How Grant Morrison Is Pushing Himself With 'The Green Lantern'
The first issue of DC Entertainment’s The Green Lantern is an event on a couple of levels. It’s a high-profile relaunch of one of DC’s core concepts, and one that doesn’t play it safe, pushing intergalactic cop Hal Jordan in a psychedelic new direction that splices together police procedural and prog rock instead of hewing close to the superhero formula. It’s also writer Grant Morrison’s return to monthly superhero comics for the first time in five years.
The Hollywood Reporter talked to Morrison about what is so special about Hal Jordan compared with the other iconic DC heroes he’s written — from Wonder Woman to Superman and Batman — and what makes The Green Lantern different from other superhero comic books on the stands right now.
Heat Vision breakdown
You’ve been absent from monthly superhero comics since the end of your Batman Incorporated run back in 2013. How did you end up on The Green Lantern? To hear DC publisher Dan Didio tell the story, he brought up the idea at dinner and you couldn’t stop thinking about it.
No, that was it! It was that simple. He just said, "How would you like to do something with Green Lantern?" I knew what Geoff [Johns, Green Lantern writer from 2005 through 2012] had done with it, and everything that Geoff does always seems to be the last possible word on it. I didn’t think there was much scope in going in that direction any further, because he took it as far as it could possibly go.
So the first thing I thought of was, wouldn’t it be good to scale it back and do the thing I love most, and tell more allegorical stories where small actions play out on a cosmic scale? That was it. It just suggested itself, you know? "Here’s a hostage story" or "Here’s an interrogation story." It was just one of those obvious things once you’d thought of it, and I couldn’t think of a version of Green Lantern that had gone there recently, so it felt fresh.
You’re playing up the police procedural aspect of the concept in ways that feel unexplored. It feels like a strange fit for you, considering that so much of your past work, from Doom Patrol to The Invisibles to New X-Men, has been about pushing back against authority figures.
Specifically for me, it’s about relevance. It’s about a version that is about now. This is a Green Lantern that’s about what’s going on now; it’s nuts, it’s Monty Python. It’s about the collapse of reality and illusion, it’s the apocalypse inside it; I think the response is to be crazier, and to be a bit more surreal and mad. It’s a very pliable and plastic time.
Oddly enough, your calling it a plastic time makes me want to ask about the way the book looks. Liam Sharp’s artwork brings out this really strong prog rock feel that I didn’t even know Green Lantern had in it. It looks like 2000 AD meets Roger Dean meets Heavy Metal.
It’s all that stuff! [Laughs.] It’s Metal Hurlant, it’s the great illustrators of science fiction like Frank Kelly Freas and Virgil Finlay. It’s taking everything we love about science fiction — and specifically space opera, because it’s not hard science fiction — and trying to do something different with that, come up with a new tune while you know the words, you know?
When Liam’s art came in, that ornate thing, there’s nothing else in American comics like it, not since the Barry [Windsor-] Smith days. When you get to issue three and four, he just takes off, it’s astonishing. Issue four, it’s like one of those Hipgnosis books or those fucking Yes covers.
I don’t tend to think of you as a space opera writer.
I’m getting to the point where I’m getting back to the stuff that I started out with at [Scottish publisher] DC Thompson, the Starblazer comics. For me, there’s a lot of going full circle and picking up a thread. I kind of despised space opera comics, so coming back to that, after I’ve done everything else, it’s like, "What can I get out of this? What haven’t I done?" It’s new.
Is that a common thing for you now? Going back to things that you’ve not enjoyed previously and asking, "What can I get out of this now?"
Yeah, especially that was the thing with Hal Jordan, you know? He wasn’t a character I particularly cared about. Every memory I have about Hal Jordan as a kid is him punching the hell out of tramps near a railway track. It just seemed this really visceral comic about a guy who really liked fighting. I didn’t like it, I liked the sleek stuff, I liked The Flash. So, yeah, for me, the thing now is not doing something like the Doom Patrol, or Animal Man, who agree with me, but characters like Hal Jordan who have opinions that I might disagree with on this level, but totally agree with on that level, and it’s really confusing.
That particular kind of division, you have to be aware of that, too, you have to work that out, too.
Beyond Hal Jordan being a different kind of character, there’s also the concept of Green Lantern being his job, that his career is being this authority figure that’s very different from the traditional superhero. That’s something that’s gone relatively untouched throughout the decades.
Even looking into the idea of, what the hell is the law that the Green Lanterns represent? I had no idea, even after all these comics.
Are you intentionally trying to broaden the idea — or define it, perhaps — of what being a space cop actually means?
Absolutely, but I’m trying to go into it with this whole [Jack] Kerouac angle, this Dharma Bums angle, that John Broome brought in the 1960s. I’m really trying to figure out, in some ways, the dharma, the way of things. How to make this all work, without sounding cosmically fascist.
As I said before, you’ve been mostly absent from mainstream comics for a while now; after Batman Incorporated finished in 2013, superhero fans have only seen your name in The Multiversity in 2014, and the first volume of Wonder Woman: Earth One in 2016. In the past few months, though, DC has released the second Wonder Woman: Earth One book, you have The Green Lantern launching monthly and you’re co-writing the Sideways Annual with Dan DiDio, as well. What brought you back to DC in such a big way?
I had a good idea for Green Lantern, and I wanted to do something like that, because I’d been doing a lot more strenuous work on television and elsewhere, and it just seemed nice to have a monthly book as long as I was ahead of schedule. It just hit the spot, I hadn’t done that kind of science fiction, space opera thing. Wonder Woman’s been around for years. I probably started on that about two and a half years ago.
You say that the second Wonder Woman: Earth One has been around for years, but it feels very contemporary, that you’re talking about culture as it exists now, especially with regard to using Nazis as villains and the whole Pick-Up Artist aspect to your Doctor Psycho revision.
The thing is, the whole impetus was to revisit [Wonder Woman creator William Moulton] Marston, to critique Marston, to honor what was interesting and see what remained. The ideas we were talking about [in Wonder Woman: Earth One Vol. 2] were a little bit more fringe when the script was written, and then became a lot more mainstream and a lot more part of the discourse that they had been, but that’s the nature of following Marston — finding yourself on the fringes on the gender discourse, just by trying to see things as he might have envisioned it.
You’re talking about writing this years ago. When you saw what was happening in American politics, were you horrified seeing things that the bad guy was doing play out in mainstream culture?
It was kind of funny and grotesque, in the sense of one element used the techniques of another to overthrow…. What I was originally trying to say was, [the villain’s attitude] was part of a pointless dialectic, but I guess the world has to work it out over a longer period than ours. [Laughs.]
I feel like, in the past, you’ve talked about comics in terms of pop music, in terms of the speed with which they can respond to popular culture. That’s not the same as television, or movies…
Yeah, I mean, it can be years to get something through development, it can take a long time. Comics are great, because it’s the closest to live performance, really; you can react to the news and get comics out in a few months’ time. But with Green Lantern, we’re so far ahead on the deadlines, we’re insanely far ahead. We’re like David Beckham OCD-style ahead.
But otherwise, yeah, you are reacting very fast. You’re reacting to shifts in the culture, and I think that’s what comics are best at. It can be done at speed with some wit and style. For me, I think it’s the only way to react to this meltdown that’s going on.
You’ve been concentrating on television and movie work for the past few years. Did you miss comics?
I was always doing comics — I was editing Heavy Metal and doing stuff — it’s just not the same as dipping into these major figures. They have so much charge. The other funny thing is that, this is what comics look like when you’re not doing it for the money. [Laughs.] We’re really doing it, this is our Beatles imperial phase! This is us doing whatever we want in the studio! It’s kind of like that and I love it for that reason. It’s just doing our own thing.
That reminds me of a review of a Beatles album I once read, which described the making of Sgt. Pepper’s as being the band realizing, “We can do anything!” There’s an element of that in The Green Lantern, that it’s a comic where anything is possible.
It pops out a ring! If there’d been a new Yellow Submarine with the DC characters in it, there you go! Ringo’s got all these emotional powers! [Laughs] The Green Lantern ring is this ultimate kid idea, the wishing stone that does everything you want it to.
You’ve talked before, and written in Supergods, about the power that superheroes have as ideas. Do you still have that sense of excitement in dealing with these characters?
Somebody like Hal Jordan, Green Lantern, it brings up ideas of how do you use light, how do you use space, you know? These ideas you wouldn’t normally have. These characters, it’s good to have them around. [Laughs.] It’s good to have the chance to have superhero comics and have the chance to play with these ideas. I’m not as messianic about their power as I may once have been, but I still think they can be positive. To me, they’re like dream figures, you know? They work on that level and no other.
And they’ve become part of mass culture. It’s not just comic books anymore; there are movies and TV shows and all the merchandise. They’re the iconic mythical figures for everyone now.
The basic ideas are there. Like, the god of the sea, is he going to be Aquaman or Namor? It could’ve gone either way, but one of them becomes the big modern image of a classic idea and it’s going to be Aquaman because he got there first. [Laughs.]
One of the most surprising things about The Green Lantern is how new it feels. Yes, it’s got this classic idea at its core, and the character has been around for decades, but it reads like something different.
I’m glad it’s coming across that way. We hoped it’d come across that way, but when you’re close to it, you can never tell. It’s about energy. The first one is a mission statement, everything you need to know about Green Lantern and the Guardians of the Universe, and then we’re off.
You and Liam are doing this for a year?
We’re definitely doing it for a year. I’ve got more ideas, and I’m almost strong-arming Liam into doing more. It’s depending on both our schedules. There are ideas, once you start thinking about this stuff, it just seeps in, you know?
The Green Lantern No. 1 is available now, digitally and in comic book stores.
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