Grant Morrison Explains Why Avatarex Is The Next Step Beyond His X-Men and All-Star Superman

Fans have about a week remaining, to get Grant Morrison's Avatarex -- a digital-first comic with [...]

Fans have about a week remaining, to get Grant Morrison's Avatarex -- a digital-first comic with a first issue that debuted during Comic-Con International: San Diego on Humble Bundle.

Humble Bundle, of course, is a website where fans can set their own price point for digital books, comics, video games and more, and a portion of the sale -- which can also be manually adjusted -- goes to charity.

In Morrison's case, he joined Stan Lee as part of the Tales From India bundle, which also features work from best-selling author Deepak Chopra. It includes over $200 of comics (retail value), all of which can be yours for $15 -- or bits and pieces of the batch at whatever price you want to pay.

Morrison joined for a chat about the Avatarex, the Tales From India initiative, and what his latest story has to do with an iconic and heartstring-plucking scene from All-Star Superman.

What drew you to Humble Bundle? Obviously it's not common for them to create original content, so I don't know that I would have thought of it.

Well, Shirad [Devarajan] from Graphic India suggested it to me. We've been working together for a while and when he brought it up to me as an idea, I was pretty excited by the notion that we could do a superhero comic which actually benefited real human beings.

For me, it goes back to the All-Star Superman scene where Superman saves the kid on the rooftop. And seeing actual kids who were stopped from committing suicide from that scene, it really meant something to me, you know? It made me realize that Superman doesn't have to be real or realistic in order to effect real change.

So this is an expansion of that. The notion that we could do something and readers could buy into this, but also know that part of the money is going to charity, it's helping people, it's changing lives, t's educating people, it's getting girls out of poverty. That just seemed like the most worthwhile way of using superheroes, is to really make them do something useful, rather than just fight in the next blockbuster.

A friend of mine, J.M. DeMatteis, always jokes about how he likes his superheroes better when they're saving somebody than when they're dropping a building on someone's head.


Do you feel like after a certain number of years of writing the building dropping, that's just a natural reaction or evolution?

That's the way I've felt about it for quite some time. The thing we've always for the last fifteen years at least -- certainly since 9/11 -- I think America's been processing the horror of those images through their art, through their popular art in particular.

That's why I think superheroes became from ordinary people who went out at night to make the world a better place, they've become I think agents of the military-entertainment complex. The Avengers work for the government, and it's been like that since Mark [Millar] did The Ultimates. Batman as seen by Christopher Nolan and subsequently is a soldier. He wears military gear with his ordinance and his machines. For me, it became quite reductive. It was an interesting way to look at it for a while, but it's persisted for so long that I'm quite bored with the idea that the best superheroes can represent is some aggressive version of the military.

So it seemed like it was very worthwhile to go to cultures that weren't dealing with that, and go back to things that superheroes are supposed to be. They're supposed to be champions of the oppressed, they help ordinary people, they make things better for people. They don't prop up our grotesque, doddering culture of war and aggression.

And that's what I liked about the India stuff, you know? India's a very different feeling from America. In the East, there's a sense of progression and a sense of shirking off a lot of the old cultural problems and trying to move beyond things, in the sense that women are taking a much larger role in a culture where they were really quite voiceless for a long time. So it seemed to me that there's a sense there in the East that we have a future. Right now in the West, it's the end of empire, it's the endtimes, and all our stories are about that, dealing with that. Zombies, viruses, infections, these mass invasions of millions of creatures that get in under the carpets and screw everything up.

So I just wanted to get away from that. I've done quite a bit of that. I'm sure Marcus feels the same way; once we could talk about a much wider array of subjects before the superheroes were tied to a very specific mindset. And as I say, in other cultures and in India specifically, we're getting to use superheroes in a culture that's quite forward-looking. If you see the video that Sharad [showed at Comic-Con], it's talking to all the young girls, saying "what super power would you like?" And all the powers are these really benign, helping-people powers. "I want to touch trees and it comes back to life, I want to touch a mud hut and it turns into a house, I want to take away people's sickness." And you contrast that with our image of a female superhero who's Wonder Woman with a sword and a shield and a grunting grimace on her face, she's a warrior from some ridiculous mythological past.

So I liked the idea as well of turning people this slightly more feminine approach and trying to get superheroes back to what they do best, which is helping people, and not just protecting their own asses from the latest monstrous villain.

The widescreen action that was almost popularized by your JLA in some ways has contributed to this culture where heroes primarily are heroes. There's very little in the way of supporting cast and you rarely see them without the costume on. Do you think that when you start fresh with a new property, it gives you a chance to really humanize the characters in a different way?

Well, yeah. I'm sure you think of this as an alternative view, but certainly for me, it's refreshing to go back to something that isn't just trying to deal with large-scale property destruction, which of course is the capitalist nightmare, you know? "Oh my God, they knocked down the house! It cost money!" To me, that's what this is about is that the enemies of capitalism will knock your house down and rebuild your real estate.

But to do this other stuff, you're talking about stuff that's real. Superheroes I think are always humanistic becuase I think they represent qualities. At their best, they're symbolic and allegorical, they can never really be like humans, but if you put the Justice League together, we've all got our own inner Justice League, you know? Your own inner Superman, your own inner Batman. So we all kind of contain these things and all our stories are epics anyway, you know? Falling for your girlfriend is like the ultimate love story gone wrong or whatever. So I think they function on that level, but certainly creating something new in this way and tailoring it specifically to the culture as I see it is giving me new ways of thinking about it and new things to do and more contemporary and modern ways of believing and talking about issues.

Because you are very well known in the West but you're directing your story toward the East, do you have to shift the voice and the focus of your work?

To a certain extent, yeah, definitely, becuase I'm trying to get a certain audience as well and I picked a certain audience specifically. So I changed some things around.

But it's all coming from me, so there's a thread of what I do that goes through it. Certainly something like the X-Men, where I talked about alternative cultures rising up and taking over -- what I saw was the Internet was making it happen and what you see is that we live in a world where people who were once marginalized or considered alternative have quite a strong, loud voice these days.

So my X-Men was about that and to me, that was a contemporary theme. In the past, when Chris Claremont was doing the X-Men, they could represent the fight for civil liberties so they could represent the gay lobby or whatever. So again, it's just what's going on in culture? What's useful about these characters that could tie into culture? How can we tell a story that has the underpinnings of something fun and real to say, even though it's a big fantasy?

Now, for the sake of the readers, what is the elevator pitch for Avatarex?

Well, Avatarex is about an ancient machine that's been designed by the gods or by people in a time we'll never understand with technology we'll never understand to be the savior of humanity and the end of the dark age.

Currently, according to Hindu thought, we live in the Fourth Age, which is the age of Cali and the age of darkness, and most mythologies have this. Celts have it and Vikings have it, where there will come a time where more or less the only things that matters is how much you're worth, where authority becomes law, and so you can tie that into the world we live in, though the world has probably always been a bit like that, we were always just talking in the dark. But they always say there's an endtime and there will come a savior -- you know, the Mitra or the Buddha or the Imam -- a returning hero, who will drag us out of the Dark Age. And I just thought, "Wouldn't it be fun to do this, but he comes too soon, and he's got to kill some time becuase it's not quite the end of the Dark Age?"

And to expose this immense, mythic character who's coming from the great epics into a very modern, contemporary world, particularly in India and then as the story's developed, we want to make it more global. In the sense that Superman is always allied to America, but that he's global so he can go anywhere and do stuff, this character's similar.

For me, the fun was just taking this guy who's got this mission and he's so utterly powerful and you stick him on Earth which is quite fragile and messed-up and contradictory and see how he deals with that. Part of what we wanted to do was to bond with a human so that he has a human connection that will allow him to understand how we live and work.

The notion is that he's going to bond with this lovely guy who's been selected, with all the correct traits and qualities, but that goes wrong and he ends up having to bond with that guy's brother, who's a feckless loser. He's the one in the family that nobody really cares about. I wanted the idea of this ineffable cosmic power being tied to the most pointless, useless guy on earth and how the two of them then relate. It was almost a kind of Stan Lee idea, this early Marvel notion where this godlike figure would have to deal with the most pathetic elements of humanity. What can we learn from their highest aspirations?

In a contemporary culture, just having a physical disability wouldn't really be a socially-acceptable way to make Thor's alter ego a loser, so I kind of thought this would be a kind of update to that notion.

Yeah, exactly.

What's the idea of a loser today? Someone who doesn't see any meaning in anything and he can't find an outlet for his energies, and other people seem to do better than him. We've all felt that in a world that's so global. Everything's asking us to question ourselves and advertising is all about making us feel small, so I thought that was what a god would come up with: "honestly, being human feels like this, pal." And he's trying to make sense. Does it lift us up? Does it tear the god down? Is there a key to this?

When I look at your work, there are a lot of through-lines that are easy to follow. What do you think are the big themes that continue into Avatarex?

I think my big thing is always about transcendence, isn't it? The sense that we all know there's a higher dimension to what we are, and I can demonstrate that just as simply as I always do, the size and shape of a human head is this tiny chunk of bone, and it would seem like it couldn't hold a lot, you know? It holds a brain, and not much else. You can't put your shopping in there.

But you can imagine universes and they fit inside, so there's a tesseract space in there, like the Legion of Super-Heroes used to keep their stuff in, or like the TARDIS. Neil Gaiman said that in his Doctor Who: "Humans are like the TARDIS, we're bigger on the inside." So there's a definite, undeniable, higher dimension to what we are, and it's in there.

That's kind of always been my thing is to remind people: no matter what you think about how shitty today feels, in there you can have universes, you can have multiverses, and it doesn't split your skull. So to understand that there's something bigger and then to connect that and remind people and use superhero characters or mythological figures as aides memoire to say, "all of us have this. We're all here. We're all part of something immense."