Morrison Writes a Social Justice Superman in ACTION COMICS

 

Next week, a new Superman hits the DC Universe in Action Comics #1, the much-hyped relaunch of the long-running series.

Written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Rags Morales, this new version of Action Comics brings a young, bold Clark Kent into a modern Metropolis of 2005. When Clark appears in public as Superman, he's the first superhero the world has ever seen, so he's met by fear and suspicion. He ends up working outside the law, often breaking it and sometimes losing his temper as he fights for what he believes is right.

As Newsarama detailed previously (accompanied by some exclusive preview pages), Morrison thinks this new Superman's outside-the-government approach mirrors the mood of the world today.

"I think right now, we're all feeling that way," he said. "Nobody has much faith in their elected leaders in the same way that they did. We all have a lot more cynicism and a lot more doubt about the people who are running our lives than we did when Superman was a 'boy scout.'"

But Morrison said much more. Here we reveal the full transcript of Newsarama's discussion with Morrison, where the writer also told us more about the new Metropolis, Jimmy Olsen, and how his ideas are linked to the TV series Smallville.

 

Newsarama
: Grant, was it a challenge to re-introduce Superman as a new hero without public support, since he's such an iconic and accepted part of popular culture? How difficult is it to create that world where people don't accept Superman?

Grant Morrison: That was actually the most fun of it, to try to make it seem as if we'd never, ever read a superhero story before. It was really difficult, because obviously everyone's really familiar with this stuff. I guess my idea was to just to treat it more like a science fiction story, which I like to do to get to the roots of these things. And to say, 'here's what it would be like if this guy just appeared in this world.'

There are differences. Metropolis is the 'City of Tomorrow' but it clearly is not our world. It's not New York or Marvel or any of those things. It's very much Metropolis and Gotham, and the DC Universe. The idea was to take the DC Universe and treat it almost as a science fiction playground, and this was the first time this had happened. And to show how it works in Metropolis, a city that has always tried to be the City of Tomorrow, but now it's 2011, or 2005 I guess, since these stories are taking place in the past. But it's slightly run down, you know? The machines don't work. The robot trains are kind of useless. There's graffiti everywhere. And it's kind of like the way New York was in the 1970's, before they cleaned up the place. So the Metropolis we're doing is a lot scarier, it's a lot more urban than I think we've ever seen it before. It's maybe a bit more like Gotham city, but it's not as dark and gothic. But in terms of crime, it's kind of like '70s New York.

That's such a long answer, but I guess I was trying to take a few elements from different places to make Metropolis seem like a real city, more than maybe it's been before.

Then I tried to introduce Superman to that and play with what would happen if it wasn't the character we're familiar with.

And as you see, they don't know who he is. The cops don't know him. They can't trust him. He's willing to break the law. So obviously, people are scared as well, because he's using these incredible powers, and no one quite knows what that means.

 

Nrama
: It's interesting that you compare it to Gotham a bit, because there's been quite a reaction to this idea that Superman is willing the break the law. I think because Superman is so established as the good guy that it's strange to think of him being at odds with the authorities, but I assume he's got a motivation for what he's doing?

Morrison: Oh, always. Superman stands for justice, not necessarily for the law. And I think that's what makes this guy different. But as you know, I'm only taking that aspect of it from the original 1938 version, which was the original Superman. He was very much... you know, those stories were set in a pretty convincing real life world, and Superman was dealing with corruption and the law and the cops and then Congress, as much as he was dealing with just street crime and day-to-day violence.

So he always had that social justice, and we're just taking it back. I think right now, we're all feeling that way. Nobody has much faith in their elected leaders in the same way that they did. We all have a lot more cynicism and a lot more doubt about the people who are running our lives than we did when Superman was a 'Boy Scout.' So we're taking him back to the '30s, when people did have that doubt, and a lot of people were losing their jobs and losing their livelihood, and a lot of people were realizing there was corruption in high places.

 

I think we're at that time again, a very cynical, very doubting time. Superman's more the hero for that than he was for, say, the patriotic hero that he was in the '40s, or the domestic dad hero that he was in the '50s.

Nrama: But you said Superman is still about justice, so is his attitude less cynical and anti-establishment than it is focused on changing that establishment for the better?

Morrison: It's not just the establishment. He's against everything he sees that's wrong. He's against crime. He's against wife-beaters. He's against people who kick dogs and cats, as much as he's against the evil Congressman or big business.

Superman is just a guy who is very young at this point, and he has big ideas about what is right and wrong. And he has the power to implement those ideas. Certainly, he stands up for the common man and for poor people and the dispossessed and the downtrodden. That's really what it's all about. If anyone in the world's been bullied, then Superman exists to take out the bully, no matter how big or smart or armed that bully might be.

 

Nrama
: What was behind the decision to have him unable to fly at this point? Was that just to align him with how he was first introduced?

Morrison: A little bit of that. But mostly to kind of bring him down to our level finally. A lot of people had been complaining. Part of the loss of Superman's popularity in the comics has been because he's not been much like us.

Obviously, in the TV show Smallville, he's been a lot more like us. And that's actually been the most popular version of Superman probably for the last 15 years. So even though I haven't seen a single episode of Smallville, I know what it's about. And I wanted to do a Superman who could almost be traced to those roots. And a Superman who was a little younger, who wasn't as completely powered up as he is in the current continuity, and who can be hurt. His nose can be bloodied, he can have his ribs broken, and although they may heal very quickly, it takes a little bit of effort to do the feats that he does.

I wanted to see him sweat a little and to bleed a little, and to restore him to a kind of humanity that we could all understand before moving him on.

 

So yeah, it's all about grounding him so he can be a bit more like us, 'cause I felt that was the best way of then re-introducing the powers, as he starts to get stronger. The longer he spends under Earth's sun, the more exponentially stronger and powerful he becomes, and we'll see that Superman in the current day.

Nrama: And Lois and Clark aren't married in this version, and we've heard that Lois even has a boyfriend. The new readers you're targeting may have never been aware of their marriage. But how would you describe their relationship now, in this new comic, and how important a role will it play in the story?

Morrison: In Action, the first six issues, they barely know one another. Lois is sort of a girl about town, a rising reporter. And Clark Kent works for the rival newspaper. In my first six issues, he doesn't even work for The Daily Planet, but Lois and Jimmy do. And Clark works for The Daily Star. So they're kind of rivals. And she doesn't even have the thing about Superman yet. Superman's only just come on the scene. She gave him the name. And she's obviously fascinated by him. But there's a lot more to Lois than that.

So I'm just exploring the whole 'army-brat-becomes-a-crusading-journalist' arc, which is very strange, that she's General Lane's daughter and he's very deep in the military establishment, yet at the same time, she's an investigative journalist. So there's a lot of friction there.

It's just a whole new kind of set-up for Lois and Clark.

When it comes up to the current day, I'm not quite sure. I'm taking my cues from Geoff Johns and George Pérez, and how they're playing it in the present day. And I know things are quite different again.

 

The fun has been kind of messing up the relationship and allowing both characters to maybe see other people. And to know there is a love affair there, but we're watching it grow and develop rather than is handed to us on a plate.

Nrama: Is Jimmy different in this world?

Morrison: Yeah, I mean, I like a capable Jimmy, from the start, rather than a buffoon. So there's a bit of that. Again, he's a young guy.

The way I'm playing it is that rather than him being 'Superman's friend,' which never seemed to make a lot of sense, he's Clark Kent's friend. And the two of them get on because they're a couple of really smart geeks. They're into everything from astronomy to zombies, and they love hanging out and talking.

So Jimmy becomes Superman's friend eventually because Jimmy started out as Clark's best friend. He was the first person he knew when he came to the big city. It's much more about the two friends on that level, which I think is a different, slightly warmer, more believable dynamic between the two characters.

Action Comics

#2 cover.

Nrama
: How significant is the change from being able to go home and be able to see Mom and Dad on the Kent farm to the way you have it now, where he doesn't have that support system?

Morrison: No, he doesn't, and I kind of like that. It means that he can maybe go a little too far. Part of what we're exploring, as well, is that this guy can go a little too far. There's nobody really holding him back. And luckily for us, he has a very strong morality and sense of justice. But at the same time, some things you can push a little too far.

And you can see that in Clark as well. Clark is much more proactive. He's an investigative journalist, and he's very serious about it. He exposes all kinds of corruption that gets him into all kinds of trouble.

He kind of likes the idea that there's no way of getting to him and no one who can harm him. As Superman and as Clark, he's working as a superhero on both fronts.

So to a certain extent, he enjoys being on his own because no one can get hurt and it's all down to him. But at the same time, that means there's no limit on him as he loses his temper.

It allows us to play with different things that maybe open up new, and more interesting avenues that the character may go down.

Because what happens when there's no Ma and Pa Kent to say slow down or stop it? And he wants to change the world overnight?

Action Comics

#3 cover.

Nrama
: But you mentioned that he has a sense of justice. Does that come from having been raised by the Kents?

Morrison: Absolutely. And it also comes from the fact that he's the son of a couple of super-logical scientists. So he has a certain way of looking at the world that could have been quite cold. But at the same time, he was raised by these two kind of humble, hard-working people who had a very specific and basic morality. So yeah, he's learned from that. And he has more to learn, because those two people who lived in the heartland of America only knew so much.

So again, the whole thing we're doing in this new Superman is to watch him learn and grow and progress, and I find that's what makes the big difference.

The guy we had before was in his prime. He was eternally in his prime, and everything he did was going to work out. And the only way to deal with that was to make him a wimp, in a lot of cases.

So what we're trying to do is bring back that proactive Superman, but also allow him to change and to make these mistakes and to get beaten up a bit, and to have to come back and rethink his mission.

Nrama: Is there added weight on your shoulders because this is Action Comics #1? Does the significance of that resonate with you as you approach this?

Morrison: Oh, very much! I was totally panicking!

For the first time in my life, I thought, wow, I have to really make this count.

So yeah, I was very aware of it.

Now, I'm much further into it. I'm writing Issue #5 right now. That milestone has been forgotten, and I'm on my roller coaster now, so I don't feel quite so bad. But certainly, approaching that first issue was quite daunting. I hope people like it. I looks pretty good, because Rags Morales has done an amazing job on it. I think it's turned out as a beautiful looking book. His version of Clark Kent's amazing, this kind of weird Harry Potter version of Clark Kent. It's brilliant.

Nrama; Are you having fun with this?

Morrison: Oh yeah! Especially now that I'm into it a little bit, and I've worked out the story for 16 issues. Once I've got the big, overarching plan, it all starts to get a lot more exciting. So yeah, I'm having a great time on Superman, because I've been able to come at it from a different angle.

Nrama:  As long as I've got you on the phone Grant, can you just give us an update on Multiversity and your Batman work?

Morrison: Batman Incorporated, I know Chris is about halfway through the last issue, issue #10. So although that's late, it will be out soon. And then the Leviathan book will be scheduled to come out, I think, at the start of the year. Again, we want to keep that one monthly. So the idea is to get a little bit ahead and not have the problems we had on Batman Incorporated.

But yeah, that's all going. And Multiversity is going great. Frank Quitely is working on his pages right now. Nobody else has started, because we got Frank started first. But he's already going with his stuff. So all that stuff's going well.

Mutliversity is a lot more along the lines of the feel of Seven Soldiers, I think. I'm very pleased with it. I took a lot of time with it. And I think it's the best thing I've ever, ever done. If I stop after Multiversity, that will be good enough.

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