When DC rebooted the iconic Action Comics for the first time last year, the weight of history rested upon the new title's creative team as they started over Clark Kent's story — and numbering — for a new generation.
Artist Rags Morales was paired with superstar writer Grant Morrison for the task of reinventing the hero. As the public was first informed about this new, young version of Superman, it was Morales that provided the first peek at what readers would see — a brash young hero in a T-shirt and jeans, holding a boulder above his head.Six months later, Morales and Morrison are finishing their first storyline on Action Comics with this week's #8. The issue will feature a showdown with Brainiac, and the introduction of Superman's next threat.
Morales is best known for his work on Identity Crisis with writer Brad Meltzer, as well as runs on First Wave, Nightwing and Hawkman. But for Action Comics, he has been challenged with not only redesigning Superman and his cast of supporting characters, but also with adjusting to Morrison's unique script-writing.
The artist agreed to sit down and talk to Newsarama recently, drawing as he talked, working on commission sketches to fill time while he waited for his next Action Comics script. And as we spoke to Morales we found out his reaction to the Superman revamp, his approach to a more confident Clark Kent, and why he's proud of the "long train" of jobs he's accomplished in his career leading up to Action Comics.
Newsarama: Rags, how did you find out you would be relaunching Action Comics at a new #1? And what did you think about it?
Rags Morales: I was so surprised. Honestly. DC had been talking to me about being part of the New 52, but I had originally thought I'd be working on Captain Marvel, because Geoff [Johns] and I had been talking about working together again.But then out of the clear blue, I got a call from Matt Idelson. And he says, "You want to do Action?" And you know, my initial reaction was surprise, and disorientation, and even a little disappointment because I had this other thing in my head. But that lasted less than a half-a-second as it started to sink in.
It was one of those things where I was like, "Wait a minute, did you just tell me I won a million dollars?" It was one of those things.
But yeah, after that, it was a no-brainer. I said, "Absolutely!"
That was just the initial reaction. After that, I found out what was going on with the character, what Grant had in mind, and it was exactly the kind of thing I was looking to do. And it was exactly the kind of remedy I thought the character needed.
Nrama: So you supported the reboot of Superman's history?
Morales: It needed to start over again. For me, it was too many things going in too many different directions and too many different versions of the same thing. I'm glad we were able to just stop and look at it from the beginning. It's like, how can we make this better? Superman felt, to me, like one of those characters that had lost his way a bit. It's a shame, because he's such a fantastic character.
Nrama: You've obviously drawn Superman quite a bit before. Did you change the way you approached him in the past, and if so, how?
Morales: Yeah, I did change my approach. And you know, if you look at that first promo piece I did of him lifting the boulder, he's got that fully formed Superman feel to him, even in silhouette you could tell. He's fully formed. And that was where I started, and like you said, I had drawn him before, so I was drawing upon that experience when I did that initial image.At that point, obviously, I had very little idea of our direction, of where Grant was going to take it. And it was some time later that I found out he's in his 20's.
So it was one of those things where it evolved into a new look. It's still my Superman that I had drawn in the past, but younger and more like, well, I like to call it an "Elvis on the beach" kind of feel. It's that youthful feeling that I think was kind of lost over the years, as he got married and then turned into a dad. Just to bring him back to his roots, to this youthful version of himself. That was enough. I didn't need to change his look drastically. I just needed to find those roots again.
I know I just complained about all these versions of Superman, and technically, we're doing another version of him. But I felt like I had to reach back and find who he is at his core. And I also think this is a version that will stick. That's my hope, because we've certainly put a lot of energy behind this. All of us want this to make more of a lasting impression than just the New 52. We're hoping it has legs.
Nrama: You had to revamp the entire Superman cast too, didn't you?
Morales: Yeah, and honestly, Grant has a lot of direction in his script about the design. And from there, I try to think, "OK, if that's what they want, what does that mean to me?" And then I design it accordingly.I love the fact that we haven't changed Lois much. She doesn't need to be changed, you know? She's still very much the same. She's a vivacious character. She didn't need to be changed. Clark Kent didn't really need to be changed either, other than the fact that he's probably more secure than he was portrayed previously. Clark Kent was always the lovable, bumbling farm boy, but I'm drawing him as a much more focused and structured human being, with real concerns. And in doing so, working with the way Grant is writing him, instead of trying to hide who Superman is to Clark, we've embraced who Superman is through Clark. He's very much the social activist. I like that about Clark.
But Jimmy's the biggest change. Jimmy's no longer subservient. He's no longer just "Superman's pal." He's Clark's contemporary. And I like that, and I try to capture that in the way they're drawn. And the way they look when they're together. They're contemporaries. Clark and Jimmy are equals.
I remember how, over the years and even back to Identity Crisis, it was always mentioned that we're trying to do something cool with Jimmy. We were trying to make Jimmy cool. And it's impossible to make Jimmy cool, with that background he had. I can't imagine him evolving to be cool.So the only thing you can do is get rid of all that past and simply say he started off being cool. And he's Clark's cool buddy, working for the rival Daily Planet, because Clark's working for the Daily Star. I like that, and I've tried to put that into his body language and the way he interacts with Clark. They each have someone to talk shop with. He's been the most refreshing change, as far as the supporting cast goes for me. And I really embrace it. I think it's a great idea.
We haven't done Perry White yet, but I'm looking forward to that.
And we haven't seen many of the other characters from the DCU. We've seen the Legion, you know? We see those guys. But that's the first group, and that makes sense.
Nrama: You've also gotten to draw a few of Superman's villains. A few of them haven't changed much, but others have. What were your thoughts behind some of the redesigns you've done, or are you trying to stick as much as possible with the classic look?
Morales: There are certain things that are just universal with the character, whether we revamp it or not. You can't revamp that aspect out of it.The perfect example of that is Lex Luthor. There's just a certain look to him that you can't lose. The way he looks, the way he carries himself, and even his facial expressions -- it's always going to have a certain look about it. And that's something that's at the core of his being. You're not going to get away from the smarmy, condescending, too-smart-for-the-room, assh*le that Lex Luthor is. You're never going to change that, and you shouldn't. He's the perfect foil. So he stays the same. He's perfect the way he is.
I like Metallo, or Metal-Zero. You know, I like what we've done with him, and the changes we've made to that character. Brainiac was a revelation. And at the end of issue #8, you'll see Nimrod the Hunter, a new one we're introducing.
I haven't been thinking too far ahead on the other villains we'll introduce.
Nrama: So you haven't come up with a redesign for Mister Mxyzptlk?
Morales: [laughs] Not yet! I'm not thinking ahead for that, but I'm really not thinking ahead for any of them. I want to wait and see what Grant's story will bring. Plus you've got to focus on what's in front of you.
I'm sure whatever Grant has in mind will be brilliant. He's a freaking genius.
Nrama: How is it working with him?
Morales: Difficult. [laughs]
No, he's not a difficult person at all. He's very supportive. But I'm sure you've heard how his scripts are written.
Nrama: Very open?
Morales: Yeah, they're open for interpretation, usually. It's not that it's loose. There is just a lot of information. He writes in a way that's non-linear. I just look read his stuff and think, he's a genius. But the difficulty comes because he puts so much information into the script that it's hard to focus it. It's a great problem to have, to understand the big picture so well and have all this information in front of you, shared from the mind of Grant Morrison. But you have to go through the weeding out process. And that can be a little time consuming.
But then all of the sudden you realize, "Oh! It's actually very simple." And you can just let the idea flow onto the page.And that was one of the things that I saw written in a review I read. Someone said that Grant has a tendency to put so much information on it, that with the wrong artist, you'll never be able to figure out what it is. And that was a great compliment to me, essentially telling me that I succeeded in weeding out what's necessary to tell the story.
Grant, wow, that's a whole other cloud. That dude is writing in a way that only dogs can hear, you know? He is, wow, really out there. And it's brilliant, and it's wonderful, and I love it. Seriously, I do. I'm not complaining. I absolutely love every minute of it.
It's just that when you finally get down to what it all means, you realize, damn, that's really cool. That is really, really cool.
So I love working with Grant.
And wow, he seems to really like crowd scenes lately.
Nrama: Does Grant include dialogue in the scripts?
Morales: Yes, and I prefer that. For example, if the script says the character is angry, I need to see what words he's yelling so I can know just how angry he is. I need to be able to take the temperature of the character. So I need an idea of what's being said so I can formulate the scene in my head.
Nrama: Is there anything you can tell us about what's coming up, at least in this week's issue, that you're excited for people to see?
Morales: Issue #8 is the final showdown with Brainiac, the end of the current storyline. It's the final confrontation between Brainiac and Superman.
Nrama: And after that, you're taking a break. Is that part of the plan, to do a few issues and then skip a couple so you can work ahead?
Morales: As much as I'd love to be able to say I can do a monthly, I can't anymore. I can do a good run. I can't do a monthly. When I was approached with this project, I had some things that were pretty set in motion that weren't going to get me to the drawing board immediately. So when I approached this project, I was already a little bit behind. And as you know, there were 29 pages in that first issue. And of course, when you're reinventing this place, basically creating a whole new universe, where everything down from the bricks to the socks had to be uniquely yours, that takes time. And you use up a lot of your lead time just figuring out where you're going with it.It becomes easier as you go along, but it takes about five issues to do that. I'm finally getting to that point. But it's been disjointed.
Nrama: You've done a lot of different projects over the years, from your Hawkman, Nightwing and Wonder Woman runs to your work on Identity Crisis, Blackest Night and the world of First Wave. For you, looking back on your career, where do you rank this relaunch of Action Comics? Do you rank things at all?
Morales: No, not really. It's just another caboose on a long train. I think of each thing as a caboose, because they're always at the end of something you've done before. I really don't think back at all the stuff I've done, until I'm reminded of it. I mean, I'm looking at a list of commissions I've got, and I'm looking at all the characters people want me to draw for them, and when you look at it in those terms, I realize.... wow, I've done all of them, except Wolverine. Somebody wants a Wolverine. That's interesting. That's not something I've done in a comic.
People all of a sudden associate me with Deathstroke, which is wonderful, because I've only done a few pages of Deathstroke in my entire career. But that was a memorable scene, I guess.
So when you think about it in those terms, about how you get associated with something that is large and universal. It's funny how you get attached to it, despite the fact that you might not have done more than a scene or two with that character in it, and certainly nothing in his own book. I've done plenty of Batman, Wonder Woman and of course, Hawkman, but when they give you other characters, that's when you know that people like your version, or that it sticks out in their mind. When you've done that, then you've contributed to the industry.
Nrama: And now, if anybody wants a Superman with jeans on, they'll have to come to you, right?
Morales: You know what? Anybody who can pull off L'il Abner could do it. [laughs]That shows my age, I guess. And you know, it's funny. When I did that image I mentioned before of Superman lifting up a boulder, the whole reason I drew that was so that people could see him. Nobody understood what Grant had in mind. They couldn't conceive of jeans and a T-shirt and a baby blanket. It made no sense to them. They wanted to see it. So I did that, and I guess it did what it was supposed to do. It inspired them. So much so that they started using it as a promo piece, when I'd never intended it to be a promo piece.
Nrama: It was more of a mock-up of what his costume could look like?
Morales: Right, right. I didn't even know his whole story yet. It was like, "what do you think? Am I close?" Apparently, I was on the nose.
And I think that, even though the age thing wasn't quite right, the boulder image ended up capturing the confidence we wanted to instill in the character, you know? Like I said, he used to be imagined as a bumbling farm boy, and now, sure... he's a geek. But geeks are cool now. They're not odd little misfits. They're actually very cool. And Clark Kent is a very cool nerd. He's still a little gawky, and every once in awhile, I'll do that on purpose, because I want him to actually melt into a character, where the only people who know it's Superman are the readers.
For more information on the art of Rags Morales, visit his website at RagsAgainstTheMachine.net.
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