I Interviewed Comic Book Jesus!

I’ll catch up with everything I’ve gotten done at Man Cave soon (and boy are there loads of it), but this is too cool not to share: fifteen minutes in Heaven with Grant Morrison, talking about next week’s Ultra Comics, general description of The Multiversity, and what he’s got cooking with Wonder Woman.

Oh, and we compared Ultra Comics to The Monster at the End of This Book.

I couldn’t get him to confirm that Captain Atom saves President Harley though. I NEED that to be the case. Unfortunately, it would collapse the quantum state of that issue’s heartbreak. (Pax Americana might be the best single issue of a comic in the last twenty years.)

Did I ever show you this? I was hired in 2012 to draw a nice fellow this picture after describing the “Holy Trinity theory” to him that I talk about in the intro to that interview. In fact, I think I’ll go add it to the article.

You’d think this would be the most frustrating job of my life, but no, I actually nailed three likenesses enough to be content in one sitting.

Interview follows after the cut:

Grant Morrison multiversity
We made 51 other versions of this header but we’ve only got time to show you a few.

I have this theory about the inception of Vertigo Comics. It’s that there’s a Holy Trinity of British writers: Alan Moore is a mass of beard that nobody ever sees but creates the groundwork for what’s to come. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is full of inspired spirit, a shapeless gush of ideas, more than could be given solid form and further developed. And Grant Morrison injects himself into the creation to interact with its inhabitants, perform some miracles, and be killed (albeit by the Suicide Squad rather than Roman government). He even returned in glory as promised, several times

Once those three things happened, the tone of their work–and the audience it attracted–congealed into what became Vertigo.

Two decades later Morrison hasn’t stopped showing the DC Universe unconditional love, popping up inside it. He’s currently taking comic fans on a tour not only of the DC Universe, but the DC Multiverse (which he mapped for this series), in a crossover battle for the welfare of 52 parallel Earths, plus a few heavenly spheres. It’s a crossover series called The Multiversity, and it bookends two 40-page adventures around seven one-shot issues glimpsing the many worlds of DC Comics.

The Multiversity comes to a head with Ultra Comics this Wednesday and Morrison took us behind the scenes of what was already a behind-the-scenes series.

You've, uh...got something in your eye.
You’ve, uh…got something in your eye.

Man Cave Daily: I’ll ask a weird one to start. The cover for Ultra Comics reminded me a lot of a children’s book I had called The Monster at the End of This Book.

Grant Morrison: I didn’t know anything about that at all because it came out much later than I was a kid but I saw people talking about this same thing online when they saw this cover, saying “This is like The Monster at the End of This Book.” Once I researched it and I found out what it was, there was definitely some kind of crossover there. [chuckles]

It wasn’t deliberate. If I’d known about the book I might even have tried to reference it a little bit. But I’d no idea that book existed until I read people online talking about it. The more I know it, there are certain themes in common here. Certainly the idea of there being something in a book and someone talking to you and leading you through each of the pages into something a bit scary.

First time a story blew my mind.
First time a story blew my mind.

MCD: You’re obviously no stranger to metafiction. You’ve come to a point where the reader is occupying the story as well. I always thought the Overvoid was where the reader lived, looking down at the entire DC Multiverse. But you’re placing our world in the DC Multiverse in Earth #33…

GM: In terms of the map of the Multiverse, from their perspective we look like Earth #33, yeah definitely.

MCD: You used to do spells to draw the reality you wanted out of fiction with sigils. Now it seems like you’re doing spells to draw reality into fiction.

GM: I guess. I think there’s been a big crossover anyway. I have the thesis that since 2001 that reality’s got a little bit more fictional and fiction is a lot more realistic.

There’s an inescapable intertwining of these things. But in this book specifically the original came form “We’re going to do a bunch of different comic books set in different parallel universes with different styles and different approaches.” The idea was to set at least one of them is the real world as if we were part of that multiverse. So this is me saying, “What would a real world superhero be like?”

Not metafiction.
Comics’ first face-to-face with Morrison.

And of course they don’t exist except as stories, except as movies and comic books. So I kind of figured the comic book itself is the superhero and the monster that it’s captured is a conceptual monster who’s captive in the pages of the book. When we read the comic book we become the superhero and have to confront the monster ourselves. I was trying to get the experience to be as real as possible.

I’ve always said I don’t really find what I’m doing is metafiction. Which seems kind of literary. I get—I know what it means, but fiction’s already real. I’m not trying to link a bunch of different literary levels here.

When you pick up a comic and you touch it and you move the pages and you interact with the characters that’s a very real experience. I’m going to make that really obvious and super-involve readers in a way that hasn’t been done before.

Morrison's designs on a variant cover of Ultra Comics.
Morrison’s designs on a variant cover of Ultra Comics.

MCD: Is that why the Gentry are ill-defined and nebulous? To make them the larger notion of an evil force?

GM: Yeah, absolutely. As far as they’re ill-defined, they’re quite well-defined in that they’re called the mastermind archetype, the femme fatale archetype, all taken to certain demonic limits.

I’ve already seen some commentators who thought they represented comic book critics, and some commentators who thought the Gentry represent DC Comics, and other people think they represent something quite different. That was quite deliberate. I wanted to see if these characters to be able to stand in for almost anything.

And Ultra’s about that. Ultra’s about confronting…what is intellectually evil in our real world? What is an idea that we all don’t want to think?

MCD: You’ve called this your ultimate statement on the DCU—

GM: Yeah.

MCD: And it seems like where do you go from this? You’re at the Source Wall. What do you see yourself doing afterward if you’re going to continue on in superheroes? Dial it down to a micro-level?

GM: No, honestly, the final issue of Multiversity is about as far as I can take my approach. I’m really quite pleased with it. It’s pretty mad. It’s like a wall of sound using superhero comics as the noise. Beyond that I’ve got nothing, honestly.

I’m doing this Wonder Woman stuff and I’ve really got into that. It’s a completely different take on the whole idea of superhero comics, and it moves in a new direction. Other than that, I’m doing a bunch of creative stuff, and I’m doing some TV and movie stuff. And right now Multiversity is genuinely the last word on this stuff for at least a little bit.

MCD: Give yourself a recharge?

GM: Even a recharge…I honestly don’t even know what to do with superheroes after this. Always when I get a break I’ll think of something. But right now I feel that I’ve taken it to the screaming edge. [laughs] I don’t know where to go beyond this. Fortunately I’ve got other things to think about.

MCD: With your outlook on the DCU as a living, breathing entity, is that like taking a break from your friends so you don’t grow to hate them?

GM: I don’t think I’m ever going to hate too many friends but yeah, when you do this, and I’ve been doing it really intensely, particularly for the last ten years at DC…I’ve kind of touched on every character. I feel that for The Multiversity I wrote superhero stories in a bunch of different styles and the final one is an attempt to do something a bit new that’s a bit jagged and radical.

Beyond that I’m playing with the girls for now, that’s why I’ve been doing Wonder Woman so much. I’m getting away from the idea of boys’ adventure fiction for a while, I think.

MCD: Yeah, that’s something changing as well: the demographics of comic readership and it’s showing in titles like Batgirl.

GM: It also gives you a new way to look at stuff. Boys’ comics always had a certain approach to stuff. And I kinda dig it, I grew up with that stuff and I’m a guy. [laughs] But when I was doing Wonder Woman I really thought it through.

I tried to think, “What would be a comic book that doesn’t play to the typical strengths and tropes of boys’ adventure?” That was the one that gave it a whole new take. If I was to come back to doing superheroes I’d rather do some girls for a while and do a different type of comic.

MCD: So much of your work deals with ego breakdown and transmutation. Did you do any of that in preparation for Wonder Woman?

GM: For Wonder Woman I destroyed the male ego by reading the entire history of feminism—well not entire because one obviously has to be selective—but I read some stuff and it’s like getting your ass kicked a little, and it makes you see things in a new perspective. It’s consciousness-reading, as they say.

For me, it inspired a lot of new ways of telling stories that didn’t rely on the old structures of the hero’s journey. Once you’re dealing with a female character, the hero’s journey goes out the window.

MCD: This book reminds me of Seven Soldiers meets Final Crisis. If you were going to sum it up in a sentence, what is your vision of the DCU in its final form after this?

GM: The great thing is that it doesn’t have a final form. For me, this is my version of it as I draw a chapter to a close. This is me trying to sum up—this is what I loved, a superhero guidebook, and the maps and the multiple versions of Superman and The Flash. That’s the sort of $#!+ growing up I’ve always loved. I love the different ways of telling stories. We did the Captain Marvel issue and before that we did the Alan Moore one. The Mastermen issue was almost a Mark Millar-style comic. There’s been a lot of different styles on this book and that was fun.

Is Hitler reading a comic from Earth-33, our world?
Is Hitler reading a comic from Earth-33?

Ultimately the great thing about the DC Universe or Marvel or any of these long-running universes is they constantly morph and adapt. Even though they kind of stay the same with the same characters they invite new generations of voices to come in and come up with new ideas and change things around. That’s what I love about it. I would never want to find a final form. I love the idea that it’s constantly evolving and reflecting the times and reflecting the way people think.

MCD: How about the reverse of that? When you were researching and plotting this series, did you come across any hidden corners of continuity that confirmed ideas you had? Was it like digging up an archeological site? “Ah, this thing I thought I invented was already buried in the DCU!”

GM: Archeology in the sense of what you’re digging up is still alive. For me, there was a lot of fun in going back and doing analogues of analogues of DC characters, because a lot of other creators and companies have done their own version of DC. So I loved doing my version of the Astro City version of DC or my version of Rob Liefeld’s version of the DC in the Extreme books or the Awesome books. All that kind of stuff.

You know, there’s always little corners in a big, dynamic system like a fictional universe. There’s always little bits to find. I’ve used tons of stuff in Ultra Comics coming out next week. There’s references to the Red Hood, and Boy Blue, this 1940s kid-gang character and all kinds of stuff.

MCD: You’ve said you’re sort of the Johnny Appleseed here, laying down ideas for others to nurture and develop. Were there any you wanted for yourself?

GM: Yeah, there’s a ton. I kind of wanted to do all of them. I had really good ideas particularly for The Just, the young, bored superheroes. And I kinda wanted an entire, intricate series for Pax Americana, with all these notions for single issues.

But I kind of love the idea that I’ll never do them. There’s a sense of…again, one of the things I love about comics when I first got into comics as a kid, it was like opening a little window into something. You didn’t see the full picture but you got this amazing, multi-colored glimpse of a reality.

I wanted the whole Multiversity series to feel like that, just a glimpse into something that was so much richer and deeper developed beyond the scene that we put it in.

MCD: I think you even have Captain Atom say as much in Pax Americana.

GM: Pretty much, yeah.

MCD: I’ve been trying to annotate that book since it came out and it’s still not done. I keep finding more.

GM: [laughs] You have my sympathies.

I hope people check out the finale because it’s quite experimental. I’m anxious to see how people respond.

MCD: But the experimentation is why I love this series. Like the Mastermen issue: you think it’s going to be, “Oh, it’s an evil Justice League,” but instead it’s a post-imperial critique and the Freedom Fighters are terrorists…but understandably so…

GM: Yeah, also who the #^(%*’s side are you on?

I think the whole thing with The Multiversity is it’s really my response to the bull$#!+ I’m getting from the news every night, you know? It’s me talking about all this stuff we’re being sold and the worldview we’re being sold and the ideas that are being planted in our heads that are coming up in fiction as zombie films and apocalypses and dystopias.