With apologies for the delay, we’re happy to once again to present our conversation with Grant Morrison about the latest issue of Final Crisis, #2.
With the issue, Sonny Sumo made his return (?), we met Morrison’s long-promised Japanese super heroes, saw the troubled young Monitor trying to remember the multiverse, the investigation into Orion’s death…and then things started hitting the fan, fast and furious – both Dan Turpin and Alpha Lantern Kraken were taken over, and Batman was taken by Darkseid’s forces. And Clayface blew up the Daily Planet offices.
What’s going on?
That’s what we asked Morrison.
Newsarama: Grant, you opened this issue with your Japanese super heroes. You first mentioned these folks back in the very early days of 52. What kept you from getting to them until now?
Grant Morrison: It was just a case of finding a story that really suited them. Originally, there was going to be a strand in 52 with these characters coming to the US to participate in Lex Luthor’s Everyman program but we found ourselves concentrating on other stuff and that plot fell by the wayside. Since I wanted Final Crisis to have a huge scope that would take us across time, space, and the dimensions of the Multiverse as well as spotlighting the diversity of DC’s international superhero community, Super Young Team allowed us to see something of the pervasive pop influence of superhero culture, and also made sense as a way to get us into the Sonny Sumo/Forever People strand of the story. The super Young Team get a much bigger and better part to play in Final Crisis than they would have in 52, so I’m glad I spared them.
NRAMA: You wrote a fairly extensive backstory for the heroes in the Final Crisis Sketchbook. Could you give the ultra thumbnail version of the history of Big Science Action? As you implied, it's essentially the super-hero equivalent of the culture that parallels Western culture in Japan, correct?
GM: Big Science Action is a team of characters inspired by various archetypal heroes from Japan‘s own ‘Silver Age’ of animation and monster movies. Imagine a Japanese Justice League made up of Ultraman, Astro Boy, Marine Boy, Gigantor etc fighting Godzilla and Mothra and you have some idea of the type of role we wanted Big Science Action to play.
Big Science Action were Japan’s greatest heroes once, back in the day, but that day has passed and a new generation is on the scene.
I only really intended to use them for one panel of Final Crisis but at the same time, I figured someone else might be intrigued enough to want to play with them elsewhere in the future, so I had to make sure they were fully-fleshed out, as I do with any of the background characters I create. I also threw in Goraiko, the ‘Nuclear Totoro’ character I created for the Ultramarine Corps back in the JLA days and changed his colour as a little tip of the hat to gray Hulk/green Hulk (speaking of which, I’m surprised no-one noticed the bouncers on the door of the superhero club on Page 1 of Final Crisis #2!)
Super Young Team, on the other hand, are the young pretenders. They’re teenagers/early 20s who’ve never really had to prove themselves in a serious battle, so their elders tend to see them as work-shy wasters and dilettantes in that time-honoured way the older generation have tended to view young people of any given era.
The idea for this bunch came from spending some time in Tokyo a couple of years ago and me being a big fan of Japanese indie crossover pop acts like Cornelius, Kahimi Karie, Pizzicato 5 and others. In the 90s, these musicians, and many others since, took inspiration from Western pop records, but mashed up genres, beats, lyrics and imagery in a way that resulted in music that was both oddly familiar and radically modern. Then, of course, there are the elaborate Lolita, Goth, storybook and manga-influenced costumes displayed by teenagers in Harajuku and Shibuya, so it wasn’t hard to imagine a culture of image-conscious hero wannabes recombining familiar elements of American superhero costumes into a fashion/youth cult designed to make them famous. We decided to create a team of superheroes whose look was based on recognisable, cut-up and rearranged motifs from western superhero costumes. The superhero or sci-fi uniform as fashion or couture is an idea that resurfaces now and again in the real world - see clothes by Paco Rabanne, Jean-Paul Gaultier or Thierry Mugler, for instance - and we thought it would give Super Young Team a distinctive look and agenda that would really set them apart from other young superhero teams like the Titans or Infinity Inc.
NRAMA: Grant, is being fantastic really a superpower in and of itself as one of Super Young Team attests?
GM: I like to think so! Superbat isn’t actually telling the full truth here, however. He reveals his true ‘superpower’ in issue #5.
NRAMA: Sonny Sumo - the last we saw him (at least in the Kirby canon), back in Forever People #7, he was stuck in the past, having escaped Darkseid in his own way. He knows of Mother Boxes and the New Gods...is he, were the Forever People untouched by the War in Heaven?
GM: Sonny’s appearance in the book is an early clue as to what’s really going down behind the scenes. Another clue is ’the mysterious new Aquaman’ who makes his debut in Final Crisis #3. As I said before, the Monitors are the elephant in the room of Final Crisis and I couldn’t do a Crisis without the alternate Earths of the Multiverse playing a fundamental role.. The presence of Sonny Sumo on ’New Earth’ is another big red flag that something is going wrong with the machinery of the entire Multiverse. Darkseid is only the first hint of the real threat. There’s a Clark Kent scene in Final Crisis #3 which leads directly into Superman Beyond, and that’s where the big Multiverse plot really starts to catch fire.
Superman Beyond is also where we find out what the ‘red skies’ really mean, and how it all ties in to Warren Ellis’ ideas about ‘The Bleed’ space between universes as well as the origins of the Carrier from The Authority, and the horrifying secret origin of the Monitors. I don’t really think readers have grasped the scale of Final Crisis yet but it should start to become clearer by the time Superman Beyond and the other ‘skip month’ books come out. Sonny Sumo, who by all rights, went back in time and lived and died in feudal Japan is suddenly running around with a Shilo Norman, who doesn’t remember being Scott Free’s apprentice. What gives? Well, read on…
NRAMA: Back to Big Science Action and Super Young Team...how far out and how far back have you figured out their story? Could you say, sketch out a series with these characters and run with it for a length of time? Would you, perhaps, if people rose up and demanded it?
GM: I worked out a detailed backstory for the history of superhero culture in Japan and I could easily write a long-running series on all of these characters but, apart from Batman, Final Crisis is my last DCU book for a while, so there are no plans for me to go back to these guys just yet. Who knows ? Anything can happen in the future.
NRAMA: That said, though - the backstory of the Japanese teams - why? It's obviously not going to see much play in the series itself, but yet, there it all is in the Sketchbook. Was it a by product of the larger process for you, something that just had to come out so you could better understand the characters, or was it a fully conscious decision to put together their entire history before moving on?
GM: I find it hard to just throw a bunch of arbitrary background characters onto the page because I draw the stories out first in thumbnail form and end up doing meticulous little costume designs for even the most throwaway characters. From costumes come names, from names come origin stories and alter-egos and whole potential epic adventures until I have pages of notes on some background cipher who’ll never be seen or heard from again.
As an example, the upcoming Superman Beyond book has a couple of scenes where we get glimpses of different ’Crises’ that are going down on various alternate Earths, so I found myself coming up with an entire ‘Earth 20’ history along with a pretty original idea for an ongoing book I could happily write, all based on one panel image I’d drawn of ‘Doc Fate.’
NRAMA: Larger picture wise, what effect is the "rebirth" of the New Gods having on the earth itself? Does the general population feel that something weird is going on?
GM: Oh yeah. I’d imagine the DCU is starting to feel a little more like our own dear ‘Earth Prime’ around now: life on the streets and online maybe feels a bit angrier, more irritable. There’s a horrible, widespread public determination to expose, emphasise and fixate on the flaws in people’s personalities, in how they look, in what they say, or sing or think or do for a living and so on. Ordinary kids are cynical and self-harming, while whole nations are still at one another’s throats when by, all rights, they should have moved on to a global commonwealth space faring society. Cities are under siege from demented weather and frightened bureaucrats. There’s an increased paranoia and hostility, driven by media, an unmistakable, growing sense that something wrong has begun to pervade the zeitgeist. There are bad things about ourselves that we need to acknowledge and overcome if the human project is to prosper in the coming century and Final Crisis is an ambitious attempt to frame some of that serious stuff in the context of a big, daft adventure story.
But, let’s face it, weird shit happens all the time in the DC Universe so everyone expects the heroes to take care of it. Nobody has realised yet just how terminal this situation is becoming - not until issue #3.
As we find out, the only New God to be reborn is Darkseid himself. Based on what Jack Kirby himself established, we know that Darkseid has the power to recreate his whole court - Glorious Godfrey, Granny Goodness, Kalibak and the others - from nothing more than memories. As we know, he’s able to restore them all to life even after they’ve been killed, so what we’re seeing in Final Crisis is something similar. I’m playing Darksid’s allies more as emanations of His Will, like shades in the spectrum of his absolute Evil.
NRAMA: Superman's eulogy for the Martian Manhunter- there at the end, so simple, and yet so logical - "And Pray for a Resurrection." The characters are aware of the kind of world they live in, after all. How broken up should they get, really? After all, four of the circle nearest to the coffin have been "dead" at one time or another...
GM: That’s exactly what I thought. We’re way past any time where a superhero death can ever be considered final - they even brought back Rita Farr! - and I wanted to show that ‘meta’ funerals would have to acknowledge this. In its own way, this line also foreshadows the book’s conclusion and hints at a major theme which will be played out as the series progresses.
NRAMA: When does that self-awareness of the kind of world they live in become a double-edged sword, though? What happens when you make your characters too smart for their writers or, worse yet, their marketers, who depend on "Someone Dies!" to sell copies?
GM: If it forces the marketers (are there such things ?) to stretch their imaginations a little next time, it can only be a good thing!
Increasing self-awareness and sophistication has never hurt superhero stories. There’s no reason why superhero death scenes can’t and shouldn’t be moving or dramatic if they’re done well but there is definitely a well-justified suspicion these days that even the deadest of dead characters will eventually make the return trip from the grave, so why pretend his friends wouldn’t be aware of that ? As long as the ‘returns’ are as good as the deaths, I don’t mind how it all plays out. It’s the big sprawling ongoing soap opera of the DCU that’s exciting to me. In the old Batman stories, the Joker had to appear to die in every adventure, only to be brought back by some plot contrivance. It’s how superhero comics work.
Given that Death has the annoying habit of being irreversible in the real world, I’m delighted we can play things a bit differently on the comics page. Like I say, this particular aspect of superhero comics is a big theme in Final Crisis. In many ways, now that I think about it, the whole story revolves around Superman’s ‘Pray for a resurrection’ line.
NRAMA: Over to the villains - does Luthor really not trust Libra despite the delivery on Manhunter, or is he just miffed that he wasn't able to pull it all off, and spite is now motivating him?
GM: A little bit of both. Luthor’s career is a record of failure and disaster, so he’s not too keen on the new kid on the block coming in and making it all look so effortless. At the same time, Luthor suspects there’s more to this upstart than meets the eye, and his alarm bells are ringing. Possibly too late. See Final Crisis #3.
NRAMA: Do all the villains have themed cars?
GM: I wish! I did a search for villain transport and the results are pretty disappointing so J.G. and I had to make these cars up. We gave Sivana a smart car, Captain Cold (presumably) is using the Frosty’s ice cream truck and Vandal Savage has a limo but otherwise we couldn’t unearth any cool or dumb evil mobiles to use.
The Shadow Thief travels to work by concrete pillar, of course. And take a look at Mirror Master talking about Doctor Light‘s date with Giganta!
NRAMA: With the Green Lanterns - at the crime scene, what sound was Opto commenting upon when he arrived?
GM: The same sound he hears again in the next panel - the faint, distant, mocking cymbal clash of the little Guardian plasma construct that’s been created to divert his attention onto the next page.
NRAMA: You've jumped into the larger Green Lantern mythology that Geoff has worked to establish with the use of Alpha Lanterns and the rest - what is it about what Geoff's done that you dig?
GM: Where to start? Green Lantern is my current favourite comic book, which is purely down to Geoff’s talent, as I was never a big Hal Jordan fan and always preferred Kyle Rayner or John Stewart as Green Lantern. It’s smart, it’s inclusive, it’s exciting, the characters are great and the story just keeps peaking and peaking through crescendo after crescendo. It’s a masterclass on superhero world-building and a constant inspiration to me, so I felt it was important to provide a meaty role for the Green Lantern characters in Final Crisis.
NRAMA: Along with the Alpha leading the investigation, you also showed Kraken's takeover - can you explain what a takeover by a New God's essence is like, as you envision it?
GM: It’s like having foul toxic water poured into your soul. The God attaches itself to whatever part of you that’s dark, unconscious and hidden. It latches onto the negative feelings we all have to deal with and begins to feed, eating the victim’s consciousness from within, until there is only a shell, a host. It’s a forced entry, a true ‘possession’ and it’s necessary for the Evil Gods to gain a foothold in our reality. The Anti-Life Equation is then brought to bear and when you hear that, it’s really all over - it erases your free will and turns you into an extension of Darkseid’s desires, a mere glove puppet worn by the Master of Evil! Once the Anti-Life Equation is deployed, the Gods of Apokolips become more or less unbeatable.
NRAMA: How hard and fast are the rules of the Gods' possession of humans?
GM: The rules are fairly simple. When the Anti-Life Equation is unleashed at the end of Final Crisis #3, Darkseid takes control of the planet Earth. It’s the End of the World as we know it…
NRAMA: As Kraken/Darkseid points it out: they're taking out earth's "strongmen," and they started with Batman. In your eyes, why go with him first?
GM: It actually started with J’onn J’onnz. Then they took down John Stewart and Hal Jordan, then Batman, then Superman. In issue #3, it’s Wonder Woman’s turn when she confronts the corrupted Mary Marvel. All the big guns are brought down with surgical precision. Although Batman’s not as physically strong as other heroes, his moral strength, his brilliance and his will and determination make him an important early target
NRAMA: Who's inside Turpin? Is it anyone specific, or still, just Darkseid?
GM: That’ll be Darkseid.
NRAMA: The tiger on the table of the operating room - that's not Talky-Tawny is it?
GM: No, it’s not but nice guess. That’s Kalibak’s new body - mentioned by Godfrey on the previous page - and we‘ll see it again in issue #4. It’s already been established that the genetic labs in the Command-D bunker have been used to engineer fearsome animal hybrids. Command-D also bred the giant Dalmatian dogs ridden by the Atomic Knights (see Final Crisis #3), which suggests an immediate connection to the Dog Cavalry of Apokolips. Here, they’ve spliced human and tiger material to create a savage new form for Kalibak. Darkseid’s son will lead a squad of tiger-men into battle in issue #5, and that’s where he’ll be running into poor old Tawky Tawny (who first appears in #3).
NRAMA: Where are Highfather and the New Gods of New Genesis in all of this?
GM: Dead. Gone. Only Metron got away because, as Kirby wrote, Metron is ‘something -- different! Something unforeseen!! On New Genesis -- or here!!’ Metron, the god of science, is the key to the resistance in Final Crisis.
NRAMA: And towards the end of the issue - given their experiences, Flashes have an almost inherent higher understanding of time and dimensions as well as frequencies and vibrations...but we, as readers, don't. So where is Barry running in from at the end?
GM: Barry has been in the Speed Force, beyond life and death. Keep reading for the answers to these and other mysteries.
NRAMA: Finally Grant, since we spoke last, it's been announced that Carlos Pacheco will be stepping in to assist J.G. on art for the series starting with #4. Did that change anything for you on your end, or does that do anything to the momentum of the series as you see it?
GM: It hasn’t changed the story we’re telling at all. Carlos was my first choice to back-up J.G. when we drew up contingency plans for Final Crisis last year so given the circumstances, I couldn’t be more pleased. Carlos has been at the top of my list of artists I’ve wanted to work with for ages, so I‘m very happy he‘s been able to step into the breach. I think it’s okay for a book like All-Star Superman to take its own good time but we felt that an event book like Final Crisis needs to come out on a regular schedule or risk losing momentum. No-one wants to still be reading issues of Final Crisis this time next year, especially when all the other books will be taking place in a post-Crisis world, so we made the choice to roll out the story on time.
Check back shortly (shorter than the time it took for this interview, at least) after Final Crisis #3 for our next conversation with Morrison, and in the meantime, check out his website atwww.grantmorrison.com, specifically the “HEAD” blog, which is updated weekly, and currently features Morrison’s first thoughts on The Dark Knight and Watchmen movies, among other things.