Leaving JLA, Planning A Hypercrisis
by Michael Doran, Contributing Editor
webdate: 10/15/99 9:49:06 AM
Readers who have been taking the talents of writer Grant Morrison - and pardon
the pun - for granted over the last few years, may be well advised to savor his
upcoming work. The end of the writer's influential runs on DC's JLA and
Vertigo's The Invisibles are in sight, and with only two other projects on his
slate, the December hardcover graphic novel JLA: Earth 2 and Marvel Knight's
mini-series Marvel Boy, come the end of next year fans may be pining for new
work from the Scottish creator. In this interview with AnotherUniverse.com's
Newsarama, Morrison looks back on the JLA years, previews the finales he has
worked up for that series and The Invisibles, and talks about his future in
comics, a future that might include a self-imposed hiatus from the medium
beginning next year…
Mania: Grant, as you're approaching the end of your run on JLA, can you look
back and share some thoughts on what you've been able to accomplish… Are you
generally pleased with what you've done with the JLA and the stories you've
GM: I'm generally pleased, yes. I started JLA in 1995, just before I got sick
and almost died, so the book was perpetually behind deadline and always a source
of agonizing stress for me. It's gratifying and a little worrying to look back
and realize I tend to do some of my wildest and most freewheeling work when I'm
crushed by pressures like unto those on the ocean floor. I did JLA on the run
and it shows in many places but at the same time, I love the full-on rush of
color and ideas. If I accomplished anything, it was to consolidate and define
something that was happening anyway - I saw that the 20-year 'Dark Age' phase of
comics history - which began in the mid-'70s with McGregor and Englehart and
peaked in the mid-80s with Moore and Miller - had played itself out by the mid-
'90s and that the pendulum was due to swing again. Instead of trench coats,
stubble, rape and plotless angst in the alleyways and avenues, I went for bright
costumes, aspirational nobility and widescreen imaginative romps through space
Mania: Any one storyline or element of the series that you're particularly proud
GM: Shaving the Shaggy Man was for me, the conceptual high-water mark of the
Mania: Critics of your JLA say the series has too much going on –that too many
new ideas and storylines are introduced before old ones are properly wrapped up
and the series moves at a breakneck pace without ever taking a breather. How do
you respond to this critique?
GM: The critics are right. The decision to do JLA as a non-stop, every-issue-
the-universe-under-threat book was quite deliberate. I figured that all these
guys have their own books and if you really want to see them sitting around
coffee shops or watching TV in their boxers go there. My intention was to create
a JLA book filled non-stop emergency, action and crazy ideas. It was
deliberately written to be about what they do and not who they are. Also, I have
hundreds of ideas going on in my head all the time. I'm often told I should
concentrate on just one of those notions and expand it into a sedate mini-series
but that's not how I work. I don't need to spend 12 issues delving into some
throwaway concept I stuck in a panel in DC One Million. I have millions of other
concepts jostling to get out so I just put them down on the page and move onto
the next one. The good thing about ongoing superhero books is that if you don't
like what one writer is doing all you have to do is wait until he's gone.
Readers who hate the unstoppable 100 meters downhill luge of my JLA stories only
have a few months to wait before Mark Waid turns up to focus more on character
dynamics. Then everyone will start complaining there's not enough fights. You
can't please everyone so all you can do is please yourself and hope your
enthusiasm comes across. I wrote the JLA I wanted to read and it seems to have
been generally successful.
Mania: Do you feel that your JLA, One Million, etc., has influenced the current
state of the DCU and superhero comics in general? And if so, how, and has this
been a good thing for comics?
GM: I'm reading more superhero comics now than I have since I was a slavering
fan-thing in the '70s - Warren Ellis, Alan Moore, Mark Millar, Mark Waid, Tom
Peyer etc...Superhero comics have never been better. I think I helped the swing
away from the drab, repetitiveness of yet another rain-soaked rape/mugging
scene, yet another hero with a nervous breakdown, no girlfriend and no
particular story. Having said that, just as the grim and gritty phase started
off well and peaked brilliantly with Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns, before
becoming formulaic, repetitive and dull, so too will the current phase wear
itself out. The signs are already there - too many creators seem to think
'imaginative' means 'retro'. Many others think that a few vaguely modern
prefixes such as 'Hyper' or 'Omni' will turn their scripts into JLA stories.
It's also assumed by some that the current phase is all about superheroes being
nice, upstanding characters with big smiles. That's not true either, although
getting smiles back on these bastards' faces was a priority for me. The smart
money - specifically the names I mentioned - are already realizing that what
we're actually seeing here, as in the rest of the culture, is an end-of-the-
century consolidation of everything we've learned. The new comics are combining
elements from all the previous phases - from the Golden Age's primal freshness,
through the dazzling pioneering inventiveness of the Silver Age and the
psychological depth and experimentation of the Dark Age - into a wondrous
'anything goes' stew, which will in its turn be replaced by a new version of the
modernist impulse that always arises after the decadent or post-modern phase of
cultural dynamics. I reckon.
Mania: Okay, getting more specific, your last JLA story arc World War III, or
the coming of Mageddon has been foreshadowed I believe as far back as the very
beginning, JLA: A Midsummer's Nightmare, by Mark Waid and Fabian Nicieza. Can
you explain the origins of this storyline and how it shaped the entire JLA
GM: Mark and Fabian left me with some vague notion of an 'ultimate warbringer'
that would someday appear to challenge the JLA. Mark admitted to me he had no
idea what he meant by that but assumed I'd either pick up on it or ignore as I
saw fit. I decided to end my run with the very horror they'd hinted at before I
begun. There was no idea what the 'ultimate warbringer' could be at that time
but fortunately I had 4 years to work it out and it tied nicely into my idea of
making each new adventure more world shattering than the last. Hence Mageddon.
It's worth reading Midsummer Nightmare again, as I've taken little strands from
that story and evolved them into major resolutions.
Mania: You seem to have been working towards this finale since very early on.
How much of your run grew out of your ideas for this "ultimate world shattering"
story arc? Is WWIII going to do everything you've always wanted to do with the
team, and say everything you have to say about them?
GM: My work on JLA didn't really grow out of this arc. I simply wanted to rise
to the challenge Mark and Fabian had set. Prior to the Zauriel story in JLA #s 6
and 7, I had no ideas at all for the book. I knew Darkseid was going to fight
them in the future but I'd had that section of Rock of Ages planned since 1982
when I sent it in under the title 'Second Coming' in an effort to get noticed by
DC's new talent program (the Atom and Green Arrow killing Darkseid was something
I'd been wanting to do since I was 20). The Mageddon story doesn't say
everything I have to say about the team. To get that you'd have to read
everything I've written on JLA. My last storyline does allow me to play with all
the narrative tricks I've been working out over these last few years - writing a
superhero book with lots of characters is never as easy as it looks and I've
been developing a kind of structure which allows everyone their 'moment' while
sprawling across a huge canvas. World War III has fewer ideas per page and is a
lot more relaxed and roomy than say 'Rock of Ages' or 'Crisis Times Five' - the
interaction between characters is a lot more flowing and organic and even though
we have about three or four stories running simultaneously over five issues and
a giant-sized conclusion. This is my equivalent of something like the Kree-
Skrull war arc in Avengers.
Mania: Obviously without spoiling the story, can you give us your description of
the WWIII storyline?
GM: Mageddon, the ultimate warbringer - an unstoppable weapon from the time of
the Old Gods, prior to the creation of the DC Universe - is heading for Earth.
As it approaches it generates war on its target world; conflicts break out
across the globe and intensify. Villains go crazy. The new Injustice Gang forms
- with Luthor, Prometheus, the new Queen Bee and the General (the ex-Shaggy Man)
– little realizing they too are pawns of the Mageddon warhead and start to
destroy the JLA, just when the world needs them most. The Watchtower gets
destroyed and everyone is either maimed or gets to feels the clammy touch of the
Grim Reaper in one way or another. Animal Man saves the day.
Mania: What can you tell us about the new Queen Bee?
GM: The new Queen Bee is grown from the eggs of the old. She's a genetically
enhanced Queen Bee from the Hiveworld Korrl and is a lot more 'insect-like' in
her appearance and behavior. I've given her a bee-swarm attack fleet which
follows her everywhere, a giant hive which she has her human slaves build in
New York and lots of cool weapons and mind control gizmos.
Mania: And how about the return of Prometheus? In his first appearance he
appeared (at least to me) to be defeated simply out of inexperience - a talented
rookie who got beat by a team of savvy veterans, as he should. What has he
learned since then and does he have a future as a major DCU villain?
GM: Prometheus is pretty cool and creates mayhem but he's still up against the
greatest heroes of all time and Batman gets his own back in the long-awaited
rematch. I hope Prometheus will turn up again but he should be used sparingly
and he should always come within an inch at least of beating his foes.
Mania: Aside from the regular JLA lineup, whom might we be seeing in terms of
guest stars in this storyline?
GM: Everyone's in this from Blue Beetle and Booster Gold to Nightwing and Power
Girl. They may only get one line but they're all here.
Mania: You mention the "clammy touch of the Grim Reaper. You've long-warned
of death during this storyline, and called the additions you made to the team
beyond the core seven, "cannon fodder"...Anymore clues as to who might joining
the choir invisible, or can you at least reiterate what you've already made
publicly known to this point?
GM: I think it's no surprise that I'll be killing Zauriel and Aztek, but I can
promise there will be some shocks with the other characters.
Mania: Again, without spoiling the ending, just how difficult are you going to
make it for Mark Waid to pick up the pieces and get JLA back on track post
GM: For the first time leaving a long run on a title, I'm actually being pretty
kind. My JLA ends, as all good superhero stories should, with the main
characters heading off for their next adventure.
Mania: Speaking of which, what are your thoughts on Mark's appointment as your
successor on the JLA?
GM: Obviously, I think Mark is ideal for the book. I also think it's essential
that he bring a different approach to the series and I'm sure he'll do a great
job. Think of Kingdom Come.
Mania: Okay, as to your other big upcoming JLA project -DC has described your
graphic novel JLA: Earth 2 as an "update of your favorite Silver Age story
(Crisis on Earth-Three, from Justice League Of America #29-30) for current
continuity"...For newer readers maybe not familiar with that story, what can you
tell them about the original Crime Syndicate story, why it appeals to you so
much and why it's not a part of continuity anymore?
GM: It's not an 'update' at all. It's a new story using those characters. It
doesn't fit established continuity because as far as I know the original Crime
Syndicate characters died in the Crisis on Infinite Earths then reappeared as
bug-eyed Qwardians in the Anti-Matter Universe. I simply did what always annoys
the die-hards and simplified things so that I could tell my story without
bringing a ton of continuity baggage to the table. The set-up now is this - the
Crime Syndicate live on the Anti-Matter Earth. They formed at the same time as
the JLA and have gone through similar changes (e.g. the original Johnny Quick
and Power Ring have no been replaced by younger counterparts). The two teams
never met before and this is the story of their first encounter. Everything you
need to know is in the book itself.
Mania: Who are the Crime Syndicate, and can you tell us about the backstory
you've created for them that you mentioned while we were setting up this
GM: The Crime Syndicate are the JLA of a world where good is evil and evil is
good. In the original Gardner Fox story, there were hints as to the odd reversed
nature of good and evil in this world - Benedict Arnold was the first U.S.
President, Washington was a traitor, Britain fought for its independence against
an American colonial power etc - so I've really gone to town on that aspect.
The Anti-Matter Earth (not the 'Earth 2' of the title by the way) is a reversed
DCU. Where, by large, things are pretty upbeat in the DCU and people are
generally happy, secure and open to the wild and the novel by virtue of living
in a world where good always triumphs in the end, thanks to colorful
superheroes, the dreary inhabitants of the Anti-Matter world live on a planet
dominated by lies, greed and hypocrisy (if that world sounds all-too familiar,
then you're just too cynical by half…) where vice and corruption are a way of
life and the bad guys always win. Here crime is the founding principal of
society. Evil is rewarded, cruelty is lauded and people live everywhere in fear
of their masters all the way through the local mobs and the corrupt police, the
bent journalists and up, through City Hall and the governments, to the top of
the pyramid - the seedy Crime Syndicate of Amerika - the polar opposites of the
Justice League - and its vicious bullying leader, Ultraman.
All of the Crime Syndicate characters now have origins which 'reverse' the
stories of the heroes we're familiar with - Ultraman, for instance, was Earthman
Clark Kent, an astronaut involved in a space accident and then repaired by
aliens (Kryptonians) who didn't fully understand human biology and sent him home
as a mind-twisted superhuman, powered by Kryptonite.
Owlman is Thomas Wayne, older brother of Bruce. Thomas watched his brother and
his mother being shot dead while he and his father survived. The grown-up
Thomas, blaming dad for his trauma, becomes the super-criminal Owlman, sides
with the nasty Boss Gordon and dedicates his life to revenge against
Commissioner Wayne of GCPD.
Johnny Quick murdered his predecessor and extracted his blood to create a
superspeed drug that he has to inject regularly. Power Ring was tricked into
accepting his ring from the previous Power Ring - the ring is a curse and can
only be passed on. That kind of thing...
Mania: The Invisibles will be wrapping up its last run next year as well, with
the last Invisibles v3 story arc beginning in January… what can you tell readers
about that at this early stage?
GM: It's the end of a long, strange trip for me and I'm sure for all those
radiant souls who've stuck with every twist and turn. The secret of the
Simulation is revealed. Ragged Robin's a UFO and there's top kung fu action as
the Invisibles go head to head final battle-style with the insect-machine
Archons who seek to rule this universe behind the scenes! Can the Archons deadly
agents - human-machine hybrids capable of incredible feats, destroy our gallant
band of bald people in leather before they strip the veil from the eyes of
humanity and reveal the truth behind the illusion we call 'Life'?… Um… this is
starting to remind me of something that happened when I was being born...
Mania: Marvel Boy, your Marvel Knights 6-issue mini with J.G. Jones won't start
till close to the middle of next year, but what can you tell us about that at
this early stage?
GM: Marvel Boy is like your first drink with something weird in it or the first
time you had sex with fireworks going off in the background. It's like sticking
your fingers in the light socket. It's like catching your mum and dad having sex
– with your wife and family! Although that's not what it's likely to say on the
poster. This is the ultimate adolescent power fantasy and my tribute to the punk
genius of Bill Everett. And no, he doesn't wear the headband and the toga and,
nope… nobody ever calls him Marvel Boy… and yes, he has weird connections to
established Marvel Universe continuity and to several other established
continuities as well…
Mania: I believe Mark Waid has hinted that you and he are working on a big
Hypertime project for a future summer release -anything you can tell us about
GM: Mark and I have discussed a Hypercrisis project which is pretty huge,
incredibly cool and will change the DCU forever but that wouldn't be until 2001
if it comes off.
Mania: I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you more about Hypertime… The concept has
yet to be exploited much beyond Karl Kesel's Superboy story arc Hyper-Tension.
What's your take on DC's handling of the concept so far, and do you think
readers have a good sense of what Hypertime is supposed to be, from your
GM: Some of them already have an excellent grasp of the concept, others will
enjoy a gradual unfolding understanding of Hypertime over the next couple of
years. When we talked the idea through it was agreed to launch the concept in a
brief Linear Men sequence in DC One Million #2, then Mark Waid would do The
Kingdom as a Hypertime primer, setting up the notion and hinting at its future
development. Then Karl was going to continue in Superboy - the kid explores the
first facet of Hypertime, which looks suspiciously like parallel Earth (or does
it?) - while secretly setting in place the most important piece of the Hypertime
puzzle to date - And then the Flash would pick up the trail as the year 2000
went on. Hourman will also play a central role in unfolding the Hypertime
mystery. There will be lots of important clues in that book as we draw closer to
2001. Tom (Peyer) also deserves the plug - Hourman is one of the top five best
and most unique superhero titles currently being published and that's among some
stiff competition (what Animal Man was to the '90s, Hourman is to the '00s, I'd
say. Whatever you choose that to mean).
Mania: So what exactly is Hypertime and how should it be used, if you had your
GM: Hypertime is what you humans call 'geometry' and it is being used exactly as
if I had my way.
Mania: Will you be doing any follow-ups to your Global Guardians/Ultramarines
story? The ending of that JLA story arc appeared to setup a future
project/return to the concept of some kind...
GM: The Ultramarines will appear as part of the 'Hypercrisis'. I have
a ton of notes on all of those characters and could write a miniseries based on
each of them, so I would like to go back to them. For the record, and since it's
never been covered anywhere, the membership of the Ultramarines - as seen in JLA
#26, page 20 is from left to right Goraiko, The Knight, Vixen, Jack O'Lantern,
4-D, Warmaker, Flow, Pulse 8 and The Squire. The Knight and Squire were the
British crimefighters from the International Batmen and this new Knight is the
original Squire, now grown and his new Squire - a tough young London girl.
Goraiko is the new Rising Sun or Sunburst or whatever that Japanese Global
Guardian was called. Believe me; I have sh%&loads of material on this team.
Mania: What other future comic book plans do you have? Any new upcoming projects
or ventures you can mention?
GM: I'm afraid not. After Marvel Boy, things will go silent for a while and
people will forget that they ever heard of me. I'm taking six months to a year
off to do some work outside comics so there are no plans at all right now,
though I've promised to do something with artist Ashley Wood for Todd McFarlane.
Otherwise, I'm taking the time to rinse JLA out of my head and come up with some
new approaches to superhero material. The 21st century is here and I really want
to have some time to think about the type of comics that will be required by a
Mania: Your friends and colleagues Marks Waid and Milllar have talk about
pursuing creator-owned work in the future. Is that something you are interested
in further pursuing?
GM: Possibly, though I feel now that creator-owned comics are a bit of a dead
end. Creatively, it's been great to do the Vertigo stuff but the ideas seem
wasted in comics. Sebastian 0, Mystery Play, Flex Mentallo - all would have been
more profitable for me if I'd sold them as movies, or TV shows or radio dramas.
Same goes for The Invisibles - doing the comic has been an incredible experience
but all that happens is that, in the end, some unscrupulous people come along,
rip-off the whole first series and make millions by calling it The Matrix.
Comics are a wonderful medium and I'll love them forever but I'm really angry
right now about the way that the original ideas of comics creators are being
stolen wholesale by mega-rich moviemakers who them claim the credit, while
rifling through the latest month's comics for their next picture. If I have a
good idea now, I'll take it to a book publisher or a producer who knows how to
manage my work and protect my copyright interests. I no longer wish to be a
cheap source of storylines for Time Warner movies. And I have no intention of
ever putting any of my own money into self-publishing.
Mania: You've been very vocal about your feelings on this. Have you had a chance
to confront someone involved with the Matrix… say the Wachowski Brothers, or
consultant Geoff Darrow about this?
GM: I loved the movie, that's the problem. But they should do the decent thing
and come clean. People keep pointing to bits in Volume One and saying, 'Look at
this! And this bit here…' It's driving me to drink, Michael…
Mania: Is the comic book medium still something you're interested in doing full-
time? Might we see new ongoing series in your future? How do you see your
involvement in comics over the next few years?
GM: I'll write comics as long as they're being published. Every few years I like
to take some time away but only so that I don't get stale. I do want to do other
kinds of work and I'd be unhappy if I couldn't get an outlet for weirder or more
dangerous stuff but there's nothing like the buzz of writing stories where
people fly and shoot heat beams at ghosts.
Mania: What kind of genres are you interested in? Are you still excited by
superhero comics of the likes of JLA and DC One Million? What are you excited
about in terms of comic books going into the year 2000?
GM: I love superhero comics. They're the only ones I read. Things like JLA and
One Million already seem outdated to me, so I wouldn't want to do anything like
that again - 'Hypercrisis' notwithstanding - but there's nothing like a good
superhero comic for capturing the times, feeding the head and delighting the
senses. I like to read my stash in the bath and, going into 2000, I'm very happy
that I seem to be having such long baths. Books like The Authority are blazing
the trail into the next millennium and superhero comics seem to me to be capable
of endless permutation. It's a small genre with all kinds of apparent
limitations but then again five chords will allow you to play almost every
Beatles song on the guitar. I'm excited by the fact that I can still be moved by
the crude combo of words and drawings on a page and I think that the real wild
innovations lie just ahead. Against all evidence I believe a new comic boom is
on its way and will be readily apparent by 2002. Every time comics seem doomed
and on the way out, they pull something out of the hat and suddenly everyone's
making a fortune again. Just watch.