Grant Morrison Talks “Multiversity,” “Wonder Woman: Earth One”
Last night, at the DC offices in Burbank, California, "select members" of the press (including li'l ol' me) were brought in for a tour of the cool workspace and a chat with Grant Morrison, DC's favorite creative mind, about two big upcoming projects he's working on, now that he's done with Action Comics and Batman Incorporated. One of those projects is Wonder Woman: Earth One with Yanick Paquette, which he had some very interesting things to say about – claiming it's hopefully geared for mothers and teenage girls, based on a lot of feminist literature he's read, and he also noted that the Amazons will have some very different ideas about sex. Also, Hippolyta kills the hell out of Hercules.
"This is the moment where Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons and the women have been chained up and controlled by Hercules and his men – it's part of the Greek legend – and she finally turns on him and gets those chains around his neck, where they belong," Morrison explained of the Paquette piece below. "This is going to be one of the Earth One books. The first book is going to be 120 pages, me and Yanick Paquette and he's killing it. He's done all this border stuff, and he's researched all these Greek friezes and pottery and combining it into the panel border."
"Diana's the main character, but we wanted to give a little bit of service to all the stuff that actually happened in the original myth," he continued. "Heracles captured the Amazons and subjected them to all kinds of tortures, so the first 15 pages of our book deal with that. It's just a big old ladies-kick-ass thing. Having read my feminist literature, I wanted to come up with the most outrageous image of the battle of the sexes to open this book, and when you see Hercules basically gloating over Hippolyta, who's down on her knees in the mud and in chains, that's what we wanted to do, and we work up from there, through all these different ways of looking at women – both in comics and in society. I wanted this one to be good. I want it to be something different from every other superhero book I've done. It's not like a superhero comic. It's a comic about the sexes and how we feel about one another, and how Wonder Woman represents the best of something, and should be allowed to represent it and also represent a creator's interest, shall we say?"
Given that the 'creator's interest,' in Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston's case, was often a bondage fetish, I had to prod Morrison with a simple "go on."
"The Amazons, over many thousands of years of living eternally, have developed some very strange and ritualized ideas about sex is all I can say," he noted. When I asked if it was anything like Brian Azzarello's recent 'Sex Pirate Spartans' take on them, he answered with "Nothing like that. This is what happens if you have a utopian community of women. They don't need to kill men. They don't need any of that. But other things happen. You've got maybe a couple of thousand women – 250 years later, they've all kissed one another. A thousand years later, what's going on? Two thousand years later, what the hell is going on? And then we take up the story a thousand years after that. We owed the world – it's a genuinely new and different sexuality. Here's something you don't understand and let's see if you can make sense of it. I really worked on it. We did a lot of research on this book."
So this one isn't an all-ages book, huh? "Honestly, this one's for mom and her teenage daughter, but not for your eight-year-old daughter, unless you want her to kill Dad," Morrison quipped. "I hope it's for teenage girls and for their mothers. It's a story about a mother and a daughter, Hippolyta and Diana. I grew up with a sister and a mother, and my father was kind of estranged. I watched this dynamic and it's really about that. I think that's what creates the myth of Wonder Woman and I wanted to really play on that – this notion of mothers and daughters and how they fight and how they teach each other stuff."
The other big project is Multiversity, and he went into much more detail about what this is going to be – namely, a nine-part series that takes place throughout seven different alternative DC universes, with a through-line based on something taken from the old "Flash of Two Worlds" story, wherein the comic books of each world tell the stories of the other worlds, and they warn each new world of "a gigantic cosmic threat which is the most terrifying thing I think anyone's ever created in a comic," he said, before adding with a laugh. "I don't do hyperbole."
The interesting part is the breakdown of each 40-page issue, every one with a different artist (although not all of them have been chosen or revealed so far), and as of yesterday, he said he was about halfway through the half of them he hadn't finished yet. "This is my magnum opus," he said. "This is why I love comics."
"Honestly, I'm trying to make each one of them the best superhero comic you've ever read, but in different ways," he told me. "Each one of the episodes also sets up a potential series. You could do a Multiverse range of books out of this. All of them are designed to be issue one of potential long-running series as well as being self-contained. It's been a storytelling challenge, but the whole idea is to set stuff up for future development – not necessarily by me, but by DC in some way."
So here's the boil-down.
Mutlversity #1: We revisit the world he established in Action Comics #9, wherein Calvin Ellis is president of the United States and also Superman, and he's not afraid to use super-powers in shaping and enforcing policy. In this issue, we'll see how the Justice League of the Multiverse comes together. After I mentioned to him that I sort of wanted to read Ellis in his own series after that issue, Morrison told me "I bet he gets his own series – once you see him in Multiversity, he's so great in that, he deserves his own series."
Multiversity #2: A pulp world where the population of Earth in 2013, just after a major world war, is only about two billion. This will include a trechcoat-wearing, gold-helmed occult adventurer in Doc Fate, along with The Immortal Man and The Mighty Atom and Lady Blackhawk, among others.
Multiversity #3: The Just, set on Earth 11. This is a look at the children of superheroes – a son of Superman, a son of Batman, etc. – who exist in a world where they have incredible abilities, but the previous generation had ushered in a utopia, so they don't really have any notion of where to direct it, and they're very unhappy with the world as is. It's based on old stories of "the supersons" who grew up to be "real mean bastards." There's Megamorpho, the Sapphire Stag's daughter. This will also include a lot of the forgotten 1990s characters relegated to doing re-enactments of famous superhero battles. This includes Kyle Rayner, Walker Gabriel and may even include Bloodwynd, Blood Pack, and "the stuff Christopher Priest created for Justice League."
Multiversity #4: Pax Americana. This is an idea which seems long overdue – taking the Watchmen storytelling devices and retroactively applying them to the Charlton Comics characters they were originally based upon. Frank Quitely will be handling the art on this one, which will be laid out in a rigid 8-panel grid system similar to how Watchmen comics were. "We created this grid, which is 8 panels, which breaks down into 16, and it's just been one of the most amazing experiences to write this comic. It's like calculus," Morrison said. "Everything's grids, and we can keep subdividing the grids for storytelling effects and the type of things no one's done before – the super digital approach to the page." Morrison said this is "the next stage" of Quitely, and "honestly, it kicks the ass of whatever he's doing with Mark Millar right now." He also claimed he felt like this chapter will be his Citizen Kane, saying both Quitely and himself feel like it's the best thing they've ever done in superhero comics – in just 40 pages.
"It's a whole new story," Morrison told me. "It starts off with the president being executed in reverse. That's where it begins. There's a peace sign on fire – you know, Watchmen had the smiley face with blood? We're taking that and doing the Rutles doing the Beatles. We're taking the peace sign, which is equivalent to the smiley face, and settling it on fire, which is equivalent to the blood. There's a quote from Delmore Schwartz that says 'time is a fire in which we burn, time is a school in which we learn.' The issue's called 'In Which We Burn.' It works backwards through a man's life, but it starts with the death of the president. It all goes in reverse. The president's been shot from space. Then you cut to the Charlton character Peacemaker tied up, and a bunch of men looking at him, saying 'we don't understand, we've run the tapes backwards and forwards, why did you do it, Chris? Why'd you kill the president?" That's our first four pages. It tells you the whole story of this superhuman initiative. It's kind of taking what Watchmen was and putting it in the current political climate, and that changes everything. It's replacing those characters with the originals, so you've got Captain Atom himself now instead of Dr. Manhattan, and that changes everything. It's about this one man who discovered who he really is, and there's a "Rosebud" moment at the very end in the last panel. That's all I want to say about it."
Multiversity #5: Thunderworld. This will be Morrison's attempt to deliver a pure, all-ages story of Captain Marvel (aka Shazam, although he told me he's still using the name Captain Marvel) without irony, to see if he can make the purity of Billy Batson resonate with a modern audience without having to make him "edgy." Here's some Cameron Stewart art from "Thunderworld."
"Right now, he's called Captain Marvel," Morrison says of the Shazam nomenclature. "I'm still thinking. I want to talk to DC about maybe going back to the Captain Thunder name, but who knows? I don't know yet. We'll see what's best for it. Right now, he's Captain Marvel. But that one is my attempt to see if you can get the pure note of Captain Marvel, with no irony and no camp and just make it work for everyone. It's like a myth, a little folk tale. It's pure. There are no apologies for Mary Bromfield writing in her 'good deeds' ledger. The model was Pixar. I tried to think 'what would Pixar do with this concept?' We tried to create a really nice, complete adventure that says everything about Captain Marvel that's pure and great and non-ironic."
Multiversity #6: Master Men – basically, it will be Nazi superheroes, in a reality formerly known as Earth X (aka Earth 10, he said, which hearkens back to Weapon X becoming Weapon Ten) where the Nazis won World War II and took over the world. What if baby Kal-El's ship landed in the Sudetenland? Morrison says this is his epic Shakespearean Game of Thrones kind of heavy parallel world story, and it apparently opens with Hitler on the toilet reading Action Comics.
"Imagine you're Superman," Morrison explained, "and for the first 25 years of your life, you were working for Hitler, and then you realize 'oh my god, it's Hitler! Shit! Now I get it! Now I see who the baddie is!' And he cleans up, and they create a utopia, but the utopia is based on the Nazi principles that he was indoctrinated with, so the architecture's all this soaring, cheesy, sentimental, overwrought, overwritten, grotesque stuff. Everything's overblown, everything's wrong, everything's ripe and ready for destruction in this culture, and Superman knows it, so you've got this conflicted character. Not only a Nazi Superman, but a Nazi Superman who knows that his entire society, although it looks utopian, is built on the bones of the dead and is ultimately wrong and must be destroyed.
"Into this come the Freedom Fighter characters, led by Uncle Sam, who is the last remnant of an America that was conquered in 1956, and he's now gathered all the people that Hitler killed – give me your huddled masses, basically. The Freedom Fighters characters, we recast them all as Hitler's enemies. Doll Man's a Jehovah's Witness, The Ray is gay, Black Condor's a black man, Phantom Lady's a gypsy – basically, all the people who Hitler persecuted and they suddenly come back. This is the return of the repressed."
Multiversity #7: Ultra Comics. This is set in the real world – our actual world, the one you're reading this article in. He claims they are using an amazing new technology to craft this issue that he can't talk about or reveal, but he insisted that "this book is haunted!"
"The Earth Prime one, the Ultra Comics," Morrison told me, "it's like a technology, it's like we've discovered something you can do with comics that hasn't been done. In terms of novelty, that's really got me excited, you know? I don't want to talk about what it is, because other people will latch onto it and probably use it before I get a chance. It's so obvious, I can't believe no one's done this thing. It's a haunted comic book! You will have an experience you've not had before. It's a haunted comic book. It doesn't involve anything that you've never seen in a comic book before. We use the old style technology of panels on a page and ink."
"What would a superhero be like in this world?" he posited. "It's not Kick-Ass and it's not Batman. It's something you have never seen before, and it's for real and an actual superhero. We're going to make a superhero in front of you."
Then there will be a "guidebook" sort of issue that explains how the Multiverse works, and the final issue will head back to the same world of the first issue, tie it all together and wrap it all up.
Honestly, that all sounds pretty fascinating, and I think 'alternate realities' are the best places for Morrison to play around in, so he can be unfettered by troublesome continuity things. What say you?