All-Star Superman

I'm always slightly daunted by Grant Morrison comics, which are never as simple as they appear. For example, the second issue is overtly about Lois accepting Superman's secret, but its also a riff on the Bluebeard story -- Lois thinks she is going to be trapped and forced to make lots of superbabies, but in fact Superman offers empowerment. Now if you don't have your wits about you, you may miss these big things Morrison is talking about.

There is a lot to be impressed with here. The first issue has to set up everything in 21 pages, so the first page origin and the splash on the next two are brilliant at getting across everything you need to know. The way Morrison cuts between Superman, Lois and Luthor in that issue, and across two time continuums in the tenth, shows the control he can exert over a story.

My favourite issue is pretty linear, however -- number five, which looks at Luthor as interviewed by Clark Kent. What's interesting is that Luthor portrays himself as a revolutionary attempting to create a new human renaissance. For him, Superman defines the ideal, meaning that no one can establish any alternative values ('abstracts') while he lives. The sequence in which the prison walls become panels brings a whole meta-element into this. Luthor is trapped in a reality which does not allow for his genius to flourish. As he says himself: he is a born dictator, but Superman always stands in his way, ideologically as well as literally. And all of this is brilliantly undermined by the irony of Luthor complementing Kent on his bumbling humanity. The issue is framed by Kent visiting and leaving the prison, from the air and then under the ground, which makes me wonder if this is a riff on the Inferno: Kent shown around by a demented Virgil before being carted off by an insane S&M Beatrice at the end. Maybe not, but the fact that the comic suggests such grandiose comparisons is a testament to the way it can talk about big ideas in a compact and plot-driven way.

Issue ten is the other highlight, in which Superman runs a test case of a universe without Superman. There, as here, people create gods, then try to surpass them. Nietzsche appears writing his Zarathustra. Finally, a zoom in to a pencil sketch of Superman (but in a different costume). The issue is about letting go and trusting others. Superman learns that he can rely on people to continue to generate ideals and try and live by them. That one page sequence where he saves the suicidal girl captures this well. As Mark Waid says in the introduction: Superman achieves his power by believing in us.

The religion to science development is what the book ends on. Superman provided the 20th century ideal for human aspiration. He is a modern god. Some, like Lois, think he will return once the sun is fixed. Others, like Leo Quintum, move on to solving the problems of the universe themselves. The gods show us the way, but then human ingenuity takes over.

No comments:

Post a Comment