[Another thread in our Morrison Reading Project.]
The over-arching plot of All-Star Superman truly kicks off when Superman goes to the rescue of a spaceship on a mission to capture some of the Sun's molten substance and bring it back to Earth. Morrison names the ship the Ray Bradbury, in honour of the author of the classic Golden Age sci-fi story "The Golden Apples of the Sun" which describes a similar mission. This story is a key reference point for All-Star Superman and sheds some light on its mythic content.
On the one hand Golden Apples of the Sun is typical of classic sci-fi in that it describes what such a futuristic mission might be like "in all reality" and the challenges which the physics of it would entail. On the other, it is a beautifully poetic meditation on the Sun's place in our imagination and stories, its benevolence and its fierce power. Bradbury is a fantastic writer, and it's a must-read.
Here's a taster:
Their rocket was the Copa de Oro, also named the Prometheus and the Icarus, and their destination in all reality was the blazing noonday sun. In high good spirits they had packed along two thousand sour lemonades and a thousand white-capped beers for this journey to the wide Sahara. And now as the sun boiled up at them they remembered a score of verses and quotations:
"‘The gold apples of the sun’?"
"‘Fear no more the heat of the sun’?"
"Shakespeare, of course!"
"‘Cup of Gold’? Steinbeck. ‘The Crock of Gold’? Stephens. And what about the pot of gold at the rainbow’s end? There’s a name for our trajectory, by God,. Rainbow!"
"One thousand degrees Fahrenheit!"
I originally posted this Bradbury connection because of a reading of Golden Apples on a digital radio station, but now that that's not available, hmmmm, let's just say, someone should inform the Bradbury estate that it's very easy to google the story these days...
(Incidently, the second Bradbury story on that program, The One Who Waits was adapted, knowingly or not, into a Youngblood story by Alan Moore. Perhaps it was an homage rather than a steal?)
Regarding more showing than telling, in this very recent talk Morrison admits that Quitely's command of body language and nuance allowed him to cut down on the amount of expositionary dialogue that he felt he had to include. I think I guessed as much earlier in the thread.
Issue 8 – Us Do Opposite
As happens a lot with Grant’s work, the more you look at these two lesser All-Star Superman comics, the more stuff I find that amuses me.
The ‘credits page’, normally laid out to look like movie credits in this series, appears towards the end of each of these two issues, rather than near the start. ‘Us do opposite’, indeed. And on that same credit page, Superman is pretending to object to the Bizarros attempt to launch him out of Underspace by saying ‘Yes...yes ... yes’. Superman brings the positive no matter what he’s doing. (Surprisingly enough, that’s another quote from James Joyce’s Ulysses, by the way.)
I like the idea of the Underverse. It’s a comicbook version of the apparent fact that life as we know it, infinitely complex and sophisticated, was built up from simpler, more basic systems and building blocks of existence. We ourselves are each an amalgam of basic cells, all specialising in their own simple tasks, which have banded together to form individual human beings with all our capabilities and dreams and aspirations. Even more complex society and culture then grows out from the collection of human beings past and present.
Morrison’s previous work looked upwards along this chain towards Gods and almost perfect beings like the JLA, but here he looks backward down the chain at the daft, incomplete and barely coherent Bizarros, whose pathetic home is the foundation underlying Superman’s finer world. In fact, in Zibarro, we see one instance of this world aspiring upwards towards sense, complexity and coherence, which is the whole point of the Underverse.
I love how the Bizarro JLA are the nadir of all Bizarro lifeforms, just as the JLA are on the top rung of mortal existence in the DCU Earth. The Bizarro Flash is the slowest man on the planet, and the Bizarro Batman was killed by his own parents as a child. Their portrayal is hilarious, but they are also subjects of Morrison’s usual empathy with outsiders and those that aren’t winners in life.
Finally we have Zibarro, who might seem extraneous to what Morrison is doing with All-Star Superman overall, but he is another way to examine the mythology of Superman. Zibarro is trapped on a world where he is much more intelligent and sensitive than everybody else, and consequently misunderstood and self-pitying.
He’s obviously an illustration of how someone like Superman might have ended up if Kal-El didn’t have those reserves of humility, compassion and optimism that he displays again and again in this series.
Another writer would have explored these ideas by having Superman himself go through this over-sensitivity, self-pity and weariness with the world. Just look at the recent Superman work of dear old J. Michael Straczynski for instance. Morrison knows that in a proper superhero story, one we go to for actual heroism and optimism, ‘grounding’ the characters (Heh heh!) in too much realism and mundanity defeats the purpose of the whole thing. So as here, he ‘externalises’ any possible faults or failings in the heroes which he wants to explore.
Still, it only takes a few moments thought to realise that Superman’s opinion of the violent, irrational, self-destructive people he has found himself among on his Earth must be along the same lines as Zibarro’s attitude to the pathetic Bizarros. So, indirectly through Zibarro, we get another angle on Superman’s patience and benevolence towards humanity.
The Bizarro issues, no less than the other more popular instalments, are about the core myth, after all.