Grant Morrison on Final Crisis #1
If there’s one thing that Final Crisis #1 by Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones did, it was rasie a lot of questions among fans.
What does this mean in relation to Countdown?
What was Anthro doing with Metron?
Where are the New Gods?
Did the Martian Manhunter really...
Well – yeah, a lot of questions.
In the first of our regular installments with Grant Morrison, we spoke with him about the first issue, and he graciously handled the questions.
Newsarama: Grant, let’s start with your opening point in time and the role of the New Gods – is what we’re seeing with Anthro new, or is that in fact, how things have always been? That is, Metron cast Anthro as Prometheus for humanity of the DCU?
Grant Morrison: There’s a lot going on in that scene and yes, it’s something new to DC continuity (although there are references in Seven Soldiers to the idea of the New Gods having altered human history for their own purposes, which I‘m following up and doing a slightly different perspective on) while also being a representation of how things have always been. In Jack Kirby’s Fourth World books (which every right thinking human being should read, if they haven’t already), it’s pretty clear that the New Gods have known about Earth for a long time and in JLA ten years ago, I suggested that part of their interest in us was rooted in the fact that Earth was destined to become the cradle of a new race of ‘Fifth World’ super-divinities - an eventuality Darkseid is eager to prevent from occurring.
We have big ambitions for Final Crisis, and the Anthro scene was a way of laying down a kind of primal creation myth for the superhero concept. Anthro (which means ’man’ of course) is equivalent with Adam, the First Boy, encountering an ‘angel’ or higher intelligence which gives him an incredible new weapon, technology, or ‘power’, which then makes him more than human and moves him to defend his tribe against the forces of chaos and lawlessness. We’re seeing a kind of aboriginal genesis of superheroism itself here, so it has resonances with various creation stories, Biblical and otherwise.
And, yeah, I know there are glaring anachronisms (fire was probably first tamed by Homo Erectus over a million years ago) used by in the scene but I just couldn’t resist having DC’s Anthro character be the one to first use fire as a weapon against evil, so I hope early history buffs will permit me to plead poetic license in this case. I wanted to suggest that being blessed with the gift of fire would be as outrageous as being handed a Green Lantern ring.
NRAMA: Speaking of Metron – his costume is different from the regular dark blue/black that he’s worn previously. Is this a new look or a new incarnation?
GM: It’s how Metron appears in this series. It’s Metron with a bigger effects and costume budget!
NRAMA: From the Final Crisis Sketchbook, it’s clear that you and JG redesigned a lot of the New Gods, or gave them new looks altogether. In doing that, what did you keep as your touchstone, your guidance? Trying to channel Kirby in a modern setting?
GM: As ever, the idea was to look at Kirby’s originals in the context of the times in which they were created and then foreground those elements of his designs which seem most appropriate to the kind of world we live in today. We’re trying to do this in the spirit of Kirby himself, whose restless imagination never stayed still - if you look at the portrayal of Darkseid when he was introduced in 1971, as a kind of cosmic Hitler meets Milton’s Satan, compared to the same character in the Hunger Dogs graphic novel thirteen years later, or whatever, where Darkseid’s evil seems almost quaint and obsolete in a world that’s becoming increasingly mechanized, bureaucratic and faceless, it’s easy to see how adept Kirby was at reframing his characters to suit the concerns of the times.
In the same spirit, our Darkseid & co. have been tailored to reflect the fears, the dark desires and the subconscious nightmares of our current, early 21st century, War on Terror culture, as we see them. Kirby was always ahead of his time and his characters are incredible archetypes so we’ve had no trouble adapting and reintroducing them in a way that allows us to talk about the tensions of our own times.
NRAMA: Speaking of Kirby, why’d you choose Turpin as a mouthpiece character?
GM: Knowing how cosmic and epic it was going to get, I wanted to start the story at street level, with the discovery of the body of a god in the trash. I wanted the ultimate Multiversal crisis to get rolling as an urban murder mystery so I needed a cop, or a detective, and Turpin came with all this great history. He once fought Darkseid’s son, Kalibak and he knows how to kill Superman, so he was a good fit for the role I needed him to play.
And, as you’ll see in issue #2, Turpin is being set up to take centre stage in a battle that will make his previous struggle with Kalibak look like a game of kiss chase.
NRAMA: Within a few pages of issue #1, you’ve shown us that you’re building upon the foundation that was laid by everything from Identity Crisis through Countdown. In regards to the more recent material, such as Countdown, did you have a hand in planning that out, did you tell editorial where you needed things to be for the start of your story, or did you modify Final Crisis to pick up from where things were?
GM: Well, the way it worked out was that I started writing Final Crisis #1 in early 2006, around the same time as the 52 series was starting to come out, so Final Crisis was more a continuation of plot threads from Seven Soldiers and 52 than anything else. Final Crisis was partly-written and broken down into rough issue-by-issue plots before Countdown was even conceived, let alone written. And J.G. was already working on designs and early layouts by the time Countdown started. There wasn’t really much opportunity, or desire, to modify our content at that stage.
Although the 52 writing team was asked to contribute to Countdown, we were all seriously burned-out by the demands of the weekly schedule and I think we all wanted to concentrate on our own monthly titles for a while, so whenCountdown was originally being discussed, it was just a case of me saying ‘Here’s issue 1 of Final Crisis and a rough breakdown of the following six issues. As long as you guys leave things off where Final Crisis begins, we‘ll be fine.’ Obviously, I would have preferred it if the New Gods hadn’’t been spotlighted at all, let alone quite so intensively before I got a chance to bring them back but I don’t run DC and don’t make the decisions as to how and where the characters are deployed.
NRAMA: So. So in essence, you were handed a plate where between Death of the New Gods and Countdown, Orion appeared to have died twice. Picking up with him here, did he wander to the docks from the battle in Countdown #1, or are his terminal injuries from something else?
GM: Again, bear in mind thatCountdown only finished last month so Final Crisis was already well underway long before Countdown and although I’ve tried to avoid contradicting much of the twists and turns of that book as I can with the current Final Crisis scripts, the truth is, we were too far down the road of our own book to reflect everything that went on in Countdown, hence the disconnects that online commentators, sadly, seem to find more fascinating than the stories themselves.
Orion’s appearance on the docks and the Guardians’ response in Final Crisis #1 was written and drawn first. Jim Starlin then created Orion’s death scene in Death Of The New Gods to lead into the War God’s appearance in Final Crisis #1, so we refer back to Jim’s scene in Final Crisis #3. When I wrote that scene, Orion’s terminal injuries were a result of the mysterious bolt of light which Jim hit him with in Death Of The New Gods #6. By the time Countdown #1 came out, I was working on Final Crisis #4 and #5 and JG was drawing #3, so we were already well into our own story and unable to change it to match Countdown.
NRAMA: And so you were left with a handful of continuity issues as result - – why didn’t the Guardians call a 1011 when all the other New Gods died? Why didn’t Superman recount his experiences in Death of the New Gods when he was talking about the New Gods to the JLA? How did the villains capture J’onn? Obviously, if you dealt in all the minutia of every storyline since Identity Crisis or earlier, you’d go nuts – so what was your personal line in the sand that you used in writing Final Crisis in regards to what “mattered” and what didn’t?
GM: What mattered to me was what had already been written, drawn or plotted in Final Crisis. The Guardians didn’t call 1011 when Lightray and the other gods died in Countdown because, again, Final Crisis was already underway before Countdown came out.
Why didn’t Superman recount his experiences from DOTNG ? Because those experiences hadn’t been thought up or written when I completed Final Crisis #1. If there was only me involved, Orion would have been the first dead New God we saw in a DC comic, starting off the chain of events that we see in Final Crisis. As it is, the best I can do is suggest that the somewhat contradictory depictions of Orion and Darkseid’s last-last-last battle that we witnessed in Countdown and DOTNG recently were apocryphal attempts to describe an indescribable cosmic event.
To reiterate, hopefully for the last time, when we started work on Final Crisis, J.G. and I had no idea what was going to happen in Countdown or Death Of The New Gods because neither of those books existed at that point. The Countdown writers were later asked to ‘seed’ material from Final Crisis and in some cases, probably due to the pressure of filling the pages of a weekly book, that seeding amounted to entire plotlines veering off in directions I had never envisaged, anticipated or planned for in Final Crisis.
The way I see it readers can choose to spend the rest of the year fixating on the plot quirks of a series which has ended, or they can breathe a sight of relief, settle back and enjoy the shiny new DC universe status quo we’re setting up in the pages of Final Crisis and its satellite books. I’m sure both of these paths to enlightenment will find adherents of different temperaments.
NRAMA: Fair enough. Moving on, your portrayal of Dr. Light really played up a specific side of him, somewhere between sexual predator and serious horndog. You setting him up for some bad stuff that readers won’t feel guilty about when they cheer for it happening?
GM: There’s certainly that aspect to it. Once you’ve had the image of Dr. Light hammering away at Sue Dibny’s ruptured rear end burned into your neurons, it’s hard to write him as one more cackling gimmick villain. I thought it was fun to play up his priapic nature and I enjoy writing super villain conversations but yeah, we’re hoping readers will cheer loudly when they see the fate Greg Rucka and the Spectre have in store for randy Arthur Light.
I also enjoyed putting some genuine Glasgwegian street rhythms back into Evan McCulloch, the Mirror Master’s dialogue.
NRAMA: Libra said it – Twilight of the Gods. Obviously, not a cast-off reference there...
GM: ‘Twilight of the Gods’ in this case, is a reference to the Norse Ragnarok or Wagnerian Gotterdammerung. In a story about the ‘end times’, I wanted to include references to as many ‘end of the world’ stories as I could - so there are nods to the Biblical Apocalypse, the Ragnarok, Hopi myths, Mayan prophesies, the Hindu Kali Yuga and many others.
NRAMA: Someting that caused major repurcussions with the fans - you killed the Martian Manhunter. Along with the end of the Fourth World, that’s some serious stuff there, given his stature and importance to modern comics. And again, he wasn’t chosen at random. Give us some broad strokes at what the death of the Martian Manhunter means symbolically…he was the start of the Silver Age, after all.
GM: Exactly. And the thing is, we wanted to open with a nasty, execution-style death of a superhero as a way of demonstrating how far behind us the Silver Age is. We’re conditioned to expect the hero to fall after a noble struggle or to give his life saving the universe but this had to be different. The scene was very much about calling time on expectations and letting our readers know up front that the rules have changed. Evil is getting away with it. Things are going to get nastier and grubbier and scarier before it’s over, just like in the real world. There’s more of that kind of thing in issue #2.
NRAMA: With Turpin’s scene in Club Dark Side, I guess we can pull down the pretenses – this is the same as what we saw in Seven Soldiers: Mr. Miracle, correct?
GM: No, the storyline in Mister Miracle happened around the same time as the events in Infinite Crisis.
As we’ll learn, when we see Darkseid’s ‘Fall’ from the world of the New Gods - as depicted in DCU #0 - he’s falling backwards through time. In DCU #0 we’re watching him fall back through the present, into the past of Seven Soldiers where he finally comes to rest in the body of ‘Boss Dark Side’, the gangster from that story. The implication is that Darkseid has been consolidating his power base on Earth, in a human body, since at least the time of Infinite Crisis. Only Shilo Norman AKA Mister Miracle has any real idea what’s going on but he’s seen as a crazy-ass showbiz loon who’s had a bizarre quasi-religious experience, so no-one takes him entirely seriously.
NRAMA: Still - Seven Soldiers where you did seems exceptionally ballsy – that is, to tell a story that would be reflected in the future, and worry about changing the present to match the future later. Or did you know that Final Crisis was in the pipeline when you were working on Seven Soldiers, and thus, you had a goal you were working towards?
GM: Although I have to admit I was quite enjoying being called ’ballsy’, I cannot tell a lie. Seven Soldiers happened in the past, I’m afraid, but it did set up Final Crisis, so yes I always had a goal to work towards and still do.
NRAMA: That all said, will other Seven Soldiers characters be appearing in Final Crisis?
GM: Frankenstein appears in issue #3 and will doubtless turn up in the battle scenes from issue #4 on. We’ll probably get a glimpse of some of the others.
NRAMA: In setting up the “Fifth World” of the New Gods, what are you building from? Going through the Omnibuses, it’s not clear how far Kirby had planned out in that regard – that is, a climactic and final battle was foretold, but afterwards? How do you get yourself in the headspace to match what Kirby might have done?
GM: I did what you did - I read the Omnibuses/Omnibi (?) to start with. Then I re-read all my copies of The Jack Kirby Collector and anything else I could lay my hands on to help me absorb the Kirby spirit. I practised on books like The Manhattan Guardian and Klarion, where I rebuilt a Kirby concept, using the original raw materials to create a completely new character and set-up.
Kirby was clear that he wanted New Gods to conclude with a climactic battle between Orion and his father Darkseid but because he never got to that point, the mythology has never really been able to move past that wall, so my idea, in Seven Soldiers and now in Final Crisis, was to start from a place where the battle is already over…and, quite unexpectedly, Darkseid has won. Evil won. So now evil can break the rules. Radical, spiritual Evil can worm its way effortlessly into every aspect of life in the DC Universe in a way that it’s never really been able to before.
As it is in the cosmic world of the New Gods, so it is on Earth. Where there once was a particular relationship between Good and Evil, with the good guys tending to come out on top, now the moral ground of the universe itself has shifted underfoot and anything can happen.
It’s not the way he would have done it, but I like to think Jack Kirby would have enjoyed the story we’re telling and I hope he’d appreciate our efforts to channel readers in the direction of his amazing books and characters.
NRAMA: In this new world, Dark Side implies that his body is wearing out….can you explain a little of how the gods are living? Do their souls inhabit human husks? Do they make human bodies from scratch? When their body is killed, do they move to another, or do they die (again)?
GM: When we decided to do a book about gods, we felt it was important to do think through what a ‘god’ actually is. Gods aren’t like souls, or ghosts, gods are much bigger and scarier than that.
You know, it’s like every single word culture developed is own pantheon of Gods -which unsurprisingly all share similar traits, like the Greek goddess of Love is Aphrodite, while the Voudon goddess of Love is Erezulie and the Norse goddess of Love is Freya and so on. Now, what you have to understand is this: our primitive forebears weren’t stupid and when they talked about gods what they were describing were ‘eternal qualities’. In a normal human lifetime, we become possessed by ‘gods‘ every day. When we fall in Love, we are possessed by Aphrodite, when we are witty and clever we are possessed by Hermes or Thoth, when angry we‘re possessed by Ogun or Tyr or Ares. We tend to call such possessions ’moods’. but even when we are not personally in love or angry, there is always Love and Anger in the world and those eternal wells of Love and Anger and the other ‘big’ qualities of the human emotional spectrum are what our ancestors personified and called ‘gods’. The ‘god’ in this case, being the timeless quality of ‘Love’ or ‘Anger’ that we can all tap into for a little while.
No-one was really ever suggesting that there is a real woman you can touch called Aphrodite, who lives on Mount Olympus - but the sum total of every single human experience of Love is what the Greeks called Aphrodite and the Celts called Brigit and so on. I hope that makes sense.
In the case of Darkseid and his diabolical court, we’re dealing with personifications of absolute negative qualities. We’ve all been possessed by Greed or Hatred in our lives but Darkseid and his pals are embodiments of the timeless qualities of Tyrannical Will or Sadism or Envy or whatever. So in the sense that we can be cruel, or ignorant, or hate people we’ve never met, we all have Darkseid or Desaad within us. It’s like the idea of being possessed by the Holy Spirit, except in this case they are Unholy Spirits and the Gods of Apokolips want us to replace all our good qualities with all our bad qualities so that we become vehicles for their evil intentions.
There’s always Greed in the world. There’s always Fear. And a lot of this ties into what Geoff’s doing in Green Lantern with the idea of the emotional spectrum. We’re creating a big mythology for the DC Universe and Final Crisis is intended to be a myth for the 21st century.
NRAMA: Characterize the Monitors, as a group. From Countdown to here, they seem to be in a rush to judge, and easily swayed to the most persuasive argument, no matter how true it is. Kinda makes one worry about the DCU, you know?
GM: Indeed. The Monitors are the elephant in the room of Final Crisis. What they really are is a lot more alien and bizarre than anything we’ve seen so far. My idea for the origin of the Monitors is one of the major plot strands in Final Crisis - if not the major plot strand -but you won’t get to see that until the Final Crisis: Superman Beyond book comes out in the skip month between Final Crisis issues #3 and #4. Definitely keep your eye on the Monitors.
NRAMA: In that vein - can you explain the Orrery of Worlds for us?
GM: See Superman Beyond for the full story. Until then, I’ll refer you to current superstring theory which we’ve mashed up with the DC ‘multiverse’ idea. Where science walks, it finds the footprints of comics leading the way!
As I described it to Dough Mahnke for Superman Beyond:
‘some string theorists have come up with the goofy comic book notion that our universe is only one of many, with its entire three dimensions of space and one of time spread across the surface of a vast flat membrane, or brane, as the physicists like to call them. These branes allegedly drift serenely past one another in some hyper-dimensional jelly medium that‘s bigger than everything you can imagine, plus, sometimes colliding and rewriting one another’s laws of physics.’
We combined that idea with the notion (seen in Flash comics) that the universes of the DC Multiverse ‘vibrate’ through one another at different frequencies and came up with the notion that the whole structure is creating a kind of cosmic ‘music’, which is slowly going out of tune. There’s more of this and what it means coming up in the books, so I don’t want to spoil everything up front. Like I say, I realise certain readers want everything at once but sometimes you have to allow a story to unfold at its own pace if you really want to enjoy it.
The Orrery of Worlds is the Monitor name for the structure of the entire Multiverse as seen from the outside, on a higher scale. Basically, it’s everything that ever was, in a jar. What purpose does it serve and why should we all be very afraid? See Superman Beyond.
NRAMA: Hey - what’s Anthro drawing there in the end?
GM: He’s drawing the circuit pattern that’s engraved into Metron’s silver suit in the opening scene. When he draws the pattern on the sand, he immediately experiences a vision of a future time, which may lead us to suspect that Metron may have been passing on some kind of knowledge concerning the workings of time and space…
This circuit, along with the Metron ‘mask’ Anthro paints on his face after his vision, will become more significant as we progress.
NRAMA: And the guy waking up? That’s Nix, bannished?
GM: That’s the exiled young Monitor, Nix Uotan, now trapped on Earth as a mortal with only vague memories of who he is or where he came from. Clearly somebody wants him out of the way and we’ll be seeing more of his story in upcoming issues.
NRAMA: So where do things pick up in #2?
GM: We open in Tokyo, where we meet Sonny Sumo and the members of the Super Young Team. The cosmic murder investigation continues and the Gods of Apokolips continue to make their moves against Earth’s best and brightest superheroes. And the book ends with a dramatic return…
We’ll be putting up some exclusive sneak preview art from Final Crisis #2 when my revamped website makes its debut hopefully later this week at www.grantmorrison.com (as well as some stuff from Seaguy: Slaves Of Mickey Eye and a bunch of other treats) so I hope readers will pay a visit to check out what’s upcoming.
And I’ll be back next month to answer any questions about Final Crisis #2!Click here to discuss this in our community thread in the DC forum, or post your comments below.