All Star Memories: Grant Morrison on All Star Superman, 1

Morrison on All Star Superman, 1

Three years, 12 issues, Eisners and countless accolades later, All Star Superman is finally finished. The out-of-continuity look at Superman’s struggle with his inevitable death was widely embraced by fans and pros as one of the best stories to feature the Man of Steel, and was a showcase for the talents of the creative team of Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant.

Now, Newsarama is proud to present an exclusive look back with Morrison at the series that took Superman to, pun intended, new heights. We had a lot of questions about the series…and Morrison delivered with an in-depth look into the themes, characters and ideas throughout the 12 issues. In fact, there was so much that we’re running this as an unprecedented 10-part series over the next two weeks – sort of an unofficial All Star Superman companion. It’s everything about All Star Superman you ever wanted to know, but were afraid to ask.

And of course there’s plenty of SPOILERS, so back away if you haven’t read the entire series.

In Part One: How the series came to be. Find out the other superstar artist who almost penciled the series, the influences that combined to forge All Star, and who Morrison really thinks is cooler, Superman or Batman.

Newsarama: Grant, tell us a little about the origin of the project.

Grant Morrison: Some of it has its roots in the DC One Million project from 1999. So much so, that some readers have come to consider this a prequel to DC One Million, which is fine if it shifts a few more copies! I’ve tried to give my own DC books an overarching continuity intended to make them all read as a more coherent body of work when I’m done.

Luthor’s “enlightenment” – when he peaks on super–senses and sees the world as it appears through Superman’s eyes – was an element I’d included in the Superman Now pitch I prepared along with Mark Millar, Tom Peyer and Mark Waid back in 1999. There were one or two of ideas of mine that I wanted to preserve from Superman Now and Luthor’s heart–stopping moment of understanding was a favorite part of the original ending for that story, so I decided to use it again here.

My specific take on Superman’s physicality was inspired by the “shamanic” meeting my JLA editor Dan Raspler and I had in the wee hours of the morning outside the San Diego comic book convention in whenever it was, ‘98 or ‘99.

I’ve told this story in more detail elsewhere but basically, we were trying to figure out how to “reboot” Superman without splitting up his marriage to Lois, which seemed like a cop–out. It was the beginning of the conversations which ultimately led to Superman Now, with Dan and I restlessly pacing around trying to figure out a new way into the character of Superman and coming up short…

Until we looked up to see a guy dressed as Superman crossing the train tracks. Not just any skinny convention guy in an ill–fitting suit, this guy actually looked like Superman. It was too good a moment to let pass, so I ran over to him, told him what we’d been trying to do and asked if he wouldn’t mind indulging us by answering some questions about Superman, which he did…in the persona and voice of Superman!

We talked for an hour and a half and he walked off into the night with his friend (no, it wasn’t Jimmy Olsen, sadly). I sat up the rest of the night, scribbling page after page of Superman notes as the sun came up over the naval yards.

My entire approach to Superman had come from the way that guy had been sitting; so easy, so confident, as if, invulnerable to all physical harm, he could relax completely and be spontaneous and warm. That pose, sitting hunched on the bollard, with one knee up, the cape just hanging there, talking to us seemed to me to be the opposite of the clenched, muscle-bound look the character sometimes sports and that was the key to Superman for me.

I met the same Superman a couple of times afterwards but he wasn’t Superman, just a nice guy dressed as Superman, whose name I didn’t save but who has entered into my own personal mythology (a picture has from that time has survived showing me and Mark Waid posing alongside this guy and a couple of young readers dressed as Superboy and Supergirl – it’s in the “Gallery” section at my website for anybody who can be bothered looking. This is the guy who lit the fuse that led to All Star Superman).

After the 1999 pitch was rejected, I didn’t expect to be doing any further work on Superman but sometime in 2002, while I was going into my last year on New X–Men, Dan DiDio called and asked if I wanted to come back to DC to work on a Superman book with Jim Lee.

Jim was flexing his artistic muscles again to great effect, and he wanted to do 12 issues on Superman to complement the work he was doing with Jeph Loeb on “Batman: Hush.” At the time, I wasn’t able to make my own commitments dovetail with Jim’s availability, but by then I’d become obsessed with the idea of doing a big Superman story and I’d already started working out the details.

Jim, of course, went on to do his 12 Superman issues as “For Tomorrow” with Brian Azzarello, so I found myself looking for an artist for what was rapidly turning into my own Man of Steel magnum opus, and I already knew the book had to be drawn by my friend and collaborator, Frank Quitely.

We were already talking about We3 and Superman seemed like a good meaty project to get our teeth into when that was done. I completely scaled up my expectations of what might be possible once Frank was on board and decided to make this thing as ambitious as possible.

Usually, I prefer to write poppy, throwaway “live performance” type superhero books, but this time, I felt compelled to make something for the ages – a big definitive statement about superheroes and life and all that, not only drawn by my favorite artist but starring the first and greatest superhero of them all.

The fact that it could be a non–continuity recreation made the idea even more attractive and more achievable. I also felt ready for it, in a way I don’t think I would have been in 1999; I finally felt “grown–up” enough to do Superman justice.

I plotted the whole story in 2002 and drew tiny colored sketches for all 12 covers. The entire book was very tightly constructed before we started – except that I’d left the ending open for the inevitable better and more focused ideas I knew would arise as the project grew into its own shape…and I left an empty space for issue 10. That one was intended from the start to be the single issue of the 12–issue run that would condense and amplify the themes of all the others. #10 was set aside to be the one–off story that would sum up anything anyone needed to know about Superman in 22 pages.

Not quite as concise an origin as Superman’s, but that’s how we got started.

NRAMA: When you were devising the series, what challenges did you have in building up this version of the Superman universe?

GM: I couldn’t say there were any particular challenges. It was fun. Nobody was telling me what I could or couldn’t do with the characters. I didn’t have to worry about upsetting continuity or annoying people who care about stuff like that.

I don’t have a lot of old comics, so my knowledge of Superman was based on memory, some tattered “70s books from the remains of my teenage collection, a bunch of DC “Best Of…” reprint editions and two brilliant little handbooks – “Superman in Action Comics” Volumes 1 and 2 – which reprint every single Action Comics cover from 1938 to 1988.

I read various accounts of Superman’s creation and development as a brand. I read every Superman story and watched every Superman movie I could lay my hands on, from the Golden Age to the present day. From the Socialist scrapper Superman of the Depression years, through the Super–Cop of the 40s, the mythic Hyper–Dad of the 50s and 60s, the questioning, liberal Superman of the early 70s, the bland “superhero” of the late 70s, the confident yuppie of the 80s, the over–compensating Chippendale Superman of the 90s etc. I read takes on Superman by Mark Waid, Mark Millar, Geoff Johns, Denny O’Neil, Jeph Loeb, Alan Moore, Paul Dini and Alex Ross, Joe Casey, Steve Seagle, Garth Ennis, Jim Steranko and many others.

I looked at the Fleischer cartoons, the Chris Reeve movies and the animated series, and read Alvin Schwartz’s (he wrote the first ever Bizarro story among many others) fascinating book – “An Unlikely Prophet” – where he talks about his notion of Superman as a tulpa, (a Tibetan word for a living thought form which has an independent existence beyond its creator) and claims he actually met the Man of Steel in the back of a taxi.

I immersed myself in Superman and I tried to find in all of these very diverse approaches the essential “Superman–ness” that powered the engine. I then extracted, purified and refined that essence and drained it into All Star’s tank, recreating characters as my own dream versions, without the baggage of strict continuity.

In the end, I saw Superman not as a superhero or even a science fiction character, but as a story of Everyman. We’re all Superman in our own adventures. We have our own Fortresses of Solitude we retreat to, with our own special collections of valued stuff, our own super–pets, our own “Bottle Cities” that we feel guilty for neglecting. We have our own peers and rivals and bizarre emotional or moral tangles to deal with.

I felt I’d really grasped the concept when I saw him as Everyman, or rather as the dreamself of Everyman. That “S” is the radiant emblem of divinity we reveal when we rip off our stuffy shirts, our social masks, our neuroses, our constructed selves, and become who we truly are.

Batman is obviously much cooler, but that’s because he’s a very energetic and adolescent fantasy character: a handsome billionaire playboy in black leather with a butler at this beck and call, better cars and gadgetry than James Bond, a horde of fetish femme fatales baying around his heels and no boss. That guy’s Superman day and night.

Superman grew up baling hay on a farm. He goes to work, for a boss, in an office. He pines after a hard–working gal. Only when he tears off his shirt does that heroic, ideal inner self come to life. That’s actually a much more adult fantasy than the one Batman’s peddling but it also makes Superman a little harder to sell. He’s much more of a working class superhero, which is why we ended the whole book with the image of a laboring Superman.

He’s Everyman operating on a sci–fi Paul Bunyan scale. His worries and emotional problems are the same as ours… except that when he falls out with his girlfriend, the world trembles.

Next: Morrison’s favorite moments, and just what were Superman’s 12 Labors?

Special thanks to Grant Morrison: The Early Years author Timothy Callahan for his help with this feature.

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