PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


And Action…: The Grant Morrison Exclusive, Act 2

In a time when the novelty of DC's company-wide reboot seems to push writers in the direction of a ground-up redesign of their characters, Grant Morrison does the unexpected with the original superhero. PopMatters presents Grant Morrison, and his thoughts on Action.

In a time when the novelty of DC's company-wide reboot seems to push writers in the direction of a ground-up redesign of their characters, Grant Morrison does the unexpected with the original superhero. In Action Comics, Morrison returns Superman to the character's original core; that of a Liberal Avenger. Prescient of the kind of politics seen recently during the Occupy movement, Morrison helms the retelling of why it is that Superman became iconic in the first place. This is a radical shifting of the narrative of Superman away from the sombre, meditative, near-powerless characterization that dominated the Kryptonian in recent decades could not have come at a better time.

After high-level access to the writer, PopMatters presents Grant Morrison, and his thoughts on Action.

Act Two: Grant Morrison versus Marty McFly and the Pushbike

Where do you begin with a movie like Back to the Future? It's the heartwarming movie about teenage Marty McFly diving back 30 years to save his family from the paucity they face if his parents make the wrong life decisions. The entire family is at risk, and if Marty saves them, they won't even remember the threat they faced.

Back to the Future is the high drama of epigenetics, writ large with 80s-era materialism. It's that coda that really hits home. When Marty returns to 1985 after toughening up his dad and pushing George McFly to stand up to local knuckle-dragger Biff, he encounters the strange tango between materialism and self-confidence. Did George of 1985 (this new, self-assured George, not the pushover George we glimpsed at in the movie's first 20 minutes) gain all this material wealth (the bright, new home, the three cars) because of his confidence? Or did the material wealth secure his confidence sufficiently for him to publish his first book? Everything is just better.

A truly heartwarming movie, in no small part due to those Sacred Moments when we see the magic of 80s values enacted for the first time. Marty's trip to 1955 was as much about re-inscribing those values in Back Then as it was about toughening up his dad. And those Moments truly are Sacred. Think back to Marty playing Rock n Roll for the first time at the high school prom. Think of Marty kicking off the tomato-box handlebars and turning the pushbike into a skateboard.

But think a little harder and those moments begin to unravel. Marty plays Rock for the first time and bandleader Marvin makes a call to his cousin Chuck Berry. Does it ring true that Chuck Berry was little more than a lip-sync sensation? Is it ok to simply disavow Berry's primal creativity?

Or even worse, there's that moment with the pushbike.

Back at the malt shop, Marty pushed Biff just that little too far. He bolts from the malt shop, fearing what may happen if Biff actually catches him. Marty ducks into the main concourse around Town Square, but Biff is one step ahead--he and his goons hop in their car. Marty's about to get run down. When, just in time, two kids head by on homemade pushbikes. "Sorry kid", Marty grabs a pushbike. But he's stymied for the moment. What is a tomato-box doing doubling for handlebars and a down-pipe? Why would you even need handlebars? Then, in the sudden legerdemain of cinema, Marty kicks off the the tomato-box. He kicks down hard on the back-end of the riding-plank and there he has it--a skateboard. We've already seen Marty Bart-Simpson his way across town on a skateboard, back in 1985. Marty is magic on a skateboard. Biff doesn't stand a chance.

And with one kick of a tomato crate, the purity of the Z-Boys' late 70s cultural revolution is just deleted from the popular imagination. Whatever magic of cinematic storytelling Robert Zemeckis weaves around these moments, there's something secretly monstrous about

them. The values of freedom, individualism, material care for the self are somehow not innate, these moments seem to argue. They didn't spring forth in a time long ago, but need to be seeded in that ancient time, so that one day they would become inevitable. At a conceptual level then, if you like freedom and Rock n Roll, you're every bit the bully Biff is. At least, that's what these scenes seem to imply.

This is the dirty work of nostalgia. The past is never as good as when we're looking at it, when we're hoping to reenact it in the here and now. The past is a trap, and it's one that Grant Morrison is deeply aware of in writing Action. When asked the classic question on why must there be a Superman, Grant responds, "Our idea was to present a Metropolis that was 'the City of Tomorrow' from the 1930s onwards. But the way we [Grant and artist Rags Morales] wanted to show it was that it needed Superman.

"Most portrayals of Metropolis show a perfect world. One that you could hardly imagine would need the presence of Superman. So even looking at things like 70s New York, and, y'know, before Giuliani cleaned up the streets… think of the kind of New York from Taxi Driver and Midnight Cowboy, and those kinds of influences for Metropolis. And I like the idea of a city that had super-fast bullet-trains but nothing works properly and everything's falling apart. And nobody cares about all these wonders and this fantastic city. So that was the idea, to show this Utopian vision in decline and then Superman entering, and by his presence start to transform it into a genuine 'City of Tomorrow'".

It's a radical rethink of the character in relation to his environment. A Metropolis that needs a Superman. But what about the character would shine through in this kind of story? The trap of nostalgia that Back to the Future presents, hinges on the resources of highly individuated characters. What Marty actually does, is get George to marshal his own inner resources. But in a symbiosis between Superman and Metropolis, aren't we staring down an abstraction that would effectively delete Superman himself?

And to make matters worse, Superman is being written at two speeds. There's the Superman of sister-title Superman, a book set in the present of DC's New 52. This is an older, more restrained Superman. The Superman we recognize from decades past. But Grant writes a youthful, vibrant Superman of five years ago. A Superman still growing into the Superman we recognize.

In some sense, we already know the future, we read it every month and it's penned by George Pérez. Between being positioned in Metropolis, and being positioned by the imminent future, is there room for a Superman as individuated and as captivating as Marty McFly?

"I see it as a quite organic story of Superman," says Grant. "The things that seem like, this is the past of Superman, but as I'm writing it, it's really the present of Superman in the five dimensional matrix of the story. I seeing a larger overall picture of of the entire man, as he lives, and as he does the things he does, so I think that's what gives it the immediacy. And also looking at what's happening in a different way. I wanted to write the confidence and the idealism but also put Superman off world problems now and again. What happens when you use your imagination in that way? How would Superman solve a problem? How would we use our own resources in a way that Superman might do it? There's a lot of different things in here about Superman that will hopefully come together".

The hesitancy in Grant's voice is strangely redemptive. He's not sure how the Superman in the future of Action will sync up with the Superman currently being penned in Superman. And it's that uncertainty that is deeply rewarding. Certainty about how the two visions fit together would be the equivalent of watching a football game being rehearsed rather than being played. But Grant's response does table the inevitable. How, if in any way, will he negotiate the pure mythic stature of the the character?

We've seen Grant wrestle down the mythic in the flawless Mystery Play. In a small Medieval Revival festival in a nowheresville town in England, the actor playing God is dead, chief suspect the actor playing the Devil. But what of Superman? Is he Dylan? The Stones?

There's a warm chuckle on the other side of the line. Then he begins, "Well certainly, I love to think that Superman can be on the same level with Keith and Mick. In that sense, that would be lovely. Obviously what I wanted to do is, is tell a complete story of Superman. Again, I see this version having more in common with folktales, with American folktales, with Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed. But think of these as playing out in a twenty-first century fashion. Ultimately what I wanted to do is tell a story in a large scale fashion".

And a "large scale fashion" is exactly what kicks off in today's release of Action #4. If you're reading both title's as Andrew has been for his remarkable "Missing Persons", you'll know that it is in this issue that Superman will thwart an alien invasion. And if you've regularly been reading Action itself, then you'll make the savvy guess that the alien invader is Brainiac. And perhaps you'll make the even savvier guess that some background on the destruction of the Kryptonian city of Kandor will be revealed.

At the very start of winter, things are getting going with Superman. And that's all the Holiday Cheer you can ask for.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.