Superman is the seed from which all of DC Comics' heroes grow, but over the coming weeks, his flagship title will be doing some growing of its own. The publisher announced last month that writer Grant Morrison will extend his run on "Action Comics" one more issue for a two-part finale in #17 and 18, shipping February 20 and March 6, respectively. Previously #17 was announced as the final issue of the superstar writer's run.
Alongside his regular artists Rags Morales and Brad Walker, the writer will wrap the Man of Steel's battle with deranged Fifth Dimensional imp Vyndktvx who is attacking the hero across time. The story ranges from Clark Kent's days in Smallville to the modern Superman's home of Metropolis to the future of the Legion of Super-Heroes.
CBR News spoke with Morrison about the growth of his run overall, his changing views on who Superman is, why he went with the Fifth Dimension for his big bad and why this take shouldn't be referred to as "Silver Age."
CBR News: To start with the final issue in your "Action" run, it seems this story in general and now this issue in particular has kept growing in size even against your expectations. What is it about this story that's done that?
Grant Morrison: Well, there are a few elements that came into it. There were a bunch of one-off issues that inspired some thought as we got closer to the end. We started [the run] with a six-part story, and I kind of wanted to end it as a smaller story, which was about three parts to begin with. That just didn't seem enough. I felt like we needed a proper bookend story of Superman now in contrast with the young Superman that we started the book out with. And it was just a case of the fact that we had a giant monster coming in, and I didn't want to do a giant monster fight crammed into six-panel pages over a couple of issues. [Laughs]
So I suggested we could add some air into this thing and open it up with some more panels. And once I said that, more story crept into those spaces as well. I think it was one of those stories that needed a bit more. Usually what I do in those circumstances is just cram it all in there anyway like with "Seven Soldiers" where I spent six months trying to fit every little plot point into one piece of information. But with this one, I thought, "Let's allow this to breath. Superman's a physical character, so the story should have the space it needs." I think it's worked very well. I'm glad I didn't do what I originally was thinking of, which is squeeze into 20 pages what should have happened over 60 pages.
How did you arrive at this story construction where the three timelines of Superman's life all started to thread together as the Fifth Dimensional villain bears down on him? Did you want to have a farewell to each significant part of Superman's life?
It was a little bit of that. I also felt like I'd been brought in to do the early Superman, and as I said before, I was only going to do six issues. But the story grew out, and once I added a few villains, that added some doors to other stuff that could happen. Once I'd done that, I felt that I should at least hint at what happened to Superman over those five years of his early life. What could be a good story structure for that? I didn't want to do one of those kind of playbook things where you go, "This year, this happened to Superman. And the year after, this happened to Superman." I wanted to make it part of the plot and part of the action. That meant bringing in a villain who could operate in a lot of different timelines simultaneously, and that led me to the Fifth Dimension.
And the Fifth Dimension stuff was something I hadn't touched on either in "All-Star Superman" or the previous stuff I'd done like "Superman Beyond." I had covered all those other guys like Brainiac, Luthor and Bizarro, but I hadn't done a Mxyzptlk story. And that's what this grew out of. I felt I should really do one of those stories before I'm done with things on Superman. And Mxyzptlk and his world gives us a way of looking at Superman's life from a higher perspective so we can hint at stuff. While there is a sort of timeline, I didn't want to re-show what happens when he fought Doomsday. I wanted to be able to hint at that so readers knew there was this big era. And also, future writers can play with that if they want to without being dogmatic to me. So I just wanted to show some stuff that happened but suggest a lot of stuff that people could play with in the future. That's what drew me to the style of this story. "Here's all of Superman's life at once."
In the past when you were working on "JLA," you brought back an Aquaman villain who was very imp-like...
Right! And he was also a much more serious threat in those appearances like the new villain Vyndktvx is now. Are you scared of little men in odd outfits?
Well, aren't we all? [Laughter] No. I think the great thing about those Fifth Dimensional characters is that they tie into so many other cool things like alien abductions or fairy stories. I wanted to put that all together in one place. So if you look at the new design of Mr. Mxyzptlk, he kind of looks like an alien Grey, but he also looks a little bit like the fairy tale creatures we read about when we were kids. I guess a few times I've done these kinds of characters, so maybe I am terrified of little men from beyond. But it makes for good reading!
You've been working from Superman's past to his present. When you started the run, you talked a lot about that young character being a blue collar type superhero. Now that you've reached the modern Superman of the New 52, is there a defining principal he has that's different from All-Star or pre-"Flashpoint" or any of the versions we've seen?
I think what remains is a Superman [who] is a bit more proactive and more masculine in the sense that he gets things done. He's got a little bit of a sense of humor, and he's tough again. You can knock him down, and he'll get up. I think the best thing that it's done ultimately is to get rid of that weird emo Superman that was around for a long time. He was constantly fighting against using his powers and was kind of angst-driven. There are so many great characters in comics that are angst-driven that we don't need Superman to be one was well. If anything great has come out of this for the future of how Superman is done, I think it's that the current Superman is proactive and Clark Kent's a little more feisty. And I think the character relationships have been busted up a bit too, and it's more fun because of that.
People often make a complaint about the way some of the DC stories and your work in particular has developed the past few years which always boils down to this vague complaint about things getting "more Silver Age." Do you have a sense for where that comes from?
I think these things are natural for a fantasy character. I've always said, it's not that I'm a huge Silver Age fan. People always get that wrong. It's more that in the Silver Age, those stories were more popular and appealed to a wider audience. So I'm always thinking, "Why did they appeal?" Those Silver Age Superman stories were about stuff. They weren't just superheroes wrestling with one another. They were about feelings we can all understand. Superman's guilty, or Lois is in love but Lana's in love too...how do you deal with that? All of those things were very much about something real people could understand. I think that's why comics were so popular.
So it's not a fetish for the Silver Age I have. It's more a fetish for good stories that people in the real world can relate to. I'm trying to tell stories that have an emotional value rather than a punch up or a concordance of heights and weights and power measurements. I've always gone back to those stories for that reasons. But with current comics fandom, "Silver Age" has become an almost meaningless term. It's either a term of abuse or a term of endearment, but it doesn't really attach to much at all.
I think people talk like that because when they see news things, they to react by reaching back to find something it's a bit like so you can fit it into a box in your head. I don't even consider "All-Star Superman" to have much in common with the Silver Age at all. It's a pretty modern Superman story to me. The same goes for this one or my work on Batman where we've used Silver Age characters but we've also used things from the '90s, the '70 and the '80s. My idea is always to bring in everything about the character's history and select the bits that seem most interesting. Part of Superman's attitude is taken not from the '40s or the '50s, but from the '70s comics. If you read the stuff by Leo Dorfman and Frank Robbins and these dudes, Superman was just this swaggering tough. [Laughs] He was constantly punching things and blowing on his knuckles and abusing his foes. I kind of liked that. He's a street Superman. That stuff came from the '70s.
And like I said, when you try to reinvent a character, you take inspiration from every iteration of them including the animated stuff. So I do think the term "Silver Age" is pretty reductive. I understand why people do it and what it means to people, but I don't think it's how I see it at all.
Superman is a character that seems to drag you back to him over and over. You've been talking of late of stepping away from the monthly superhero grind. With your last issue of "Action," is there any way you're putting a cap on the character as a whole?
No, I don't think I do! [Laughter] This will probably get me into a bit of trouble because it's probably better not so say I'm done. But this is an end to this specific take on Superman. I'm still writing Superman in "Multiversity," but it's the black Superman of Earth-23, so I can't quite let go of the character. This ending is quite obviously the ending of my take on the character as he is now, but it's open-ended. It's not like "All-Star Superman." It's a monthly book with a different agenda, so I want to make sure that it doesn't seem like the end of Superman's story. We want people to pick up Andy Diggle's first issue.
Are you getting excited to be on the reader's side of those monthly comics once your work here is done? To watch Andy and Scott Snyder and everyone take the ball from you and run?
Yeah! It'll be great. I've loved watching what Scott is doing on "Batman" already. And I'm a comic reader by nature, so I'm happy to watch the other people do the hard work. [Laughs] I can't wait to see what Tony Daniel draws because I'm a huge Tony fan.
Morrison's two-part "Action Comics" finale appears in issues #17 and 18, shipping February 20 and March 6 from DC Comics.