I’m a fan of Superman, but in a specific way. I enjoy the Curt Swan/Murphy Anderson issues that were both cosmic and contemporary, the John Byrne/Jerry Ordway era that established a new reputation of greatness and especially the early George Papp/Al Plastino/Wane Boring/Win Mortimer issues where the series really embraced its weirdness. I think I am more impressed with what a creator can do with Superman than the character himself.
Vintage Superman covers
When Grant Morrison wrote Superman in JLA, I was quite happy, but found his All Star Superman series too much of an homage to the past (I need to revisit that one and re-evaluate). The announcement of how the New 52 would completely revitalize all of DC’s characters came as a shock. The fact that Morrison would be spearheading Superman placed the bar quite high. Taking Superman back to his beginnings, Morrison’s Man of Steel was more reactionary and anti-establishment, espousing socialist notions and taking a stand against corruption wherever he found it.
This was very exciting and strange, if somewhat controversial, but Morrison also had to get Superman from his maverick status to the role of standard bearer of the DCU in short order. In doing so, he drew once more on his influences from the Silver Age of comics and crafted outlandish stories with fifth dimensional threats attacking our hero from every front. In many cases readers have seen villains in the future and later witnessed their establishment, and in others it has been an absolute mystery as to who or what is attacking Superman and how, but it has all been a calculated assault, played like a chess match but on several layers at once.
(Where DC Editorial take it from there is up to them)
On February 20th, the final issue of Action Comics as written by Grant Morrison will hit the stands. This isn’t just any run on the Metropolis Marvel, it’s a modern re-imagining of the hero as translated through the mind of one of the most popular comic book writers in the business. The man who masterminded several crossover events at DC Comics including Final Crisis, Morrison seems to move from strength to strength for his devoted audience.
Symbolically I’m not a big fan of dealing with politics in superhero comics because I think it diminishes both sides of the argument, but I do have my own take on things. I’ve got my own politics and so they do tend to find their way in. And really for me, its more symbolic, the way story winds up to tackle all those issues and looks at them through the perspective of Superman and Red Kryptonite and weirdness. So its gone underground. I think the early Superman was very much more aligned with the anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian current, because I think when Superman started out that he was what entered into.
So to bring it back at a time when people are more feeling that again seems very appropriate. But at the same time Superman has to be a lot of other things and that is what this story is about. As you’ll see in the last couple of issues, that really is the paramount question, which side is Superman on? Is he on the side of the establishment or is he on the side of the rebel? And that’s what it is really all about. And that is where all the tension is on the character.
Regarding the final issues of his run, Morrison had a lot to say about the meta-textual meaning of the ‘Second Death of Superman.’
It’s something we haven’t tried before and I wanted to do something we hadn’t really seen in a comic before. So it takes place on a lot of different levels. We have the fifth dimensional character, the evil, psychopathic Lord Vyndktvx who is making his final move on Superman. So it’s Superman under-fit, you know — physically, literally, symbolically, conceptually. It’s kind of an assault on Superman that is happening on more levels then you would normally see in a comic book and I wanted it to do more with the last question, “What does Superman represent?” as well. What is he in the new world? It’s a big one and it’s kind of psychedelic in that way and psychedelic in the sense that it implicates that he doesn’t have specific way so everyone gets a chance to join in this one.
I have been following Morrison’s work in comics since his run on Doom patrol back in the day. One of the ‘rock star’ personalities in comics, Morrison is deeply influenced by Jack Kirby, specifically the work done later in ‘The King’s’ career.
These things sort of go together. Look at Jack Kirby. Look at any comic you grew up reading. To me those things are psychedelic. Because I grew up as a kid in the ’60s and ’70s, the music even when I was reading those comics was psychedelic and they have always been inseparable.
I think one of the great things about comics is that you can do anything. There’s no particular budget. Anything you can imagine, anything can you draw can go on the page. The word psychedelia literally means mind-manifesting, so if a comic isn’t psychedelic [laughs] I don’t know what is, because it is a physical product of someone’s thought going directly on the paper.
For many, Morrison’s work on Batman and Superman has been the pinnacle of his career. Utilizing these iconic characters, Morrison pushed the medium to its limit in telling stories that were both exciting and expansive.
But is there anything he didn’t get to do? As Grant Morrison prepares to focus more on creator-owned projects, does he have any regrets with his superhero work, especially Superman?
I tried to set up a story where you could see the difference between Luthor at one end where he’s a kind of cowardly, miserable, sniveling man and by the end of it he’s a proper Superman foil. Like where he’s a type of Moriarty-style figure. And you see him again at the end of Action Comics as the Luthor we all get. The absolute mastermind, the equal of Superman. So just by showing Luthor at the beginning and the end, we can suggest a character arc for him, so that’s why I didn’t use a lot of him.
Again, I didn’t do much of the other ones, but I used the ones I wanted to do. There is no General Zod, but we did have a Phantom Zone villain, Xa-Du, who is the same type of character. What I pretty much wanted to do was introduce a lot of new guys. The big villain is not Mr. Mxyzptlk even though he comes from the same dimension. What I was trying to do was take something familiar and then make the scarier, badder, meaner version with fangs. So instead of Mr. Mxyzptlk, the trickster, we’ve got Lord Vyndktvx, the psychopath and they’ve both got the powers of a god.
There was no one I didn’t get to, although I would have liked to have spent more time with Lois and Jimmy, but I think I spent just enough anyway. A lot of that was just setting up for other writers to do. The great thing that about Action Comics is that it is a monthly book and when I leave, someone else writes it. So you’re not trying to tell a story that begins and ends in the same way that All-Star Superman is fairly complete story. Action Comics has been out forever, so it’s a very different approach to telling something like that. You have to think about next month all the time and you have to think about the next guy coming in and that fact that Superman stories will never stop being told as long as people are capable of it.