In the penultimate section of our look back at All Star Superman, we examine some of the religious underpinnings of the series. Many have compared Superman to Christ, but how does Grant Morrison really see him – or religion in general? Read on to find out.
Newsarama: Although All–Star Superman ties in with DC One Million, you style of writing has changed dramatically since then. How do you feel about One Million now?
Grant Morrison: I just read it again and liked it a lot. Comics were definitely happier, breezier and more confident in their own strengths before Hollywood and the Internet turned the business of writing superhero stories into the production of low budget storyboards or, worse, into conformist, fruitless attempts to impress or entertain a small group of people who appear to hate comics and their creators.
NRAMA: Obviously, this book is the most explicit SF–Christ story since Behold the Man, only…happy. Superman/Christ parallels have existed for decades, but this story makes it absolutely explicit, from laying his hands on the sick and dying to…well, most of issue #12. You’ve dealt with Christ themes before, particularly in The Mystery Play, but outside of the comics, how do you see Superman as a Christ figure for the “real” world?
GM: The “Superman as Christ” thing is a little too reductive for me, and tends to overlook the fact that Superman is by no means a pacifist in the Christ sense. Superman would never turn the other cheek; Superman punches out the bully. Superman is a fighter.
When did Christ ever batter the Devil through a mountain?
The thing I disliked about the Superman Returns movie was the American Christ angle, which reduced Superman to a sniveling, masochistic wreck, crawling around on the floor, taking a kicking from everyone. This approach had an odd and slightly disturbing S&M flavor, which didn’t play well to the character’s strengths at all and seemed to derive entirely from a kind of Catholic vision of the suffering, martyred Jesus.
It’s not that he’s based on Jesus, but simply that a lot of the mythical sun god elements which have been layered onto the Christ story also appear in the story of Superman.
I suppose I see Superman more as pagan sci–fi. He’s a secular messiah, a science redeemer with tough guy muscles and a very direct and clear morality.
NRAMA: Continuing the religious themes, in issue #10, you have Superman literally giving birth to himself, both philosophically and as a character – a nice little meta–moment showing how Superman inspires a world where he is only fiction. How did that idea come about?
GM: It came from the challenge we’d set ourselves: as I said, issue #10 had been left as a blank space into which the single most coherent condensation of all our ideas about Superman were destined to fit.
I wanted to do a “day in the life” story. So much of All Star had been about this threat to Superman himself, so we wanted to show him going about a typical day saving people and doing good.
Then came the title “Neverending,” which comes from the opening announcement – “Faster than a speeding bullet!…” of the Superman radio show from 1940, and seemed to me to be as good a title for a Superman story as any I could think of. It seemed to distil everything about Superman’s battle and his legend into a single word. And the story structure itself was designed to loop endlessly, so it went well with that.
On top of that went the idea of the Last Will and Testament of Superman. A dying god writing his will seemed like an interesting structure to use. Then came the idea to fit all of human history into that single 24 hours. And then to show the development of the Superman idea through human culture from the earliest Australian Aboriginal notions of super–beings ‘descended” from the sky, through the complex philosophical system of Hinduism, onto the Renaissance concept of the ideal man, via the refinements of Nietzche and finally, down to that smiling, hopeful Joe Shuster sketch; the final embodiment of humanity’s glorious, uplifting notion of the superman become reduced to a drawing, a story for kids, a worthless comic book.
And also what that could mean in a holographic fractal universe, where the smallest part contains and reflects the whole.
Of course the next panel in that sequence is happening in the real world and would show you, the reader, sitting with the latest Superman issue in your hands, deep within the Infant Universe of Qwewq in the Fortress of Solitude, today, wherever you are. In “Neverending,” the reader becomes wrapped in a self–referential loop of story and reality. If you actually, seriously think about what is happening at this point in the story, if you meditate upon the curious entanglement of the real and the fictional, you will become enlightened in this life apparently. According to some texts.
NRAMA: On a personal level, you’ve explored all types of religions and philosophies in your work. What is your take on religion and how it influences humanity, and the Christian take on Jesus Christ in particular?
GM: I think religion per se, is a ghastly blight on the progress of the human species towards the stars. At the same time, it, or something like it, has been an undeniable source of comfort, meaning and hope for the majority of poor bastards who have ever lived on Earth, so I’m not trying to write it off completely. I just wish that more people were educated to a standard where they could understand what religion is and how it works. Yes, it got us through the night for a while, but ultimately, it’s one of those ugly, stupid arse–over–backwards things we could probably do without now, here on the Planet of the Apes.
Religion is to spirituality what porn is to sex. It’s what the Hollywood 3–act story template is to real creative writing.
Religion creates a structure which places “special,” privileged people (priests) between ordinary people and the divine, as if there could even be any separation: as if every moment, every thought, every action was not already an expression of dynamic ‘divinity” at work.
As I’ve said before, the solid world is just the part of heaven we’re privileged to touch and play with. You don’t need a priest or a holy man to talk to “god” on your behalf just close your eyes and say hello: “god” is no more, no less, than the sum total of all matter, all energy, all consciousness, as experienced or conceptualized from a timeless perspective where everything ever seems to present all at once. “God” is in everything, all the time and can be found there by looking carefully. The entire universe, including the scary, evil bits, is a thought “God” is thinking, right now.
As far as I can figure it out from my own reading and my own experience of how the spiritual world works, Jesus was, as they say, way cool: a man who achieved a state of consciousness, which nowadays would get him a diagnosis of temporal lobe epilepsy (in the days of the Emperor Tiberius, he was crucified for his ideas, today he’d be laughed at, mocked or medicated).
This “holistic” mode of consciousness (which Luthor experiences briefly at the end of All Star Superman) announces itself as a heartbreaking connection, a oneness, with everything that exists…but you don’t have to be Superman to know what that feeling is like. There are a ton of meditation techniques which can take you to this place. I don’t see it as anything supernatural or religious, in fact, I think it’s nothing more than a developmental level of human consciousness, like the ability to see perspective – which children of 4 cannot do but children of 6 can.
Everyone who’s familiar with this upgrade will tell you the same thing: it feels as if “alien” or “angelic” voices – far more intelligent, coherent and kindly than the voices you normally hear in your head – are explaining the structure of time and space and your place in it.
This identification with a timeless supermind containing and resolving within itself all possible thoughts and contradictions, is what many people, unsurprisingly, mistake for an encounter with “God.” However, given that this totality must logically include and resolve all possible thoughts and concepts, it can also be interpreted as an actual encounter with God, so I’m not here to give anyone a hard time over interpretation.
Some people have the experience and believe the God of their particular culture has chosen them personally to have a chat with. These people may become born–again Christians, fundamentalist Muslims, devotees of Shiva, or misunderstood lunatics.
Some “contactees” interpret the voices they hear erroneously as communications from an otherworldly, alien intelligence, hence the proliferation of “abduction” accounts in recent decades, which share most of their basic details with similar accounts, from earlier centuries, of people being taken away by “fairies” or “little people”.
Some, who like to describe themselves as magicians, will recognize the “alien” voice as the “Holy Guardian Angel”.
In timeless, spaceless consciousness, the singular human mind blurs into a direct experience of the totality of all consciousness that has ever been or will ever be. It feels like talking with God but I see that as an aspect of science, not religion.
As Peter Barnes wrote in “The Ruling Class”, “I know I must be God because when I pray to Him, I find I’m talking to myself.”
Next: Our series finally concludes.
Special thanks to Grant Morrison: The Early Years author Timothy Callahan for his help with this feature.