Influential comic book writer Grant Morrison is the mastermind behind DC's new event series "The Multiversity." (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)Link
Grant Morrison holds "The Map of the Multiverse," based on his detailing of the various Earths in DC's different realities. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)Link
"Multiversity" No. 1. (DC Entertainment)Link
Grant Morrison's rough sketch idea for the cover of "Multiversity" No. 1. (DC Entertainment)Link
Nix Uotan is on the front lines against the coming threat in "The Multiversity." (DC Entertainment)Link
"The Multiversity: Society of Super-Heroes" is the saga's second issue. (DC Entertainment)Link
"Multiversity: The Just" is about the children of superheroes, now bored with a largely problem-free world. (DC Entertainment)Link
Grant Morrison is at ease with the prospect of other dimensions. As an acclaimed comic book writer and superhero behaviorist, he’s traveled widely amid the disparate worlds of DC Comics, Marvel and characters of his own creation. It gets complicated out there.
Nowhere have things been more entangled with cosmic implications than DC (ancestral home to Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman), evolving into a web of universes that over the decades has expanded and collapsed through various “Crisis” series — and, most recently, in the 2011 revamping called the New 52.
Morrison has now been charged with making sense of DC’s Multiverse of 52 Earths, creating stories and a road map with various artists in a monthly series debuting this week with “The Multiversity” No. 1. It will be followed by standalone comics that take a startlingly diverse look at the publisher’s historic titles and characters, and will end with “The Multiversity” No. 2.
“I love the idea of parallel worlds,” says Morrison, 54, who slowly sketched out his ideas over the last five years while working on other projects. “I haven’t been doing this every day. It hasn’t been like the Sistine Chapel. This was always the project that I kept in the back of my mind. Most of my work is almost like live performance — you do it, put it out and move on. This I could go back to.”
At his apartment in West Hollywood, Morrison’s head is shaved and he wears a red pullover with black web design that looks like a tribute to Marvel’s Spider-Man, but insists he’s never liked the character. On a nearby table is a colorful “Map of the Multiverse,” to help explain each of DC’s known Earths.
The multiple realities are an essential part of the DC tradition, the best known being the cube-shaped Bizarro world first revealed in 1960, where all logic and behavior is the opposite of Superman’s Earth. Prior to that, the need for additional worlds came as the Golden Age (pre-1960s) of comics transitioned into a more modern Silver Age, beginning with a sleek redesign of the Flash.
The original Flash, in his winged mercury helmet, was now said to be in his 40s and retired on Earth-2, while the new Flash in red tights battled crime on Earth-1. The new Flash could travel between dimensions simply by tuning the frequency of his vibrations.
“There was a tendency at DC toward the idea of multiplication of characters and energies – and lots of Flashes, and young Flashes, and Baby Superman,” explains Morrison. “They always did that stuff.”
On the map, virtually anything ever published by DC is accounted for within one of the worlds, but there is tension and mayhem from the opening pages of “The Multiversity” No. 1, depicting a violent apocalypse of psychedelic proportions as heroes are defeated en masse.
Other worlds offer vivid reinventions of DC icons, including one where Batman and other Justice League heroes are vampires, an idea initiated in “Batman & Dracula: Red Rain,” a graphic novel by Doug Moench and Kelley Jones from the “Elseworlds” books outside regular DC continuity. Another has heroes as characters in the old west in “this steampunk thing of unicorns and steaming chimneys,” says Morrison.
In the opening “Multiversity” story, travel between these mind-bending dimensions is on a ship made of “frozen music.”
“I think people find the notion of a ‘what if’ always interesting,” says Morrison. “What if the Nazis won World War II, and what if it was with Superman’s help? I think people just like those types of stories. What if it was a world of reverse gender, and it was Batwoman and Superwoman and Wonder Man?”
There is a world of talking anthropological animals, including a hero called Captain Carrot, and another of the classic DC heroes as re-imagined by Marvel mastermind Stan Lee. Seven of the worlds are deliberately left “unknown.”
“There always has to be a mystery,” says Morrison. “It wouldn’t be much fun if you explained everything.”
Much of the following Morrison’s work enjoys is for his original comics titles, from “The Invisibles” in the 1990s to 2012’s “Happy!” miniseries. But it remains a special thrill and a privilege to work with these characters of DC and Marvel, he says, taking memorable runs with the likes of Batman, Superman and the X-Men.
“They are like handling priceless artifacts,” says Morrison, who explored the superhero cultural phenomenon in a 2011 nonfiction book, “Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human.”
“I spend a lot of time in superhuman heads. You have to think [like] Batman, and everything should be intricate and creepy and bizarre. It’s quite paranoid. Superman, on the other hand, is this radiant ‘everything is right, and everyone is beautiful, and I’m going to do my best to help.’ That’s how Superman feels. These are pure characters. They’re archetypes.”
Morrison is also not working alone, but building on what came before during about 75 years of joint effort: “You’re participating with everyone who’s added to this.”
Morrison lives with his wife, Kristen, mainly in Scotland, but spends four months of the year in Southern California, visiting with friends, meeting about potential TV or film projects, devoting one weekend to San Diego’s Comic-Con International. He does all his writing in Scotland.
“I come out here and everyone is working on stories, doing music, doing theater, painting,” he says. “Everyone’s doing stuff and the energy is quite exciting. Then I go home and work in this town in the country for the next four months — it’s kind of like ‘The Shining.’”
His original dream was to be a traditional writer of books, but comics began to obsess him at 12. “I was an awakening adolescent. OK, I’m suddenly into something – I’m a geek.”
He entered the professional comics world at an exciting time in the mid-1980s, as new ideas were explored and old boundaries pushed in Frank Miller’s grim Batman saga “The Dark Knight Returns” and Alan Moore’s provocative “Watchmen,” among many others. Morrison’s 1989 Batman graphic novel “Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth” was a story immersed in criminal madness amid illustrations of violent splashes of paint (instead of traditionally drawn panels) by Dave McKean.
Some of that energy was coming from a previously unknown crowd of creators in the British Isles, he says.
“There were so many people building up a pressure cooker of creativity. They wanted to get their hands on these characters they had grown up with. It was a floodgate. The talent was there waiting, and it was enough to make it look like a movement.
“There were a lot of outlets and we could express ourselves any way we wanted,” he continues. “It was a time in American comics when the underground was coming back to life. Alan Moore was discovered and suddenly they discovered a whole bunch of us.”
While some of the new work explored possible outcomes if costumed heroes existed in the real world, Morrison had less interest in that line of thinking.
‘To me, that’s the craziest question ever,” he says with a smile. “I’ve always resisted that because I think they couldn’t exist in the real world. And any attempt to be realistic becomes farcical no matter how good it is. That’s always been my position. To me the only reality these things have is on paper or on screen.”
– Steve Appleford
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