The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

All Star Superman

So, I finally read Grant Morrison's "All Star Superman." People kept telling me to read it, they said I would finally get Superman. I would finally understand why people love him.

I was not impressed, and my mind was not changed. If anything, this cemented my negative feelings for the character. I get that the reason he behaves perfect is that he is supposed to represent the best of us. But "the best of us" does not make for an interesting character. I just wanted to shove a finger down my throat. I am not anti-hero. I am just pro-multifaceted, three-dimensional characters. If this is Superman at his best, then I'll stick with the more "human," "understandable" and "flawed versions, if I subject myself to him at all. If I want a perfect man, I'll read the Gospels.

I admit that I did somewhat enjoy Lex Luthor in this story, and he is a character I very rarely enjoy. And it made a good "final story" for him. I guess, plot-wise it was a decent "Death of Superman" story. Certainly better than being punched over and over by Doomsday. It was a well told tale, but... it just outlined why I have never and will never like this character.

Sorry for the short entry, but I wanted to post something today. Instead, let me list some great heroes who are better characters than Superman.

Henry V
Edgar (King Lear)
Mark Antony (Julius Caesar)
Claudio (Much Ado About Nothing)
Benedick (Much Ado About Nothing)
Titus Andronicus
Goliath (Gargoyles)
Elisa Maza (Gargoyles)
King Arthur
Frodo Baggins
Samwise Gamgee
Ellen Ripley
Captain John Sheridan
Susan Ivanova
Luke Skywalker
Captain America
Iron Man
Spike Spiegal
Harry Dresden
Han Solo
Princess Leia
Peter Venkman
Sam Spade
Rick Blaine
Beatrix Kiddo
Aldo Rayne
Clarice Starling
Sarah Conner
The Dude
John McClane
Buffy Summers
Malcolm Reynolds
Richard Castle
Sherlock Holmes
Indiana Jones
Brock Samson
Wonder Woman
Hal Jordan
Luke Cage
Jessica Jones
Harry Potter
Hermione Granger
Ron Weasley
Neville Longbottom
Severus Snape
Captain Kirk
Captain Picard
Link (Legend of Zelda)
Solid Snake (Metal Gear)
Aang (Avatar the Last Airbender)
Prince Zuko (Avatar the Last Airbender)
Will Vandom (W.I.T.C.H.)
Chief Brody (Jaws)
Optimus Prime
Rodimus Prime
Optimus Primal
Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mocking Bird)
James Bond
Will Kane (High Noon)
Harry Callahan (Dirty Harry)
Robin Hood
Frank Serpico (Serpico)
Nick Fury
Black Widow
Dexter Morgan
Stephen Colbert


  1. Stephen Colbert? Cute Greg. Given your hatred of the character I almost expected you to put "Inanimate Carbon Rod" on that list. ;)

    Luke Skywalker? I'd say he's better than him by a thread, but that's it.
    Link? He doesn't even talk so it's hard to grasp what his character is.

    For what it's worth I don't outright hate the character like you do, but even I've never been terribly impressed with All Star Superman. Some of my favorite Superman stuff is from outside the comics.
    Fun little fact: Superman started out alot more violent than what he's known for today.

    1. Stephen Colbert is both a fictional character and a hero. ;)

    2. In that case Greg, he should've been listed first on this list. :)

  2. Really? People actually thought this would make you "finally get Superman?" Knowing your opinions of the character this is the last thing I'd recommend you to read.

    Just out of curiosity, Greg, what did you think of the suicidal girl scene?

  3. What, no Hulk?!

    He's a hero.

    Remember what Cap says in that one episode of the Avengers cartoon?

    Pity, you don't like Superman. I bet you like Marvel's Sentry over him.

    1. "Pity, you don't like Superman. I bet you like Marvel's Sentry over him."

      You bet, eh? How much money are you willing to bet?

      I don't care about the Sentry. I don't like him, I don't hate him... I nothing the the Sentry.

      And really, what was the point of that? Are you twelve years old?

  4. Have to say I'm not surprised. I'm a Superman fan myself, but even I'm in the dark as to why All-Star Superman would be a better selling point for the Man of Steel than many other stories. Then again, I only have access to the first half of the series.

    Anyway, I might have poor memory, but didn't you say that you enjoyed TAS-JLU version of him, or just the series itself?

    1. The series themselves, I didn't much care for him even there.

  5. I was actually kinda looking forward to an actual analysis when I saw the title, positive or negative.

  6. Why should anyone take you seriously when you trash Superman? We get it! You hate good guys! All your favorite characters are sociopaths!

    1. My favorite characters tend to be more villainous, yes. But I pick my favorites based on how interesting or fascinating the character is to me. They can be good or they can be bad.

      Take Spider-Man for example, he has a massive guilt complex that intrigues me. He doesn't have the easiest life... his luck sucks. But he keeps fighting the good fight.

      Malcolm Reynolds is another favorite of mine. He was on the losing side of a war for independence, lost his faith, but keeps on searching for that little bit of freedom.

      I don't pick my favorite characters as a means of applauding or celebrating good behavior. Demona is my favorite character in the realm of all fiction, and while there are many Demona Revisionists and Apologists, you will not find me among them.

    2. Why should we take Greg seriously? Well because he speaks his mind and isn't afraid to say negative things about things people love.

      If he refused to "trash" Superman just because of Sups reputation then you might have reason to not "take him seriously."

  7. First off, I'm using my dad's computer which for some reason won't let me post on the blogs on Google Chrome, hence why I'm not posting under reply. Second:

    Anon- "Why should anyone take you seriously when you trash Superman? We get it! You hate good guys! All your favorite characters are sociopaths!"

    So, Aang, Captain Kirk, Spock and Spider-Man aren't good guys? I mean, I am guessing you read through the list before posting, right?

  8. One other thing Greg, I don't know what your opinion on Wolverine is either way, but how in God's name did he not make the list, but FUCKING Wonder Woman did?

    Unless you just forgot him. ;)

    1. I forgot a lot, but a comprehensive list would take weeks. ;)

    2. I'd actually be very interested in seeing a comprehensive list.

  9. OK I skimmed the list before but after reading it I'm surprised you put Wonder Woman on it. She's a great character (when written competently) but in certain circles she's thought of as the "female Superman." So much so that she's his "perfect mate" in some comics.

    Just wondering what your thoughts are on her in relation to the big blue boy scout.

  10. I have a friend who would agree with this wholeheartedly lol; he's a big Batman fan. I thikn, however, that Superman isn't necessarily beloved because he represents the best of us, but because he is the quintessential being of ultimate power in human form. At least that's why he's my favorite hero-character by far...

  11. To start with, though "All-Star Superman" happens to be one of my personal favorites, it's definitely not the kind of thing I would have recommended to someone who wasn't a fan of the character. It's the ultimate celebration of his rich history and mythos, and pretty much assumes its reader is a great fan of the character.

    As I definitely fit that description, I love the book to pieces, and I quite honestly don't think it's overrated at all (now if we wanna talk overrated Superman stories, just get me started on the overwritten tripe that is "Superman: Red Son").

    In any event, though, as I promised on Skype, I'd like to offer up a few reasons why I disagree with your premise entirely. I don't think Superman is anywhere close to "perfect" in his best interpretations (even in the pages of "All-Star Superman"), and personally I find him to be an interesting and engaging character and a fascinating hero.

    I will of course have to make the caveat that these are not always the aspects which writers bring to the forefront in his stories; merely the ones that I enjoy the most when they do show up. So without further ado...

    1) Superman as an Immigrant

    The immigrant experience is a fairly timeless story, and Superman is one of the most classic and inspirational examples of a successful one. After all, in modern political parlance, Superman is an "anchor baby," and all that implies.

    Growing up in the home of adoptive strangers, originating in a strange land that he never knew and which is lost to him beyond a few small, lingering artifacts...and yet imbibing the values of his adopted land into his very core, taking on its colors and its credo and representing the absolute best its citizenry can aspire to; "Truth, Justice, and the American Way."

    As someone who's done a lot of work and interaction with immigrants who aspire to quite the same thing (if on a much smaller scale) it's a very powerful story. It's also the aspect I would play up the most if I was ever to write a story featuring the Man of Steel myself.

    2) Superman as a Leader of Men

    This is the closest to the "supposed to represent the best of us" aspect you mentioned above, though I would frame it rather differently. Superman, for better or for worse, very much occupies the same sort of role that Steve Rogers in Marvel or Goliath/Arthur Pendragon do in "Gargoyles" (the latter especially having been played up in the Formspring-Verse): that of a common rallying point for disparate heroes, a paragon who may not be perfect, but who leads by example because no one else will.

    An essential thing to consider, for me at least, is that Superman never asked for celebrity or followers, though he gained both in large quantities. He just tries to be a good person, the strongest he can be...and hope that others are inspired to do the same. This is one of the (many) reasons I love the suicidal-girl scene in "All-Star Superman;" so short and yet so poignant, which Morrison is an undisputed master at.

    ...The rest will come in a separate comment since I've exceeded Blogger's character limit, LOL.

  12. 3) Superman as Batman's Friend

    Okay, I'm cheating a bit here, since this one fundamentally involves two characters. But there's still no getting around that the Superman/Batman relationship (and not THAT way, fangirls) is one of my favorites in all of comics.

    I love the way they contrast so starkly and yet ultimately find ground; the modern-day Heracles/Theseus, with at least a little less doucheyness. I love the way they bounce off each other in terms of personality and temperament. I love the way they can argue so vehemently and yet very much both be in the right; a continuity where one is always correct at the expense of the other holds no interest with me (here's looking at you, Frank Miller).

    Honestly, as much as I've seen it in about a dozen different comics or adaptations, I could watch Clark give Bruce a sliver of Kryptonite forever. It's one of those moments, like Mary Jane's "jackpot" line, that I look forward to whenever fresh versions of the two characters interact.

    4) Superman as One Notch Below a God

    Now, I know this title probably raised your eyebrow, but hear me out.

    Generally, I prefer Superman's power-set to be dialed down a fair distance from its Silver Age heights (Earth-16's found a pretty good medium, I think)...but when he isn't, this is the interpretation that I prefer.

    The man who is so, SO close to a Physical God and yet acutely aware of how much that small distance causes him to fall short. The man who is fast enough and strong enough to avert 99% of disasters...and so agonizes endlessly about that 1% he didn't.

    With ears that can hear everything, eyes that can see everything, and the strength of a Titan, he should be able to save everyone on Earth...or at least he feels that way.

    That feeling of helplessness, of knowing that you could've helped someone and didn't, is something that I feel everyone can relate to...and because Superman must inevitably fail SOMEONE, it is something he must feel constantly.

    ...Wow, this is a rather stringent character limit.

  13. 5) Superman as Clark Kent

    This is the big one, I think.

    Quite frankly, I can take or leave many of Superman's powers; indeed, one of my favorite Superman stories of the Modern Age is in "52," which he spends as powerless as any human, waiting for his powers to recharge. It's the man who fascinates me.

    It's the essential duality of the "secret identity" concept, but doubly so for him: that a certifiable demigod steps down to live amongst us "mere mortals," and ends up choosing a kinda goofy, kinda clumsy investigative reporter of all things as his "human" self. For the record, I don't like interpretations that make him world-renowned in his journalistic skills, earning multiple Pulitzers and such; him finding dignity in obscurity and "simple" heroism is far more appealing to me.

    It's his civilian relationships with Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, the Kents, and Lana Lang (though I'll readily admit that all of the above, particularly the former, have been adapted VERY badly in the past). And whenever Clark interacts with Lex Luthor in civies, I just giggle maniacally.

    It's the little things too, like the fact that for all his own strength and fame, his favorite hero of all time is...Atticus Finch. I think he would agree entirely that most everyone on your list that is a fictional, powerless character in the DC Universe is a better hero than him. I think he'd agree that "common" soldiers, firefighters, and policemen are better heroes than him. I think he'd agree that Bruce is a better hero than him.

    As I said above, he doesn't do this to be liked. He's not trying to be perfect, or to be a Messiah. He's trying to be, at heart, a good man...and that's what I love about Superman.

    Not the "Super" part. That's not what defines him. Not in his own mind, and not in mine.

    The "man" is what brings me back to his stories, over-and-over.

    I know this list won't change your mind about the character, but I hope it'll present you with a little food-for-thought...and prove that it's not just idiotic fanboys who can look up in awe when someone shouts, "Look, up in the sky!"

  14. I've never been a DC reader/watcher before Young Justice (frankly only Spidey got my attention out of all the other Marvel heroes . . . what can I say, I spent most of time loving Gargoyles), but I will, as a bit of a tangent, just say that the first time I did do a double take about Superman was Bill's little speech about the Man of Steel at the end of Kill Bill --

    "Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was *born* Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent . . ."

    (won't quote the whole thing verbatim here, I'm sure anyone with the DVD or access to Google can find the scene/script)

    . . . Bill's eventual analysis about Superman's alter ego of Clark Kent being a critique on the human race was definitely a dynamic I never considered before. Maybe that critique-as-Clark is a subconscious one, but nevertheless, I think they carry some weight/relation with Masterdramon's first and fifth points.

    The speech wasn't enough to make me pick up a Superman comic book or watch anything in the DCAU (yet), but it did leave me with just a little more respect for the guy, one that's allowing me to give him the chance to see how his character does in Young Justice (and for the record, I love the current Superman/Superboy relationship . . . or lack there of.)

  15. I haven't seen enough of the other stuff to comment, but he's at least better than Link. Link is the empty player avatar with no personality. Superman at least HAS a personality. Lassie is a dog. I won't begrudge your choices but COME ON

  16. My sister and I actually used this list (the characters we're both familiar with anyway) to play a game of 'Better or Worse than Superman' similar to Spoony and Mile's game of 'Better or Worse than Transformers 2.' The only one we both thought Superman was better than was Optimus Prime, for the simple reason that as bland as Superman can be, we at least get a better sense of how his worldviews were formed through his upbringing on Earth, whereas Optimus is just kinda... good. Transformers: Age of Consent might have been an opportunity to show an Optimus embittered by humanity, but of course Michael Bay got his hands on it.

    1. Check out IDW's Optimus Prime... a lot of "humanity" in him.