Comic-Con: Grant Morrison’s guest essay on strange San Diego nights

July 16, 2011 | 4:18 p.m.

The costumed superhero (like jazz and baseball) is often described as a uniquely American creation, but the most intriguing creative force in comics these days is Grant Morrison, the Scottish writer who this September will take the most storied franchise, Superman’s “Action Comics,” back to issue No. 1 for the first time since 1938. The 51-year-old has brought a surrealist style to comics and his new nonfiction book, “Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human,” which will be released this week by Spiegel & Grau. In this guest essay, he offers thoughts on Comic-Con International, the pop culture expo expected to bring 120,000 heroic souls to San Diego.

superman rags morales1 Comic Con: Grant Morrisons guest essay on strange San Diego nights

(DC Comics)

Comic-Con International in San Diego is a place where the boundary between fantasy and reality happily surrenders to the carnival spirit and anything can happen, as I discovered in 1999.

It was 1 a.m., in an airless hotel room, overlooking the naval yards of San Diego Harbor. I found myself chewing over the interesting problem of re-creating Superman for the 21st century, with my editor Dan Raspler. To clear our heads, we went downstairs and crossed the street to a Dr. Seuss-ish park between the rail tracks and the city. We were deep in discussion, debating earnestly the merits and demerits of a married Superman, when we spotted a couple of men crossing the tracks into town.

One was an ordinary-looking bearded dude, at first sight like any of a hundred thousand comics fans. But the other was Superman. He was dressed in a perfectly tailored red, blue and yellow costume; his hair was slicked back with a kiss curl; and unlike the often weedy or paunchy Supermen who paraded through the convention halls, he was the most convincing Superman I’ve ever seen, looking like a cross between Christopher Reeve and the actor Billy Zane. I knew a visitation when I saw one.

Racing to intercept the pair, Dan and I explained who we were, what we were doing and asked “Superman” if he wouldn’t mind answering a few questions. He didn’t, and sat on a concrete bollard with one knee to his chest shield, completely relaxed. It occurred to me that this was exactly how Superman would sit. A man who was invulnerable to all harm would be always relaxed and at ease. He’d have no need for the kind of physically aggressive postures superheroes specialized in. I began to understand Superman in a new way.

as 02a1 Comic Con: Grant Morrisons guest essay on strange San Diego nights

(DC Entertainment)

We asked questions, “How do you feel about Lois?,” “What about Batman?,” and received answers in the voice and persona of Superman — “I don’t think Lois will ever really understand me or why I do what I do …” or “Batman sees only the darkness in people’s hearts. I wish he could see the best …” — that seemed utterly convincing.

The whole encounter lasted an hour and a half, then he left, graciously, and on foot, I’m sad to say. Dan and I stared at one another in the fuzzy sodium glare of the street lamps, then quietly returned to our rooms. Inflamed, I stayed awake the whole night, writing about Superman until the fuming August sun rose above the warships, the hangars and the Pacific. The end result was my 12-part “All-Star Superman” series with artist Frank Quitely, and the same meeting also inspired elements of the forthcoming relaunch of “Action Comics” with Rags Morales, so it was definitely worth it.

Bumping into someone dressed as Superman in San Diego may sound about as wondrous and unlikely as meeting an alcoholic at an AA meeting, of course, but it rarely happens at night, and of the dozens of Men of Steel I’ve witnessed marching up and down the aisles at Comic-Con, or posing with tourists outside Grauman’s Chinese on Hollywood Boulevard, not one was ever as convincing or as personally significant as the Superman who appeared at the precise moment I needed him most.

frank quitely superman Comic Con: Grant Morrisons guest essay on strange San Diego nights

(DC Comics)

There is, you’ll be heartened to discover, a cruel, ironic counter to the tale of glory and grace above. San Diego, 2002, and artist Chris Weston was in full enthusiastic flow, telling me just how much he wanted to draw a story featuring Bizarro, Superman’s deranged “imperfect duplicate.” At that very moment, as they say, a convention-goer, dressed as the deformed, backward-talking Bizarro, appeared in the street ahead of us. Chris, sensing an opportunity for a totemic spirit encounter of his own, dragged the green-painted stranger along to a party.

Unlike the courteous Superman of 1999, Bizarro refused to leave Chris’ side, becoming ever more belligerent, raucous and true to character. We’d all been buying him drinks, and the drunker he became, the more authentically possessed by the Dionysian spirit of Bizarro he became as well. Clearly distressed, Chris wailed, “I can’t get rid of him! What am I going to do?”

In the end, much as Superman often did, we had to trick Bizarro into going home by using his own code of “uz do opposite” against him. On the topsy-turvy Bizarro world, we explained, a party was when you were alone, not with other people. Other people, in fact, ruined a party. He was forced to admit this made perfect Bizarro sense and marched backward up the stairs, blind drunk, while we all waved and yelled, “Hello, Bizarro!”

— Grant Morrison


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DC will restart all of its titles with No. 1 in Sept.

Donner: No one will play role like Reeve did

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12 Responses to Comic-Con: Grant Morrison’s guest essay on strange San Diego nights

  1. Deborah Bryan says:

    Speaking of excellent timing, I'd no sooner sent my S.O. my "panels of interest" list than I started scanning through comic-con tagged posts on WordPress. Based on that alone, this wouldn't look like a case of "excellent timing," but it just so happens the Superman panel was one of two panels total I highlighted as mandatory.

    Of course, in this instance? The timing is of benefit to exactly one person, rather than a whole slough! ;)

    It was a treat to have sent that along and then gotten this lovely preview of what to expect in just a handful of days!

  2. Josh says:

    Grant, you really destroyed it all when you killed Bruce Wayne.

    • fernald says:

      No he didn't R.I.P.gave Batman the baptism he's needed to be come fresh again.

      • Josh says:

        Why do you think DC has gone so far as to entirely reboot their comics? Perhaps because Dick Grayson as Batman instead of Bruce Wayne is the worst idea in recorded history? R.I.P. is essentially responsible for the need to reboot everything.

      • websnap says:

        You should have kept reading after R.I.P… it was fantastic. Plus, Dick was an amazing Batman that brought a new dimension to the role and really fleshed out more about Bruce (and Dick's relationship to him) through the differences. If R.I.P. was the reason for the reboot, why is Grant's mega-arc continuing though it.

        Boo on you, sir!

      • Josh says:

        R.I.P. was plenty of reason by itself for me to cancel my subscription, but I kept giving him a chance. Once Two-Face figured out Dick was Batman, and was then convinced that it was still the same Batman, I quit. Batman doesn't smile.

        Nay, boo on you. :P

      • Ahmed says:

        Josh, you're clearly not in the loop. Dick's time as Batman still remains. It's the same as Bucky taking over as Captain America, the world will always need a Captain America, like it will always need a Batman. but the Batman is not who or what Dick ever wanted to be, so now that he is back, Dick is ready to give it up. You would do whatever it is to live up to your father's name, but you will never be your father. You are your own man, much like Dick is his own man.

        RIP is not responsible for the "reboot," if anything is to blame, it is the pending law suit between the Shuster/Siegel estate over the rights of Superman.

        You should read the work Grant Morrison has done on Batman and Robin, as well as Scott Snyder's work on Detective Comics. You can read for yourself Dick's apprehension for donning the cape and cowl and how he is ready to relieve it once he gets the chance.

      • Josh says:

        Even in the reboot, Dick is still Batman? The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry, I suppose.

  3. Superfan4life says:

    Grant Morrison gets Superman like no one else does. His All-Star Superman gave goosebumps, Superman Beyond tale in Final Crisis was such an eloquent homage to the power of the Superman myth, Grant has always done Superman right in his previous JLA outings and the like, can't wait to see his take on how it all began.Know Hope!

  4. shayuna says:

    i enjoyed very much the flirting you make with both reality and fantasy (on equal measures). it's like you have found a middle ground between atheism and theism. meaning, you can choose to believe in a story (the existence of god or superman e.g.), as long as the story has some positive impact on you. embrace anything and everything as long as it brings you closer to life.

  5. Guest says:

    And if RIP was the reason for the relaunch, why is it that the Bat Titles are the ones that are mostly staying in tact? And why would they be moving Morrison to the Flagship title if he ruined Batman. Batman books are the highest selling books alongside Green Lantern.

  6. Franco Ng says:

    The main point of Supergods was that blurring fiction into reality can have direct impact into life, since the interplay between ones 'real' life and one's 'fictional' visions are occuring on the canvas of local reality itself. Good or bad, all experiences have a purpose of strengthening the 'biota' organism to prepare itself for some future leap or challenge.

    Now that you've shown the way, its now your responsibility to take people there, Grant.

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