All-Star

All-Star

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Different Perspectives



Quitely and Grant

Since I've posted quite a bit about All-Star Superman in the past, I thought I'd do so again.

Here's a link to a long article about the ray bradbury reference in the first issue.

 The writers at Hooded Utilitarian didn't buy into the general praise of the series, and they offer a series of insightful articles about why. This first one by Noah Berlatsky discusses how All-Star feels decadent, a retread of the silver age stories that never quite captures their true feeling. Here's another he wrote on the same subject.

I borrowed Berlatsky's scan of the sea dragon, art by Marley for the Korean comic Dokebi Bride. Looks amazing.

This next one by Berlatsky is a comparison of two images, one of Superman and the other of a big dragon. Here's a follow-up. I wanted to post these stories in part to give an alternate perspective on All-Star Superman, and the art of Frank Quitely. The writer shows the images in part to point out how the superhero image suffers by comparison. There's something worth quoting here:


The point here is that super-hero comics very rarely have a strong sense of wonder. With all the spectacular feats, you’d think they would—but somehow they all end up as tricks; they’re fun and goofy, or I guess more recently bloody, but they don’t actually inspire awe. And I think it’s because of something Tom said, “Superman keeps the universe our size.” Super-heroes are there to make things more manageable. Awe—a sense of vastness, of human insignificance or vulnerability—is antagonistic to everything they stand for. If Superman saw that dragon, he wouldn’t be scared or impressed—he’d just punch it in the snout. (As Wonder Woman did in a similar situation..) There’d be big explosions! There’d be excitement! There’d be action! But there wouldn’t be a moment where you said, “oh my god,” and felt rooted to one particular spot, and overwhelmed.

The point here is that super-hero comics very rarely have a strong sense of wonder. With all the spectacular feats, you’d think they would — but somehow they all end up as tricks; they’re fun and goofy, or I guess more recently bloody, but they don’t actually inspire awe. And I think it’s because of something Tom said, “Superman keeps the universe our size.” Super-heroes are there to make things more manageable. Awe — a sense of vastness, of human insignificance or vulnerability — is antagonistic to everything they stand for. If Superman saw that dragon, he wouldn’t be scared or impressed — he’d just punch it in the snout. (As Wonder Woman did in a similar situation..) There’d be big explosions! There’d be excitement! There’d be action! But there wouldn’t be a moment where you said, “oh my god,” and felt rooted to one particular spot, and overwhelmed. - See more at: http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2009/04/nowhere-man-somewhere-dragon/#sthash.OQBMq6hq.dpuf

The point here is that super-hero comics very rarely have a strong sense of wonder. With all the spectacular feats, you’d think they would — but somehow they all end up as tricks; they’re fun and goofy, or I guess more recently bloody, but they don’t actually inspire awe. And I think it’s because of something Tom said, “Superman keeps the universe our size.” Super-heroes are there to make things more manageable. Awe — a sense of vastness, of human insignificance or vulnerability — is antagonistic to everything they stand for. If Superman saw that dragon, he wouldn’t be scared or impressed — he’d just punch it in the snout. (As Wonder Woman did in a similar situation..) There’d be big explosions! There’d be excitement! There’d be action! But there wouldn’t be a moment where you said, “oh my god,” and felt rooted to one particular spot, and overwhelmed. - See more at: http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2009/04/nowhere-man-somewhere-dragon/#sthash.OQBMq6hq.dpuf
The point here is that super-hero comics very rarely have a strong sense of wonder. With all the spectacular feats, you’d think they would — but somehow they all end up as tricks; they’re fun and goofy, or I guess more recently bloody, but they don’t actually inspire awe. And I think it’s because of something Tom said, “Superman keeps the universe our size.” Super-heroes are there to make things more manageable. Awe — a sense of vastness, of human insignificance or vulnerability — is antagonistic to everything they stand for. If Superman saw that dragon, he wouldn’t be scared or impressed — he’d just punch it in the snout. (As Wonder Woman did in a similar situation..) There’d be big explosions! There’d be excitement! There’d be action! But there wouldn’t be a moment where you said, “oh my god,” and felt rooted to one particular spot, and overwhelmed. - See more at: http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2009/04/nowhere-man-somewhere-dragon/#sthash.OQBMq6hq.dpuf
The point here is that super-hero comics very rarely have a strong sense of wonder. With all the spectacular feats, you’d think they would — but somehow they all end up as tricks; they’re fun and goofy, or I guess more recently bloody, but they don’t actually inspire awe. And I think it’s because of something Tom said, “Superman keeps the universe our size.” Super-heroes are there to make things more manageable. Awe — a sense of vastness, of human insignificance or vulnerability — is antagonistic to everything they stand for. If Superman saw that dragon, he wouldn’t be scared or impressed — he’d just punch it in the snout. (As Wonder Woman did in a similar situation..) There’d be big explosions! There’d be excitement! There’d be action! But there wouldn’t be a moment where you said, “oh my god,” and felt rooted to one particular spot, and overwhelmed. - See more at: http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2009/04/nowhere-man-somewhere-dragon/#sthash.OQBMq6hq.dpuf
It's certainly an interesting perspective on superhero comics. On the same website, Tom Crippen discusses Superman at length. He warns that it's a idiosyncratic perspective, and everything I've found in my own study of what people do with the character sort of works differently. Crippen wonders about the religious connections, the mythical nature of Superman, and I deal with that a lot (though not exhaustively--I pulled everything about Superman and the hero myth out of my book, though that seems really weird; it may be an article some day, if I can pare it down from the 70 pages it currently takes up). Anyway, here's a key point of Crippen's article:


There’s my Superman. He’s modernity. It’s what he stands for, and he grows directly out of it. He’s the odd doodle our collective mind drew when the second-by-second experience of modern existence, the way modernity feels, became impossible to ignore. “Super,” the category he embodies, represents the new dimension added to existence by technological development. The most extreme transformations in our physical environment are now produced by means we find unreal and abstract, that feel like they have nothing to do with us; he’s there to bridge the gap.

He also writes: When I was reading Superman, I was getting ready for a lifetime of user manuals and tax forms. All right, I'm bitter.

This is all interesting stuff, and worth thinking about. For Crippen, Superman is all about modernity. For both these writers, Superman isn't enough. He doesn't work in a beneficial way. For Berlatsky, there's no inspiration, no sense of wonder. One result of my own research, which involved interviewing people about what they do with Superman, is that I found Superman to be the inspiration these writers don't find. That's an awkward sentence, but the point is that plenty of people work to make the world a better place, modeled on their interpretation of Superman. The scholar Ben Saunders, in his book Do the Gods Wear Capes?, finds in Superman an evolving meditation on the nature of virtue, something that everyone I interviewed also indicated in one way or another. What Superman does is much less important than what we do with Superman in mind.

Cover by Mike Allred


Now, I talked to Superman fans, so they are predisposed to find useful things in Superman stories. When Berlatsky discusses the sense of awe, he's really getting at something religious, Rudolph Otto's sense of the numinous. That's not what Superman does. He's secular. I'm not saying that this makes Quitely's image of Superman in the sun any more valuable (in fact, nobody I talked to mentioned this image as being particularly meaningful to them); what I'm saying is that these writers don't find Superman valuable in the way that other people do. And that's fine. Personally, I like reading all the different perspectives, and both Berlatsky and Crippen make some really interesting points. Well worth reading.

While we're on the subject of Morrison's Superman, here are a few articles on his Action Comics run from a little while a go. From the Mindless Ones. And more. And on Morrison.

And while we're on the subject of awe-inducing images of sea monsters, I've always like this one, from the World's End volume of Sandman, by penciller Michael Zulli, inker Dick Giordano, and colorist Daniel Vozzo:





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