Grant Morrison is once again exploring the DC Universe. While the celebrated writer has remained wary of committing to a monthly superhero book once again in the years since his turn on Action Comics in 2011-2012, he is still one of the most influential creators in the publisher’s staple. His 2014 limited series, The Multiversity, redefined how the central multiversal concept of the DC Universe operates, and it has echoed through recent books by other writers, including last year’s Dark Nights: Metal and the current ongoing Justice League series, for starters, but he still has plenty of work to do with some of DC’s heaviest hitters.
Morrison (with artist Yanick Paquette) recently released the second act of a Wonder Woman trilogy with Wonder Woman: Earth One Vol. 2, continuing a subversive, controversial story that revisits Diana’s origins as if she were created today, and putting all of the traditional elements of her legend in dialogue with modern events. This week sees the return (and possibly final appearance) of the New 52 version of Superman, who Morrison re-envisioned as a Siegel and Shuster-esque social justice warrior with a chip on his shoulder. This Superman, essentially eliminated from continuity by the events of DC’s Rebirth initiative, appears alongside more esoteric characters from the writer’s 2005-2006 Seven Soldiers multi-series, in a tale that picks up elements from Dark Nights: Metal in the first Sideways annual.
But the biggest news of the moment is his partnership with artist Liam Sharpe on The Green Lantern, a brand new series that puts Hal Jordan back at the forefront of the Green Lantern Corps. The cosmic weirdness of Green Lantern is a perfect match for Morrison’s vivid imagination, and Liam Sharpe’s intricate artwork is ideal for the light-based constructs of a Green Lantern ring. All three projects reveal different sides of the writer’s unique approach to the DC Universe, and however far out the concepts may appear, they’re always rooted in real world concerns.
Morrison was kind enough to explain it all to us…
Den of Geek: You’ve been describing The Green Lantern as a police procedural in space, but given the way you usually work on DC projects, that almost seems a little small scale compared to your work on All-Star Superman or Batman. Is there a point where this story zooms out and becomes something more universe shaking?
Grant Morrison: Well, no. I mean, by its very nature, I think a Green Lantern story is always gonna take place on quite a large canvas. This guy’s a protector of multiple planets and solar systems, so we’re always keeping that in mind. And when I say “police procedural,” it was simply to give the feeling that we’re scaling back from specifically “the universe is ending, this is the end, the entire Green Lantern Corps will be devastated, and it will be a terrible universal reset” sort of storyline.
We kind of wanted to say we’d gone back to basics with this. But naturally, a police procedural on a cosmic scale involves very big ideas at play. It’s just that it wouldn’t be the kind of apocalyptic threat to the fundamentals of the concept that it has been before.
Why is Hal the only Lantern that you felt could you could center this story around? Why not John Stewart, or Simon Baz, or somebody else?
Honestly, it wasn’t even that. Dan Didio came to me and actually said that he wanted to do this, and he wanted to do a Hal Jordan comic, and was I interested. As I famously said before, I was completely numbed. I never wanted to do a monthly comic book again.
But then I began to think of it, and it seemed that this was one of those kind of fundamental challenges. Green Lantern is one of the most basic superhero concepts. You can see where Batman came from, and it’s a bat. And Superman’s from another planet and it’s science fiction. But Green Lantern’s this very strange hybrid between old school science fiction and superheroes. So within minutes I was coming up with thoughts on what you could do with it. That’s what drove it initially, to just latching onto that basic concept and seeing where we could push it.
There are a lot of new Green Lanterns in that first issue as well. There’s Maxim Tox, and Floozle Flem, and there’s definitely a Green Lantern Corps element to this even though it centers on Hal. How important is it for you to play with these new Lanterns?
To a certain extent, Hal has been through so many different characters, by different writers. And that’s what I found interesting. I think to place him among a different group of Green Lanterns than the ones we often see in the books just allows us to bring a sort of different side to his personality in the way different people see him rather than the fact that we’re adding anything new.
We’re actually making the character a kind of composite of who he’s been over the decades. But certainly, each of the new Lanterns, I think, most of them actually have connections to previous characters. Maxim Tox, cousin was killed in the 52 series by me, and I also invented him, so I created and killed him in two panels. So, he’s got a connection to him. They all get connections. Generally, if I feel bad for a fallen or dead Green Lantern, I’ll create an equivalent.
This is such a design heavy book, both because of the nature of the powers themselves, and also because of the alien races. What’s it like working with Liam Sharpe? How closely do you have to work together to kind of get that look and feel? He’s known for such beautiful ornate artwork…
Obviously, that was one of the first things going in. Once I knew that Liam was on board and the idea was to make it quite different. We were trying to get a kind of a European look, so it’s somewhere between 2000 A.D. and French graphic novels. And there’s a lot of influences [that are] slightly different from the normal American comic book. Liam’s contribution was just so immense.
The more issues that have come in when I’m just throwing in these mad curveballs of alien worlds that can’t possibly be imagined and then Liam comes in with an entire double page spread of this thing fully realized. He’s really driving the desire to make the book a big spectacle and about light, and really about the colors and the explosions and the pyrotechnics and the incandescence of the Green Lantern concept as well.
His work’s amazing, and like I said, it’s kind of breaking boundaries for what a monthly superhero comic can do. I think it’s very different, and obviously there’s influences like I said from European comics, but also from cinema, and also from the golden age of science fiction illustration like Virgil Finlay and Kelly Freas. So there’s a lot of thought went into this to just do this quintessential science fiction space police book.
Did you suggest Liam for the book, or was he somebody that DC suggested?
No, we wanted to work together in something. We were kind wrangling over what it should be, and Green Lantern was kind of sitting on the table in between us and we hadn’t noticed. I think when we realized what we were gonna do, it was pretty quick, because we’d planned to work together anyway. He’s working now pretty far ahead, and every issue just gets better. It’s just more spectacular, and more ornate, and like I said, I haven’t anything like it in American comics for a long time.
You guys are together for 12 issues?
We’re together for 12 issues. We have other ideas, but we’re just trying to see how our schedules are gonna work in with it.
How did you end up getting involved with that Sideways annual?
Well, it was the same dinner with Dan Didio. It worked out pretty well. We came out with a couple of comics. Dan told me he was bringing back a couple of characters from my Seven Soldiers series, and also he wanted to kind of do a farewell to the New 52 Superman with the tee shirt and jeans, the kind of “blue collar Superman.” So, I said, “Yeah, I’ll help you out with dialogue.” He wanted it to be as authentic as possible dialogue to the characters, so I said, “Yeah.” I didn’t explain it. I just went in and wrote some crazy dialogue.
I really enjoyed that “blue collar” take on Superman, particularly the tee shirt and jeans issues. But I feel like that personality you helped craft for him in those Action Comics issues, it never really fully seemed to carry through to the other Superman books. Did you ever have plans to develop that era of the character more beyond that initial big New 52 origin story that you did for him?
No. I mean, I had the ideas obviously the more I thought about it. But it was a just at that time I was finding it quite difficult to do monthly comic books and everything else at the same time. So, to be honest, there wasn’t any kind of “lost stories” that I didn’t get to do. At least until Dan handed me this Sideways annual, and then I got to put some words back into the New 52 Superman’s mouth. So that was fun. It was good to revisit the character.
You’ve done the early days of Superman with those Action Comics issues and you did his end with All-Star Superman, and you’ve tackled his prime in JLA and Final Crisis. Do you feel that you still have more to say with any version of Superman?
No, honestly, it’s been weird, and I think there are stories to be told, but I kind of told my good ones a little bit. And I might come up with something else, but … They asked me to take part in things like Action Comics #1000, and the Batman one [2019’s Detective Comics #1000], but I’ve said so much with these characters that it seemed really difficult to condense it into a short story. And I’m in such envy of the people who do that so well.
further reading: Grant Morrison’s Superman – A Reconfigured Reading Order
So for me, I kind of do think I’ve said my piece at least for now. But there’s a kind of looking at some of those characters from a really different angle in Green Lantern. I like if you can come in and look at them from a fresh perspective.
Does this mean that you anticipate your Green Lantern story, however long it ends up being, being your final word on the GL corner of the DC Universe?
We haven’t decided anything, but the thing I’ve got to say about Green Lantern we’ll be trying to say it in a run through. I think that’s the plan to really do it so that so it’s a kind of definitive take on it, at least from our point of view.
What are you listening to while you’re writing Green Lantern?
Oh, my God, every time people ask me this, I forget everything I’m listening to. I just kind of have boring playlists on rotation. So it’s all kinds of things, just different bits of punk rock, bits of classical music, weird choral music from the 1600s. The great thing about Green Lantern is that all the planets are different, and they all have different atmospheres. So if you’re doing the casino planet, I like to blast the Sonic the Hedgehog casino world music. Each of the planets has a different atmosphere and a different feel to it. It’s been fun, because it gives me a more diverse playlist.
Because I was getting kind of a Hawkwind vibe from when I was reading those issues.
There’s definitely cosmic rock and psychedelia. I listen to that stuff while working and particularly because it’s Green Lantern you want to get those kind of influences in there.
With Wonder Woman Earth One: Volume Two, whose idea was it to make Dr. Psycho look like Nick Cave?
I think it came out weirdly enough just by chance, because I was talking to [Wonder Woman: Earth One artist] Yanick Paquette about it, and we were basically trying to revamp this character, who in the 1940s had been presented as quite a weird cartoonish tiny man with a gigantic head. But what he did have is this swept back mane of black hair.
So when we decided that we’re going revamp this creepy hypnotist of the 1940s as a kind of much more creepy, mind controlling, pickup artist type, we thought, “Well, let’s make him someone that could be attractive.” We kept the swept back black hair, and said he should be kind of ugly handsome, so have a look at people with bigger features, guys who look a bit rugged. And it came back and basically we caught Nick Cave. So, I guess, if they’d been describing Nick Cave running from the scene of the crime, that would’ve been the crime sketch.
And it’s funny that you used the term “pickup artist” there, because he talks very much like those types and alt-right personalities. You seem to avoid social media, which is probably healthy, but how much research did you do on the mind games that these guys play?
It was a lot. And there’s personal experience because I’d known guys like that, and I’ve had guys like that come into to my circle and seen how they operate. And then I went into it in detail. I played up a lot of stuff about NLP and body language back in the days of The Invisibles, so coming at it from that side, and then the weird mind control things tied into William Moulton Marston’s ideas about bondage and the Amazons using mind control.
My friend, who’s actually studied a lot of the pickup artists, she provided me with the actual script of how it’s done and the hand gestures and the movements. It was a pretty serious attempt to at least do a decent cartoon version of something like that. It’s a lot more subtle, a lot more devious than Dr. Psycho is, but we actually wanted to give kind of an idea how it worked.
There are two moments that really struck me. One is when Diana is addressing the crowd, and people are talking to her about these real world concerns, and it felt both like a commentary on how people would address Wonder Woman if she was real, but also like an indictment of how prominent the superhero has become in pop culture now. Later on she has that quote about how the gods are just embodiments of our ideals, or something like that. Can you speak to this a little bit, and the opposition to the people like Dr. Psycho? Because it didn’t feel like an “in story” moment. It felt like it was kind of talking to the audience as well.
Yeah, and this part of this particular story is the middle part of a trilogy. So it kind of was to a certain extent “The Fall of Wonder Woman” and The Empire Strikes Back. So, it’s the part where we show the way to fight back, and it’s gonna be a very different from what everyone thinks, or what they’ve seen before with Wonder Woman. We just wanted to show a different response to her, but we had to show the power and the hatred that was behind the assault in the first place, and that attempt to dominate and control but also to see the horrible mirror of that in the Amazons, and to see how does Diana go ahead from this, and somehow form a bridge between these cultures? Because that might be the only thing that works.
The story was written years ago, and it seems to have bled even more deeply into current headlines and current discussions, which is interesting. But again, all we did is pursue the spirit of Marston. The original Wonder Woman was always at the head of women’s marches, and was always talking about women’s suffrage, and was always politically engaged with the culture at the time. We just kind of brought that back, and I think we talked about issues a couple of years ago when it was written that have become a lot more hot button in the intervening years.
This story was written years ago, and your Superman was written back during the Occupy Wall Street era. Yet both of these, like you said, feel more prominent now. That attitude feels like we need it more in this horrible political climate that we find ourselves in right now. Do you think that these characters still have the power to influence positive change in people the way you used to?
Of course I think they do otherwise I wouldn’t keep getting involved with them. But it remains to be seen how that works out. But yeah, I still think they have the power to do that. I think it’s in the hands of writers and artists to allow them to express that. But it depends how we want to do it, and there’s lots of different ways to do that. I’ve erred more towards telling symbolic stories, or allegorical stories I think, and that just seems to be the thing that suits me about doing superheroes I think. They’re particularly well suited for having discussions on that kind of symbolic ideas Jungian level of culture. They work really well because they can actually punch ideas.
Do you think that maybe it’s time to revisit The Invisibles? Do you think that might be an even more effective movement for this point in history?
Yeah, I mean, I think it has a lot to say. I think it could be even more … I think what’s going on now is kind of more suited to the magical and occult ideas in The Invisibles, because we’re in the time of meltdown as far as the boundaries between reality and illusion is concerned. They have dissolved quite considerably over the past few years. And I think where we are now is a very pliable, weird, bizarre time. And I think that partly that accounts for the Monty Python-ish elements of Green Lantern. We kind of feel that the only way to fight the absurdity is with more absurdity to be honest.
A few years ago, you had brought up Multiversity Too: The Flash. Is that still possible?
It may be possible in the future. There were so many Flash stories suddenly being told, and it just seemed like another redundant Flash story. And it was quite a good little idea, but it wasn’t worth dedicating a year to writing which it may have taken. So, no, that one’s just kind of the back burner. One day it will get told, but not in the near future. We want to get him into Green Lantern at some point, because those two were always superhero friends and buddies. It would be good to get them together.
It would be great to see Liam drawing The Flash.
Well, that’s a nasty one. I can just think wouldn’t it be great to see Liam drawing? And then dot, dot, dot, and it can be any crazy thing and he has to draw it.
Multiversity was so influential, and obviously those ideas kind of broke off and spawned Dark Nights Metal and now that is a big thread in the current Justice League book, which often feels like it’s taking other inspirations from your old work on JLA. Did you ever expect that these would become so foundational for the DC universe in general, and for these younger creators?
Not necessarily. When you’re doing this stuff, you’re not thinking about it in those terms. It’s just “is it a good story? Do I feel fulfilled, and will it pay for cat food?” I’m never thinking about who it might influence, but it’s good to know.
I think when you’re working in something like the DC Universe, or one of these ongoing universes, of which there are a couple, but DC is one of the longest running, then it’s great to see people pick up ideas that you’ve left there deliberately in the hope that someone notices that flame flickering in the corner somewhere. And often my stuff wasn’t picked up on, so it’s actually been quite gratifying to see people come out then with new twists on different elements, because it was always meant to be part of a shared playground.
The Green Lantern #1 and Sideways Annual #1 are both on sale on Nov. 7. Wonder Woman: Earth One Vol. 2 is currently available.
Mike Cecchini is the Editor in Chief of Den of Geek. You can read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @wayoutstuff.