All Star Memories: Grant Morrison on All Star Superman, 3

Morrison on All Star Superman, 3

In All Star Superman, Morrison not only highlighted new angles of the Superman Universe, he also brought many new faces to the mythology. For anyone who’s ever wanted to know Grant Morrison’s process for creating new characters, here’s your chance – and a look into many, many ideas that didn’t find their way onto the printed pages. First off, we take a look at P.R.O.J.E.C.T’s colorful director Leo Quintum, and the Bizarro-Bizarro Zibarro (say that five times fast).

Click here for Part One, and here for Part Two.

Newsarama: I’d like to know a little more about Leo Quintum and his role in the story. He seems like a bit of an outgrowth of the likes of Project Cadmus and Emil Hamilton, but in a more fantastical, Willy Wonka sense.

Grant Morrison: Yeah, he was exactly as you say, my attempt to create an updated take on the character of “Superman’s scientist friend” – in the vein of Emil Hamilton from the animated show and the ‘90s stories. Science so often goes wrong in Superman stories, and I thought it was important to show the potential for science to go right or to be elevated by contact with Superman’s shining positive spirit.

I was thinking of Quintum as a kind of “Man Who Fell To Earth” character with a mysterious unearthly background. For a while I toyed with the notion that he was some kind of avatar of Lightray of the New Gods, but as All Star developed, that didn’t fit the tone, and he was allowed to simply be himself.

Eventually it just came down to simplicity. Leo Quintum represents the “good” scientific spirit – the rational, enlightened, progressive, utopian kind of scientist I figured Superman might inspire to greatness. It was interesting to me how so many people expected Quintum to turn out bad at the end. It shows how conditioned we are in our miserable, self–loathing, suspicious society to expect the worst of everyone, rather than hope for the best. Or maybe it’s just what we expect from stories.

Having said that, there is indeed a necessary whiff of Lucifer about Quintum. His name, Leo Quintum, conjures images of solar force, lions and lightbringers and he has elements of the classic Trickster figure about him. He even refers to himself as “The Devil Himself” in issue #10.

What he’s doing at the end of the story should, for all its gee–whiz futurity, feel slightly ambiguous, slightly fake, slightly “Hollywood.” Yes, he’s fulfilling Superman’s wishes by cloning an heir to Superman and Lois and inaugurating a Superman dynasty that will last until the end of time – but he’s also commodifying Superman, figuring out how it’s done, turning him into a brand, a franchise, a bigger–and–better “revamp,” the ultimate coming attraction, fresher than fresh, newer than new but familiar too. Quintum has figured out the “formula” for Superman and improved upon it.

And then you can go back to the start of All Star Superman issue #1 and read the “formula” for yourself, condensed into eight words on the first page and then expanded upon throughout the story! The solar journey is an endless circle naturally. A perfect puzzle that is its own solution.

In one way, Quintum could be seen to represent the creative team, simultaneously re–empowering a pure myth with the honest fire of Art…while at the same time shooting a jolt of juice through a concept that sells more “S” logo underpants and towels than it does comic books. All tastes catered!

I have to say that the Willy Wonka thing never crossed my mind until I saw people online make the comparison, which seems quite obvious now. Quintum dresses how I would dress if I was the world’s coolest super–scientist. What’s up with that?

NRAMA: Was Zibarro inspired by the Bizarro World story where the Bizarro–Neanderthal becomes this unappreciated Casanova–type?

GM: Don’t know that one, but it sounds like a scenario I could definitely endorse!

Zibarro started out as a daft name sicked–up by my subconscious mind, which flowered within moments into the must–write idea of an Imperfect Bizarro. What would an imperfect version of an already imperfect being be like?


NRAMA: I’d like to know more about Zibarro – what’s the significance of his chronicling Bizarro World through poetry?

GM: It’s up to you. I see Zibarro partly as the sensitive teenager inside us all. He’s moody, horribly self–aware and uncomfortable, yet filled with thoughts of omnipotence and agency. He’s the absolute center of his tiny, disorganized universe. He’s playing the role of sensitive, empathic poet but at the same time, he’s completely self–absorbed.

When he says to Superman “Can you even imagine what it’s like to be so different. So unique. So unlike everyone else?” he doesn’t even wait for Superman’s reply. He doesn’t care about anyone’s feelings but his own, ultimately.

NRAMA: The character is very close to Superman, so what does it say that a nonpowered version on a savage world would focus his energy through that medium? Also, does Zibarro’s existence show how Superman is able to elevate even the backwards Bizarros through his very nature?

GM: All of the above. And maybe he writes his totally subjective poetry as a reflection of Clark Kent’s objective reporter role. The suppressed, lyrical, wounded side of Superman perhaps? The Super–Morrissey? Bizarro With The Thorn In His Side?

But he’s also Bizarro–Home’s “mistake” (or so it seems to him, even though he’s as natural an expression of the place as any of the other Bizarro creatures who grow like mould across the surface of their living planet). He feels excluded, a despised outsider, and yet that position is what defines his cherished self–image. He expresses himself through poetry because to him the regular Bizarro language is barbaric, barely articulate and guttural. And they all think he’s talking crap anyway.

It seemed to make sense that an interesting opposite of Bizarro speech might be flowery “woe is me” school Poetry Society odes to the sunset in a misunderstood heart. He’s still a Bizarro though, which makes him ineffectual. His tragedy is that he knows he’s fated to be useless and pointless but craves so much more.

NRAMA: Zibarro also represents a recurrent theme in the story, of Superman constantly facing alternate versions of himself – Bar–El, Samson and Atlas, the Superman Squad, even Luthor by the end. Notably, Hercules is absent, though Superman’s doing his Twelve Labors. With the mythological adventurers in particular, was this designed to equate Superman with their legend, to show how his character is greater than theirs, or both?

GM: In a way, I suppose. He did arm–wrestle them both, proving once and for all Superman’s stronger than anybody! And remember, these characters, along with Hercules, used to appear regularly in Superman books as his rivals. I thought they made better rivals than, say, Majestic or Ultraman because people who don’t read comics have heard of Hercules, Samson and Atlas and understand what they represent.

For that particular story, I wanted to see Superman doing tough guy shit again, like he did in the early days and then again in the 70s, when he was written as a supremely cocky macho bastard for a while. I thought a little bit of that would be an antidote to the slightly soppy, Super–Christ portrayal that was starting to gain ground.

Hence Samson’s broken arm, twisted in two directions beyond all repair. And Atlas in the hospital. And then Superman’s got his hot girlfriend dressed like a girl from Krypton and they’re making out on the moon (the original panel description was of something more like the famous shot of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr kissing in the surf from “From Here To Eternity.” Frank’s final choice of composition is much more classically pulp–romantic and iconic than my down and dirty rumble in the moondirt would have been, I’m glad to say).

Next: Morrison on the series’ new antagonists, including Krull, Mechano-Man, and more on Atlas and Samson.

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

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