Thursday, September 25, 2008

When Words Collide: Morrison's Perfect Superman

You've probably already read this week's "When Words Collide" column focusing on All-Star Superman, but if you haven't then you should go check it out now. I'm getting fan mail about it. Hordes of readers are lining up outside my house just to get a snapshot of me thinking about comics. It's a pretty big deal.

Okay, maybe not, but it's me writing 3,000 words about why All-Star Superman is so awesome, and I certainly could have written thousands more. All-Star Superman may be one of Morrison's most straightforward and elegant works, but that doesn't mean it isn't chock full of goodness.

Like the opening page origin recap above, for example. I love it.


Kris Krause said...

Nice analysis, as always. I like how you tied in many of the Superman topics you've been talking about on here for months now into the discussion of All Star Superman.

chrishaley said...

You really did do a bang up job on that piece.
I, for one, would be happy to read another 3000 words from you on the subject.

pinotblogger said...

Hey Tim,

I dug your piece. In fact, your writing on Morrison is pretty much always top notch.

But I had some trouble with this passage:

Superman's reply is just as simple and direct: "That's not fair. What right do I have to impose my values on anyone?" In those two sentences, Superman's ethics are apparent. He believes in fairness and everything it entails. And he believes that it's not up to him to impose his values, and, presumably, it's not fair for anyone to do such a thing. Instead of making the world a better place, Superman inspires greatness through his actions. His selflessness is his main virtue, and by showing compassion instead of force, he changes lives."

To my mind GM's logic here in putting those words in Supes mouth sort of falls apart given his history and mythos.

GM's Supe might claim he doesn't think it's fair to impose his values on anyone else, but he does that very thing in pretty much every single issue. His values are evident, as you point out, in his actions. By saving lives and defeating evil he effectively imposes his values upon the world.

Take the Incredibles for instance. Mr. Incredible and ultimately superheroes everywhere are forced into witness protection after imposing their values of "life first" upon a man who wanted to take his.

The point is that anytime you take action in the world, weather its for good or evil, you're imposing what you think is right upon it. Values, your definition of good and evil. Thoughts and words may not impose anything on anyone, we can just ignore them, but action certainly does. And Superman is nothing if not a man of action. Supes values (and how he imposes them on others) and how they clash with Batman's are a large part of what make Dark Knight Returns so compelling.

Also, I'm confused how you can argue Superman doesn't make the world a better place ("Instead of making the world a better place, Superman inspires greatness through his actions.")? Where does he derive his greatness from then?

I agree with you that he often shows restraint, ala the Star Trek prime directive, but more often then not he actively intervenes in human affairs, taking the form of savior and hero. He unquestionably makes the world a better place, and that's precisely why he's so beloved and revered.

Finally, I guess, this notion that Superman doesn't want to impose values on earth seems antithetical even to the proposed thesis of Superman 2000, which you quote as a seminal document for GM's work in All Star Superman:

"Superman’s job is to fight for and inspire those who cannot fight for themselves. His job is to make this world a better place...This is a god sent to Earth not to suffer and die but to live and inspire and change the face of the galaxy by his deeds and reputation."

Christ is also noted as a model and influence - the ultimate embodiment of a certain set of values.

It comes down to this though: To inspire through reputation, you must have done great deeds. To do great deed requires action. And to act is to forcibly impose your will and values upon the world. That's just fundamental to Superman.

Superman is great not because he refuses to impose values on folks, he's great because his values inform his deeds, and his deeds inspire the world.