genre?
GM: I’m coming back to Batman in spring 2009 with a big announcement and a whole new status quo for the Dark Knight and I’m currently working on another new DC limited project which has me very excited. Apart from that, as I say I’d like to take a break from superheroes to rethink the possibilities now that Hollywood has learned how to do what only comics used to do. Next year I’m concentrating on some Vertigo books and film work.
PWCW: I also want to ask you about your upcoming Vertigo work —
GM: Neat segue! First up is part two of the Seaguy trilogy (the first was Seaguy and the Wasps of Atlantis) Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye, which is the best comic I’ve written in years, with some career-defining art by Cameron Stewart, who conjures a whole tactile living world with his drawings. Seaguy becomes a matador. Following that is a book with artist Sean Murphy. I’ve wanted to do a “world in a wardrobe” fantasy story all my life but I was looking for a new take and an original angle, which I finally found. This will be out next summer I hope. Name to be decided and announced.
Then I have a book with Camilla D’Errico. It’s turned into my experimental psycho-sci-fi Western manga and it’s the one I’m most excited about right now as I’m writing the first issue at last and just imagining her incredible artwork brining it to life. It’s aimed at people who like the kind of social-Surrealist work I do when I get the chance, like The Invisibles and The Filth.
PWCW: Why could someone who has yet to read Seaguy find in the new project? Why might they want to read it, in your view?
GM : Seaguyis a young man who desperately wants to be a hero, in a world with no need for heroes. He lives in a near-future reality where everything is perfect and everyone is happy (or so it seem) watching endless re-runs of gruesome cartoons, visiting sinister theme parks, pretending to be special in homemade superhero suits and living disconnected fantasy lives. In a world where everyone’s a star, and everyone’s a superhero, who needs superheroes?
Seaguy is a satire about the world of American Idol and Simon Cowell. It’s about the dumbed-down, infantilising of culture in the West. It’s about the democratisation of stardom and the (deserved?) death of the Enlightenment concept of the special man or genius. It’s also funny, scary and surreal. People might want to read it because of all the superhero stories available it’s the one that most closely resonates with the lives we all lead today!
PWCW: How different an experience is it for you working on this book, as the co-creator (with Cameron Stewart) of the property, from your other projects? Does your approach change?
GM: I try to apply the same level of care to all my work but as I say, with the DC books I’m working within a tradition and there’s only so far the rules will bend. There’s also the fact that DC owns its trademark characters and any story I write about them is the property of DC and Warner Brothers. With my own books and characters, of course, I own the copyright and trademark and I’m able to experiment with subject matter and themes in a way which is more rewarding for me as a writer.
PWCW: Thanks Grant!
GM: You’re welcome!
Jeffery Klaehn is a widely published author and cultural commentator. He maintains a comic-related blog and is currently writing a book about comic books and superheroes.