All Star Memories: Grant Morrison on All Star Superman, 4

Grant Morrison on All Star Superman, 4

In the fourth part of our 10-part look back at All-Star Superman, we talk with writer Grant Morrison about the new foes for the Man of Steel that he conceived for this series. Even though some only appeared for a few panels, Morrison reveals that by design, they had a life that extends far beyond the page..and maybe you can help a few of them show up in the “mainstream” DC Universe.

We also learn how he revamped an obscure Supergirl antagonist for fan-favorite nasty, and find out how Samson and Atlas were influenced by a British comic you’ll have to see to believe.

Newsarama: Tell us about some of the thinking behind the new antagonists you created for this series (at least the ones you want to talk about…): First up: Krull and the Subterranosaurs…

Grant Morrison: We wanted to create some throwaway new characters which would be designed to look as if they were convincing long–term elements of the Superman legend.

We were trying to create a few foes who had a classic feel and a solid backstory that could be explored again or in depth. Even if we never went back to these characters, we wanted them to seem rich enough to carry their own stories.

With Krull, we figured a superhuman character like Superman can always use a powerful “sub–human” opponent: a beast, a monster, a savage with the power to destroy civilization. For years I’ve had the idea that the familiar “gray aliens” might “actually” be evolved biped dinosaur descendants, the offspring of smart–thinking lizards which made their way to the warm regions at the Earth’s core.

I imagined these brutes developing their own technology, their own civilization, and then finally coming to the surface to declare bloody war on the mammalian usurpers! It seemed like we could develop this idea into the Krull backstory and suggest a whole epic conflict in a few panels.

Dom Regan, the Glasgow artist and DC colorist, saw the original green skin Jamie Grant had done for Krull, and suggested we make him red instead. Jamie reset his color filters and that was the moment Krull suddenly looked like a real Superman foe.

The red skin marked him out as unique, different and dangerous, even among his own species. It had echoes of Jack Kirby’s Devil Dinosaur that played right into the heart of the concept. A good design became a great design and the whole story of who Krull was – his twisted relationship with his father the Dino–Czar, his monstrous ambitions – came together in that first picture.

The society was fleshed out in the script even though we see only one panel of it – a gloomy, heavy, “Soviet” underworld of walled iron cities, cold blood and deadly intrigue. War–Barges that could sail on the oceans of heated steam at the center of the Earth. A Stalinist authoritarian lizard world where missing person cases were being taken to work and die as slaves in hellish underworld conditions.

NRAMA: Mechano–Man?

GM: An attempt to pre–imagine a classic, archetypal Superman foe, which started with another simple premise – how about a giant robot villain? But not just any giant robot – this is a rampaging machine with a raging little man inside.

Giving him a bitter, angry, scrawny loser as a pilot turned Mechano–Man into a much more extreme and pathological expression of the Man of Steel/Mild–Mannered Reporter dynamic, and added a few interesting layers onto an 8–panel appearance.

NRAMA: The Chronovore – a very disturbing creation, that one.

GM: The Chronovore was mentioned in passing in DC 1,000,000 and would have been the monster in my aborted Hypercrisis series idea. It took a long time to get the right design for the beast because it’s meant to be a 5–D being that we only ever see in 4–D sections. It had to work as a convincing representation of something much bigger that we’re seeing only where it interpenetrates our 4–D space-time continuum.

Imagine you’re walking along with a song in your teenage heart, then suddenly the Chronovore appears, takes bite out of your life, and you arrive at your girlfriend’s house aged 76, clutching a cell phone and a wilted bouquet.

NRAMA: One more obscure run that I was happy to see referenced in this was the use of Nasty from the old Mike Sekowsky Supergirl stories. What made you want to use this character?

GM: I remembered her from the old comics, and felt her fashion–y look could be updated very easily into the kind of fetish club thing I’ve always been partial to.

She seemed a cool and sexy addition to the Luthor plot. The set–up, where Lex has a fairly normal sister who hates how her wayward brother is such a bad influence on her brilliant daughter, is explosive with character potential.

They need to bring Nasty back to mainstream continuity. Geoff! They all want it and you know you never let them down!

NRAMA: Speaking of Mike Sekowsky, I’m curious about his influence on your work. I have an odd fascination with all the ideas and stories he was tossing around in the late 1960s and early 1970s – Jason’s Quest, Manhunter 2070, the I–Ching tales – and many of the characters he worked on, from the B”Wana Beast to the Inferior Five to Yankee Doodle (in Doom Patrol), have shown up in your work. The Bizarro Zoo in issue #10 is even slightly reminiscent of the Beast’s merged animals.

GM: Those were all comics that were around when I was a normal kid, prior to the obsessive collecting fan phase of my isolated teenage years. They clearly inspired me in some way, as you say, but certainly not consciously. I’d never have considered myself a particular fan of Mike Sekowsky’s work, but as you say, I’ve incorporated a lot of his ideas into the DC Universe work I’ve done. Hmm. Interesting.

While I’m at it, I should also say something about Samson and Atlas, halfway between old characters and new.

Samson, Atlas and Hercules were classical mainstays of old Superman covers, tangling with Superman in all those Silver Age stories that happened before he learned from his friends at Marvel that it was possible to fight other superheroes for fun and profit, so I decided to completely “re–vamp” the characters in the manner of superhero franchises. Marvel has the definitive Hercules for me, so I left him out of the mix and concentrated on Atlas and Samson.

Atlas was re–imagined as a mighty but restless and reckless young prince of the New Mythos – a society of mega–beings playing out their archetypal dramas between New Elysium and Hadia, with ordinary people caught in the middle – and Superman.

Essentially good–hearted, Atlas would have been the newbie in a “team” with Skyfather Xaoz!, Heroina, Marzak and the others. He has a bullish, adolescent approach to life. He drinks and plunges himself into ill–advised adventures to ease his naturally gloomy “weighed down by the world” temperament.

You can see it all now. The backstory suggested an unseen, Empyrean New Gods–type series from a parallel universe. What if, when Jack Kirby came to DC from Marvel in 1971, he’d followed up his sci–fi Viking Gods saga at Marvel, with a dimension–spanning epic rooted in Greek mythology? New Gods meets Eternals drawn by Curt Swan/Murphy Anderson? That was Atlas.

Samson, I decided would be a callback to the British newspaper strip “Garth.” Although you may already be imagining a daily strip about the exploits of time–tossed The Boys writer, Garth Ennis, it was actually about a blonde Adonis type who bounced around the ages having mildly horny, racy adventures.

(Go look him up then return the wiser before reading on, so I don’t have to explain anymore about this bastard – he’s often described as “the British Superman,” but oh…my arse! I hated meathead, personality–singularity Garth…but we all grew up with his meandering, inexplicable yet incredibly–drawn adventures and some of it was quite good when you were a little lad because he was always shagging ON PANEL with the likes of a bare–breasted cave girl or gauze–draped Helen of Troy.

(Unlike Superman, you see, the top British strongman liked to get naked. Lots naked. Naked in every time period he could get naked in, which was all of them thanks to the miracle of his bullshit powers.

(Imagine Doctor Who buff, dumb and naked all the time – Russell, I’ve had an idea!!!! – and that’s Garth in a nutshell.

(Sorry, I know I’m going on and the average attention span of anyone reading stuff on the Internet amounts to no more than a few paragraphs, but basically, Garth was always getting naked. In public, in family newspapers. Bollock naked. Let’s face it, patriotic Americans, have you ever seen Superman’s arse?

Newsarama Note: Well, there was Baby Kal-El in the 1978 film…

(Brits, hands up who still remember the man, and have you ever not seen Garth’s arse? Do you not, in fact, have a very clear image of it in your head, as drawn by Martin Asbury perhaps? In mine, Garth’s pulling aside a flimsy curtain to gaze at the pyramids with Cleopatra buck naked in foreground ogling his rock hard glutes…).

Anyway, Samson, I decided, was the Hebrew version of Garth and he would have his own mad comic that was like an American version of Garth. I saw the Bible hero plucked from the desert sands by time–travelling buffoons in search of a savior. Introduced to all the worst aspects of future culture and, using his stolen, erratic Chrono–Mobile, Samson became a time–(and space) travelling Soldier of Fortune, writing wrongs, humping princesses, accumulating and losing treasure etc. Like a science fiction Conan. Meets Garth.

Fortunately, you’ll never see any of these men ever again.

Next: Morrison on Superman’s classic supporting cast, including Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, and of course Lex Luthor.

Special thanks to Grant Morrison: The Early Years author Timothy Callahan for his help with this feature..

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