[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?)
Has anybody read Action Comics #8, the final chapter to Morrison's origin of Superman for the NCnU? Anybody want to compare it to All-star Superman?
Well, I read it. Give me All-star Superman any day of the week. For an origin story to one of the most popular Superhero, Action Comics was boring. Sure it started out good with a hero that dared to defy authority. Once it got away from that and focused on the problem at hand with Brainiac, it all became very formulaic. All-star also, well at least as far as I have read, gives some depth to the established characters. So far in Action there's nothing particularly interesting or memorable about Lex Luthor, Jimmy Olsen, or Lois Lane. It felt by the numbers. I was hoping to be cheering when Supes dawns the uniform and chooses for fight for earth but it all fell flat. Maybe some of the later chapters for Action Comics by Morrison will pick up the pace.
First of all, thanks to Jason for taking up the baton here. I might still be on course for my December 2012 deadline. I wouldn't be able to keep up if the posting was any faster.
First, I'll give my background on Supes. I like the character but never read many of his comics.
I love the character, but have very rarely bought his monthly comics. They generally don't serve this 20th Century icon very well. Certainly not the modern comics. As this series shows, part of the strength of the concept is the whole world that was built around him, and the supporting characters. Modern comics tend to destroy the heroes whole world periodically, and half the subsequent stories are spent rationalising how it is all put back together again.
The era I read most was during his death and return, when there were four "Supermen" running around. Ah, the 90s.
This era showcased a very prosaic Superman indeed. Punching bad guys on (or above) the streets of Metropolis was his forte. There was very little on his time spent on making the world a better place, or on how he truly inspired the human race. That Superman wasn't very wise either. CIA and shady military types were always running rings around him. When they decided to do his death, as here, they just had a big lug show up who pounded him into the ground with main strength.
I have a big stack of 90s Superman comics downstairs, but I never get far when I sit down to read them. I find his marriage to Lois works well though, for the most part. Negating the marriage will probably be another reduction in the number of strong women that we see in the DCnU.
The Silver Age Superman stories are amongst the best things DC has ever produced. They are witty and warm, full of ideas and great fresh concepts. No other superhero is as multi-faceted as the Superman/Clark Kent that appears in them. They retain their innocence and charm while tackling the big issues of life and death, memory and loss, responsibility and escape.
For a taster you should try to read The Super Key to Fort Superman from Action Comics #241. (It’s the first story in the first Superman Showcase, and is sometimes said to be the first issue of the Superman's Silver Age.) In it, we just see Superman goofing around his Fortress of Solitude on a quiet day, but practically every frame has some interesting or charming concept. Issue two of A*S riffs on it to some extent.
I also watched a lot of the old show on Nick at Night when I was a kid. I only saw the Christopher Reeve movie once during childhood.
I’ve never seen the 50s Superman series. It’s interesting that the comicbook’s response to the successful TV series was to present the readers with all the spectacular stuff that a TV show of the time couldn’t do. Intergalactic space travel, alien invaders in flying saucers, visits to primordial lost lands and undersea kingdoms etc. That’s a different tack to how today’s comics try to ape movies and television, which works to all the comic medium’s weaknesses, rather than its strengths. Morrison has declared that part of his mission in the 00s was to show how comics can do all sorts of things that movies or TV can’t. All-Star Superman and Final Crisis have many things in common, and this approach is one of them.
The Christopher Reeve movies are the Superman for many of us Gen X-ers. I’m surprised that there isn’t more reference to them in this series. It’s possibly because Morrison didn’t want to be doing the same thing as Johns and co were doing in the main DCU.
I was much more interested in Batman, and truth be told, still am.
As a young kid, I loved Superman, although it was hard to get a hold of his comics in Ireland. I still had a few though. Then, as a typically morose, antisocial and discontented teenager, I loved Batman. He seemed more 'realistic'. lol.
I was surprised to find, as I went into my twenties, that Superman began to look like the more mature and ‘grown-up’ hero. The way he worked for others, how he shouldered his responsibilities, the compassion and empathy that drove him, all were the mark of a truly evolved person. Batman was still stuck in that night long ago when his childhood shattered.
(Of course, I’m always going to have more in common with a guy who grew up on a farm and went on to make his life in the big city, than with a revenge-driven billionaire CEO.)
I think Morrison captures what is best about Superman in this series. Any Superman book that managed to capture why he inspires such love and devotion from so many fans.was always going to be special.
My experience with Morrison has always been hit and miss. I tend to like his more straightforward tales like Batman & Robin or New X-men. Final Crisis lost me. I had heard so many good things about All-star Superman, I wanted to try it.
I hope to get to the similarities between this series and Final Crisis in due course. They were written around the same time, have some of the same themes, and even share some of the same characters. For now I don't want to pre-empt any of the issues of FC that we haven't got to yet in it's own thread.
So the verdict so far, I love All-star Superman.
Really glad to hear this. All of the posters so far seem to agree with you. Perhaps we'll hear a little more from them of why exactly it works so well.
I was surprised to find this is one huge Superman story, set at the end of his career!
This is one of the great choices that Morrison makes at the outset. I think that Morrison is addressing some of the chief criticisms that people who aren’t so interested in Superman would give for not reading his comics.
“He’s practically indestructible, and can’t be killed.” – Morrison shows him being diagnosed with a fatal condition in the very first issue. As you say, this makes for a great and moving story over the series. It humanises Superman, as here he has to face up to his own death, just as us poor schmucks out here have to. As you say: It cuts to the core of the character. How will he act or what will he do, now that he knows he's going to die?
“He’s too strong. There’s nothing he can’t do.” – Morrison addresses this by making him even stronger, as the sun-power overloads his cells, but showing the stories are still involving and full of drama.
“His stories just continue on from month to month in a perpetual ‘now’, with no resolution or proper ending.” - Every great hero needs an ending, as Alan Moore argued in his preface to The Dark Knight Returns, and here’s Superman’s.
(Morrison takes a completely different approach in Final Crisis, but we'll get to that.)
I always thought of Superman has just the strong man. Not dumb, mind you, just not super intelligent. However, that is thrown out. We see that he has invented many things such as robot assistants. Forgive me is this has been done before. Like I said I'm not overly familiar with Superman's past.
As I say, they dumbed down Superman a lot in the 80s and 90s. It’s harder to write a super-intelligent Superman. In the Silver Age his super-intelligence was part of what made him such a well-rounded character. Superman is gifted with an abundance of ‘story-generators’ – his work at a newspaper, his friendships with risk-taking snoops like Jimmy and Lois, his relationship to time-travelling intergalactic super-teens the Legion of Superheroes, his richly drawn childhood in rural America, his Kryptonian heritage, etc etc. His constant experiments and production of weird inventions also kicked off many an adventure, and Morrison uses that a little in this series, and also has Quintum stand in for ‘Superman the Silver Age scientific explorer’.
(Superman in this mode is very much a predecessor of Reed Richards, which is why stretchy size-changing Reed Richards/Dr Manhattan-alike Allen Adam belongs in the ‘League of Supermen’ that give Kal-El a lift in their Yellow Submarine in Final Crisis.)
When you think about it, Superman was created by Sci-Fi fans to express that science and the future were things to be positive about, and that they would lead us towards a better world. ‘The Man of Tomorrow’ was quite an early label for Superman, it seems, and one origin his creators thought of, but didn’t use, was that he came from the future
Morrison took on the task of making Superman less dumb from his first issue of JLA, where, amongst other things, it was clear he was perhaps the only leaguer that Batman looked on as a true equal.
Travis said: “My only real problem with the book was its irregular shipping schedule.”
B_Dog said: ”I didn't read this until the entire series had been collected into trades. Based on the comments above, I'm glad I did. It seems that with Superman that there may be only one or two must-read stories every 10 years, but this is definitely one of them.”
These days, I’m wondering if those statements might be turned around, insofar as it is the grind of often lacklustre, never-ending monthly comics that is the problem, rather than a series where the creators get to put their all into something and do some justice to the potential that is there in superhero stories.
I have no problems with however long it takes, if this is the quality that results. I have a feeling superhero comics wouldn’t be in such a cultural ghetto, and hanging on by their fingernails financially, if the publishing model was more like …oh, any other country where comics are held in high regard. There’s something very American in the “produce it – consume it – bin it – repeat the process every month“ model of comics production that superhero comics have clung to all these years. Too often it is about grinding out inferior product for the consumer rather than anything else. And it’s hard to blame the creators when they are steadily on such a treadmill, and so much stuff is pushed out month after month set in, and muddying up, the same fictional universe.
I’ve just read Evanier’s afterword to the first Fourth World Omnibus, where he writes about Kirby back in the Seventies envisioning a form of distribution of these stories that would allow for more complete self-contained stories to fill the shelves of ordinary bookshops. Collections of ongoing inter-related monthly comics still don’t quite fit that bill. Ongoing monthly comics have their place, but perhaps the industry is too focused on that area of the market? People love superheroes these days, but the ongoing monthly business, and how the comics are geared to that particular market, gets in the way for many would-be fans.
Not to get sidetracked here, but it seems like we did anyways. I have no problem with people taking the time they want to tell their story, but if you tell me it is going be a monthly series I expect that book to be out every month. I might forgive you one or twice, but after that I lose my patience. Two times this series had six month gaps between issues. That is ridiculous. It hurts the end of the line consumer, and also the retailer. Who is often left with a bunch of copies of a formerly hot property.
Outside of video games I can't think of another medium that misses it's release date so much.
Japan comic business is certainly in better health than we are here, and they churn their comics out just as fast if not faster. They even use inferior paper, and in black & white.
Travis Herrick said:
Not to get sidetracked here, but it seems like we did anyways.
Japan comic business is certainly in better health than we are here, and they churn their comics out just as fast if not faster. They even use inferior paper, and in black & white.
Perhaps now is not the time for my "Irish Elk" theory of the comicbook industry's troubles? Later then. I will say that black and white and inferior paper does mean that more weight is given to basic storytelling and characterisation, which may be a contributing factor to the Japanese industry's relative health...
The DCNu seems to be prioritising a regular schedule over most every other value. We'll see how that works out in the longer term.
Other mediums usually give the creators months or years to put their work together, be it a film, a book or an 'album'*. Only in superhero books is the creator expected to produce eg a twelfth of a year-long piece of work every month in this way. For finite works like this, that will eventually work best and practically solely, collected as a single story, it enables the producers to cover the costs as you go, but I believe the model is damaging for ongoing comics (if there must be ongoing comics) and shouldn't be the final word on chapters of a self-contained work.
As ever your arguments are reasonable, Travis and I accept them in the case of this book. It was released under a certain distribution/production model and it falls down by that criteria. I'm saying that the model isn't conducive to a generally high standard of books, using this acknowledged artistic success as an example. The industry has had decades to work on finding a system of distribution/production that ensures a really high standard of product, which at the end of the day is what was always needed to bring in new readers.
*Or whatever the kids are calling a collection of songs these days.
B_dog - I was also a bit thrown by how off-model Superman sometimes was in the first chapter or two of this book. More often ugly than beautiful, it's true. In a way, it's another effect of the publishing model, where the early chapters are already out there before certain aspects of the artistic approach solidify. It'd be easy for a novelist to go back and fix an earlier chapter if he found there was something disatisfactory about it while writing a middle chapter. Still, yours is a valid criticism here.
Reading Final Crisis and All-Star Superman side-by-side like this is an interesting experience. There are a lot of similarities between the two, even though one is widely acknowledged as a highpoint in the genre of recent years, and the other was savagely divisive at the time and still causes anguish to many.
Many of the storytelling tricks are the same and Morrison is pushing the same superhero aesthetic in both.
Hopefully I’ll come back to this point during a quick look at the individual issues. In this readthrough a few things popped out at me. Like Final Crisis, All-Star Superman offers more when read as a single reading experience than when spread out over its monthly (if you’re lucky, Travis!) release schedule. A lot of things that make it difficult or obtuse tie together and make sense when you can see which scenarios have been set up earlier, and when you see that certain seemingly unrelated statements in one issue bear narrative fruit a chapter or two down the line.
All-Star Superman in particular has a novel-like structure. Having now read the first 6 issues, the foreshadowing of later developments is there to see, and a lot of the themes are reinforced and emphasised and returned to in artistic ways.
Issue 1 – Faster
The famous four panel ‘origin’ is a good place to start. In my opening post on this thread nearly two years ago (wha?) highlighting the importance of the sun imagery, I could have mentioned that the sun and sunlight is an important component of each of those frames.
Fittingly for a story about the death of a modern Sun God, Morrison actually starts at the end, with a dying swollen red giant. All things have their cycles, even seemingly eternal stars. That's a theme of the whole series. That looks like sunlight bathing the doomed couple in the second frame. In the third frame we have a shattered planet as well as a dying sun, with a new life and a new adventure being born from the destruction. We’ll come back to that!
Finally, the parents that rescue little Kal-El have a saintly halo of sunlight around them. In the mythology of Superman, everyone knows they give him the best upbringing and values anyone could ask for. There's a lot of mythology in All-Star Superman, and the mythology of Superman is merged here with the mythology of our lives. For most of us when we were young, we perceived our parents as incredibly loving and strong - almost earthly saints even.
As far as Quitely’s art goes, I thought I’d highlight this page, near the end of issue 1. The first two panels are textbook establishing shots so we know where we are and who is taking part. It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how often this kind of thing is neglected (often because the creators expect their continuity-savvy readers to already be in the know regarding such details).
But, really, I just wanted to praise the third panel. As happens often in Final Crisis, Morrison is discarding the usual way this would be depicted in favour of making the reader experience the scene almost as a participant. Like Superman, we have to spot quite suddenly that the child is in danger, and then work out what happens next. We’re thrown into the situation as the child is, whether he realised or not that the truck was coming when he ran onto the road. Further then, we have to actively participate as readers to fill in the blanks as to what we’ve just been shown and what happens next. Of course Superman rescued the kid. Goes without saying! Morrison is using our trust and confidence in Superman’s abilities to tell his story for him. That’s probably part of the magic of this series. Also like Final Crisis, he is dispensing with the kind of heroic shots that have lost any real impact because we’ve all seen them so many times before.
As for Quitely’s contribution, Superman’s speed and centrality to the incident are both well conveyed even though he is the smallest component of the frame. If you’ve ever driven a mini at anything over 50 miles an hour, you’ll know that speeding along so close to the ground makes everything seems to go faster. Quitely has chosen a very unusual angle for Superman in action here. The way the boy and the dog are both slightly cropped by the frame also increases the feeling of haste and speed in it.
Issue 2 – Superman’s Forbidden Room
The mythology in this issue comes in the main ‘Bluebeard’ plot of Lois’ fears concerning her suitor, and her look into the forbidden room. I recently read a short story called ‘Shooting the Fox’by an Australian writer. It too centred on a young woman on the verge of getting serious with a mysterious man, and imagining that he had all sorts of dastardly deeds hidden behind the seemingly perfect surface. There are some similarities to this story, in that the woman in each case has to deal with the possibility that the choices are hers to make, rather than just being a victim of the situation.
We also get Superman as Vulcan – the Maker, in the sequence where he hammers out material on an anvil to feed the sun-eater. This ties into the Silver Age conception of him as an inventor and scientist.
Regarding the art and the storytelling, this issue might illustrate a notion I have about what Final Crisis and All-Star Superman are doing slightly differently to other superhero tales.
When I reread Final Crisis this time, I found myself being completely drawn into the world in its pages. It’s an especially immersive world, once you start adjusting to its unusual style. There are various reasons for this immersive quality, but one of them is that the characters are rarely posing for the readers’ benefit. We just see them acting as if they didn’t think anyone was expecting them to look heroic or strikingly fit and good-looking at that instant. There is a sequence in Final Crisis issue two where Superman and Batman are just discussing Orion's death and related matters in the Hall of Justice. They look very relaxed and matter-of-fact. The ‘camera’ seems to circle around them, showing their conversation from a series of seemingly random angles. I realised that superheroes are normally shown not just with muscles bulging and teeth gritted etc, but also from a particular angle (usually mid-shot from the front) so that we can see how superheroic they are.
Most superhero comics suffer from being drawn with the readers’ gaze in mind. The most obvious example of this is when female characters are presented seemingly with a view to pleasing the gaze of ‘dirty old men in macs’. If I’m seeing Catwoman flee her apartment, I don’t want to be distracted by questions of why she is leaving her costume undone just so, or why the camera angles or her movements are chosen specifically to please a certain type of reader. That is taking me out of the story. She is acting for reasons other than what is happening to her in it. I want to feel that I’m watching someone who isn’t somehow aware that they are on display.
That’s partially what I mean by ‘immersive’. The characters act naturally, and the camera angle and ‘readers gaze’ isn’t part of what I’m being shown. We feel that we are watching real people in real situations, no matter how outlandish and strange the events might be.
To come back to All-Star Superman, Quitely does this ‘immersive’ thing quite a lot. Superman himself is almost always relaxed looking. As Morrison has said, wouldn’t that be the natural stance of someone that virtually nothing could harm?
I think I’ve spotted a technique used by artists who want to do ‘immersive’ in this particular mode I’m discussing. Unusually for a comic, the characters don’t appear in most of the frames in a standard viewed-from-the-front angle. Lois in this comic is viewed either from behind (usually we just see her back), or from the side in the majority of the frames here. So she’s not being presented to us in such a way that our view of her is being privileged. She’s having an adventure, moving around. We just happen to follow the action from whatever angle we’re given. Socially, if someone presents their side or back to us, it means that we aren’t part of whatever exchange they are having. They are focussed on someone else. This increases the sense that we are unseen observers of events that are really happening, rather than observing events being staged for our benefit.
(I realised after I scanned this page as an example, that Morrison and/or Quitely might be using the ‘behind the female protagonist’ view to invoke Lara Croft and that type of video game. Lois has a very Tomb Raider type of adventure in this comic.)
I compared All-Star Superman #2 to George Perez' work in Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #1. I thought he'd be a good highly respected nuts and bolts artist to put beside this issue. He used mainly straight on front views and a lot of straight-on back views of his characters. But still not as many back views as Quitely uses here. He used side views extremely rarely though. His staging was quite conservative, in that the 'camera' was almost always either in front of or behind his subjects.
I haven’t studied this exhaustively, but Quintum is another character that we see from behind or the side more often than not. As a character, he especially is always on the move and paying attention to stuff that we aren’t really a part of. He seems to be having a great time and an interesting life in between the panels he appears in. He’s always in a rush. He’s not there to perform for invisible readers.
Quintum’s busy life beyond the pages of this comic adds to the illusion that we are just viewing a few moments from a whole world of events. We get to enter this world for brief scenes here and there, but we only get hints as to what goes on when we’re not there. In more usual superhero comics the only interesting stuff seems to happen on panel, or in conjunction with the hero’s adventures. Thus the world in them doesn’t have much reality beyond the adventures of Vein-popping man and his buxom love interest.
That’s something of what I mean by ‘immersive’...
Nice detail look at the issues Figs.
Man, even looking at the pages posted, Quietly's work is outstanding.
I need to get started on the second book.
Man, even looking at the pages posted, Quietly's work is outstanding.
Yeah. Really good. It's only fair to menton Jamie Grant's work on the colours too. It's a very pleasing palette he uses, reminiscent of the silver age, but subtle and warm too. The shading/gradation within each colour panel is just lovely.
Even old Perry's face there looks great!
I need to get started on the second book.
No panic just yet. I wanted to say something about each issue. especially the 6th. A lot of things come together or come full circle from the first 5 issues in that.
I haven't started to read the final 6 issues yet.
Issue 3 – Sweet Dreams Superwoman
This is a sweet romantic issue, where Superman gives Lois her birthday present of being like him for a day.
The mythology is continued with the appearance of two of Superman’s legendary predecessors. I’m not sure that Samson or Atlas ever appeared in a Silver Age Superman story. Their appearance here is in the tradition of Silver Age appearances of Hercules. They are presented as two irresponsible time-travelling braggadocios here, who make Superman appear even more upright by comparison. In fact Samson is acknowledged to be one of the inspirations for Superman, and Atlas’ literal task in classical mythology – carrying the world on his shoulders - is something that Superman does figuratively in these stories. So this series is always commenting on Superman as well as relating his adventures.
(The Biblical Samson being an unexplained time-traveller in his custom-chronomobile is another example of the ‘immersive’ approach to these stories. We’re given the impression that Samson has a whole life that isn’t part of this story.)
B_dog said earlier that it’s hard to see what Superman sees in Lois, but she seems quite cute in these pages. She looks fine to me, and the story does tell us that she’s a Pullitzer prize-winning journalist and we don’t see much to contradict that here. She’s a bit loopy around Clark and Superman maybe, but we all have our blind spots. Quitely does the best possible job of making it believable that no-one would suspect Clark was Superman.
For his part, Superman makes the great little pun that there are some things even he just can’t help! So the question is addressed in-story.
The series does glancingly refer to the darker aspects of the Clark-Lois-Superman triangle. There has always been something emotionally sado-masochistic about their relationship to each other. Perhaps many romantic relationships work like this: loving certain aspects of the other person, and familiarity breeding exasperation with other aspects of them. Lois is horrified in issue 2 that by loving Superman, she was also in love with that ‘clumsy oafish Clark Kent!’
All quite dark!
The resolution of the Sphinx’s riddle was fairly satisfying, and perhaps a commentary again on the often unhelpful traditions of superhero comics. Surrendering rather than fighting the opponent with force of strength isn’t usually an option. The very end of the comic reveals that Superman got his response from a car ad in the newspaper from the future that carried the news of his death. (You can see him using his X-ray vision in the panel where Samson shows him the front page headline.) That openness to what the universe might be trying to tell you is a cornerstone of the particular brand of Pop-magic that Morrison practices. Again, we see that it’s not just strength that Superman relies on to win the day, but this 'magical' reading of all the aspects of each perilous situation he triumphs over.
The final page is lovely, with Superman taking Lois home to bed between the end credits, and of course not ‘taking advantage' of her tired and bewildered state.