Interview: Grant Morrison Talks Annihilator, The Multiversity and the Reality of Superheroes

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Comic writer Grant Morrison is known for pushing the boundaries within the medium. Having written critically acclaimed runs on the most recognizable characters, his career has gone from All-Star Superman to Batman Inc and New X-Men to 2000 A.D., there’s not a corner that Morrison hasn’t touched. In his latest series Annihilator, his first from Legendary Comics, Morrison explores the life of washed-up Hollywood screenwriter Ray Spass, who must join forces with his own fictional character Max Nomax on a reality-bending race to stop the entire universe from imploding… without blowing his own mind in the process. SuperHeroHype got a chance to talk to Morrison about the title and more.

SuperHeroHype: A lot of your comics and your writing have your personality poured into them, but do you think Annihilator might be one of your most personal given how much it has to say about writing, writers, deadlines, and narratives and all of that?

Grant Morrison: Yeah, definitely, but it’s also about people that I’ve met in Hollywood. Usually my characters are kind of based on me, but for the first time Ray Space is actually based on a bunch of other people that I’ve met in Hollywood. It’s been really exciting for me to write a character who is not like me.

SHH: How long has this project been cooking in your head? I know sometimes some of your projects go quite a while before getting published.

Morrison: Yeah, this one’s probably four, five years. I think Frazer started drawing last year, but I’ve wanted to do it forever. It was always a project for Frazer Irving and I saw it as something he could do really brilliantly well – that kind of taking that ironic anti-hero archetype and pushing it into the future.

SHH: Was this a project you conceived of to collaborate with Frazer Irving on?

Morrison: No, no, it started out as an idea from my agent when I was back with CAA, so it’s actually probably five or six years ago. The agent said, ‘Can you come up with anything for Tom Cruise or Will Smith?’ [Laughs] And I thought ‘Well okay, what if Tom Cruise was the ultimate – I do wish Tom Cruise would one day play this character, honestly. [Laughs] But it came from that and it was supposed to be a “buddy movie” like a classic Hollywood buddy movie, but f***ing with it and making it science fiction and about something different.

SHH: What about this story made you want to publish it as issues instead of fully as one graphic novel? Or was that something you thought about?

Morrison: No, that was just the way Legendary were working the story. They wanted to do monthly comic books so it’s broken down. I’d love for people to read all one story or to see all one script, one screenplay, one movie, but the way these things work it’s like being Dickens in Victorian England, everything is serialized. Things come out in chunks, and that’s kind of the way we work these days so that’s why it’s done like that.

SHH: Was it intentional in the art to have Nomax and Ray appear visually similar or was that a pattern I just made up on my own when reading the issue?

Morrison: No, absolutely you’re right there, I mean Nomax looks like Ray and Ray looks like Nomax but Ray thinks he’s created Nomax, or at least he did the arc of Nomax as a character, and Nomax is quite certain that he created Ray. Nomax is something much bigger than all of us. He’s from another part of the universe and he’s bigger than us, and he thinks he’s created Ray and Ray thinks he’s created him, so the two of them very much are reflections of each other and look like each other.

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SHH: You mentioned it some in the basis of the story, but I know you’ve dabbled some in screenwriting, would you say that some frustrations you’ve had in the past are present?

Morrison: Yeah! Absolutely! I’ve written four or five studio screenplays, I’ve been paid for them really good money and one of them has been completely a movie. As far as I’m concerned they would make the best movies ever, but you’re right this is about me saying “F***ing hell guys, this is what you’ve got, you’ve got these intelligent smart people creating these dumb stories and you don’t make them all.” So yeah, it’s very much my frustrations and experiences and the people I’ve met. That’s why I like it, I think it’s about the real world besides its fantasy elements.

SHH: I noticed at least a passing similarity in Annihilator to your latest release Multiversity.

Morrison: Yeah.

SHH: They’re both about these super meta-narrative. Was that just a coincidence that these happen to be coming out at the same time?

Morrison: No, none of these things are coincidences. I think like when I was doing “Justice League,” “The Invisibles” was coming out, when I was doing “New X-Men” the film was coming out, and then when I’m doing “Multiversity,” Annihilator is coming out. They’re all talking about very similar ideas and particularly “Multiversity” no ones really noticed it yet, but what the bad guys represent is Nihilism basically. I was doing a lot of reading about Nihilism and the whole antinatalist philosophy, a lot of the stuff that inspired “True Detective” and that character that Matthew McConaughey played so I was kind of getting into Nihilism and this whole “human-hating” world we live in, this narrative, and that’s what both of these things are about I think.

SHH: Why do you think it’s more difficult for artists to tell these kinds of meta stories in other formats?It’s something that’s way more prevalent in comics than movies or television.

Morrison: Well comics can do giant archetypes. You can have Superman who represents all of our best selves or you can have Batman who represents all of our dark impulses turned to the best, and comics are just really great for doing hardcore Greek myth style archetypes and struggles. I think movies and television have to make it seem a bit more realistic because that’s what ties it into people’s lives, but people will always include dreams and fantasies and gigantic stories where they are the heroes, and I think comics really play into that aspect. We’re all superheroes in our own life stories and I think comics talk to us about the giant struggles that we face, the types of struggles aren’t necessarily physical, but they’re just as important as a fight.

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SHH: I’d like to ask you a little about The Multiversity if that’s all right.

Morrison: Yeah, sure!

SHH: Can you remember exactly how long you’ve been working on this? I know it’s a super long time.

Morrison: Since 2006 or 2007 I think. Right after the “52” comic that I did with Geoff and Greg and Mark.

SHH: Now the central plot of the series is about these representatives from each of the different earths coming together, will we find out who the chosen members from Earth 0 and Earth 2 are given their ties to DC’s New 52 or will that remain a mystery?

Morrison: No, we don’t see those f***ers at all! [Laughs] Those guys have already got stories playing out in monthly books. So no, “The Multiversity” is about everything else but that is part of the structure, but we don’t see any of those characters at all apart from the guidebook. That one’s about everything else, it’s about all the gigantic possibilities and the multiplicity of things that happened and with Earth 1 and Earth 2.

SHH: I also wanted to mention I very recently read your run on Animal Man from the ’80s and I think the Wil E. Coyote “Looney Tunes” parody issue is one of my favorite comics I’ve ever read.

Grant Morrison: Oh thanks man, very cool.

SHH: I’m curious if you can recall back to when you were writing that series, were there any pushes to make it less eccentric or were you given total free reign?

Grant Morrison: No they were totally into it, and to me it was kind of drawing a line in the sand, because in the ’80s the whole thing was about “Imagine if superheroes are real? What would Batman be like if he had to run around in his tights?” and I thought that was ridiculous because superheroes are not real, they’re never going to be f***ing real. But the reality they have is in the pages of comics or on screen, and then they have an actual reality. I wrote this scene in “All Star Superman” where Superman saves a suicidal little goth chick, but that scene has actually saved real lives, and to me that’s the reality of superheroes. They are amazing exemplars of our best selves and they’re never going to be real, but by being fictional they can still save kids. So I kind of hate the notion of trying to make these things seem real or what would they be like if Batman actually existed, because Batman couldn’t exist. We’ve already got Bill Gates, we’ve already got Donald Trump and not one of them has put on a bat-suit. [Laughs] So I’m kind of into the idea that superheroes represent all of us, how we feel inside, every one of us is the superhero in our own comic book or picture. Everything we face becomes gigantic. Everything is our “Crises on Infinite Earths,” everything is the battle against Darkseid or Ra’s al Ghul, and so I think that’s the only thing that can make us feel better in moments of psychological crisis, honestly.

SHH: Moving to another hero, you’ve been working on the Wonder Woman: Earth One graphic novel for a while, is there any further traction on that?

Morrison: Yeah! Yanick (Paquette) has got forty pages to draw, but we’re almost there and it will be out next year sometime. It’s great.

SHH: Before I let you go, given how much you’ve written the two characters I’m curious what your take is on the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice movie. Is that something you’re interested in seeing at all?

Morrison: Yeah, man, I’ll watch it. I think it’ll be a bit of “Dark Knight,” a bit of this and a bit of that. Batman wouldn’t really fight Superman, these guys would team up and save the world you know? The idea of them fighting is just a bit like pro-wrestling. Why do you want to see Batman fight Superman? Well, it’s like pro-wrestling. That’s pretty primitive surely. [Laughs] Wouldn’t Batman and Superman be much smarter if they hung out together? Why do you have to see them fighting? But that’s just the way it is, I’m not complaining, I’m sure it will look great.

Grant Morrison’s Annihilator #1 is available in stores September 3.