Book Club / a Seemingly Bottomless Commodity

All Star Superman

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant






Is Superman Marxist? Why is he pulling a lever in the heart of the Sun? And how best can we escape our reality? The London Graphic Novel goes up, up and away with everyone’s favourite superhero (Batwho?) and wrestles with such weighty concepts as corporate comics, fictional constructs and T-Shirt design… 

 

“You look at the people who created those characters, and they’re all dead. But the characters will still be around in 50 years probably – at least the best of them will. So I try not to concern myself with that. These are deals made in times before I was even born. I can say from experience that young creative people tend to sell rights to things because they want to get noticed. They want to sell their work and to be commercial. Then when they grow up and get a bit smarter, they suddenly realize it maybe wasn’t so good and that the adults have it real nice. [Laughs] But still, it’s kind of the world. I wouldn’t want to comment on that because it was something I wasn’t around for. I can’t tell why they decided to do what they did. Obviously Bob Kane came in at the same age and got a very different deal and profited hugely from Batman’s success. So who knows? They were boys of the same age, but maybe some of them were more keen to sell the rights than others. It all just takes a different business head.”

 
– Grant Morrison talking about the creators of Superman – writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster – in this Comic Book Resources interview.
 
So let me try and keep this short (for once). 
 
And we're all we've got
 
 
Here are three conflicting thoughts I have about All Star Superman:
 
1. It’s a really totally (very much so) top notch comic. It’s probably the best Superman comic ever written (the only other contenders I can think of are; Superman: Red Son, Superman: Secret Identity and Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow – none of which aren’t even “real” Superman stories and – well yeah: For The Man Who Has Everything: but that’s only like 30 pages long): but seems like damning with faint praise – so let’s go bigger: it’s one of the best comics I’ve ever read. It’s one of those things where it’s like listening to a great album and you’ll just get to bits where it’s like a great song – or even just a great bit of a song (I mean: I could start listing the bits of ASS that stick in my head: but like I said – I’m trying to keep this short). 
 
2. Stories have a life expectancy. And most of the time – you tell a story and it’s done. What capitalism (hi capitalism!) does which is kinda strange (you know: amongst a million other things) is create this state – most evident with superhero comics – but also with other stuff as well: where they keep telling the same story again and again and again and again with just a few minor changes here and there. I mean – I’ve got caught up in this stuff I’ll admit (have you read Brian Michael Bendis’ Daredevil arc? It’s freaking amazing): but yeah – it’s not right. Especially when a more – well – “natural” state of affairs would be letting characters go and providing space for new stories to be told. I mean – it’s like if Pride and Prejudice was still being printed with new chapters today. It’s kinda weird. But then – well: money. Which brings us to: 
 
3. The guys who made Superman (Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster) got screwed over. And just to be really simplistic about it: Superman has made – what? – billions upon billions of pounds/dollars/whatever: and – hey: if that cash wasn’t going to them – who was it going to? I mean: I think it’s pretty obvious that Superman has made a lot of people very wealthy. But: erm – who are they? (well – the publishers obviously: but yeah – if this stuff interests you then I’d recommend reading Men Of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book: but that is a whole other story…). 
 
But hey: what do the rest of you guys think? Superman yay? Or Superman boo? 

 

 

Seeing as we’re starting with Morrison’s opinion on comicbookmen as businessmen first, artists second, I’m gonna start by levelling both barrels at him.

Several thoughts here:

– Grant Morrison is the exact definition of “sell-out fuck”. A man who preened his image as the enfant terrible of comics, who wrote joke stories on his website of “Blair raped by junkie, gets AIDS”, and generally portrayed himself as the rebel without a cause. And then went and accepted an OBE from the Queen…

– Mark Miller, his former protege and now rival, is far better at the money-making and self-promotion thing than Morrison is. Which makes his (very unfair and unsympathetic) slight against Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster all the more ironic. Miller is canny enough to write spec scripts for comics than will never run beyond issue 1, because he knows a film studio will buy up the rights straight away. He’s also had several stories converted into major Hollywood films; and when that hasn’t worked (as with Kick-Ass), its been produced independently and sold back to the very studios who first spurned it. Morrison has never got a single film project off the ground. Even The Invisibles (optioned by BBC Scotland, as a competitor to BBC Wales’ Dr Who), never got off the ground (which is a real shame to be honest, the first few scripts were posted on Morrison’s website and looked good). So I find the defence of his employer’s ruthlessness a bit feeble really.

– All-Star Superman is a beautiful comic. It looks wonderful, it reads brilliantly. All the reveals (Clark shows his secret identity), the beats (Lois & Clark kissing on the moon), the action (rescues on the surface of the sun; prison riots), the characterisation (Luther: “what’s this secret code? You’ll never stop me. I’ll crack it in 5 mins” Clark: “Its shorthand”) are spot-on. It is the quintessential and timeless portrayal of Superman. 

 Trust Me 
 
Which brings me to Morrison’s excellent and very apt dissection of Superman – and why I’m voting Superman Yay! and not Superman Boo:
 
“We’ve deconstructed all our icons. We know politicians are lying assholes, we know soap stars are coke freaks, handsome actors are tranny weirdos and gorgeous supermodels are bulimic, neurotic wretches. We know our favorite comedians will turn out to be alcoholic perverts or suicidal depressives. Our reality shows have held up a scalding mirror to our yapping baboon faces and cheesy, obvious obsessions, our trashy, gossipy love of trivia and dirt.
 
We know we’ve fucked up the atmosphere and doomed the lovely polar bears and we can’t even summon up the energy to feel guilty anymore. Let the pedophiles have the kids. There’s nowhere left to turn and no one left to blame except, paradoxically, those slightly medieval guys without the industrial base. What’s left to believe in? The only truly moral, truly goodhearted man left is a made-up comic book character! The only secular role models for a progressive, responsible, scientific-rational Enlightenment culture are … Kal-El of Krypton, aka Superman and his multicolored descendants. 
 
So we chose not to deconstruct the superhero but to take him at face value, as a fiction that was trying to tell us something wonderful about ourselves. Somewhere, in our darkest night, we made up the story of a man who will never let us down and that seemed worth investigating.
 
 
 

 

A few thoughts about working for Marvel/DC, as stolen from a Canadian friend who was trying to add a bit of clarity to my rant about Chip Zdarsky’s inability to say the name of Howard the Duck’s “original creator”:
 
(1) In corporate comic, everyone is a scab because there is no union.
 
(2) In corporate comics, no one can be a scab because there is no union.
 
 
What to make, then, of Morrison’s dedication to superheroes, his attempts to imbue them with some sort of positivist power of their own, to try and find transcendent meaning in a series of commercially dictated genre tropes and characters that were sacrificed to them? When presented straight, in Supergods, this stuff feels as silly and desperate as it is, like an attempt to put a fresh golden frame around a thrice-stolen turd in the hope of selling it on eBay again. But in All Star Superman? Not so much. The sales pitch here is a lot more successful.
 
I’m was being dumb and scatological there, for sure, but the emphasis on framing is appropriate. This is Grant Morrison’s most carefully crafted book, the one he says that he “wrote for the ages”:
 
It’s the one that comic fans really like. They like that, you know, that architecture… It’s literary, it’s not like a live performance. Like, you read The Invisibles a hundred times and it’s different a hundred times. If you read All Star Superman a hundred times you just understand it more.
 

In other words, as I think he’s said elsewhere, it’s his Alan Moore comic: twelve issues, immaculately constructed as a hall of mirrors instead of Watchmen’s inkblot test, with Superman wrestling with other versions himself issue after issue as he works hard to deal with the aftermath of his own murder.

In issue #3, Sampson introduces the idea of Superman completing “12 super challenges” before his death, and while trying to work out what these challenges are provides the reader with a hook this comment is more telling for its focus on the level of effort involved both within the story and in its creation. This is the book, after all, that starts with a three-panel origin story, then launches straight into a double page spread in which Superman flies into the sun to save the day.  In other words, this version of Superman is no sooner born into this world than he is put to work to save it.

The remainder of the story follows suit, with our hero working at least two jobs as Superman and Clark Kent, maybe even more if you count looking after the museum/zoo that is The Fortress of Solitude, and working as a scientist – these latter two duties fill his time when he takes Lois Lane back to his gaff for a post-death sentence date. 

This is where Frank Quitely and Jaimie Grant come in, because for all that this version of Superman spends the whole story in motion, the effort rarely shows. Here’s an exemplary All Star Superman panel:   

Tell Me Straight

In Frank Quitely’s previous work with Morrison and Grant on We3, he allowed the details of the environment to interrupt the procession of panels, giving every page turn a sense of latent chaos and danger. In All Star Superman, by contrast, Quitely’s composition is calm and steady throughout, with his unfussy page-long panels creating a feeling of steadiness and solidity that is given depth by Grant’s immaculate lighting.  Quitely’s Superman rarely looks like he’s straining himself – as in the above image, you get a sense of his force from the effect he has on the world around him more than from the posture of the figure himself. That’s why it’s the scientists on the furthest edges of the frame who show the most reaction to Superman’s herculean efforts: those closest to him can see only the calm of the man himself, so they share in his assured sense that he is at one with his labour.

 

This is what makes the trip to the “underverse” in issue #8 so disturbing. For the space of a whole issue, we are presented with a version of Superman whose efforts seem futile, whose companions reflect his own blatant absurdity, and whose physical form seems to be coming apart in front of our eyes.  Quitely’s line work takes on an itchy, ragged quality; there seem to be more lines in Superman’s face here than there were before, and none of them are so clean and certain as we might have come to expect. In episode 8, US DO OPPOSITE, the reality of death is suddenly inescapable:

 
Are We Almost Done 
 
Superman may escape from this reality, but he is unable to bring Zibarro with him; again, there are limits on what he can achieve in this plane of existence, just as there are in ours. 
 
On both sides of that little trip to hell, Morrison, Quitely and Grant work to imbue Siegel and Shuster’s creation with a sense of meaning and purpose, portraying him as a man who is able to work for the benefit of others even while facing the reality of his.  Death happens to all of us, and work to most, but if few of us use the knowledge of the former to motivate us to do so much good for others then we may at least console ourselves with the fact that we’re better able to manage our romantic lives.  
 
Unable to return Superman to his creators, the workers hired to toil on this particular version of Superman imagine an endless, looping fantasy wherein he is both created by and the creator of those who gave him life:
 
Change Everything 
 
If Morrison’s rhetoric about Superman being “our greatest ever idea as a species” can be read as an act of complicit erasure of the character’s creators, this sequence from All Star Superman #10 is a more successful synthesis of hyperbole and reality. Here, the character’s origins in this world are recognised as part of the attempt to make them more than mere product. 
 
But is this not merely a more effective form of marketing, one that provides the sharp-eyed, clear-headed reader with vision of work made good that is so beautiful as to convince them of what they know to be untrue?  I’m voting “Superman boo!”, then, because I don’t want to feel like I’ve been fooled and because most of us are more like Siegel and Shuster than we are like the people who currently own their creation.

At the same time, if this one comic isn’t quite beautiful enough to bring about a world in which our products are only so many mirrors in which we see our essential nature reflected and reflecting, it nevertheless succeeds in suggesting the possibility of such a world.

Another exemplary panel then, in which our hero takes up his place as an eternal labourer at the heart of the sun:
 
Superman Sun
 

It’s an ambiguous image, in which Quitely’s Superman is frozen in the heigh of his power and confidence, servicing human need both inside the story and outside of it, but yet also unnaturally suspended, a #brand that just can’t won’t die. Faced with this, how can I do anything else but vote Superman Yay! as well?  What can I say, I’ve got a Superman t-shirt and sometimes I wear it to both ask myself why we do so little with the capabilities we have, and to remind myself – as if I truly need reminding – of the ignoble nature or so much of our work.

We'll Think of Something

 

Maybe we’ll finally get it right this time, or maybe it’ll just be another day in the office, but either way I’ll see you all later…IN THE NEXT EPISODE!  


 

I’m supposed to be on holiday (climbing mountains in Scotland for some godforsaken reason) but after reading David’s email (thanks David!): I couldn’t resist writing a quick thing so:

 
I guess my big question is: with all this talk of work and labour and all the rest (not to mention the fact that my holiday book is The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin which is all like anarchy and stuff (mixed with science-fiction because of course)): is Superman a Marxist superhero? Like: yeah yeah – obviously back in the day he was all about punching crooked business guys and etc (if anyone else wants to get into the early history of Superman: then hey – go for it): but he’s come along way since then…
 
Of course: maybe the question is meaningless – Superman is at the point where’s an almost more abstract symbol than character (something that ASS does a lot to correct): but hell – isn’t he the kinda guy that could be co-opted by both the right-wing and the left-wing. He’s pure force and power ready to destroy anything that gets in the way but he’s also a force for good and yadda yadda yadda. 
 
I was one of those cry babies that came out of Man of Steel whining that snapping a guy’s neck “isn’t what Superman is all about” – but maybe I got it wrong? Maybe Superman can be about anything that anyone wants him to?  
 
But then but then: well – “our hero takes up his place as an eternal labourer at the heart of the sun” – there’s a part of that gets me someone deep inside both my heart and my brain (even if I kinda have issues with the panel itself: as it’s the one point I guess where ASS moves from the real to the mystic – you know: because I like my flying guys with capes to be more realistic and stuff?).
 
Superman = beyond yay and boo maybe? 
 
Also: well – if all you crazy socialist marxist utopian types were looking for a new rallying cry. 

Then well: “Like. it’s all just us, in here together. And we’re all we’ve got.” would look really good on a T-shirt. 
 
Just saying. 

 

I think the question of whether Superman could be a Marxist hero is complicated twice over. Firstly, by the conditions in which he’s published, which allow Superman to be anything (including a communist, complete with a furry-hatted Batman to butt heads with) but only in a way that doesn’t damage the long term appeal of the franchise. [1]

 
Secondly, you have the question of how he operates within the reality of his world. While Superman could fight for a form of justice that would be pleasing to those on the left, he’ll still be exercising asymmetrical power – while “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” might sound like it would be applicable in a socialist society powered by Superman, you’ve got to question whether the proletariat could ever really be said to own the means of production when the means of production is a single, near-indestructible god man. [2] 
 
Grant Morrison’s no Marxist, but he’s aware enough of this issues at work here to have tried to work out two solutions to this in the endings for All Star Superman and his run on JLA


JLA superman
In JLA he attempts a solution to the problem that works within the confines of the story, with all of humanity being given Superman’s powers so that we can work together to save the world. I don’t have the issues to hand at the moment, but the rhetoric involved is very similar to the speech Lex gives from the peak of his rapture: “This is how Superman feels, it’s why he wants to save us.”    
 
In All Star Superman, meanwhile, the solution is to abstract Superman, to have him complete the transition from the real to the mystic, as you put it.
 
Regardless of how well these solutions sit with you, they’re both complicated by the realities of commercial franchise work.  The world in which EVERYONE is brought up to Superman’s level (i.e. where they own the means of superheroic production) can’t last in JLA because the next creative team will want to start from a more typical set-up. [3] In All Star Superman, meanwhile, this poetic invocations of “the gold in us” doubles as a reminder of Superman’s status as a seemingly bottomless commodity, separated from his real world connections both on the page (Lois) and outside of it (Siegel/Shuster).   
 
Could Superman be a Marxist hero, then? Hell, it’s possible, but he’ll never JUST be that. 
 
 
[1] For all that he annoyed people like me and you who have a sense of what Superman would and wouldn’t do, the murderous Man of Steel iteration clearly has some longevity in this regard. Or at least, the neck-snapping isn’t going to be the thing that forces the reboot.
 
[2] Thankfully a decade and a half spent writing about comics has prepared me for the sheer ridiculousness of the argument I find myself making here: a lesser man would have buckled with laughter halfway through typing that sentence. 
 
[3] Imagine the planet wide comedown from this story. For a short space of time, everyone on the planet had access to unimaginable power and to a deep, cosmic perspective that makes our limited worldview seem laughably small. Then everything goes back to normal. Everyone goes back to work, or to unemployment; to cheerfully mediocre lives and massively successful ones, neither of which will now seem to be quite so fulfilling as they once did. I’ve got to imagine that the suicide rates were pretty high that year.  
 
 
 

 

I was going to leave this for someone else: but seeing how no one else has picked up on it yet: does anyone want to talk about the Leo Quintum is Lex Luthor theory? (The first time I heard it – it ticked me so much that I was giggling for days). 

Leopold
Haven’t actually had the time to sit down and read ASS yet: but wanted to toss out a few questions for the rest of you: 
 
1. Why does everyone love Batman more than Superman? I mean: that new Zack Snyder film that’s coming out next year that maybe you heard about? Wasn’t it supposed to be a Man of Steel sequel? I mean: surely this is the first time that a character has been pushed out to the edges by someone else in their sequel? It’d be like if the Terminator sequel was Robocop vs Terminator: Dawn of Robots and the only real glimpse you got of the Terminator was it holding up a Russian rocket or whatever and the rest was all just Robocop Robocop Robocop. I mean yeah – ok: I get why Batman gets a lot of love: we already talked about all that before with the Dark Knight Return: but come on – is there nothing left for the Big Boy Scout? 
 
2. Or – is it because you know: the only characters we like now are the dark ones? (So much so: well: did any of you see this? Altho – I did do a big LOL at the idea that if only Man of Steel has been colour-corrected to be lighter than it would have been a better movie. Because yeah – sure: the only thing that makes a film good or bad is the darkness of the screen rather than say – I don’t know: everything else). But yeah – I guess the point still comes through tho: it would have / would be nice to have a version of Superman that was bright and cheerful and made you feel better about yourself and the world… Except – ha – oops: THERE’S ALREADY ALL STAR SUPERMAN. 
 
3. Everyone else loves All Star Superman right? 
 
 
 

 

Here are some thoughts. Sorry for spelling mistakes, rambling, and general nonsense.

Here are my quick thoughts on Superman:

I love Superman.

He was a boy who grew up on a farm, with friends and family. Like any fairly normal kid. He was raised with good moral values, like we all are, and had a stable positive relationships to support him, like most people do.

Coming from a background like that would generally create a fairly well put together individual.

Most people have some sort of insecurity that fuels their ‘dark side’ and negative thoughts. Having good upbringing and stable relationships helps to steer you away from that darkness.

Clark was raised with a level of heightened awareness and super perception that allowed him to literally see how humans work. He spent his childhood believing he was human, and doing everything he could to blend in with them.

He is an expert at human behaviour, the limitations of the human form, and understands why people do what they do.

Due to al of this, the types of things that would make humans feel insecure, Clark is largely immune to. Negative actions people do are usually born from some sort of deeper insecurity they have that isn’t prevented from developing with the aid of positive relationships in their lives.

Superman grew up as a human, living a human life, had human relationships, and is an overall expert of humanity. Like all human, he helps out whenever he can when it wouldn’t be detrimental to himself. It’s just a natural thing we all do. Not because we’re all great people. It’s just a normal thing to do. At the very least, you would feel guilty for not helping in a situation where you could but don’t.

The fact that he probably cannot be harmed by anything on earth, means that he probably feels like he has no excuse but to help out more often in situations where it would be dangerous for mere mortals to do so.

There's always a way 

So at this point, we establish Superman has put himself in a position where he is essentially a peace keeping helper of sorts. He’s similar to a police officer, fireman, teacher, or even librarian. He’s made it his job to help out people within his jurisdiction using he specialised skills.

Anyone in this position also makes it their responsibility to present an image that the people within their domain should look up to. A children’s librarian would put on a persona of positive authority for the children to look up to. They would present themselves as a good guy, and try to make sure the children follow their example. Teachers do the same. Police to do same too. Superman is no different.

He’s not an overly goody boy scout. He’s just a good guy who is acting as a hero for the public, so presents himself in a good light.

Now Superman’s only insecurity is the fact that he’s afraid he can’t save everyone. Neil Gaiman wrote a green lantern issue where Superman was in hell briefly, and his experience was the fact that he could hear a countless number of people crying to for help. More people than he could imagine. And he couldn’t help any of them.

Here are my quick thoughts on Lex Luthor:

I love Lex Luthor.

I’m sure if Lex had a favourite superhero, it would be Superman.

 
Superman made me do it 

Which is why he hates him so much. Because he loves the idea of Suerman as much as I do. But Lex’s insecurities got the better of him, meaning that he hates Superman because he’s an alien.

If Superman could do everything he could already do, yet was human, Lex wouldn’t have a problem with him.

Lex obviously didn’t have stable home life or any positive relationships. He’s too smart for his own good and grew up thinking he was alone in the universe. He had nobody to fall back on but himself.

So Lex just went through life believing he was better than everybody else and nobody could help him. Like anyone, he also wants to make a difference and do something significant with his life for himself and the world if possible.

Him being so smart meant he could help the world easier than the average person could. But because he’s not a good person at heart, he schemes and uses people to move himself forward.

He thinks of the future of the world as a whole, but he doesn’t care about the people.

Superman wants to save the people, but has no interest in improving the world as a whole himself. He believes the people should have the opportunity to save create a better future for themselves. Superman will just help them along the way.

Lex will do whatever it takes to create a better world, no matter who gets in his way. And he believes that Superman is detrimental to the advancement of the human race due to being unrealistic and overpowered. He believes people can’t strive to be superman because he’s a fantasy.

But Lex doesn’t understand Superman, which is why he is wrong. Lex doesn’t understand that Superman is Clark Kent. Clark is the perfect representation of what a human could be, but because Lex doesn’t know that Superman is Clark Kent, he cannot see why the same logic applies to Superman. In fact, he’s blinded by his hatred for Superman that he can’t even put together this very simple puzzle.

off the top of my head, at the end of All-Star Superman when Lex briefly gets Superman’s powers and see’s the world as Clark does, he reaches enlightenment and see’s the truth behind it all. He see’s connections between everything that he couldn’t notice before and realizes why Superman does what he does. He see’s that Superman isn’t a egotistical fantasy. He see’s that he is a guy who see’s the bigger picture and does his part to help how he can. So briefly Lex did understand the point of Superman, without having to find out about Clark Kent origin, but perhaps he also realized the Superman was Clark after that. We dunno.

I should be writing these
 

I’m not really sure if i should keep going and I dunno what I’m saying anymore so I’ll stop. Next time i’ll review the actual book.

But briefly on Batman:

 
Bruce grew up always getting what he wanted. He was rich and a prince of his own kingdom. His parents were good people so he was raised with good morals too though, like Clark.
 
But losing his parents was traumatic for Bruce because it was the first time he didn’t get what he wanted. He grew up not having a stable home life or having healthy friendships or relationships due to being so rich that he lived alone in a house far too big for him, and went to school with snobby rich people.
 
Alfred looked after him, but clearly only did enough to keep him alive. Bruce feels like Alfred is family and is close to him, but Alfred gave Bruce too much freedom perhaps. 
 
Meanwhile Bruce grew up hating criminals and hating crime and doing everything he could to learn about how to stop bad guys.
 
As soon as Bruce was old enough to inherit his money, he left on a globe hopping journey across the world doing god knows what. Ninja training and stuff. Then he got it into his head that he should become a vigilante and beat up criminals.
 
Bruce is crazy.  But he’s still a good guy at heart.
 
So now he is a crazy ninja detective who beats up criminals in alleyways.
 
He’s more interested in stopping bad guys, than saving good guys. He’s like the opposite of Superman.
 
Instead of using his billions of dollars to clean up the streets, and literally build a better world. He builds bat suits, bat cars, bat planes, and bat stuff to beat up bad guys with.
 
Okay i’ll stop.
 
 
 

 

Reactions what’s been said above:

Suspect David will be waiting a long time for (deep breath) a comic beautiful enough to bring about a world in which our products are only so many mirrors in which we see our essential nature reflected and reflecting. Likewise suspect that ‘suggesting the possibility of such a world’ is quite narrow criteria for judging whether a character or comic is yay-worthy. But perhaps I’m misunderstanding…
 

Kinda want Joel to give me a number on the “natural” life-expectancy of stories. By my rough calculations the Jesus myth has been going strong for around 1,700 years. Yesterday I went to see a play written 400 years ago. Both “unnatural”? Granted, these aren’t examples of a single narrative continuity (superheroes are a bit like soap operas in this respect), but I would argue the urge to retell stories predates the current mode of production and gets at something deeper about ourselves than the profit motive.

Also: this is partly what All-Star Supes is about, no? Not sure if Morrison uses the analogy himself, but superheroes have been described as modern myths. Just realised while writing this that the Roger Lancelyn Green retellings of Robin Hood, King Arthur etc I read as a child rather nicely highlight the proto-superheroic nature of the source material – the same cast of characters in the same setting going off to have adventures and coming together in world-historical crossovers. My sense is that Morrison is in that myths and legends headspace. For example the second issue feels to me like a retelling of the Bluebeard fairy-tale (albeit with a benevolent twist). Likewise issue 5 seems to have a Dante’s Inferno flex – Kent being shown around hell by a demented Virgil before being carted off by an scary S&M Beatrice (or maybe that’s just me seeing things that aren’t there).

The point of that simulation in issue 10 was to show that if Superman didn’t exist we would have to invent him, and in fact have been inventing different versions of him (e.g. that panel of Nietzsche’s Superman) throughout history. The premise being that people create their gods as symbols of what they themselves aspire to be (some more German philosophy about that here). My sense is that there’s a religion to science move in the final issue – Lois believes that one day Superman willreturn, while Leo Quintum goes off to try and solve the problems of the universe on his own. Maybe Quintum isn’t just Luthor (first time I’ve seen that theory and like it a lot!), but the Superman of the future. That is to say: the representation of our collective 21st century aspirations.

 

If Ilia is incorrect to say that I will be waiting a long time for such a comic, that is only because it will never exist.  As I wrote elsewhere“To expect a Batman comic to end or vastly improve capitalism would be to sprint way past optimism and off into the land of make-believe. To expect it to cast strange shadows on the world it exists in is to dwell on the further edges of the optimistic: it’s not necessarily a sensible expectation, but there are plenty of comics out there that prove that it’s not entirely absurd.”

 
This would be Superman’s 13th impossible task. I’m not holding my breath for him to solve it any time soon.
 
Ilia is also correct that to note that making this impossible quality the sole criteria for judging a comic or character would be strange and unusual. Thankfully, my Superman Yay! was explicitly a celebration of the way that All Star Superman embodies both the desire for such a world and the (worldly) knowledge of its impossibility, and implicitly for the great craft involved in making this tension look easy on the page – I can’t say it loudly enough, everyone involved in this comic did some of their best work here!
 
The mythic resonances of the stories are well noted, and the idea that the last issue represents a move from the religious to the scientific is properly full-on intriguing. For me, the question is how we square that with Lex Luthor’s pantomime performance of smug, materialist arrogance, as described by Marc Singer here:
 
“The second half of the series highlights Superman’s capacity to inspire people, even (especially) as a purely fictional character.  It’s the only power he has in our benighted world, and Morrison believes it’s the most important one he’s got.  In fact, he says that if Superman did not exist, we would have to invent him (simply returning a favor, since Superman thoughtfully created us back in issue #10, March 2008; mark your calendars).  That’s why the finale pits him against an antagonist who disputes the very idea that fictions and abstractions can hold real power, as seen in this exchange from issue #12:
WHITE:  The truth sent you to the chair, Luthor!
LUTHOR:  Is that right, Mister White?  Funny, I don’t see the truth anywhere around, do you?  I mean, what color is it?  Can I touch it?
Luthor mocks White’s dedication to abstract principle, confronting him with the truth’s immateriality, because he’s a materialist to the extreme.  He says the priest at his execution “stinks of the irrational” and his niece proclaims “This is Science Year Zero!”–next I suppose they’ll be rewriting the calendar.  This scorn for idealism confirms Luthor’s stature as the series archvillain, especially since a hallucinatory Jor-El (himself part of “the field of living, fluid consciousness”) has just told his son he has given us humans “an ideal to aspire to, embodied [our] highest aspirations.””
 
Sorry for the long quote, I just didn’t think I could express it any better myself.
 
Thankfully, I think Ilia has already suggested the answer to this question by noting that Quintum is both Superman and Luthor – a figure capable of aspiring to ideals and in working in the world to attain them.  
 
That the last page is capable of sustaining both this reading and my interpretation of it as an acknowledgement of the comic’s reality as a product is testament to the subtle complexity of the comic. At the risk of invoking another pop culture franchise, there’s more to it than meets the eye.
 
 
 
 

 

Don’t really have much to say about this.  I found it very unengaging despite the lovely art and colouring.
 
Instead I’ll point you to this, my favourite Superman tale, a touching short story you can read in its entirety here online.  It’s similar to the bit in all star when Superman helps the girl in despair but I think it handles it much better, sketching out a believable person, rather than just an event to show how wonderful superman is
 
 
It’s by Paul Chadwick (creator of Concrete) and captures the essence of what I most like about the character, basically the ‘Space Jesus’ stuff, (which Christopher Reeve was also very good at…)
 
 
 

 

Tam – I know quite a few people who have that response to All Star Superman, actually. As you’ll have gathered from my attempts to wax rhapsodic on the subject, that’s not my take, but I think I can understand it. It feels a lot cleaner than my favourite comics tend to, not so much in the absence of quality swearing as in the seemingly simple, fable like construction of the individual episodes and the careful arrangement of the mega-plot.

I love that Paul Chadwick strip too, mind. As you say, it explores some of the same themes in a very different manner. It’s more grounded, to the extent that a comic with Superman in it can be. Still broad brush stuff in the scale of things, but it manages to achieve some finer details along the way.

A few more thoughts on science and idealism in All Star Superman

As sneering, Kryptonian hard cases Lila and Bar-El note in issue #9, Superman is a scientist’s son. What to make, then, of Quintum as a replacement Superman? What’s his purpose? What does he have that Superman doesn’t?

Think back to Lex Luthor complaining about the fact that Superman doesn’t age at  in issue #1. More specifically, to his comment about the lines that have started to appear in his mirror image.

Man in the Mirror

If, as I’ve suggested – and as Marc Singer argues in greater detail at that link I shared in my last email – All Star Superman presents Superman with a series of reflections of himself, it’s worth noting that Lex sets him off on this journey by making him mortal.

 

I don’t want to make too much of this point, but I keep coming back to those moments where Quietly and Grant give us a Superman who shows the wear of the world on him. I’m thinking of the Underverse story again, of course, but also of the Superman in issue #11 (I think?) who slumps in his chair recording his final thoughts.

 

Luthor might lose in the end – worse, might actually get a chance to see things from Superman’s perspective – but he manages to put some lines on Superman’s face along the way. With a little bit of help from Frank Quitely, he briefly forces Superman to confront what he might look like if he was truly of this world.

 

This is all getting a bit Jesus again, especially given that Superman ends the story by becoming more otherworldly and miraculous than before. What role did Lex Luthor play in the bible again? It’s been a while since I read it, and anyway I only really liked some of those early issues, where they had the good inker.

Space Jesus

 
 

So, given that I was supposed to be talking about Leo Quintum, where does he fit into this scheme? Unlike Lex, he’s able to see Superman as something to aspire to, rather than as something to bring down. Unlike Superman, he doesn’t need to be brought low to face the prospect of such crushing defeat, as is not yet at risk of sublimation. Grant Morrison is perhaps a bit too fond of William Blake-derived, “without contraries is no progression” style rhetoric, but it might be applied here as something other than an excuse for ineffectual confusion.

What does Quintum has that Superman doesn’t? Well, he’s one of us, and as we’re told at the climax of the Luthor/Superman battle, we’re all we’ve got.

Has anyone monetised that t-shirt idea yet?

 

Tari – I really liked what you wrote. It kinda made me realise that yeah when you’re a kid Batman is basically the be-all-and-end-all of all things cool and Superman is all – urg – Superlame: but that part of growing up and maturing (well – hopefully) is maybe realising that the whole DARKNESS NO PARENTS routine is well like you said: kinda crazy while Superman’s relaxed happy no insecurities dude routine is yeah – well – something to aspire to. (Like I’m tempted to quote a large part of what you wrote Tari about the “Superman grew up as a human, living a human life, had human relationships, and is an overall expert of humanity” but – yeah – it’s up above: you can all just read it for yourselves…. 

Re: my little “natural” lifespan of stories idea: well – the point would be that the difference between Jesus and – ha – Romeo and Juliet (“If this was on tv – nobody would watch it“) is that both of those are contained stories. You know – they’re complete (I almost wrote they have a beginning, a middle and an end – but then was like oh yeah – THE MYTH OF 3 ACT STRUCTURE): but whatever – you get what I mean right?

While superheroes and Marvel and DC and etc (as others have pointed out before me): never have an end point and so – are never really complete. It’s be like if new parts of The Bible were still being written today (actually maybe that could work?) or – you know: if Romeo and Juliet didn’t really die but were replaced by 4 new Romeo and Juilets or whatever. Point being: there’s a difference between a story being a really good story that you can retell again and again (which – well – I guess is most Superhero origin stories which is one of the reasons why most superhero films tend to opt for that option) and a story that is forever “TO BE CONTINUED.” Because yeah – that’s the reason why most superhero comic fans get so upset by their superhero comic consumption – because they have these two conflicting impulses between everything staying exactly the same (the comfort of nostalgia blah blah blah) and also having a story that moves forwards (because that’s what a story is – change). Which is why you have to have all these reboots every so often where a wizard undoes your marriage and sends you back in time or whatever: because otherwises – well: isn’t Superman like over 75 years old now or something?

I mean – I’m not saying this to be mean or anything. Just that – well – if you’re a superhero comic fan: you’re basically committed to rolling a bounder up a hill and then letting it roll down again over and over and over again and yeah – you should basically just learn to be happy with it.  
 
Of course – what’s cool about ASS is that it’s all just one story (albeit in 2 volumes): (which reminds me of one of the most often asked questions I get asked at the Barbican Comic Forum: (someone holding up a comic) “Is this the whole story?”) which means that you don’t really get that problem and can just enjoy all the juicy goodness of the wicked fun. I mean – when you compare it to the rest of Grant Morrison’s output ASS is the book where he’s at his most reader friendly (I was almost tempted to say that maybe that’s to do with the artwork but then Morrison and Frank Quitely did Flex Mentallo (way before ASS) and it’s worth comparing the two just to see the difference between the approaches – I mean Flex Mentallo is a way cool comic – but it’s like the difference between drinking cider and apple juice – one of them is cool, refreshing and simple and the other is going to make head hurt the next day if you try to much of it). Although – well – as David and Ilia have shown (bonus points for this sentence – “a demented Virgil before being carted off by an scary S&M Beatrice”) is that yeah – wow – there are a whole host of complexities beneath the surface to uncover and unpick (and that’s so much my favourite kind of entertainment (which I think I mentioned when we did Holy Terror?) – if you want me to get stuck into the meanings and interpretation of how your book/film/whatever works – then you need to show me a good time before you do it… Right?). 
 
Does the last issue represent a move from the religious to the scientific? I mean – there’s that panel that I’m still conflicted on: 
Superman Sun

 

 

 

I mean – I’m pretty sure that’s not what the inside of the sun looks like. I mean – well (am I just saying this because David mentioned it above?) but it looks like the sort of thing William Blake used to draw (is that intentional?)

Maybe I would have preferred it if he was just punching the sun instead? Because – you know: punching things makes them better right?

 

Yeah, Tari’s comments were great and I really didn’t make enough of them when talking about Luthor vs. Superman. Off the back of your respective observations about Superman vs. Batman, here’s Neil Degrasse Tyson talking about what puts those characters in conflict:

 
I’ve always preferred Superman to Batman myself, and if I can’t honestly say that’s because Batman (mostly) conducts himself as an agent of the city while Superman (quite often) does his own thing that won’t stop me from saying it dishonestly in an attempt to sound clever.
 
With regards to Superman at the heart of the sun, there’s a lot of work to be done on how All Star Superman plays with the idea of creation and the creator with regards to art, science and god, but I might try to get paid for doing the real heavy lifting on that idea.  And hey, if you thought waiting for a comic to change the world was unrealistic, just wait until you see me dedicate the rest of my life to that daffy notion!
 
Nevertheless,  I think Joel’s seeing truly when he sees Blake in there..
 
Blake
 

…though it’s Blake doing propaganda for the worker’s revolution…

Workers Revolution 
 

…or perhaps it’s Blake doing Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times?

 

I see All Star kinda like a myth where a demi-god legendary hero is doing a series of trials in order to prove his divinity and earn his right to become a full on god god.
 
Maybe it sounds more scientific than fantastical just because it’s a science fiction character, not a magic character.
 
I like the idea that at the end of All Star, Superman transcended humanity and decided to do his job on another scale.
 
Superman is like a demi-god on earth. Close enough to humanity that he can be on Earth and make difference. But now after Lex’s interference, Superman has transcended to full on nigh-omnipotent god mode and needs to work on a larger scale within the sun.
 
But it’s still work. He’s made it his job.
 
I like the image of him in a heart pulling a lever. It’s to show that he’s still working. He’s not a god that just sits around passively. He’s actively working to save the world.
 
Superman Sun 
 

Like the book isn’t about his death, it’s about him transcending into a great super being of pure energy.

I love you Lois Lane 
 
His battle was lex was his final trial and his talk with Jor-El was essentially summing up his role in the future.
 
 

 

The one way Superman differs from all other Gods is that he is without Original Sin. Hercules does his tasks or ordeals to make up for killing his wife and family, Superman does what he does because, as Jesus of the Christ family is supposed to be, he loves us. Indeed, attempts to graft on some bad behaviour on his part (hello Geoff Johns and Zak Snyder) tend to fall dramatically flat, even before you turn to the legions of fanboys who guard his identity with a fervour that would make even the Pope go “Blimey guys, perhaps you should relax a bit?”.

This also appears to be a world without other heroes. Maybe Superman doesn’t admit to them what’s happening but I don’t think Wonder Woman, Batman, Green Lantern et al are even mentioned. There’s no Justice League. So perhaps there is just Superman, and Superman’s rogue gallery, and yet, a year later Metropolis appears to be okay, there’s been no slide into depravity with no Superman to stop the villains. Still, it’s a bit depressing to think that Lois Lane is going to spend the rest of her life waiting for Superman to return isn’t it? That sounds like it must be
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

I bet Zibarro’s voice sounds just like Morrissey. 

Beauty in a Sunset 
 
 

 

A lot has already been said. I doubt I can say anything that hasn’t already been said more eloquently but I will give my opinion anyway 😊
 
I admit I’m not the biggest Superman fan out there. I’ve always found him to be too much of a an idealist (almost said goody two-shoes).
 
This discussion has led me to like the man of steel a little bit more. I now appreciate the level of restraint he must exercise every single day. If you have to restrain yourself doing every day chores like dressing or getting into a car, I suppose it becomes easier to control your temper and stick to your “code” no matter how much you want to crush an enemy. I still think he’s naive, and makes some regretful choices,but he has his appeal. There are superheroes and supervillains to suiteveryone’s needs.
 
It’s been mentioned how Superman is more or less a god. His powers (especially after sun “poisoning”) certainly make a strong case for godhood. His character and the qualities he posses are also good reasons. By any definition Superman is good. Some might argue humans will worship deities far less benign. Church of Superman anyone?
 
The story emphasises these characteristics and even throws in the old “dying for their sins” angle to make him even more godly. He seemingly sacrifices himself so that humanity can continue to live (I say seemingly because he may have done it knowing there’s a way back for him. If that’s true he’s even adding omniscience to his bag of tricks). As if that isn’t enough, he even has a disciple, waiting for him. If you’re the kind of person who likes their heroes wholesome and pure, for whatever reason, then you’ll love superman. 
 
On the other side of the equation, is Lex. Blessed with immense intellect, wealth and a powerful body by human standards…he decides to do everything he can to destroy superman and the people who adore him out of Jealousy. Not an incredibly original narrative but let’s be honest, very few are. 
 
All star superman is a very good comic for so many reasons, as mentioned by others in this thread. The story is simple but told in rich and complex layers. Despite the presence of other interesting characters (like Quintum), to me it’s all about Lexand superman. 2 enemies engaged in combat, and although victorious, Lex is ultimately defeated. Perhaps that was the only real way superman could win. Killing Lex would mean he destroyed who he was and everything he stood for.
 
I particularly like that Lex experiencing what it’s like to be superman is what finally ends this struggle. Lois had the powers but not the mind required to “figure out everything”. Maybe she didn’t need to in order to realise what it means to be good or evil. A nice tidy ending. Lex may have even saved him… I like to think superman planned it that way. I don’t know of any other Superman comic that makes Superman so…super. 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s