When Grant Morrison started working on the rebooted Action Comics #1, he only intended to tell a relatively short six-issue story about Superman’s early years. Then the story started to expand in every conceivable direction — including some directions that only exist in the fifth dimension. Tomorrow sees the release of Action Comics #18, wherein Superman will face off against Vyndktvx across space and time. EW is excited to offer an exclusive preview of the comic book. First up, read on for an interview with Morrison, who talks about his ambitions for his Action Comics run, how he hopes that people will enjoy Psychedelic Superman, and his plans for future projects (including a mysterious Wonder Woman comic.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So many things that have been planted throughout your run come to fruition in Action Comics #18. How much of this were you envisioning back in Action Comics #1?
GRANT MORRISON: None of it, really. No, I actually tell a lie, because the little man appears in the first panel. I knew he was from the fifth dimension, and I knew he was new baddie. I guess…I have no idea why I put him in there. That’s really weird. I’m thinking back. I planned six issues. I wasn’t going to do anymore. So why the hell is that guy there? Honestly, I think he sneaked himself in.
In the last few issues, the different timelines have been clashing together as Vyndktvx attacks Superman at different points in his life. How do you keep it together? Do you have a big board in your house where you’re mapping it all out?
No. I’ve got a very rough map of the issues, but I kind of hold it all in my head. That’s why I love to finish a story, because it feels like someone’s moved a bed out of the inside of my head. Honestly, the whole thing hangs in suspension as a structure. I can actually see the entire thing, and how it connects. Like I say, it’s really nice when it’s over because that goes away. I try to take a top-down view on the whole story, the way that Mr. Mxyzptlk would do.
In reading this issue, there’s a sense that we’re seeing a young Superman finally become the Superman that we classically know. Where do you think Superman is now, in relation to past versions of the character?
Hopefully he’s an amalgamation of past versions, to the point where a writer can play pretty much any story now. You can do the Messianic 2000s Superman, who’s a little bit whiny, a little bit mopey. You’ve also got a bit of the ’70s Macho Superman, or the 1930s’-style Brawler Superman, who doesn’t put up with any crap.
For me, the main thing that I wanted to bring back is that sense of Superman’s confidence, bordering on a kind of arrogance. We know he’s not arrogant, because he’s just Superman. I like the guy who just doesn’t stop. Even if you think you’ve beaten him, he figures out a way to stop the bad guy. That’s what he represents to me. As an idea in our heads, Superman’s just this unstoppable guy. As I think I may have said before, Batman fights death and Superman fights the impossible. Those are their ultimate antagonists.
As this issue begins, you have Superman fighting a version of Doomsday, a recreation of a famous issue from the early ’90s. In your book Supergods, you refer to that era as comic’s Dark Age, and I get the sense from your work on Action Comics and on the Batman books that you’re trying to bring back some of the pre-Dark Age sensibility to these mainstream comics.
For me, the phrase would be: “Transcend and Include.” I love all the gritty stuff as well, and I grew up in the ’70s reading comics. I’d hate to lose that sense of realism that we’ve got — that ’70s cinema, Mean Streets kind of stuff. I do like that. I think there have to be certain heightened emotions. In these days, with everyone playing videogames and watching pretty immersive movies, the emotions have to be pumped up a certain degree in comic books. I’m not trying to replace the darkness with something better, but you want to widen the spectrum of what your superheroes can do.
Ultimately, a lot of what makes Superman appealing as an absolute good guy, will not stop, is that we don’t have a lot of characters like that, someone you can utterly trust. He isn’t going to do terrible things. I think that’s always got to be there. In every Superman story, we want to feel that feeling of optimism. He’s a character who embraces the future, rather than it’s an apocalyptic wasteland ruled by zombies.
We’re not going to see him on The Walking Dead anytime soon.
I love The Walking Dead as much as anybody! But I think it does show certain terror in the imagination right now. And what I love about superheroes is that they defy that. Superheroes say: Maybe mankind does have a future.
Without getting too far into the plot of Action Comics #18, do you have any final thoughts on the issue or your run?
Everyone’s trying really hard to do the three-act structure, and write like movies, and do it by the book. You know what you can do in comics? You can do anything. So what I did was to have the impossible happen. There’s a bit in [Action Comics #18] when Superman comes to the audience and says: “If we do the impossible, the devil disappears.” And you go: What? How? Why? I put it in there because nowhere else — you couldn’t get away with it in TV, you couldn’t get away with it in movies. I wanted to show that comics can actually do the impossible.
Here’s a comic that would never get by a committee. This is true weirdness. I’m hoping it will be an actual experience for people. I want it to be almost psychedelic on that level. People should go check it out, because it’s Psychedelic Superman.
Can you talk at all about your next project, Multiversity?
Frank Quitely’s just about finished his issue. Cameron Stewart’s started on his. I’m just wrapping up the last chunk of the script. We’re on the move now, actually, after years of planning and plotting.
It sounds very ambitious. Do you feel like this is your opportunity to make your definitive statement about the DC multiverse and different versions of the characters?
Definitely. That’s why it’s taking so long. I want them to be great. I wanted each issue to be like a real great music album, you know? They’re all set in completely different worlds, and I want them to feel that way. I’m really excited about it. But it does have that “big statement” feel to it. “Here’s how I feel about Nazi Superman!” [Laughs] “And Vampire Batman!”
I’m doing Wonder Woman after that. Each of these projects, I’m trying to say something a bit different as well, and I’m trying to take more time on them, because I’ve got more time now, as I’ve stopped doing the monthly books.
Is the Wonder Woman comic a limited series?
I can’t say anything about the format, because it hasn’t been announced. Everyone knows I’m doing it, and I’m working on it, and I’ve got pages in from the artist, but other than that I can’t say anything about it.
I was never a huge fan of Wonder Woman, but your chapter on her in Supergods was interesting. Are you excited to put your own spin on the character?
This is some of the most fun I’ve had in a long time, because it’s a completely different type of comic book. Usually I don’t do masses of research, but for Wonder Woman, I’ve actually been working my way through the entire history of feminism. I want this to be f—ing serious, you know? I want this to be really, really good, to reflect not only what women think, but what men think of women. I’m trying to do something really different from what’s been done with the character before. That one’s been amazing fun, because it’s nothing like anything I’ve ever done before.
It feels like that’s a character where it almost seems like it’s been difficult for her to integrate into the modern age. Is there a reason for that? Is it just because her history is more wrapped up in sociopolitical stuff than the other heroes?
Basically, the early Wonder Woman comics were based on her creator William Moulton Marston’s ideas about men and women, which were quiet bizarre. He was a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a really smart guy. He saw mild S&M as a healthy thing, as long as smart women were in charge. [Laughs] Wonder Woman came out of this alternative sexuality, and that’s why they were so popular. Once the editors realized, “There’s a lot of tying up in these stories, we should tell him to slow down on this” — as soon as they stopped all that stuff, Wonder Woman sales declined, unsurprisingly. When Marston died, the sales never quite recovered.
A lot of great writers and artists have worked on Wonder Woman. Brian Azzarello’s doing a great Greek Myth-flavored take right now. But something of what [Marston] brought to it was never there again. Especially when the TV series came along: Linda Carter did such a brilliant job of doing Wonder Woman for TV, but she was kind of Mary Tyler Moore, you know? She wasn’t a sexual creature, really. Wonder Woman’s had to represent women without really having much of a sex life. It’s ridiculous! Superman’s got Lois, and Batman’s got all these fetish girls he runs around with. Wonder Woman’s kind of suffered, because that aspect of her, a sense of her humanity, has been taken from her.
We kind of want to get back to that, and do that in what I hope is a much healthier, 21st Century way, but at least give Wonder Woman her Va-Va-Voom back. Among many other things, because obviously she has to represent a lot more than just that. But I think that was something that’s really been lost. She became a feminist icon in the ’70s, as well, and I think a lot of people didn’t want to make her seem particularly sexual. She became kind of like the Statue of Liberty. It’s not right. Because she should represent women, in the way that Superman’s very dynamic and represents men the way we wish they were.
Click forward for an exclusive first look at Action Comics #18!