Annihilator is the latest from comics writer Grant Morrison, and like many of the prolific author’s works, it’s about writing (and a little about Morrison himself). The somewhat disorienting mix of horror and science fiction (at least in the way Morrison doles out the materials) is out this week, following the steady professional, physical, and mental decline of screenwriter Ray Spass. Ray has just moved into a notorious Hollywood murder house, a site of alleged Satanic ritual and home to a seemingly bottomless void out in the yard. And light years away, at the center of the galaxy exists a massive black hole called “The Great Annihilator”, the basis for Ray’s latest screenplay, which is bleeding over into the real world.
So who is Ray Spass? “[Ray’s] a couple of screenwriters I’ve met in Hollywood,” Morrison told me by phone in a recent interview. “These people are a couple of friends of mine that I know very well and I can not name them, because if I’d name them, they’d be forever condemned.” Morrison chuckles off this last part, saying that there’s a bit of himself in Ray.
It’s interesting that he would say that – Ray is a consummate nihilist (as is the antihero of Ray’s screenplay/possible real-world maniac Max Nomax). That point of view is a total 180 from the Morrison who dropped himself into the middle of his seminal Animal Man run, or the one who often casts nihilists as the powerful but ultimately flawed villains in works like Seven Soldiers or Final Crisis.
I asked where this fascination with the philosophy comes from, and Morrison says he’s fascinated by those who’d try to sell their own definitive take on the world or art (or whatever). “I think especially in Los Angeles, where you have this culture with Anton LeVay, and the Doors, and this dark infrastructure. For me, [Annihilator] is about exploring that dark hole at the center of the bright lights and celebrity.”
He talked about loving being in a city where some of his projects continue to wind their way from one medium to another and falling in love with the different storytelling structure that Hollywood employs versus his that of he and his fellow comic writers. But he also sees film as being limited as a medium.
“It feels that film could be a whole lot better,” he laughs. He has high praise for Guardians of the Galaxy, suggesting that its popularity speaks to an audience that wants “fantastical scenes, and things people only imagine.” When I mention a moment in his own story where Ray’s agent suggests that the writer “ground” his story in reality a bit more, Morrison gets a bit more animated: “It’s always ‘grounded!’ You hear people say, ‘Let’s ground Superman.’ Fuck, he can fly, that’s the last character you want to ground!”
When he hears that writers need to ground their scripts in human experience, Morrison says that the whole reason people go to the theater is because they’re looking for something beyond human experience. “Everything we make – every plot, every story is human. I don’t get how a fantasy movie is in any way less a product of human intelligence than a relationship movie.”
Getting back to Los Angeles, Morrison says that for all that, he still loves the city. For the writer, it’s the most attractive place for him as an artist. “But at the same time, it’s about creating an artifice,” he says.
That’s at the heart of the horror of Annihilator, Morrison explained. It’s a book about finding out “that all of the meaning in your life is meaningless, and being swallowed up by the nihilistic black hole.” Morrison says that the philosophy at the heart of the book would be familiar to anyone who followed Matthew McConaughey’s character Rustin Cole in True Detective, the idea that we as a species should cease reproducing given a lack of inherent meaning in our collective existence.
When I ask where the writings of some of the major nihilist philosophers fit into his own work, Morrison says that he likes a good antagonists, and that nihilism is the ultimate antagonism for an optimist like him. “The idea for Annihilator was to take some of that [philosophy] and look at it through the lens of art,” Morrison says. “Because art allows us to make sense of these things.”
So why approach a horror story through a second sci-fi story? “Because all our internal lives are science fiction,” Morrison explains. “We’re all superheroes in our own stories and in the internal stories that we tell ourselves. Mom and dad, you know, are Zeus and Hera. I think there’s something mythological about our lives and I wanted to put it into the story and give it that dimension.”
Talking about superhero mythology lead me to ask about his recent decision to step away from superhero comics for a while, a decision he tells me was born of frustration with the “synthetic universes” in these books. “Everything in a comic universe is like ‘Barry! Wally! Ollie!’ You know, it’s these characters you’re supposed to give a fuck about, but it’s getting really hard because they don’t actually exist.” He says that he’d become burned out on writing these same archetypes over and over, but that some of his work – like the recently launched The Multiversity – attempts to confront audience obsession with these characters that they can control and understand.
Before Morrison leaves, I ask about that need for control among a segment of fandom, the kind of control that rejects the idea of women, minority, or gay characters in their book, a group that’s vigilant for “tokenism” and thinks the word “diversity” is a four letter one. “I don’t know who these people are. I could happily see a black Spider-Man or a green Spider-Man, or a Zebra Spider-Man. Honestly, I don’t know who’s complaining. Because life is diversity – our streets are filled with all kinds of people with all kinds of races, and backgrounds, and colors. And why can’t we see that in our artwork?”
Annihilator #1 is in shops and online today.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Nerdist Industries is owned by Legendary Pictures but retains editorial independence.)