Interview: Grant Morrison

Comic-book heavyweight talks DC reboot, Batman And Robin and Batman Inc

Having freshly released his history of the Superhero genre, Supergods, Scottish comic-book creative powerhouse Grant Morrison is not only looking to the past, but taking a stake in its future, heading up Superman-fronted flagship title Action Comics in September and continuing his run on the irreverent Batman Inc in 2012. We catch up with the great man to talk about the future, and what we can take away from his sadly concluded run on Batman And Robin.

Did you feel as though you were swimming against the tide with your Batman And Robin series with Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne, and that Bruce Wayne would have to be the one and only Batman?

Absolutely, but the best you can do in comics that you can’t do in any other medium is at least run the idea through these different filters. There could be sixteen issues of Batman And Robin with a completely different Batman and Robin, and people are interested because they want different things, especially young people: they want to compare it to dad’s Batman and Robin and see which is better. Only dad’s version is also grandad’s version, and I think that’s the problem. You only have to look to Doctor Who, which I think is one of the best series, because you can change the actor and feel of the show every season, and that’s really clever – he never grows old he just changes and updates. I kinda wish we could do more of that, and it nearly did work with Dick Grayson and Damian in Batman And Robin, people really responded to that and I think we could have kept that running, but these things are like McDonalds recipes and have to always be restored to some kind of base level which is the trademark.

Is that frustrating?

I’m working with a universe of characters that have existed for a long time beyond me, so I’m just in there doing my bit. I’ve been lucky I’ve been able to do all of these things with Batman and that’s one of the great things about comics – that you have the freedom to do that. So I’m quite happy I’ve had my say on Batman and shown everything that it could be or it might be, tried all these different approaches and then leave it back in the hands of whoever wants to get Bruce Wayne driving around in the Batmobile as usual.

What kind of impact has the DC reboot had on your other Batman title, Batman Inc?

I’ve not had to majorly change it at all, Green Lantern and Batman are the most successful franchises at DC and they don’t want to mess too much with it. The idea of the relaunch is to jolt the stuff that isn’t doing quite as well as it might do or could maybe do with a bit of fresh meat. So it doesn’t impact much at all – there’s a couple of cosmetic changes that’re happening but as far as I’m concerned the story’s still the same story that I’ve been telling. It’s with the other stuff that I’m doing with Rags Morales [in Superman’s Action Comics] that the real change is quite considerable.

Are you able to tell us about your run on Action Comics yet?

You’re not allowed to talk about things; I’ve even signed bits of paper. So, no, I can’t actually say what I’m doing with Superman.

Is it fair to assume it’s going to be a radically different take on the character, in a similar way to Batman And Robin… or is that saying too much?

It probably is, what I’m trying to do is to solve some of the problems with Superman and make him appeal to a contemporary audience.

What do you think is the root of comic’s fascination with continuity cleaning? Why not just ignore the things that don’t work like Doctor Who

It came about with the move from a mainstream newsstand audience towards a comic-book store audience, which is a much more partisan, fan audience. These guys wanted to see a consistent history and logic around this thing, where everything would tie in – you could read it for a long, long time and it would all be very consistent. Marvel have done quite a good job of it, because Marvel started out obviously with Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Diko – so basically three guys were responsible for the narrative of what became the Marvel universe, so it was very consistent. It was set in New York, characters did meet each other – it was all very co-ordinated. DC tried to do the same thing when it saw that that was a popular approach, but DC was a whole bunch of editorial offices that didn’t even speak to one another, had nothing to do with each other and didn’t really support one another in any way. So from the Sixties onwards they had a problem fitting all of it together, and then they bought a bunch of other comic companies like Fawcett with Captain Marvel and his characters, and the Quality characters like Doll Man and Uncle Sam. So DC’s problem was that DC was never a universe, it was this collection of different characters who would barely interact ever and even when they did interact there was no reference to the last time they interacted. DC’s problem was that in the Eighties they had to deal with that because they were trying to compete with Marvel’s more consistent universe, and every time they tried to fix it, it would lead to more problems. And then the same thing began happening to Marvel because of all the accumulated history, because not all of the younger Marvel writers had read every single Marvel comic so they might make mistakes. I made quite a few mistakes in X-Men that drove Chris Claremont mad – I wasn’t doing it on purpose. So with DC there was 70 years of history and with Marvel there was 40 years, and as they got further and further into selling to a fan audience, continuity became more arcane and it became about correspondency with score cards, with heights and weights and power levels, and all that weird World Wrestling Federation kind of stuff [laughs]. So the problem of the last ten years is how to reclaim a more mainstream audience, that’s why they keep re-designing the continuity with a big story where the entire universe is threatened so they can draw attention to it.

Does it feel a bit self-perpetuating, with a human centipede of world threatening events all backing into one another?

They need to find something new, because universes have been threatened as often as banks used to be robbed in the Fifties and Sixties. It was just assumed that if you were a supervillain you’d spend your entire time doing nothing but robbing banks. And now if you’re a supervillain you spend your entire life changing entire timelines and deleting histories and dividing universes, so yeah, it’s become a cliché. It’s become quite tedious and that’s the next paradigm shift we have to get out of. But these things sell, and it’s gotten to the point where’s there’s nothing but events, because as these things sell more and they’ll lean the product more towards it.

Do you think the reboot will break the cycle?

For me, what I’d like to see happen – and what’s always been my approach to it – is to go back to doing what we do best, which is the things that come from the imagination, that the producers will axe because it’s too crazy or two expensive to be filmed. There used to be format experiments on the page that you don’t really see anymore – now all panels are designed to look like widescreen cinema screens. It’d be nice to see stories a bit more contained, maybe shorter stories rather than arcs. People should be writing comics like TV seasons where you have individual episodes but they also have an over-arcing structure because it allows you to play the epic thing as well at the. We’ll see how people approach it, I don’t know – the opportunity’s there.