Thursday, January 19, 2006

One Fine ASS

Okay I promise not to ever use the Acronym for All-Star Superman ever again. I got it out of my system. I wonder if the acronym has anything to do with the cheesecake bit?

In the interest of fairness here are two opposing views on All-Star Superman. You have to scroll a bit to get Greg's but not Jog's.

Personally, I loved this issue. It’s not plot heavy, certainly, but it does something else that is really ignored a lot as well. Issue number 2 went away from the fantastic action and wonder of the first issue towards a simple character study. We see Superman and Lois interacting and we’re introduced to this new Superman through the eyes of the “human” character. We’re shown where and how he spends his time not being Superman. That’s ballsy for a second issue.

Whereas we’re thrown into the middle of the first issue and a lot is set up there we’re then immediately taken out of any sort of action and given a pause. We’re given time to get to see how this guy functions when he’s more or less on his own. The audience isn’t further introduced to Superman through more of his actions, but through his inaction. Yes, we know he can lift cars, or stop trains, and all the other images we’ve come to identify with Superman over the years. Morrison deliberately leaves that all out here. We know he can do this stuff do we need to see it again? I don’t. Not particularly.

I think that’s where this differs from the Ultimate Marvel line. It isn’t, “here’s the entire history of this character, rewrite it all again but, I don’t know, give them new costumes and switch some of the sexes around (but only if they’re robots).” Not to completely dismiss the Ultimate line, they are coming up with really good stories, even when the premises are familiar. They actually have storytelling chops which I love. This seems more to me. Whereas All-Star Batman and Robin is treading a similar line but hitting all the wrong notes, Morrison’s Superman is chiming in perfectly for me.

Both books are silly and over the top, but Superman doesn’t seem as heavy handed about that. It’s the subtlety of the whole thing that makes it work for me. Yes, you can still the Morrison’s hand at work here but it’s not slapping you in the face so hard that you react with a flight or fight reaction. If Morrison’s creative hand hits you, you assume it’s to knock something off you – like a deadly spider you were unaware of – not a smirk. I guess they’re styles are like Samurais and Ninjas.* One wears a big flag and goes straight ahead chopping everything in his path whereas the other one completes the job without you ever knowing he was there. Either way, you’re dead – or entertained in this case it just depends on which way you prefer to go. Blatant or subtle.

I think in both All-Star cases we’re expecting things. We expect certain things from Miller and it didn’t work for me. I didn’t like how it was handled. No biggie, I don’t feel betrayed or anything I’m mature enough to move on and look for what does work for me. Whereas Morrison seems to be aware that his audience expects him to reinterpret Superman according to the history of major events in the man of steel’s life. So he avoids doing that – similar to his writing a team book as long as the team never meets and they don’t live in the same time or space. We want Morrison to show Superman as a little kid lifting a truck or frying a test with his laser vision or laying down for the train to go over him or freezing stuff with his breath. We want to see Morrison’s take on the Superman canon. Instead we get a guy hanging out at home with a bunch of goofy stuff.

I said earlier it was a character study and that the audience is introduced to the life of Superman through Lois Lane. At some points we’re given hints to their past relationship as they discuss it which continues the IN MEDIA RES universe from the first issue. But for the most part we get to know Superman through Lois’s tour of the Fortress of Solitude. The place is huge and full of wondrous items but it never seems jammed packed or cluttered. I suppose having super-speed means house chores aren’t the same time consuming task they are for the rest of us. The place looks even bigger not simply because of what’s there but because the place isn’t full. It shows you the scale that Superman lives on. He doesn’t need to walk around. He doesn’t need stairs to get around. He can collect the Titanic instead of making those ships in bottles – although he does have a bottle city.

Quitely’s art reminds me of Moebius. It’s colour blocks and simple lines but it manages to produce a sense of grandeur about the whole thing. That reflects perfectly how Superman is being presented. It’s silly dialogue and not much happens, but we’re given a real sense of greatness here. Lois Lane is always looking for something beyond the surface. She wants to look beyond the black and white that’s presented to her and again, that’s reflected in both the art and the story. Why do we get some black and white panels? It’s not just her world-view, its some whacky radiation affecting her. Everything is firing in this series. Think about it for a second. We’re given a very bleak landscape and what’s the brightest swatch of colour in it all? Superman. The place seems huge not because of what’s in it but because it’s so empty.

Unlike the excess of the nineties here we’re given the same sense of grandeur without being overwhelmed by crammed and beefed up panels. Things aren’t changed for sensation, they’re just sort of dropped into the room and mentioned. Not every single wall has something crazy in it. We’re shown some crazy ass stuff but then nothing but plain coloured walls after that. It’s a classic movie trick. There’s something in the room upstairs, the character runs up, turns the light on and there’s an empty room with an open window – our imagination does the rest. That’s classic. Today, and in the nineties there would generally be some CG monster and it might make us jump but we’d move on. Our imagination can create something much worse if we never see what that thing in the room was. Same goes here except away from the scariness and into fantastically awesome. We’re shown a few really cool things and we know it’s a big place so there must be more to it than we’re seeing. The possibilities are endless because we simply weren’t shown everything in a moment of completist excess.

Not only is Superman presented as a solid hero, he’s the ultimate decent guy. He’s obviously wanted to invite people to his home, why else would he have a sign that says “Keep Out. Superman At Work”? And what’s he working on? A freakin’ birthday present. You just don’t see this kind of lighthearted fun in superhero comics anymore. Then, what’s the gift? Super-serum so he can let the woman he loves know what it’s like to be him. Ten bucks says Luthor attacks when Lois is Superwoman in issue 3.

At the close of two issues, we know what this Superman is like. We know he’s basically the gentlest of giants. He doesn’t question his role to the point of incapacitation. Sure he’s lonely, he’s in love, he’s embarrassed about his place – he’s the ultimate normal man. Lois is the flip side the normal person we’re being turned into. Unlike the mythical Superman, Lois Lane needs to suspect the heroes presented to her. She’d rather destroy him than see him change. Makes you wonder how aware Morrison is about fan’s reaction to All-Star Batman and Robin?

To me, this is proof that decompression can actually tell good stories when it’s handled right. We’re introduced to characters. We get to know them and see how they’ve created their world. If every single issue was like this – okay, boring – but this was good. It didn’t push me away like Batman, it made me want more. It looks good, it reads good, and most importantly it feels good. Quite frankly Superman is super because we haven’t been shown everything he can do and neither has the world he exists in.

*Please don’t send me e-mails about how I don’t understand Ninjas and Samurais. I’m not trying to explain their history. It's a goddam metaphor people.

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