All Star Memories: Grant Morrison on All Star Superman, 2

Morrison on All Star Superman, 2

Our 10-part look back at All Star Superman with writer Grant Morrison continues. This time out: Morrison’s favorite moments. The 12 Labors of Superman are finally enumerated. And we even get into the series’ unfortunate abbreviation.

Click here for part one.

Newsarama: Grant, what are some of your favorite moments from the 12 issues?

Grant Morrison: The first shot of Superman flying over the sun. The Cosmic Anvil. Samson and Atlas. The kiss on the moon. The first three pages of the Olsen story which, I think, add up to the best character intro I’ve ever written.

Everything Lex Luthor says in issue #5. Everything Clark does. The whole says/does Luthor/Superman dynamic as played out through Frank Quitely’s absolute mastery and understanding of how space, movement and expression combine to tell a story.

Superboy and his dog on the moon – that perfect teenage moment of infinite possibility, introspection and hope for the future. He’s every young man on the verge of adulthood, Krypto is every dog with his boy (it seemed a shame to us that Krypto’s most memorable moment prior to this was his death scene in “Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow.” Quitely’s scampering, leaping, eager and alive little creature is how I’d prefer to imagine Krypto the Superdog and conjures finer and more subtle emotions).

Bizarro–Home, with all of Earth’s continental and ocean shapes but reversed. The page with the first appearance of Zibarro that Frank has designed so the eye is pulled down in a swirling motion into the drain at the heart of the image, to make us feel that we’re being flushed in a cloacal spiral down into a nihilistic, existential sink. Frank gave me that page as a gift, and it became weirdly emblematic of a strange, dark time in both our lives.

The story with Bar–El and Lilo has a genuine chill off ammonia and antiseptic off it, which makes it my least favorite issue of the series, although I know a lot of people who love it. It’s about dying relatives, obligations, the overlit overheated corridors between terminal wards, the thin metallic odors of chemicals, bad food and fear. Preparation for the Phantom Zone.

Superman hugging the poor, hopeless girl on the roof and telling us all we’re stronger than we think we are.

Joe Shuster drawing us all into the story forever and never–ending.

Nasthalthia Luthor. Frank and Jamie’s final tour of the Fortress, referencing every previous issue on the way, in two pages.

All of issue #10 (there’s a single typo in there where the time on the last page was screwed up – but when we fix that detail for the trade I’ll be able to regard this as the most perfectly composed superhero story I’ve ever written).

I don’t think I’ve ever had a smoother, more seamless collaborative process.

NRAMA: The story is very complete unto itself, but are there any new or classic characters you’d like to explore further? If so, which ones and why?

GM: I’d happily write more Atlas and Samson. I really like Krull, the Dino–Czar’s wayward son, and his Stalinist underground empire of “Subterranosauri.” I could write a Superman Squad comic forever. I’d love to write the “Son of Superman” sequel about Lois and Clark’s super test tube baby.

But…I think All Star is already complete, without sequels. You read that last issue and it works because you know you’re never going to see All Star Superman again. You’ll be able to pick up Superman books, but they won’t be about this guy and they won’t feel the same. He really is going away. Our Superman is actually “dying” in that sense, and that adds the whole series a deeper poignancy.

NRAMA: Aside from the Bizarro League, you never really introduce other DC superheroes into the story. Why did you make this choice?

GM: I wanted the story to be about the mythic Superman at the end of his time. It’s clear from the references that he has or more likely has had a few super–powered allies, but that they’re no longer around or relevant any more.

For the context of this story I wanted the super–friends to be peripheral, like they were in the old comics. The Flash? Green Lantern? They represent Superman’s “old army buddies,” or your dad’s school friends. Guys you’ve sort of heard of, who used to be more important in the old man’s life than they are now.

NRAMA: Some readers were confused as to how the “Twelve Labors” broke down, though others have pointed out that Superman’s actions are more reflective of the Stations of the Cross (I note there’s a “Station Café” in the background of issue #12). Could you break down the Twelve Labors, or, if the cross theory is true, how the storyline reflects the Stations?

GM: The 12 Labors of Superman were never intended as an isomorphic mapping onto the 12 Labors of Hercules, or for that matter, the specific Stations of the Cross, of which there are 14, I believe. I didn’t even want to do one Labor per issue, so it deliberately breaks down quite erratically through the series for reasons I’ll go into (later).

Yes, there are correspondences, but that’s mostly because we tried to create for our Superman the contemporary “superhero” version of an archetypal solar hero journey, which naturally echoes numerous myths, legends and religious parables.

At the same time, we didn’t want to do an update or a direct copy of any myth you’d seen before, so it won’t work if you try to find one specific mythological or religious “plan” to hang the series on; James Joyce’s honorable and heroic refutation of the rule aside, there’s nothing more dead and dull than an attempt to retell the Odyssey or the Norse sagas scene by scene, but in a modern and/or superhero setting.

For future historians and mythologizers, however, the 12 Labors of Superman may be enumerated as follows:

1. Superman saves the first manned mission to the sun.

2. Superman brews the Super–Elixir.

3. Superman answers the Unanswerable Question.

4. Superman chains the Chronovore.

5. Superman saves Earth from Bizarro–Home.

6. Superman returns from the Underverse.

7. Superman creates Life.

8. Superman liberates Kandor/cures cancer.

9. Superman defeats Solaris.

10. Superman conquers Death.

11. Superman builds an artificial Heart for the Sun.

12.Superman leaves the recipe/formula to make Superman 2.

And one final feat, which typically no–one really notices, is that Lex Luthor delivers his own version of the unified field haiku – explaining the underlying principles of the universe in fourteen syllables – which the P.R.O.J.E.C.T. G–Type philosopher from issue 4 had dedicated his entire life to composing!

You may notice also that the Labors take place over a year – with the solar hero’s descent into the darkness and cold of the Underverse occurring at midwinter/Christmas time (that’s also the only point in the story where we ever see Metropolis at night).

It can also be seen as the sun’s journey over the course of a day – we open in blazing sunshine but halfway through the book, at the end of issue #5, in fact, the solar hero dips below the horizon and begins the night–journey through the hours of darkness and death, before his triumphant resurrection at dawn. That’s why issue 5 ends with the boat to the Underworld and 6 begins with the moon. Clark Kent is crossing the threshold into the subconscious world of memory, shadows, death and deep emotions.

Although they can often have bizarre resonances, specific elements, like the Station Café, are usually put there by Frank Quitely, and are not necessarily secret Dan Brown–style keys to unlocking the mysteries. I think there might be a Station Café opposite the studio where Frank Quitely works and the “SAPIEN” sign on another storefront is a reference to Frank’s studio mate, Dave Sapien. At least he’s not filling the background with dirty words like he used to, given any opportunity

NRAMA: For that matter, do the Twelve Labors matter at all? They seem so purposely ill–defined. They seem more like misdirection or a MacGuffin than anything that needs to be clearly delineated.

GM: They matter, of course, but the 12 Labors idea is there to show that, as with all myth, the systematic ordering of current events into stories, tales, or legends occurs after the fact.

I’m trying to suggest that only in the future will these particular 12 feats, out of all the others ever, be mythologized as 12 Labors. I suppose I was trying to say something about how people impose meaning upon events in retrospect, and that’s how myth is born. It’s hindsight that provides narrative, structure, meaning and significance to the simple unfolding of events. It’s the backward glance that adds all the capital letters to the list above.

Even Superman isn”t sure how many Labors he’s performed when we see him mulling it over in issue 10.

When you watched it happening, it seemed to be Superman just doing his thing. In the future it’s become THE 12 LABORS OF SUPERMAN!

NRAMA: And on a completely ridiculous note: All–Star Superman is perhaps the most difficult–to–abbreviate comic title since Preacher: Tall in the Saddle. Did you realize this going in?

GM: Going into what? Going into ASS itself? In the sense of how did I feel as I slowly entered ASS for the first time?

It never crossed my mind…

Next: We begin our look at the series’ characters, starting with such new creations as Leo Quintum.

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

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