On Friday, Warner Bros. will release Justice League, featuring the most powerful heroes in the DC Extended Universe. Although it’s the superteam’s first theatrically released feature film, the Justice League has decades of history in print and on the small screen. This week, EW is talking to three of the most iconic creators who’ve worked with the League. Yesterday we spoke to J.M. DeMatteis. Today, Grant Morrison talks about his redefining work on JLA.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What are your memories about reading Justice League as a kid?
GRANT MORRISON: They were some of the earliest comics I was aware of. I was a weird kid, because I didn’t like stories where the good guys had any obstacles put in their path. [laughs] The basic structure of storytelling and drama, I hated it! I kind of loved the old medieval stories where the knight goes out, he kills the dragon, and he experiences no psychological change whatsoever.
So I loved the idea of these [Justice League] characters. They were all friends. They would handle their problem — you know, a giant starfish has landed on Earth, or a monstrous telepathic plant. These guys would go, use their powers together, figure out a way to combine each of their specific abilities, and they would solve the problem. And then they’d all go home laughing. When I was a kid, I just loved that! I didn’t like the Marvel Comics stuff, because they were always arguing, always angry and angsty. That was what brought me to Justice League. These were professionals.
What was the state of the Justice League when you started writing JLA?
There had been a couple of decades where the Justice League characters weren’t DC’s “Big Seven” — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, etc. There had been a very successful revamp in the ’90s by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, done almost as a comedy-drama, a really great reimagining of Justice League.
By the time I came along, honestly, the book was filled with characters that no one would remember and want to remember. Like Bloodwynd, which is one of the worst superhero names ever. These weren’t bad characters, and the writers and artists were good. It was characters so far down the celebrity list in the DC universe that you would have no idea who they were if they turned up at a nightclub. It wasn’t selling very well. I think it was selling 20,000 copies a month. When I came on with Howard Porter, our basic idea was: Let’s go back to the original notion of this, and team up all of DC’s most successful and well-known characters together. At the time, that was seen as a radical notion.
Why was it a hard sell?
Denny O’Neil was in charge of Batman at the time. Obviously, Denny’s one of the great Batman writers, and one of the great Batman editors. At the time, in the ’90s, Batman was being treated in quite a serious, grounded, down-to-earth way. So they were horrified by the notion that Batman might come hang around with the Justice League, or take a teleport beam to a satellite on the moon.
I’m a huge Batman fan, and I’ve written a lot of Batman stories. I love the Batman who can go out at night and save kids from the pimps. At the same time, Batman lives in the DC universe and has done so for a long time. In the company of the Justice League, Batman represents humanity, the optimum man. He’s our representative at the table of the gods. And that makes him interesting in a really different way.
All these characters have a lot of edges and facets, and I think they can handle different stories. I think Batman can handle a teleport in the basement. [laughs] Sometimes, once a month, Batman does a case with the Justice League when he finds himself on an alien planet. Batman’s adventures the Justice League … it’s like when you’re a kid and your dad used to go out with that bunch of weird pals. He seems to have a really good time, and he comes back laughing. Those are the people he goes out and does the really crazy stuff with. That’s The Hangover Part 2.
When JLA began, what was the reaction like?
It became DC’s top-selling book and stayed that way for the entirety of the time we were working on it. That did help smooth the way a little bit. Like I said, it’s kind of a no-brainer to put those characters together. The other twist that we added was that there would always be an adventure too big for any single superhero to deal with. It was a definite attempt to do things which really expanded the DC universe. We went to heaven and hell and the fifth dimension.
To take a slight digression, look at the first issue of JLA compared to the 1980s Justice League. They show the characters seen from an overhead shot, so you’re kind of looking down on them, they’re looking up at you. You’re put in this position of almost superiority. We understand there’s an ironic distance. What we did in the first issue of JLA was to pose the characters so that you had to look up at them. You’re looking up at them from the perspective of a child. We made a decision to position these characters as these grown-up, god-like figures. Howard Porter, my artist on it, he was perfect for it. He combined the Image Comics style of the time with a Jack Kirby giantism.
Are there stories you’re especially proud of?
I love the Crisis Times Five thing that we did, the fifth dimension. I loved the final story, where everyone on Earth gets superpowers. I love the Frank Quitely book, Earth-2. Rock of Ages, the one where they go to the future and fight Darkseid, there’s a lot of influences from Celtic mythology and Arthurian mythology. If I had to choose one that summed up the book, it would be that one.
Talking about Darkseid, this new film is very much under wraps, but it’s been interesting talking about the possibility that Apokolips will feature prominently in the DC Extended Universe. You’ve done a lot of work with Jack Kirby’s Fourth World; is it interesting to see that coming into the movie mainstream?
I’m really looking forward to seeing what they do with that. It’s probably the greatest villain ever conceived for comics — maybe Darkseid and Doctor Doom, and they were both created by the same man! I’m really keen to see it. To explain Darkseid is simple: He’s the devil. He’s Milton’s Satan via Hitler. He’s a tyrannical, unstoppable, narcissistic monster. I think he’s a great villain for the 21st century.
Do you have any other projects you’re working on?
I’m doing the Wonder Woman books at DC, the Earth-One stuff. There’s another one coming out early next year. The big thing for me is the Happy! TV show, the adaptation of my comic book, which is coming out Dec. 6.