If you’ve ever read superhero comic books, you’ll know the name Grant Morrison. He’s the highly influential writer of the mega-selling Batman graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, as well as highly acclaimed books like Animal Man, The Invisibles, All-Star Superman, New X-Men and We3. He wrote a thrilling and ambitious seven-year run on Batman, where he co-created Damian Wayne – the bratty and extremely popular Robin character.
In recent years, though, Morrison – now 60 – has found success in TV and film. The two-season show Happy!, starring Christopher Meloni, was based on his comic, and he worked as a writer and producer on that series. He also co-wrote a draft for 2022’s The Flash movie with actor Ezra Miller that sadly won’t see the light of day.
Most recently he’s the co-creator of Brave New World, a big-budget adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s 1932 dystopian novel, which from today is showing on Sky and Now TV in the UK (US viewers can watch it on Peacock). The series stars Alden Ehrenreich, best known as the lead actor in Star Wars spin-off film Solo, and bringing it to the small screen involved making some changes and updates from the source material.
“I’ve been doing comics for a long time, and I do love them,” Morrison tells us. “But I also like to do things where I can stretch my writing, and you know, to be in a writers’ room with a bunch of great people and to be learning from all these fantastic writers was a boost in terms of what I’m capable of doing. I’ve done pretty well out of the comics, but there was this need to kind of advance and to try different types of writing, and to try and get myself into places that were maybe a little less comfortable for me and to push me forward as a creative person.”
Morrison says his comics work is better for the experience. We ask why adapting Brave New World specifically appealed to him. “For a long time, I’ve kind of been a Huxley fan, I guess you could call it. I don’t know if Huxley has fans, but I’m certainly one of them. And the possibility came up, and it just seemed like something to be seized upon, you know?
“In the same way that I’ve kind of done Batman or Superman or some of those characters in comics, it was a chance to get to the heart of the book to see what worked and what maybe didn’t work, and what we could use in our current times and see if we could bring it up to life a little bit – speed it up, and bring into the 21st century.”
Bringing Brave New World to life
In Brave New World, utopia is called New London, and it’s a world structured by a caste system – essentially a series of classes that define each person’s place within this society. Alphas are at the top of the pile intellectually, and get the career opportunities to match, while Epsilons are at the bottom, performing rote jobs. Moods are controlled by a pill called Soma, while monogamy is outlawed – orgies are the order of the day.
Bernard Marx (Harry Lloyd) and Lenina Crowne (Jessica Brown Findlay), are classified as Alpha and Beta respectively. They take a trip to what was once the United States – a degraded part of Earth now known as the Savage Lands – and inadvertently find themselves caught up in a dangerous rebellion by its citizens. After being rescued by a local called John the Savage (Ehrenreich), Bernard and Lenina are joined by this outsider in their return trip to New London. John’s presence threatens to upend this carefully constructed reality.
This is the premise of Brave New World, then, but that’s actually several episodes’ worth of plot. The show is fairly methodical in piecing all of that together – it takes its time to introduce all the characters and set the scene of this world. You don’t need to be familiar with Huxley’s work to enjoy the series. The show elegantly explains how the world works so you can understand its rules as you go.
“Fortunately, the idea of the caste system is very simple, and Huxley even goes further and color codes everyone, which we didn’t do to quite the same extent,” Morrison says. “But I think it’s pretty easy to understand the basic ladder from the alphas down to the Epsilons – it’s pretty easy for everyone to get.”
“We can understand in terms of our own culture, the Alphas are the brainboxes and the scientists and the politicians, let’s say, and then below that, we have a class of Betas who are almost like the party class. They would be the James Bond girls and the Love Island guys. The Deltas are the kind of white-collar class who do the office work. The Gammas are then the Bob the Builder and Phil the plumber [types], and below that, you have the Epsilons who do the dirty work.
“It was really easy to map that onto things that people can see in their own world, where we do have a kind of stratified structure like that, but it isn’t quite as hive-like as Huxley makes it out. It’s a very elegant structure as it is, and I think we can all understand the different levels in a very simple way.”
It’s not really a show about good and bad people, as such, but rather how each character is morphed by the world around them. The Bernard Marx character is a highlight of the show – he’s stiff and not very likable, but he’s got an inferiority complex despite being ranked Alpha in this society and feels the drug-induced spell of New London beginning to wear off.
We ask Morrison how his particular touches as a writer manifest in a show like Brave New World. “Comics is kind of like being in a band, where there’s just a couple of you, and it’s a very pure signal. With television, it’s more like being in a football team. But the good thing about that is that everybody contributes their own skills and their own strengths.”
“So for me, it was like being the center forward or the left-back in the team: I could those elements of the big ideas and the science fiction and where to push characters and what to bring out. But [showrunner] David Wiener came in, and he has the background of a playwright, and he’d done a bunch of Walking Dead stuff. So he had a completely new way of looking at it, which kind of got us off the launchpad. And then he put together an amazing writing team.”
Of the 11 writers working on Brave New World, eight were women, Morrison says – including a cosmologist. That helped get an end result that no individual writer could muster.
Will there be a season 2?
Arkham Asylum 2?
(Image credit: DC Comics)
Back in 2017, Grant Morrison revealed he was working on a sequel to the Arkham Asylum graphic novel with his Batman collaborator Chris Burnham. We asked Morrison if it’s still happening, after a few quiet years of development.
“Not at the moment,” Morrison says. “I kind of wrote 26 pages of it, and it got shelved because the television work was taking up so much time. But again, I never say never because I think [those] 26 pages were pretty good. And I did enjoy doing a short story with Chris Burnham, the artist, recently [in Detective Comics 1027]. And it gave me the taste again because he was going to draw the second Arkham Asylum, too. But no, I had a story – it’s very, very, very different from the original book. It was more of a Philip K. Dick thing. It’s still there. It’s still one of these things that may happen.”
We ask Morrison if there are plans for a season 2 of Brave New World, now that the show has rolled out in the US and internationally. “There have been murmurings, but nothing concrete, as far as I know right now,” he says. “But the audience seems to really like it, so I’m sure something will happen with that. And we did obviously set things up so that we could move into a second season, and also move beyond the book as well, because Huxley’s book ends quite definitively. And this one has given us the option to stay open and throw a few threads out.”
In the meantime, Morrison has other TV work in the pipeline – including an adaptation of another of his own comics, The Invisibles, which was first discussed a few years ago. “I’m currently working on The Invisibles, which is kind of the big one. And I’ve been hoping to do that for a long time. So yeah, I’m working on developing that for TV right now.” Morrison says he’s several drafts into writing the first episode.
We ask Morrison which TV shows he finds inspiring. “I’ve always been a fan of television. Before I got into comics, I wanted to be a television dramatist of all things because I was so much a fan of Dennis Potter back in the day, so I came from that. I loved all the stuff that was on British television in the 1970s and 80s. I thought it was really radical and progressive.” If you’re not familiar with Potter’s work, he’s best known for UK favorites like The Singing Detective and Blue Remembered Hills.
“And in more recent times, I’ve always loved Doctor Who, and I particularly loved when Steven Moffat was writing Doctor Who,” Morrison continues. “Because again, he’s a very meticulous writer who constructs these beautiful puzzle boxes of plot. More recently, I really loved Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You, which to me was up there with Potter as some of the best stuff I think I’ve ever seen in television for a long, long time.”
How come no one has asked Morrison to write an episode of Doctor Who, given his history of inventive storytelling with big ideas? “Well, it kind of did happen. I did pitch a couple, but it didn’t work out. One of these days, I’ve got a whole season worked out, so I’m sure it’ll happen eventually.”
All episodes of Brave New World are available 2 October on Sky One and NOW TV.