Grant Morrison has a long history of weaving epic stories of heroic magnitude, often laced with a Molotov cocktail of the macabre and the surreal. But for “Action Comics” — his entry for the New 52 from DC Comics — the superstar writer has returned to the early days of superhero comics and the now legendary adventures of Superman, champion of the oppressed, who has sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need.
Having tackled the character several years back in his and Frank Quitely’s critically acclaimed “All-Star Superman,” Morrison was thrilled with the opportunity to re-imagine the Man of Steel once again; especially when he learned he’d be writing the Man of Steel’s adventures in a brand-new “Action Comics” — truly, the granddaddy of all superhero comics.
Teamed with artist Rags Morales (“Identity Crisis”), Morrison’s Superman stories form the backstory of the new DCU as the title’s timeline differs from a majority of the other series. Set earlier than every other series, in “Action Comics” Clark Kent is just beginning to learn the full extent of his superpowers and, understandably, he’s not quite sure how to use them yet.
Brash and bold, pure and powerful, Morrison’s Superman is equal parts Li’l Abner and Paul Bunyan, and with his cape filling the role of Babe the Blue Ox, nothing is going to stop the world’s first superhero. Except maybe Lex Luthor, a horde of villains and an acid-tongued young lady named Lois Lane.
CBR News: I don’t think I’m alone in calling “All-Star Superman” one of the seminal runs of the past 25 years in comics. Why return to the legendary character in “Action Comics?”
Grant Morrison: The number one reason I came back to Superman for “Action Comics” was the fact that it all started with “Action Comics” #1, and it all ended with “Action Comics” #1.
Beyond that, after “All-Star Superman,” I really wanted to do an early years’ Superman story and tell it using the original Superman from the 1930s and 1940s, the version of Superman from before the war. This presented a great opportunity to restart the character. And it also allowed me a chance to tell the stories I hadn’t had a chance to tell before.
Did you go back and read those early issues to get a feel for his voice and persona from that era?
I re-read “Action Comics” #1 while preparing for the book because I started off by talking about “Action,” in general, and how I felt it really worked. I got a new appreciation for it and a new understanding of how fast and how colorful it must have seemed to people at the time. This was, of course, the time of black and white cinema and Superman burst onto the scene with this incredible velocity. I kind of really got into that early Superman, which was something that I wasn’t really a big fan of before. So to answer your question, yes, I’ve read the “Superman Chronicles” right through the first couple of years of “Superman” when it was really quite pure and brash.
Can you bring us up to speed to where Superman is at this point in your story in terms of strength and powers? Is he leaping tall buildings in a single bound or is he flying?
Well, he’s kind of in a space between leaping and flying. [Laughs] Right now, he’s kind of leaping, but he’s in this moment between doing this and this other thing. You get to see what his limits truly are in “Action Comics” #7. You get to see if he can actually run or jump or fly. That development is a big part of what we’re doing. But right now, he’s kind of an inbetweener. He’s only six months into his career.
What about the development of his personality? In your first issue, which was a lot of fun, Superman is dangling villains from the ledge of buildings and, shall we say, getting his hands dirty in a number of different ways. Will we witness some sort of evolution in “Action Comics,” in which Superman becomes the more iconic Superman of the past 30 or 40 years?
Part of this first story arc shows how he goes from being an outlaw to the world’s first superhero. It’s very much about that and about the pressures that would be placed on you if you had this bright idea that you were going to change the world.
During your run on “Batman,” you really expanded the Dark Knight’s mythos, introducing and re-introducing characters and locales from the past, present and future while interweaving an epic story between your title and the other Bat-books. Do you have similar plans for Superman in “Action Comics?”
Well, I always have a long-term plan. But for now, we are doing six-issue arcs, major arcs, with some fill-in stories in between. No done-in-ones. This is more of long-term story, definitely.
It may turn into something much bigger. The overall villain already appeared in “Action Comics” #1. He’s handling a lot of the stuff that will unfold during the entire first season of “Action Comics.’
Will you pepper the New DCU with new villains and supporting characters, or will you be going back to Superman’s roots with tried and true characters like Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Lex Luthor?
Creating new characters is definitely part of the fun of it, but all of those old characters will be seen in “Action Comics,” too. They are always interesting. All of those guys will be seen in “Action Comics,” all your old favorites, but there will be a new take on them.
Some of new villains I am creating are taking old Superman concepts to the next level. I’ve kind of imagined what it would be like if we pushed it a little bit further. And there are a whole bunch of other characters that are just completely new. I did that with “Batman,” because I feel if you are going to go on a run on a book, it’s always good to introduce a few new villains.
You mentioned how Superman is on the path to becoming the world’s first superhero. So what about the other superheroes? How soon before we see Superman interacting with Batman, Wonder Woman and the rest of the Justice Leaguers featured in the new Geoff Johns/Jim Lee title?
There is a Justice League scene coming up pretty soon. I think it’s in “Action Comics” #6. You get to see my take on this early Justice League with this very powerful sort of kid who is trying to relate to them all.
Can you talk a bit about the look of Superman? I have to say, I wasn’t expecting to see him in jeans and work boots.
Sometimes, I think the costume just kind of gets thrown into the story. Or his mother made it. I started with that and had Superman developing the costume while he’s developing into a superhero. He would start, before he had his Kryptonian suit, with some kind of variant of the suit he’d create for himself. I figured, you know, coming from Kansas, he’d be wearing kind of work clothes — a pair of boots, some rolled-up jeans and a t-shirt. We’ve got a scene later where Superman goes into a store and is basically ordering up a whole bunch of Superman t-shirts, [Laughs] with Superman logos in all different colors. So that’s what he wears. I kind of liked that. To start “Action Comics” again, to take it away from the superhero concept and take it back to slightly more of a folk tale-ish type of a thing.
That’s why Superman looks a little bit like Li’l Abner, a little bit more Americana. We also have the cape that he wears, which is the one piece of material that he has from the planet Krypton. It’s indestructible, so it’s almost been his best pal or his security blanket as I’ve called it. I’ve been adding different meanings to some of the things we take for granted with him, hoping it might help people see Superman in a new light; a completely fresh light.
This week, George Perez launched his take on the Man of Steel with “Superman.” Do you think there is an inherent difference between the types of stories that should be told in “Action Comics” versus those in “Superman?”
I don’t know. It’s all the same character. Whatever version of Superman is appearing or whatever costume he’s wearing, he should still be the same character; maybe just at a different point in his life. I think that makes Superman a little more dynamic, as we watch him change and witness the different things that have happened to him throughout his life. You get to see how he is different from what he was before.
You have a long history of writing critically acclaimed and bestselling comics, often at the same time. Is the historic significance of writing an “Action Comics” #1 lost on you or is that something you are pretty proud of?
Of course. Anyone who is into comics at all would think that’s a wonderful thing. I was really excited about it. To be given the chance to kind of restart Superman and re-imagine Superman, which I think is the most important part of it, is pretty special. Just the chance to do something a little bit different.
Earlier, you said you went back and read the earlier appearances of Superman. In terms of the pacing of the first few issues of the original “Action Comics,” is that something you are trying to mimic in the early days of your run, or was it important to ramp up the pacing in order to keep pace with the world as it is in 2011?
The pacing is pretty amazing. The [original “Action Comics” #1] really starts with Superman jumping through the air, carrying this gagged blonde under his arm. It’s quite racy and we don’t even know who this guy is. Then, he keeps moving till the very end. So yes, I am very much trying to do something in the vein of “Action Comics.”
The second issue is very different, because Superman is confined to a chair for half of it so you have to do different things to get the feeling of “Action.” And the third issue is different again, because Superman only appears in a few panels. It’s mostly a Clark Kent story. So again, it’s a different type of story.
Will we see a lot of Superman as Clark Kent in your book? And can you tell “Action” worthy stories with Clark instead of Superman?
Definitely. Clark’s obviously a big part of it. We’re showing a younger Clark, a bit more radical. He’s a bit fierier. So it’s a lot of fun spending time with him. He’s very intelligent and smart.
Does young Clark fall for Lois right off the bat or does he play the field for a bit in Metropolis?
To start, he’s barely aware of her. She just insults him. They’re kind of sparring partners. I think that’s something we’ll see develop, and I have plans for Superman to have more romantic interludes with some different women. Not Lois Lane.
You can’t have Superman without Lex Luthor. I always loved when Joker would show up for a few pages, or even a few panels of “Batman” during your run. Does Lex play a similar role in “Action Comics,” or will we be seeing more of him?
Yeah, Luthor’s always going to be there in the texture of the book. He’s not necessarily the main antagonist but I think he’s always around as part of the cast. If the book was a TV show, you would want to see all of the characters every week. There is always a role for Luthor in there, but he’s not necessarily the main villain. In fact, in a lot of instances, he’s not the villain at all because he has an excuse for what he’s doing. But underneath it all, he’s still this envious, jealous, little man. That always stays the same.
Before I let you go, “Batman, Incorporated,” a title that really resonated with the fans, is currently on hiatus. What can you tell us about “Batman, Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes?”
Chris Burnham is halfway through the “Leviathan Strikes” stuff. He’s doing just amazing work. It’s really weird. It’s Batman trapped in a mind control facility from the cold war. The first issue should be out early in the new year. It took us a long time to do the first run of “Batman, Incorporated,” so we wanted to get ahead a bit before “Leviathan Strikes” comes out.
“Action Comics” #2, written by Grant Morrison and featuring art by Rags Morales, leaps into comic book stores on October 5. In case you missed it, check out our preview of “Action Comics” #1.