All Star Memories: Grant Morrison on All Star Superman, 7

Morrison on All Star Superman, 7

In the seventh part of our 10-part look back at All-Star Superman with Grant Morrison, we find out what went into making the “ultimate” Superman story, some insights into the nature of Morrison’s collaboration with artist Frank Quitely, and why writing this series wasn’t like his gigs on Batman and Final Crisis.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Newsarama: The structure of the 12 issues involves both Superman’s 12 labors and his impending death. Do you feel the threat of his demise brings out the best in Superman’s already–high character, or did you intend it more as a window for the audience to understand how he sees the world?

Grant Morrison: In trying to do the “big,” ultimate Superman story, we wanted to hit on all the major beats that define the character – the “death of Superman” story has been told again and again and had to be incorporated into any definitive take. Superman’s death and rebirth fit the sun god myth we were establishing, and, as you say, it added a very terminal ticking clock to the story.

NRAMA: When we talked earlier this year, we discussed the neurotic quality of the Silver Age stories. Looking at the series as a whole, you consistently invert this formula. Superman is faced with all these crises that could be seen as personifying his neuroses, but for the most part he handles them with a level head and comes across as being very at peace with himself. You talked about your discussion with an in–character Superman fan at a convention years ago, but I am curious as to how you determined Superman’s mindset.

GM: I felt we had to live up to the big ideas behind Superman. I don’t take my daft job lightly. It’s all I’ve got.

As the project got going, I wasn’t thinking about Silver Ages or Dark Ages or anything about the comics I’d read, so much as the big shared idea of “Superman” and that “S” logo I see on T–shirts everywhere I go, on girls and boys. That communal Superman. I wanted us to get the precise energy of Platonic Superman down on the page.

The “S” hieroglyph, the super–sigil, stands for the very best kind of man we can imagine, so the subject dictated the methodical, perfectionist approach. As I’ve mentioned before, I keep this aspect of my job fresh for myself by changing my writing style to suit the project, the character or the artist.

With something like Batman R.I.P., I’m aiming for a frenzied Goth Pulp-Noir; punk-psych, expressionist shadows and jagged nightmare scene shifts, inspired by Batman’s roots and by the snapping, fluttering of his uncanny cape. Final Crisis was written, with the Norse Ragnarok and Biblical Revelations in mind, as a story about events more than characters. A doom-laden, Death Metal myth for the wonderful world of Fina(ncia)l Crisis/Eco-breakdown/Terror Trauma we all have to live in.

The subject matter drives the execution. And then, of course, the artists add their own vision and nuance.

With All Star Superman, “Frank” and I were able to spend a lot of time together talking it through, and we agreed it had to be about grids, structure, storybook panel layouts, an elegance of form, a clarity of delivery. “Classical” in every sense of the word. The medium, the message, the story, the character, all working together as one simple equation.

Frank Quitely, a Glasgow Art School boy, completely understood without much explanation, the deep structural underpinnings of the series and how to embody them in his layouts. There’s a scene in issue # 8, set on the Bizarro world, where we see Le Roj handing Superman his rocket plans. Look at the arrangement of the figures of Zibarro, Le Roj, Superman and Bizaro–Superman and you’ll see one attempt to make us of Renaissance compositions.

The sense of sunlit Zen calm we tried to get into All Star is how I imagine it might feel to think the way Superman thinks all the time - a thought process that is direct, clean, precise, mathematical, ordered. A mind capable of fantastical imagination but grounded in the everyday of his farm upbringing with nice decent folks. Rich with humour and tears and deep human significance, yet tuned to a higher key. We tried to hum along for a little while, that’s all.

In honor of the character’s primal position in the development of the superhero narrative, I hoped we could create an “ultimate” hero story, starring the ultimate superhero.

Basically, I suppose I felt Superman deserved the utmost application of our craft and intelligence in order to truly do him justice.

Otherwise, I couldn’t have written this book if I hadn’t watched my big, brilliant dad decline into incoherence and death. I couldn’t have written it if I’d never had my heart broken, or mended. I couldn’t have written it if I hadn’t known what it felt like to be idolized, misunderstood, hated for no clear reason, loved for all my faults, forgotten, remembered…

Writing All Star Superman was, in retrospect, also a way of keeping my mind in the clean sunshine while plumbing the murkiest depths of the imagination with that old pair of c****s Darkseid and Doctor Hurt. Good riddance.

Next: The elements of Superman’s past that went into creating All Star Superman, and how Morrison recreated Krypton.

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

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