Like Watchmen author Alan Moore before him, Grant Morrison is a cultural theorist whose reach and brilliance far exceeds his comics. So far, I’ve only had the honor of interviewing Moore, but finally got my chance to pick Morrison’s brain for Wired. Be warned: This post is not for lightweight readers. Ideas are dissected, from Superman to Batman to brane cosmology to the sexual obsession with apocalypse and beyond. Enter at your own risk.
From mind-warping revisions of comic book heroes in All-Star Superman, Batman R.I.P. and Final Crisis, to pop-cultural and philosophical exegeses like The Invisibles, The Filth and We3, brainiac graphic novelist Grant Morrison is a master of the Gordian-knot narrative.
Armed with an intellect and curiosity rivaled in comics only by Watchmen author Alan Moore, Morrison tackles M-Theory and brane cosmology, psychedelia and fascism, continuity and catastrophe while churning out comics that push the envelope well past the point of breaking. In his books, reality and narrative collide and sometimes disappear into each other without a trace.
“I’ve been trying to make superhero comics which draw attention to that aspect of participation and collusion between character, creator and reader,” the 49-year-old virtuoso explained in an e-mail interview from his home in Scotland. “I’d love to see more comic book work which was aware of its real-world context.”
Mission accomplished. All-Star Superman Vol. 2, released last month in hardcover, concludes a spectacular series that takes the Man of Steel through the looking glass, humanizing and deifying him in equal measure. Final Crisis, due in hardcover in June, does the same for most of DC Comics’ timeless heroes, culminating in one of the most brutally catastrophic narratives ever written. By the time it was over, Morrison says he needed to lighten up.
“I spent months immersing myself in the thought processes of an evil, dying God who longed for nothing less than the degradation, destruction and enslavement of all of DC’s superheroes,” he confesses, “along with every other living thing in the universe and beyond!”
But he’s not taking a break; far from it. From cinematic adaptations of his cyborg animal series We3 to games, TV shows and a Batman and Robin series filtered through the iconography of David Lynch, Morrison’s plate is packed. Wired.com caught up with the prolific genius to chat about the aforementioned and much more, including continuity, deconstruction, M-Theory and humans’ obsession with the sexy apocalypse.
All-Star Superman exploded the narrative possibilities of the Man of Steel.
I tried to be true to the concept of Superman as I understood it. It seemed fairly significant that the more threatening the world has been made to feel, the more this concept of the superhero has bled from the margins into mainstream consciousness, onto screens and T-shirts and into political speeches. That seemed worth exploring via the original superhero, Superman. He seemed the perfect subject for what became an attempt to make a mainstream, adult superhero comic that didn’t rely on ultraviolence, or superheroes swearing and getting their dicks out.
He seems to be one of the pure heroes left standing in the 21st century.
We’ve deconstructed all our icons. We know politicians are lying assholes, we know soap stars are coke freaks, handsome actors are tranny weirdos and gorgeous supermodels are bulimic, neurotic wretches. We know our favorite comedians will turn out to be alcoholic perverts or suicidal depressives. Our reality shows have held up a scalding mirror to our yapping baboon faces and cheesy, obvious obsessions, our trashy, gossipy love of trivia and dirt.
We know we’ve fucked up the atmosphere and doomed the lovely polar bears and we can’t even summon up the energy to feel guilty anymore. Let the pedophiles have the kids. There’s nowhere left to turn and no one left to blame except, paradoxically, those slightly medieval guys without the industrial base. What’s left to believe in? The only truly moral, truly goodhearted man left is a made-up comic book character! The only secular role models for a progressive, responsible, scientific-rational Enlightenment culture are … Kal-El of Krypton, aka Superman and his multicolored descendants!
So we chose not to deconstruct the superhero but to take him at face value, as a fiction that was trying to tell us something wonderful about ourselves. Somewhere, in our darkest night, we made up the story of a man who will never let us down and that seemed worth investigating.
So the goal was to humanize the most popular alien of all time?
Our goal was to put Superman and his familiar cast at the heart of science fiction fables that anyone, of any age, could read and understand, even though they’d all, hopefully, take different meanings from the stories. If you just lost your dad, maybe you’ll read what Clark Kent says at his dad’s funeral and feel some sense of human community. If you want to feel what it’s like to be a teenager, look at Frank Quitely’s incredible drawing of the young Superman on the moon, with his faithful little superdog, Krypto, beside him. Superman is us, in our dreams. He lives our lives but on an epic canvas. That’s how we chose to approach him.
The series seems to carry as much sadness as it does comedy and action.
I think the best Superman stories have an edge of sadness and loss. This is a man who has lost an entire planet, after all! But, like all our lives, a good Superman story also needs comedy and drama, fear and wonder. There’s something particularly poignant about the fact that no matter how strong or fast or good-looking he is, Superman can still have his heart broken and his head twisted. He can still suffer guilt, loss, confusion and grief, which is where I find him instantly relatable.
How would you explain his death spiral in conjunction with Lex Luthor’s? Their shared mortality produced some the most hilarious and exciting moments in your series.
I saw Superman/Luthor as a classic pair of opposites, complementing one another like the two sides of a coin or an argument. Lex is, of course, convinced that if there had been no Superman to stand in his way, he’d be the beloved leader of a scientific utopian culture. I don’t agree and think the flaws in Luthor’s character would have always held him back. If he didn’t have Superman to blame all his failures on, it would be someone else’s fault. His decision to become Superman’s archenemy is a way of inflating his own sense of importance to cosmic proportions.
This article appeared at WIRED