Grant Morrison Interview: Annihilator, Multiversity, and Beyond

Grant Morrison talks to us about horror sci-fi comic Annihilator, the music of Multiversity, and more!

With Annihilator #1 from Legendary Comics, Grant Morrison has once again teamed up with artist Frazer Irving. This time, unlike previous collaborations for DC Comics on projects like Batman and Klarion, the Witch Boy, it’s for something a little more out there. Mixed in with some space opera visuals, they give us (in Grant’s words) “a little ghost story, a bit of a monster movie, and all kinds of things.” 

Annihilator is the story of Ray Spass (pronounced “space”), a screenwriter trying to follow up on previous blockbuster success while battling his own taste for booze, drugs, and the occult. Just as he finds out that a brain tumor is killing him, the protagonist of his current screenplay, the darkly anti-heroic Max Nomax, manifests in the real world with an agenda of his own as he’s on the run from the nemesis of his story. That’s certainly a very Grant Morrison story to tell, and with Frazer Irving on art, and a beautifully moody color palette, it’s a wild ride.

We were fortunate enough to speak with Grant Morrison about this book, as well as his work for DC Comics, including a little about Multiversity, his upcoming Wonder Woman project with Yanick Paquette, and the chance that he’ll take on The Flash someday. As the interview was conducted on August 28th, I couldn’t resist wishing Mr. Morrison a “Happy Jack Kirby’s birthday.” A good sport, he replied “Ah, a day that will be remembered for millennia hence!” And then we got down to business for a brief, fun interview, where we both battled a bad phone connection to chat about comics, music, and more.

Den of Geek: There’s definitely a rock n’ roll edge to Ray Spass, but it’s different to what we’ve seen in some of your other protagonists. I always felt that the guy in Flex Mentallo had a distinct Syd Barrett vibe. Ray is a bit darker. He’s got this Trent Reznor moving into the old Manson house vibe…Have you ever gone down that road and tried to write in haunted places?

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Grant Morrison: There was a very oddly modern house I lived in when I was in my early twenties that seemed to be haunted for at least six weeks. I mean, bizarre things would happen. I’ve never really known anything like that. I live in old houses, and some people feel like they kind of go into it there. I’m not like Ray, though. With Ray I wanted to create a kind of lovable monster.

Like Ray, his creation, Max Nomax, is a little sinister, as are both of their motivations. Do you think his whole “cure for death” is a good thing?

I think it’s an entirely selfish goal on the part of Max Nomax. So, no, absolutely no. Immortality would get kind of boring, anyway. Ray, though, He’s only interested in his own creative expression. He’s pushing a certain appetite at a slightly more ridiculous level. He’s another one of those neurotic boy outsider Batman characters or going all the way back to Satan or what have you. Max is kind of the sci-fi product of those. Nobody should take him or Ray necessarily seriously. Both of them are bastards in retrospect.

Are you facing your own mortality through these characters?

Oh, absolutely. I’m facing my own mortality, but also because, well, of the death of my mother last year. It became this kind of odd way of dealing with it. I didn’t want to think about it or talk about it. I’ve read an awful lot of nihilist philosophy, and went to the darkest places possible trying to think through it. Annihilator is my response. I hope it’s a fun one.

Is Frazer Irving the only person who could have drawn Annihilator?

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I think so. It was written for Frazer! He’s completely realized everything I wanted but on a much higher level. The guy is great. He can do characterization just by hand gestures alone.

Yeah. The body language that Max has on that last page is really something and really drives that character home.

I’m glad you see that, because that’s the point where he becomes Mephistopheles as well. At home it’s all about the devil deal and the contract and then suddenly Max is in a position to be the devil in the story.

On page 1 of Annihilator, is that a TIE fighter?

It kind of looks like one doesn’t it? (laughs)  You’d have to ask Frazer, since he designed that thing. But it certainly looks like an expanded concept like that.

As we go through Annihilator, how much more of Ray’s screenplay are we going to see?

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Ray’s screenplay is a way for Max to remember who he is, because Max’s journey through the black hole has stripped him of his memory. So he’s counting on Ray to write the story of Max Nomax, and once Max remembers, he’ll have to save us all from the wrath of the arch-Annihilator! There’s a lot more to come, but the entire story of Nomax becomes a ghost story, a monster movie, and all kinds of things.

That screenplay story is ultimately an important part of these two characters that are on the run from the police and Nomax’s greatest enemy. He’s got seven days until either his tumor kills him or the Annihilator kills him, so it’s all about literalizing the final deadline that we all have to face.

What were you listening to while writing Annihilator?

This one is written to a lot of very specific music, like Muse, “Supermassive Black Hole” and things things that were quite specific to it. Right now I’ve been listening to Momus who have a new album out recently, and I’m kind of into a band called Black Onassis, with Chris Karloff who used to play in Kasabian. They’re a kind of techno/psychedelic band I’m quite fond of.

Have you heard from John Lennon lately? (note: this was my lame attempt to be funny, referencing this song that Mr. Morrison once performed, after doing some Lennon-esque conjuring)

No, not at all! It’s not so much a thing where you can hear from him. It’s mostly just you have to convince yourself that there’s nothing else in the room but John Lennon and suddenly things start John Lennon-ing! (laughs)

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When was Annihilator written? The contrast between this and the relatively upbeat Multiversity

This is much more recent. Multiversity comes from around the same time as Final Crisis (2008), but it’s been tweaked obviously since then to try and keep it fresh. Those concepts come from ’08 or ’09. But Annihilator is much more recent. I think I first had the idea a couple of years ago and then it became more urgent last year and I’ve been working on it since then.

One thing I noticed in Multiversity and this goes back to Final Crisis as well, is the idea of Superman as a musical being, not just someone who can hit things really hard. You take that whole idea of the multiverse being separated by vibrations into the musical realm, as well. Are you familiar with the lost Who album, Lifehouse and some of the concepts Pete Townshend was playing with? It deals with some of the same…

Oh yeah, absolutely! Definitely. It all feeds back into the idea of the music of the spheres and the Kabbalah that Pete was interested in at the time as well, and the effect of the octaves. So yeah, definitely, I think all of that has had some effect.

What’s the latest on your Wonder Woman graphic novel, Wonder Woman: The Trial of Diana Prince?

We’re forty pages to the end. So [artist] Yanick Paquette has basically finished 80 pages, I guess. It’s really a labor of love for Yanick, and for me, but he’s taking a long time and it’s really good. I imagine once those forty pages are finished it will probably be out sometime next year. I’d imagine maybe spring or summer, but that’s up to DC Comics to announce it when it’s ready.

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Given how important the Multiverse has become to your work at DC, is there any chance you’ll get another crack at the Flash? He’s just so crucial to these concepts…

Well, I have an idea for the Flash, which is very much to just go back and tell it as a science fiction story, and treating it in a very mundane way. So it’s maybe not the kind of Silver Age fantasmagoria people may expect. I do have the idea, and the door is open for me to do that. I haven’t been doing very much superhero stuff since Batman. I’ve been very much focused on Annihilator and stuff like Nameless over at Image with Chris Burnham and a bunch of other things. It’s been quite a different phase for me.

Yeah, it’s amazing just how different Annihilator is from something like Multiversity and having them both on the stands around the same time.

I’m really glad about that. Maybe I’ll hit two audiences! (laughs)

Are you excited to see Zenith coming back into print?

Yeah! It’s good to see it again. Obviously there was a kind of legal fol-de-rol around the whole subject, so it’s kind of a strange, bittersweet thing. But I’m glad people will get to see it. It’s a good piece of work and I enjoyed doing it with Steve Yeowell. What can you say? I think it’s better that people get to see the work than not. I hope you enjoy it!

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Grant Morrison, thank you very much. Annihilator #1 arrives on September 10th.

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