Graphic Novel Friday: The Grant Morrison Interview: All Things Batman (and More)
When the opportunity arose to interview comics writer/mad genius Grant Morrison, I knew I had to take it. What I didn't know was where to start. Grant Morrison's career has spanned top-tier team books like the Justice League of America and New X-Men, C-list characters like Animal Man, creator-owned projects like The Invisibles, event books like 52, Final Crisis, and Seven Soldiers of Victory, and, of course, his runs on Batman and the Eisner Award-winning All-Star Superman. This two-part interview was conducted in late November 2010, coinciding with the release of Batman and Robin Vol. 2. Looming in the distance was Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, an event that has been in the works since 2009's Batman: R.I.P., making the Caped Crusader an obvious focus for our conversation.
In Part One, we discuss individual characters, like the original Robin, Dick Grayson, the latest Robin, Damian Wayne, and the different approaches to writing both in the same book, as well as the few superheroes Grant has yet to make his own. Part Two deals with the Batman and Robin book and how it leads into The Return of Bruce Wayne. Then, my inner fandom gets the best of me, and we discuss loose ends in Final Crisis and a few of Grant's lesser-known characters and projects. A full transcript follows the podcasts.
Amazon.com: I had to keep whittling away at that quick intro, because your body of work in comics is so vast. Are there any projects left that you’d like to tackle?
Grant Morrison: There’s still a couple things. I’d still love to do a Wonder Woman story, and I’d like to do something on the Flash. You know, I’ve got a really good idea for the Flash, so one of these days I’ll maybe do that. But pretty much every other character I’ve ever wanted to do, I’ve now gotten the chance to write them.
I think one of the things that was lost on the Wonder Woman strip early on was a kind of slightly strange sexuality that the creator, William Marston, brought to the book. So, I think over the years a lot of people have had trouble dealing with the character--you know, she’s an icon, she’s a representation of women, but at the same time there has been a sexuality there that most people don’t want to go near, which is quite understandable. But because the character was so rooted in it, I think she kind of lost a little bit of her “sauce,” you know? [Laughs] There have been great versions--I’m not saying there haven’t been good Wonder Womans over the years, but I think there’s always that little bit of something that Marston took with him, and it wasn’t the same with Superman and Batman. They didn’t rely on that aspect of the character to be successful in the early days. So, that’s my feeling on Wonder Woman: it’d be nice to restore a little bit of that without being purient or sensationalistic.
Amazon.com: You originally started with Batman in Arkham Asylum. How has your view of the Dark Knight changed since then, now that you’ve returned to the character?
Grant Morrison: Well, Arkham was kind of responding to the Batman of the time. You know, Frank Miller had just done his Batman and kind of recreated the character as a much more driven, obsessed vigilante. So, with Arkham Asylum we wanted to do something quite different. I think the Dark Knight…was so American and rooted in the hard-boiled and pulp fiction and some of the big themes of American cinema. So we [wanted] to do a Batman back then that was inspired by European cinema. So, we’re kind of taking the idea of Batman and making it much more European, which meant, you know, that it was more ambiguous; it was shifty and shadowy, and the character was slightly undermined by the portrayal--you know, he was a mommy’s boy; he was kind of obsessed [to] an unhealthy degree. So, we were kind of psychologically critiquing that take on Batman, which wasn’t necessarily Miller’s take, but a lot of writers who followed Miller took Batman a little too far down the path of psychopath.
I guess back then we were trying to critique something, and now I’m just trying to do what for me would be a definitive Batman--trying to sum up all the portrayals over the years of the character and create a version of him and takes into account all the different types of portrayals that have ever been.
Amazon.com: You’re continuing this portrayal in the Batman and Robin series. This November, DC released the second volume, entitled Batman vs. Robin, and it’s in this volume where readers really begin to see where your Batman story has been leading.
Grant Morrison: Well, I planned ahead pretty far--the original stuff was planned back in 2005, and I kind of figured I’d stop once we’d gotten back from his jumping through time. And then what happened was making Dick Grayson, the former Robin, into the new Batman and making Batman’s evil son, Damian, into the new Robin just gave it such a fresh dynamic that I decided to stay on and finish off every little thread of my story. So, it kind of reinvigorated me, in a sense, to bring those two guys into the roles, and I think the fans really responded well to the fact that there was a new Batman and Robin in town and the dynamic was very different between them.
Amazon.com: I think fans have definitely responded, especially to Damian.
Grant Morrison: Yeah, that for me was kind of the biggest achievement, because when we introduced the character back in the first collection, Batman and Son, most of the readers hated him. You have to play the long game, because I knew where I wanted to take him, but I had to start with him as quite an obnoxious, spoiled brat--and then to watch the change in the character, to watch him learn to be a superhero, I think, is what’s given him that popularity. People can see him--he tries hard; he’s a very disciplined little kid, but then Dick Grayson knows how to play him. You know, Batman, as his father, can’t really deal with him well, but Grayson just lets the insults slide off his back and gently guides the boy. I think people have really responded to that. They like to see him change, and they like the fact that he’s also willing to change. He’s not just a petulant little brat. He’s a kid who’s had a very strange upbringing and now wants to change. And that’s always interesting: that dynamic character who can change.
Amazon.com: And certainly Dick Grayson has undergone quite a bit of change since Final Crisis. What was your goal for this character when you started Batman and Robin?
Grant Morrison: I kind of wanted to see him stepping up to the plate. In the past, he’s had to become Batman when Batman’s disappeared or been injured, but it’s something he’s never comfortable with--and I think the reason why he wasn’t comfortable with it was because he never had his own Robin. He was never really in the Batman role; he was always pretending. But by giving him his own, definite Robin, I think it actually elevated Grayson into being a real Batman. He rose to take up that role. I kind of always saw him as the quintessential superhero--you know, he’s the first-ever sidekick and he’s grown up. He’s pretty relaxed. He’s handled the traumas in a way that maybe Batman even hadn’t done it. So, I like this idea of having this more relaxed, light-hearted Batman who’s very acrobatic. He’s very physical in a very different way. And just to show that Grayson--how comfortable he became in that role and how effortlessly he tamed the kid.
Amazon.com: Batman and Robin has been leading up to The Return of Bruce Wayne, which will be collected in February 2011, and it features an impressive batch of artists. Did you specifically gear certain chapters toward certain artists?
Grant Morrison: Yeah, very much. I mean, obviously, each chapter in the story was kind of taking Bruce Wayne through not only a different historical era but also a different era of pulp fiction. You know, so we did the caveman story and then the puritan adventure, like Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane. We did the pirate story, we did the cowboy story, we did the detective story, and finally the superhero, science fiction story. And I tried to choose each of the artists--Frazier Irving and I had worked before on a puritan story, so figured, “He’s kind of a puritan artist.” We kind of tried to get people who would fit the tone.
Amazon.com: I loved the caveman chapter that opened The Return of Bruce Wayne with Chris Sprouse. What were you thinking about when you wrote that chapter, knowing you would pair it with Chris Sprouse? [Click image at left to see an outtake from Sprouse's chapter.]
Grant Morrison: What I was trying to do with that one was tell a very primal story. It was the first hero story, and the caveman characters in it are kind of--each one of them is a big archetype. You know, there’s the dad, the old man, there’s the giant, there’s the joker--so we kind of [wanted] to tell a story that would stand in for the very first-ever human story. And I saw what Chris did--really clean lines and the bold and simple way that he approaches compositions really tied into that kind of story.
Amazon.com: If you don’t mind, I have to ask this question because it’s been gnawing at me since Final Crisis. If it details a plot point that you can’t reveal, please stop me.
Grant Morrison: Sure.
Amazon.com: At the end of Final Crisis, we see the death of Batman, and yet there’s that epilogue with a downed spaceship and Bruce Wayne stuck in the deep past. This scene opens the fantastic first chapter of The Return of Bruce Wayne, but I feel like I’m missing something, where the spaceship and Bruce Wayne came from--then we see Bruce’s body in Batman and Robin Vol. 2. What’s going on here?
Grant Morrison: Ah! Well, read the comic [laughs]. Basically, Batman is launched back in time, as we saw in Final Crisis and also in Batman [issues] 701 and 702 [collected in Batman: Time and the Batman], which were two issues I did to bridge the gap between Final Crisis and The Return of Bruce Wayne. The spaceship that we saw was launched in Final Crisis by Superman. He sends it back in time as kind of a message in a bottle, and that’s where it winds up [in the distant past]. It’s representative of the “the bullet,” again--which we see again and again through the story, so it was kind of playing on that motif of…Superman sends the rocket out containing all of the history of the DC Universe, and it winds up in the first page of the very first story of the DC Universe, basically.
Amazon.com: I hadn’t thought about that, because Batman’s a bit of a weapon in The Return of Bruce Wayne, correct?
Grant Morrison: The Return of Bruce Wayne is a lot about what happens to a human being when you’re fighting a god. What does that really mean, even? How does that happen? How would you experience that? And so a lot of what we did in those books was to concretize some of the ideas of the Batman mythos.
Amazon.com: Thank you so much for clearing that up.
Grant Morrison: [Laughs.]
Amazon.com: Looking ahead, what’s next for you in the Bat-books?
Grant Morrison: Well, it’s the last [arc] in Batman and Robin [Vol. 3: Batman Must Die], and then I’ll be moving on to the Batman Incorporated book--I’m doing another two years on Batman, which will hopefully wrap up the story.
Amazon.com: Who are you working with on Batman Incorporated?
Grant Morrison: Yanick Paquette is doing the first two episodes, and then as with Batman and Robin I think I’ll just be working with a few of my favorite artists on the others.
Amazon.com: Moving away a bit from Batman, your Vertigo project, Joe the Barbarian--with artist Sean Murphy--will also be collected. In this series, it feels like you’re cutting loose and playing with realities. Can you talk a bit about this series?
Grant Morrison: Well I think Joe came to me in the idea that I wanted to do a fantasy story. You know, as a kid I grew up with all those Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, so I love the idea of the basic fantasy story of a kid who walked through a wardrobe, or a special door, or down a rabbit hole and discovers a whole new world. But the idea… to make it contemporary, I guess, by concretizing that and that fantasy kingdom is in everyone’s home. You know, all of our family lines are a mythology: the dad’s the king, the mother’s the queen, the home’s a castle. And here’s this kid in his own house, and all he has to do is get from the top of the house to the bottom, and he’s got twenty minutes to do it, but he’s very sick and he might die. During that twenty minutes, he experiences the equivalent of a Lord of the Rings--his entire environment comes to life, where all the aspects of his life--photographs on the wall, the furniture, the way things look transform in front of him into a fantasy kingdom, where he actually is able to solve not only his own problems but his family’s problems by working his way through this immense landscape that’s grown from his own house.
Amazon.com: Along with Joe the Barbarian and Damian Wayne, you’ve created characters for DC and Vertigo who continue to pop up, including Frankenstein, Knight and Squire, and Seaguy. Frankenstein’s chapters in Seven Soldiers were a highlight, a pure blend of pulp, horror, and sci-fi. Any plans for him down the road?
Grant Morrison: Oh, I’d love to do more with Frankenstein. I loved that book. I developed a type of style for that, which I guess I would call “pulp gothic.” I really did love it, and I’d love to go back to it, but I don’t have any plans right now. You know, it’s Frankenstein--I thought that book could have run and run, because all you need is for him to go in and beat people up [laughs]. It’s so simple.
Amazon.com: What about Seaguy?
Grant Morrison: The final volume of Seaguy, which I’m actually working on right now and it wraps up the story--that’s actually my favorite thing I’ve ever written.
Grant Morrison: By the time it comes out, I’m hoping people might agree [laughs]. No one’s quite agreed yet.
Amazon.com: I recently saw a listing for a project of yours called 18 Days from Dynamite Entertainment. I have to admit that I’m woefully in the dark. What is this book about?
Grant Morrison: What it was--it started as an idea for an animated series, which would basically turn India--India’s huge epic, the Mahabharata--into an animated show. And they asked me to do it, so I’d written a bunch of scripts, and all this concept art was done by the artist, Mukesh Singh, who’s a young Indian artist, and he’s really brilliant. The most beautiful, epic, fantasy illustrations that I’ve seen in a long, long time. So, because he’d done all this work, and the animated show didn’t come off--the idea was a book which collected the scripts and all of Mukesh’s artwork. The thing is, if it’s worth it for anything, it’s worth it for this guy’s brilliant material. But hopefully, you know, there’s a version of the Mahabharata that I did which broke it down into episodes and kind of Westernized it, and it’s a really different project and hopefully something will come out of it. Maybe there will be a movie out of it or something, but that’s what it was--just a record of the creative process that went into the animated show. It’s got three scripts, and there’s also a “series Bible” and all that stuff, so yeah, pretty much.
Amazon.com: Grant, with so much of your time devoted to writing comics, do you have any time left to read them, and, if so, what are you reading?
Grant Morrison: I read most of them, you know. I get all of the DC books every month in a box, so I kind of read everything in the bath. [My] favorite ones I always forget, and friends will call me up and say, “You forgot to mention me” [laughs]. So, I’m enjoying what Paul Cornell is doing over at DC right now. I’m enjoying Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern, which is kind of my favorite book [and] Joe’s Casey’s Godland, that stuff. God, there’s a ton, there’s a ton of Marvel stuff that I probably like as well, but I can’t remember any of it right now. But yeah, I’m a pretty voracious comic book reader.
P.S. Thank you to DC Comics' blog, The Source, for the interior images of The Return of Bruce Wayne.