CCI: Morrison & Chropra on the Spirit of the Superhero

On Sunday afternoon at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Ballroom 20 was the place to be to listen to visionary comic book writer Grant Morrison discuss "The Spirit of the Superhero" with world-renowned author Deepak Chopra.

The discussion began with Chopra speaking about the soul. He told the crowd, "Turn your attention to who's listening. Do you feel a presence? That's your soul." "In that presence is meaning and context, but also there are mythical stories." Chopra went on to explain that mythology and stories are part of the collective imagination. Myth comes from "the highest level of imagination we are capable of. These inspire us to do what we would otherwise think is impossible." That, said Chopra, is the power for myth. And the power of the superhero ideal.

Morrison discussed the ascension of the superhero in recent years: "The superhero is rising in the consciousness particularly in the West." He spoke about the need for the superhero in today's society, at a time when we're telling stories about our own destruction. "Recently our culture has been telling us a really dark, bleak stories and that story has brought us to the brink of disaster." "We need Superman to look up to," Morrison emphasized. The great thing about the superhero, said Morrison, is that "the superhero always finds an answer." The superhero might be the way out "of western culture's death lock. It's really important that we start telling new stories," as opposed to the bleak, apocalyptic ones we've been telling. Otherwise our culture is about to commit suicide."

Morrison then commented on the cultural shift that seems to have happened in the past year. "We could still be launching toward disaster, but I think something is actually happening. We're fed up!" Morrison declared. And he thinks the superhero--which he called "a jerry-built thing" is our "last little hope to get out of this trauma."

Chopra responded with a more philosophical viewpoint: "Human consciousness has infinite possibilities," he said. The infinite, being what it is, cannot be explained or understood. Chopra said, "The symbolic expression of [the infinite] is what we call a superhero. The superhero has dormant potentials that we all have." The reason those potential lie dormant is that "we are conditioned by the hypnosis of our culture and by the hypnosis of what other people tell us."

Chopra then compared the superhero with the "old paradigm" of yoga. Yoga has a tradition of "super-normal abilities" and "the influence over the elements and forces of the universe," said Chopra. Those are old metaphors for an understanding of something greater than us, Chopra explained before talking about the need to rise above the mundane and seek "a higher level of solution--and that's the superhero."

Morrison emphasized, "Everything's one thing. We're all part of one thing." Then he referred to the renewed interest in "Star Trek" this year and said, "What the hell are we doing building bombs when we could be building the starship Enterprise right now!" The implication being we get caught up in negativity and infighting and don't accomplish what our stories tell us we can.

The discussion then moved to a discussion of Superman, Batman, Buddha, and Jesus. Morrison said, "Superman's a secular, sci-fi attempt to create a picture of the higher being." But, said Morrison, in Superman "we have made something that is capable of saving us." Until Superman, Morrison pointed out, heroes were all soldiers or cowboys. Superman was something vastly different. And "Superman is a symbol from the 20th century that speaks to the 21st century," he said. Not only is he physically and mentally superior, but "Superman has the compassion of the Buddha," said Morrison.

The connection between Superman, Batman, Buddha, and Jesus, according to Chopra, is thematic: "The theme is redemption. And resurrection. And death." "In order to get yourself to a higher level of existence," he said, "you have to let something die." Chopra went on to explain the inherent duality in all life--citing the final scene in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" as an example of how all things need their opposite. "If you had only creativity and evolution, you would have no universe," he said. "If you had only destructive forces, the universe would dissipate into a black hole." Chopra clarified, "you need the tension between the two forces."

"Jesus is the redeemer," he added. "So is Buddha." He said the message of the superhero is "keep winning, but don't win." The struggle is everything.

Discussion then moved to Chopra's upcoming book about the life of Jesus. Chopra will be writing a fictionalized account of the missing years in the life of Christ, and in discussing the book, he talked about the connection between Jesus and all of us: "We are all a process of the total universe, and there's only one process." He described a connection between all things past, present, and future. "The same divine spark that was in Jesus is in you," he said to the audience.

Moving on, the panel turned its attention to Morrison's upcoming adaptation of the Indian epic, the Mahabharata: "MBX," which will be a series of online animated shorts. Morrison said the project is "part of the whole exchange we're talking about," in reference to the previous discussion about how everything connects. "It's time to exchange our ideas," said Morrison, "and see where the correspondences are and what are the common themes." As to why he was asked to adapt the story that is so famous in the Eastern world, Morrison said, "I'm coming from a very different perspective and hopefully it will re-illuminate it." He said it's the same kind of thing that happened with the Beatles after they visited India and took the Ravi Shankar music and "adapted it into western forms and transformed the culture for a couple years." Morrison promoted cultural exchange. "The more of it the better," he said.

A question was raised about the audacity needed for a Western writer to tackle an important story from another culture's history, and Chopra said, "You have to be audacious because unless you look at this from an outsiders imagination you stay in the same mythology." Chopra explained that an outsider can see these stories in ways others cannot. Ultimately, said Chopra, "We need a new identity. A new identity that goes beyond race, beyond ethnocentrism, beyond nationalism." Chopra explained that "when we create these superheroes that are cross-cultural, we are all redefining our identity. We are saying we are citizens of the universe."

Morrison then took some time to connect these philosophical ideas to something he's been interested with for years. He said anyone who'd read "The Invisibles" would recognize the ideas, which rely on a story of our existence that's different from the one that's been told to us in the past. "Imagine this was the story instead," said Morrison. "There's one organism on this planet. Everything that's in this room has been here for billions of years. Imagine all the bad stuff you've been told--we're not all here fighting one another--we're all part of the same organism." For a visual representation of the idea, Morrison held up his hand. "Imagine an arm with fingers painted different colors fighting each other," Morrison said. "That would be stupid." Morrison said we're all part of a single organism, just like the fingers are part of the hand. "We're the cortex of this creature and every part of it is experiencing its own existence."

"Look at a caterpillar on a leaf," continued Morrison, comparing our relationship to the planet. "A caterpillar seems to be destroying the leaf, just like we seem to be destroying the planet." But Morrison said the relationship is different from what we've been told. The caterpillar isn't destroying the leaf; the caterpillar uses the leaf in "powering its metamorphosis. Imagine you're living on a planet that's about to give birth to a hyper-entity. The organism's here and it feeds on the planet earth." He said we don't need to worry about saving the planet. The planet is going to be just fine long after we're gone. "The planet shrugs it off and makes new things." Morrison added, "stop being the hand that's trying to grasp itself and fight itself."

The same electronic press kit from the Stan Lee/Grant Morrison panel was shown again, after some technical difficulties. As nothing but blackness filled the screen for over a minute, Morrison joked, "you are now staring at the field of pure potential."

After the video, which briefly showed some of the characters from "MBX" in action, Morrison said the characters from the Mahabharata "are the superheroes of ancient India." "They exactly map onto the type of superheroes we have now," he said.

The panel ended with some questions from the audience.

Regarding the year 2012, the end of the Mayan calendar, Morrison said that he wasn't sure what was going to happen, but Terrence McKenna's "timewave zero graph" seemed to be coming true, with everything accelerating toward a singularity. Morrison said, bearing some horrible accident, everyone in the room would be alive to find out what happens. "See you all here in 2012 San Diego," said Morrison. Chopra added, "We can use 2012 as a marker for a shift in collective unconsciousness," and Morrison agreed, saying, "let's choose it as a date to make something happen."

The conversation ended with a discussion of unity. Chopra discussed the problems in the world today, saying the devastation from Hurricane Katrina was connected to a handful of other events and represented a "rift in our collective soul." To tie everything back to the topic of superheroes and the spirit, Chopra said, "where our new stories have to go, they have to address these problems."

Morrison wrapped everything up by referring back to "The Dark Knight." "It's about duality," he said. Batman on one side, the Joker on the other, and Harvey Dent caught in between--split down the middle. Those three characters represent the forces of the universe. Morrison said we need to "combine those things to make one beautiful new thing."

"One-Face, we'll call him."

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