Last week I spent ten minutes on the phone with Grant Morrison to talk about Action Comics #17 and 18, the big finale of his denim-clad tenure on the New 52 flagship.
To start, I asked Morrison about punctuation. His All-Star Superman story culminated in just about all of them, from multiple exclamation points to question marks and ellipses to a definitive, resolute period. Could such an ending be possible within an ongoing? Can we expect a firm conclusion or a torch held out to incoming Andy Diggle?
“It’s a very different kind of ending,” said Morrison. “As suits this book, it’s a more scrappy kind of ending, a feisty ending. It sums up the tone of this book in the way that All-Star’s was an elegy for Superman.” Though this is a culmination of events and themes from the first issue, the adventure remains, of course, ongoing.
This particular run will almost certainly be summarized for its working-class Superman outfitted in t-shirt, jeans and boots. I asked Morrison whether he hoped other writers and artists would play with that iteration of the character in his formative years or if he looked at it as something more personal that he’d satisfied with his 18 issue story. Morrison explained that his motivation was to use the five-year gap within his story to deliver the Superman we see in Jim Lee’s new costume design. He chronicled the formative years, ushering Clark over the coals to that point in his development. And yet, “There’s some mileage in it, I think. There’s a lot more space to tell stories. I think people would be topically interested in a book that told more stories of the very young Superman when he was having trouble lifting up tanks and he could still be hurt by bombs.
Asked what he believed was his most important contributions to the character in the New 52, Morrison said it all had to do with attitude. “Superman for a long time seemed like a Republican dad or, at best, he was your sister’s boyfriend. He was always this establishment figure. I think the greatest thing we’ve done is that he seems tough again. He’s more of a alpha male. I think the character needs that to set him apart from other superheroes. He needs swagger. He needs confidence.”
That extends to Superman’s alter ego. “By the same token, Clark Kent is much stronger,” the writer said. “He’s an activist. Rather than being a bumbling country oaf, he’s more like a shabby kid who lives in the lower east side and writes amazing journalism.”
It all comes down to lending the character a contemporary, dynamic persona and drive. “Everyone was really getting bored with the wimpy, emo Superman constantly questioning his own actions, unable to move forward in case he hurts someone. Superman is tough and confident again. He’ll stand up for right.”
Morrison said he probably won’t return to the traditional Superman character for at least a few years, though the black Superman character plays a primary role in his upcoming Multiversity project. Action Comics is his final word on Clark’s mythology, at least for now. “It really kind of says it for me,” he laughs. “Certainly I’d never say never about Superman or Batman. These characters can suddenly fascinate you all over again.”
Here’s a sneak peek at Action Comics #17, on sale February 20th.