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Grant Morrison

The Reigning Madman of Comic Books

Jun 28, 2013 DC Comics
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If you’re into comics at all, chances are you’ve got strong opinions about Scottish comic book writer Grant Morrison. Widely loved for his work on JLA, The Invisibles, We3, and All Star Superman, and widely panned for his work on Final Crisis and Batman R.I.P., Morrison has become something of a measuring stick for comic fans: If you love him, you really love him, and if you hate him, you really hate him. And somehow, even his most ardent opposition respects the sheer audacity and imagination in every piece of writing Morrison produces.

Morrison’s recent work on Batman, Inc. and Action Comics have their share of detractors and supporters, but perhaps no one has done so much for the characters of Batman and Superman in recent memory. Here, Under the Radar asks him about the end of Batman, Inc., his upcoming book Wonder Woman: Earth One, and how he brought sex back to Batmanand plans to do the same for Wonder Woman.

Ryan E.C. Hamm (Under the Radar): This summer, Batman, Inc. is ending. Why did you feel like this was a good time to step away from Batman?

Grant Morrison: I guess after seven years [of] writing the character, I’d kind of reached the natural end of the story I set out to tell way back. It didn’t have to happen, but the story was always going to end, and this was the final chapter. It was quite simple: I’d reached the end of the line.

In Batman, Inc. #8, Batman’s son (and the current Robin) died. Was it an emotional decision for you to kill off Damian Wayne as Robin, since he’d grown into a real father-son relationship with Batman?

Absolutely. I came up with that decision years ago back when I did my first Batman story, Batman & Son, which was dealing with this very thingthe idea that Batman would suddenly have a child introduced into his life that he’d completely had no idea about. So when I told that story it was going to end after four issues with the death of Damian and at this point it would just be a little arc.

But he became so interesting when I started to write that little, snotty kid, and I realized he had so much potential to grow up and change. He became the most important part, the linchpin of the entire story. So ultimately it became about him, and once he was out of the picture, once he finally died, we knew that was coming up to the close of the story.

So it was always meant to be, and the emotion was always there and I knew it was going to happen. But when it actually did happen, it feels quite weird, you know? One of my cats died around the same time, and there is that kind of hole left in the life. There’s a hole left in the life that Damian isn’t there, just like there’s a hole left by this little cat that used to hang out. It’s been a weird spring for me, you know, [losing] these two good mates!

In the Batman-Damian story line and in some of your Action Comics run, it seems like you’ve really tried to bring some humanity to these characters that are basically the gods of comics. How do you feel like comics can do a better job of humanizing these characters that are so gigantic in the modern imagination?

I think it’s already happening and it’s happened often in comics. The characters go through periods where people treat them as icons and then they go through periods where people treat them more as human beings and as characters you can change. The weird thing with characters like Batman and Superman and most of the DC characters and Marvel superheroes, they can’t really change. Because ultimately they’ll always go back to Bruce Wayne as Batman, and he walks out of Wayne Manor, and Alfred is his butler. Because those are ultimately the elements of the mythology that have proven the most popular through many, many decades.

It’s kind of like The Simpsons: Bart never grows up and Batman never really gets beyond the age of 35. Sometimes he’s a little bit younger and in some special stories he’s a little bit older, but really he’s always at his physical peak as a human being. So you have to deal with that and it is hard as a writer. I got lucky because I realized if I brought in a character like Damian, who was Batman’s son, not only did that give Batman a sense of sort of sexuality, in that he had a past, and that he’d been up to stuff, that he’d been a normal guy at one point

He’d actually had sex before.

Yeah, exactly! So I gave Batman an extra little thing and it meant that he’d kind of made mistakes and those mistakes could haunt him. And because the kid was allowed to change, unlike most Robins who pretty much had to be Batman’s spunky little partner, Damian was allowed to change. That gave the story a sense of time and a sense of passage of time, which I think a lot of these stories often aren’t allowed to have. Using that character allowed me to get away with that. I don’t know how easy it would be for other people, but all the writers who take on these big, long-running franchise series have to solve that problem for themselves and tackle that in their own way.

Do you find it constricting or creatively liberating to have to write with the borders of “canon” in place?

It’s always fun, honestly. It’s like being given a 12-bar blues and told to improviseand you can do that and you can be really boring, or you can be Jimi Hendrix, or you can be Duke Ellington. So really, I kind of like it. And most creative people I know like to be given some sort of parameters, because then you’ve got a framework to push against and to bend. Then, if you understand the basics, you can place some interesting variations on them.

How are you doing that with Wonder Woman: Earth One?

It’s been a lot of fun because Wonder Woman has certain parameters handed to you. I like to always go back to the original creator’s intention and to study that and to see if that intention can be adapted or translated to the way that people think 60 years later, because we’re [in] very different mindsets now. For me, it’s always about going back to first principles and then trying to build that up so that it works for a contemporary audience. I think it’s the same for all these charactersfor Wonder Woman it’s a different set of problems because, you know, Wonder Woman’s historically been viewed as a difficult character. They talk about how hard it is to translate it into movies and how hard it is to get her right. So that one’s been a lot of fun because I’m trying to take a slightly different approach to it and come at it from a different angle. So they all present their own challenges.

In your run in Action Comics, I felt like you were trying to restore the character of Superman to his sort of archetypal roots as the defender of the innocent. Do you think that there is coming a time when people are going to return to some of those reasons why comics were created in the first place?

I’d like to think so! I think it’s happening. By placing Superman back in those kind of social activist roots he had when he was originally created, I also tied into the current hatred of bankers and the sense of distrust of authority that’s happening right now in the world. I just found that was an aspect of the character that was suddenly contemporary again and was worth returning to.

But because Superman’s been around for so long and Batman and these other characters have been around for decades and have changed quite considerably in that time, I think you also have to be aware [that] there are so many different versions of them, so for me, I was just re-presenting a particular take on Superman. As Action Comics progressed, I also wanted to show the other aspects of Supermanthat he was also this sci-fi character and he could deal with these things.

For me, with Superman and Batman and hopefully with Wonder Woman, it’s time to show the full spectrum these characters can cover and the fact that you can do a comedy Batman and a dark, film noir Batman [and] it works, and you can do surrealist Batman and it works, and you can do action-adventure. So for me, it was mostly about trying to widen the scope of the characters. To say, “Superman can do this, and he can do this, so let’s have the widest possible range of stories that we can use with these characters.”

What kind of characteristics in the character of Wonder Woman and in the storytelling are you trying to bring back for your take on her?

Originally, in [creator William Moulton] Marston’s stories, he had interest in progressive sexual ideas, which he was using Wonder Woman as a way to sell these to young boys. He didn’t like the idea that comics were presenting a very aggressive, masculine image. So he wanted to create a character that could basically sum up what he thought was best about women.

He had a fairly unorthodox relationship, not only with his wife, but they both shared a lover, a young woman called Olive, who was a physical model for Wonder Woman. So they’re bringing very interesting, very outré aspects [to the character]. Both Marston and his wife were well-known, renowned psychologists, so they were bringing a very different approach to comics, and I wanted to go back to that. And although I don’t share Marston’s particular kink, I wanted to at least acknowledge that Wonder Woman was created to put forward a certain social viewpoint which was quite feminist even though it was designed by a man. A man who had his wife’s hand up his back.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there, and as I say, unlike Superman, unlike Batman, this was created by psychologists to have a very specific effect on young men, and I kind of wanted to look at what that effect was and see how we could contemporize that and talk about that. Rather than telling a superhero story, let’s tell a story about the battle of the sexes and how we feel about each other, and how a very strange race of Amazons [who] have been cut off from the rest of humanity for thousands of years might look at us and they might make us see our own ideas [as] just as weird as theirs. I’m kind of excited about it, because it’s not a typical superhero story, although hopefully it presses all those buttons as well.

Have you found it challenging to walk that line between making Wonder Woman a sexual being but not making her exploitative?

That is the line I’m walking, and to do that I’ve done more research than I normally do. I don’t want to offend anybody, but at the same time, I don’t want to shortchange the creator of Wonder Woman. I also want to do a comic that can be read by girls and by their mothers and everyone’s going to enjoy it. So yeah, it’s a really, it’s a very slim title, but that’s the fun and challenge of making it exciting. We don’t want it to be exploitative in any way.

Obviously Multiversity is coming up. When writing something as complex as Multiversity, what’s your process for keeping everything in place so it’s not just a jumble of thought?

I just hold it all in my head, and I’ve got lots of notebooks honestly. [Laughs] And as you work through the story, the links become more and more apparent and I can edit out bits that don’t quite fit. It’s more like I’m hearing this kind of symphony in my head and getting it down and I know how it all goes, I know how it ends. I know each of the stories, and right now I’ve got maybe half of the second half of books to finish. So it’s like building a cathedral-I’ve got the plan in my head and it’s all working so far. [Laughs] But I’ve said that one before!


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July 13th 2013

batman rip widely panned? it was reviewed very highly as far as i can tell. also, it was amazing.

Mark Redfern
June 11th 2014

I can’t wait for Multiversity.

Vape pens
July 9th 2014

Thank you for the good writeup. It actually
was once a entertainment account it. Glance complex to
far delivered agreeable from you! By the way, how can we keep in touch?

August 10th 2014

In his secret identity, Morrison is a “counterculture” spokesperson, a musician, an award-winning playwright and a chaos magician. He is also the author of the New York Times bestseller Supergods, a groundbreaking psycho-historic mapping of the superhero as a cultural organism. He divides his time between his homes in Los Angeles and Scotland.