Grant Morrison is no stranger to the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Prior to his appearance, the Scottish comic book writer talked to Nicola Love about ending a seven-year Batman saga and his plans for a new Wonder Woman book…
When I meet Grant Morrison for our interview, he’s just a few hours away from walking on-stage at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. This year will be his third appearance in three years, this time as part of Stripped – the festival’s first ever strand of events dedicated entirely to comics and graphics novels.
“I still find it hard to bring myself to call comic books ‘graphic novels’,” he admits, “But it’s a category that’s proved really popular, so it’s not really a surprise.”
Did he think that it would ever dominate a major literary festival like Edinburgh’s?
“I think it was inevitable,” he nods, “Twenty years ago, it was just me and Dave McKean [artist of Arkham Asylum]… so, from my perspective, it took quite a long time”.
For comic fans, Morrison is a man that needs no introduction. Even non-comic readers can appreciate the enormity of his career – the Scot is one of the most prolific writers in comics. He started with a strip in Govan Press called Captain Clyde, before moving on to superhero books at DC and Marvel – runs which included the likes of Batman, Justice League and X-Men. In 2012, he was awarded an MBE for his services to film and literature – he would later, at his book festival panel, joke that the Queen preferred his “early Vertigo work” – which is just the tip of the iceberg for a man whose career has spanned over 30 years.
On Batman: “The sex had gone, it drained away, it’s over!”
Morrison’s most recent work included his Batman Incorporated series, which ended recently. The seven-year Batman saga, the longest he has ever lingered on the same book, concluded last month. At an event in Dundee last year, Morrison told the crowd the reason he’d stuck with The Dark Knight for so long was because he was just “too sexy” to walk away from. It begs the question, why end it now?
“The sex had gone, it drained away, it’s over!” laughs Morrison. The real reason? “I really felt like I said what I had to say: the story was finished.”
Morrison had the story’s conclusion mapped out from the beginning so, for him, it was simply a case of getting to the end.
“It actually felt as if I was hanging around a little bit,” explains Morrison, “Scott Snyder was doing this brilliant new stuff for the next generation of Batman – yet here I was, just trying to finish off this old thing”.
In Batman Incorporated #13, Morrison wrote,“Batman never dies. It never ends. It probably never will”. It rings particularly true that, while Morrison certainly left his mark on the Bat book, his stepping down is more of a passing of the torch. He smiles…
“I got to tell the story exactly as I wanted to but, by the end of it, I really felt like it was time to go. A new Batman was coming in and I didn’t want to get in the way of that, or leave any debris behind.”
Morrison first introduced the idea of Damian Wayne as a nameless infant, before formally introducing him in 2006. Son of Bruce Wayne and Talia Al Ghul, Damian was trained by the League of Assassins – unlike his father, he had no qualms about killing. The character had a love/hate relationship with comic fans when assuming the Robin mantle in Batman and Robin, yet his untimely death in Batman Incorporated #8 took readers aback. Did Morrison intend to have Damian worm his way into people’s hearts?
“It was a deliberate manipulation,” he smiles. “I said way back that it would make you cry or, if it didn’t do that, you’d cry with rage.”
Initially Morrison didn’t set out to have Damian play such a big part in his Batman saga, but the disruption to the status quo became too much fun not to write. Morrison explains that Damian became “the spine that the whole story could hang on”, so he built the development of other characters around that.
“He was allowed to develop because he had an arc, so the story played out across all these different characters’ interactions with Damian: whether it was Bruce Wayne, Talia Al Ghul or Dick Grayson,” he explains.
Morrison believed that Damian gave the Batman story some momentum, making it feel like anything could happen:
“Batman could disappear or fight monsters and space creatures. Suddenly, all the doors were open. It gave it an interesting, edgy feel”.
When DC relaunched their universe with the ‘New 52’, Morrison also assumed writing duties on Superman’s ‘Action Comics’. He left after #18, while Batman Incorporated later concluded on #13. Having finally shaken the burden of the “monthly grind”, Morrison is really happy with his current work schedule.
“I’ve been enjoying perfecting the stories and putting the finishing touches to things.”
He’s vague about release dates, stating only that future projects will be out “sometime next year”. He smiles apologetically…
“If that’s driving people nuts, I’m sorry!”
“The Superman-like characters in the story are inches away from being subjugated at any moment “
A step back from monthly releases doesn’t mean moving away from DC, however. Morrison recently hit the headlines for ‘bringing back Wonder Woman’. While comic fans were left wondering whether Wonder Woman ever went away (she didn’t), Morrison is planning a somewhat radical new approach to the character. The new book is called The Trial of Diana Prince and will be released as part of DC’s ‘Earth One’ series. Morrison explains that it was refreshing to take on the project, especially after working on Batman and Superman.
“Batman was about crime and Superman was about science-fiction,” he explains, “but Wonder Woman is much more elaborate than that”. “You have this pure political, philosophical fantasy; it’s this utterly well-realised fantasy world.”
Morrison seeks to take Wonder Woman back to her roots by expanding on the ideologies of William Maston, the famous psychologist who created Diana Prince. Maston’s theories on female sexuality and his own fetishistic views on submission inspired Morrison when it came to writing the book. While Morrison speaks highly of Brian Azzarello’s New 52 Wonder Woman – he finds the “bloody edge of Greek mythology and Greek drama a really interesting way of doing things.”
“When Maston stopped writing [Wonder Woman], it lost that libidinous energy that it had.” He laughs before continuing, “You know, that attachment to his personal fetishes…”
Does Morrison think that, by giving Wonder Woman a strong sexual identity, he’s commenting on the sexualised way women in comics are represented?
He frowns, “I don’t necessary trust [the story] as a political viewpoint, but it can be used as a metaphor in a lot of ways.”
He quotes Maston directly, referring to his hatred of the ‘blood-curdling masculinity of Superman’.
“I don’t see Superman as blood-curdling,” Morrison explains, “I see him as rambunctious, but the Superman-like characters in the story are inches away from being subjugated at any moment. The message is that, ultimately, they will find that’s the way it always should’ve been.”
Back to the commentary of over-sexualisation women in comics?
“The great thing about interpretation is that it can be looked at as a complete assault on that,” he says.
Does Morrison think Wonder Woman is capable of achieving blockbuster-status, like The Dark Knight trilogy and Man of Steel have?
“If it was done properly, absolutely”. He pauses, “With Wonder Woman, I’ve found, the story-telling’s more elaborate. Batman was very direct… Wonder Woman has more to it.”
He continues: “Batman’s parents were killed, he’s angry, I get it; Superman was fired from another planet and he’s got all these powers… I get it”.
Yet Wonder Woman is different kind of story altogether:
“She’s part of this huge network of female allies, her mother’s still there and all of her friends are still alive on this island – it’s a completely different type of story that needs to be told.”
Talking about the aesthetics of the book, Morrison explains:
“The architecture is a lot of domes, it’s a lot of female shapes. It’s also haunted, as it was in early Wonder Woman stories, with these Greek phallic columns – I always thought that was a weird echo of what [Amazons] remember”.
Returning to Maston’s idea of submission, Morrison continues:
“The idea of the chains becomes really abstracted as being part of how [Amazons] express law and subjection, the whole ‘loving submission’ creed… They’ve survived for 7,000 years and, in that time, they’ve created this utopia based on female principles – derived from nothing except the memory of the last bastards they had anything to do with, which was Hercules and his men.”
With artist Yanick Paquette just 28 pages into the 120-page book, it is scheduled for release sometime next year:
“It’s worth waiting for,” Morrison promises, “The art is so beautiful.”
A few hours after our conversation, Morrison walks onstage. The Morrison that greets the excited crowd is a decidedly more extroverted version than the one that I met earlier; yet the common thread is the genuine passion in which he discusses comics. On stage he’s quizzed about everything from his current favourite comic (he can’t really remember, but confesses to reading most DC titles in the bath) to his extra-terrestrial experience in Kathmandu (he went to achieve enlightenment; he ended up being abducted by aliens). While Morrison jokes about having to perform his “greatest f***ing hits”, it speaks volumes of his illustrious career that he’s called on to retell these stories again and again.
As for Morrison’s next move? It’s hard to tell. Just when you think you know what to expect, he kills off Bruce Wayne’s son and delves into an Amazon utopia – although one thing’s for sure, his audience will wait happily on the edge of their seat until it’s time to find out what’s next.