At Comic-Con, io9 had a chat with the one and only Grant Morrison. The Scottish author told us about his new superhero history book/autobiography Supergods, his plans for Dinosaurs Versus Aliens, and the ideal Superman for the 21st century.
You've built your career on comics. Why a book?
It was initially supposed to be a book of past interviews on the subject of superheroes. So I wrote a new introduction, and they said, "Oh, we really like this new introduction, could you write all new material?" So it basically came around as an accident. The idea was to tell the entire history of superheroes within context, because quite clearly they moved from this dark, underground comic book cult area to the mainstream of culture.
Why do we love them so much, what do they represent over the years, how have they changed? And because a lot of people might not be specifically interested in a book of superheroes — but might be interested in the story of someone [who's worked with them] — there's a personal dimension to it as well.
Later in Supergods, you discuss your experiences writing in the early 2000s, which was a creatively fertile time for comics. Would you say you're the first person to provide a popular history of this era?
I hadn't even thought about it. Possibly. I also write about the Image Comics in the 1990s, and there's so little talked about in that period and what it represented. It was the same for the period around 2000. We had things like The Authority and the rise of kind of the socialist, leftist superhero. It kind of tied into the No Logo, anti-corporate world we were living in.
And then suddenly 9/11 happened, and almost overnight superheroes become co-opted by the military-industrial complex and you get things like The Ultimates, who work with the army. That transformation is so incredible. I think there's a lot more work to be done in that, I only had it at the end of my story. Also, I was involved with it. I didn't have the ironic distance I needed to tell the true history, but I wanted to cover everything.
In the book, you talk about how you're less pleased with your depiction of Magneto in New X-Men nowadays. Why is that?
Magneto started out as a violent, unpleasant character with magnetic powers, but over the years, Chris Claremont and other writers transformed Magneto into a sensitive anti-heroic survivor of the death camps. But I had still felt that he had become too soft, we were letting this guy away with the fact that really he was a terrorist. We had just suffered this huge terrorist attack, and I wanted to get into the mind set of people who do this stuff. They talk about big ideas, but all they want to do is hurt people they don't agree with.
So I wanted to take Magneto in that direction, but it didn't go down well with the fans. People hated the fact that I undermined all the character building over the years. So I felt disappointed, I didn't want to upset the fans. I thought I was doing something they could understand and relate to.
For someone unfamiliar with superheroes, what do you hope they'll walk away with after reading Supergods?
What I wanted to do was something like if you've never heard of movies or music. That's a mad idea, but I wanted to introduce this amazing history created by these interesting, eccentric characters. We have our Warhols, we have our Dalís, but I think people should be aware of these great [superheroic] works because they're as great as the great works in any other medium. I was thinking of people like Nick Kent and Lester Bangs who brought themselves into the story, and that's the kind of book I was aspiring for.
What sort of themes in Supergods will we see in your upcoming run on Action Comics?
For the first chapter, I went back to Action Comics #1 — I've always seen it nostalgically. But when I read it again, I thought about how it must have seemed in 1938. Nothing like it had ever been done before, even the narrative and the types of editing were so advanced that they had no idea what was happening. It was like MTV with the fast cut. That completely rewired me as to what Superman was all about. In the original, he's this brash young champion of the oppressed.
He doesn't care about the law, he's all about justice. If the law gets in his way, then he'll break the law quite happily. That really informed what we're doing now. The hero that worked in the Depression was the champion of the poor, and that could work again in our current context. I was bringing him back to those roots, a Superman who can be hurt, who can be messed up, who can bleed. He struggles to do what he does, but at the same time, he's not a figure of the law, he's not a patriot or a dad figure. It's taking him back to the idea of just having superpowers and a t-shirt and jeans.
So were not going to see, say, Darkseid running around.
There's no Darkseid, but there will obviously be science fiction elements because Superman has to deal with that as well. It's a lot more about social injustice and corruption in high places.
You're currently working on Dinosaurs Vs. Aliens. What can we expect from that?
Barry Sonnenfield came to me and the guys from Liquid Comics and he said to me, "I've got this idea, dinosaurs versus aliens." And I went, "Sounds like the perfect, ultimate Hollywood movie." And he's written a very nice one-page treatment. I developed Barry's treatment into this full-length script and on the way it got very epic in scope. I realized we could tell this really huge science fiction story that was also the most exciting film any child could hope to see. So it does what it says on the tin — it's dinosaurs versus aliens — but I can't say too much about it. It's the most fun in years I've had writing anything.
And how about Sinatoro, which you mentioned at last year's Comic-Con?
I've got 147 pages of screenplay, and I'm getting it down to 120 pages.
What sort of aesthetic works are informing your writing these days?
Video games are the thing for me. I really feel like in 5-10 years you'll be able to put yourself in any movie. The actor or the star will disappear. Everyone's a star on Facebook and Twitter, the concept of genius and stardom is breaking down and becoming democratic.
It's also why I'm doing the democratic Superman who's much more a man of the people. The superhero ideal is making it to the streets, there are kids dressing up as heroes.
Like the fellow who dresses up as Deadpool and patrols a city in Washington state.
Yeah, and there's that guy Phoenix Jones in Seattle. It's becoming real, this idea resonates in the West, with ecological catastrophe and doom and guilt and shame. The superhero ideal rises up to remind people to be the best they can be and maybe there's a way out of the cul-de-sac of disaster we've gotten ourselves into.
We've got new medical advances, new technologies. You have the entire planet as a database, you don't need a memory anymore because you have this tiny [smart] phone. That's a superhuman device, 30 years ago that was Jack Kirby's Motherbox. We're gearing up to a superhuman future. We've seen superheroes as bad guys, as tools of the military-industrial complex, as losers and failures and psychological fuck-ups. We've tested the idea of them becoming human. This is the social realist fiction for the people of tomorrow, for them to look back and see what to do with themselves.
With the breakdown of celebrity and onset of virtual environments, will we see the inception of the Grant Morrison Infosphere, where people can upload themselves into your consciousness?
God help them, they'd reach for the emergency call if they had to spend time in my head!
Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human is out now. Side note — the documentary Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods recently went up on Hulu.