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Friday, September 26, 2008



I love Krypto, I really, really, really love Krypto. And I'll admit, James Robinson does right by the modern version of the character in the new issue of Superman. But everybody? The rest of the comic is a pile of dogshit. It took me less than four minutes to read, was filled with bad dialogue, and Robinson can't write the character of Superman to save his life. Look at the scene with Teen Zatara. Superman, with his hat in his hand, is a sarcastic, dismissive douchebag to the person he's begging for help. Superman. Then look at the whacked-out scene that ends the book, as Superman bascially uses the population of Metropolis as a proxy to lecture his wife that's she's a horrid bitch for trying to separate him from his dog.

Yes, the fight between Krypto and Atlas was well-staged, and yes, it's a clever idea to introduce a Zatara into the supporting cast, given the original's place in Action Comics. But so far, Robinson's run on Superman is only confirming for me that his writerly quirks (tangential conversations; drawn-out, shapeless plotting; random focus on otherwise meaningless background characters; etc.) which could be charmingly idiosynchratic in Starman when used on his own creations and forgotten third-stringers, just seems like bad, lazy writing under the glare of the spotlight.

Scipio says anyone who didn't cry at the end of the issue has his pity. Even as a huge Krypto fan, I say anyone who cried at the end of this issue has lead poisoning. I just wish I had video footage of the Absorbascon commenter who claims he gave the book a standing ovation in the aisle of his comic shop. Then I could die happy.

Monday, September 22, 2008


All-Star Luthor: Xs and Os

Thanks to David Uzumeri at Funnybook Babylon for inspiring this post:

So All-Star Superman #12 is out. Superman is in the sun, evil is vanquished, humanity is ready to step into the future, and unspoken on the page but near the heart of the series, Lex Luthor and Leo Quintum are the same guy.

Throughout the series Leo has been presented as an obvious opposite number for Luthor, a scientific genius who actually uses his abilities to shape a better future instead of merely talking about it. But A-SS #12 puts the final puzzle pieces together, and makes it clear that Leo isn't merely a mirror for Luthor. He literally is Luthor--older, wiser, humane. And that's not just clever, elliptical plotting from Morrison. It gets straight to the thematic center of the story, to Morrison's idea of who Superman is, what he's capable of, what superhero comics mean now to those who read them.

Morrison has said that The Invisibles is optimally designed for its second reading--that you can only really start to understand the experience if you've already experienced it. To me this means that perceiving time in one direction limits your frame of reference too much to understand what's happening until it has already happened, and you're able to reflect. You can only discern a structure from outside the structure. So here's how I see the structure as it pertains to Luthor:

Throughout A-SS, Superman has maintained a belief that even Luthor can be redeemed. For all the labors Superman undertakes, proving his faith in Luthor is perhaps his toughest challenge, and the one task he seemingly fails, given only the evidence on the page. But we've seen over and over that Morrison's Superman, the perfect man, is never wrong, and always wins in the end. So what are the chances he fails to save Luthor?

Think about the events of A-SS #12--Luthor, juiced up on Superman's powers, finally understands the simple, harmonious structure of the universe. He touches the mind of god. Seemingly, it doesn't last, as Superman proceeds to deck him at his moment of enlightenment. Luthor's evil, petty nature reasserts itself, aghast that Superman has beaten him yet again. Then Superman lays him flat, and ends with a stinging rebuke: "You could have saved the world years ago if it really mattered to you, Luthor." But is this a disappointed write-off or a challenge?

After Superman leaves to reignite the sun, Luthor has a year to think about it--a year in which, according to the epilogue, even he is moved by Superman's memorial service, and, as Quintum himself says, the villain diminishes in the absence of his rival. So, let's say you're Luthor. Superman's finally gone, the world looks different to you now, and his final statement is ringing in your ears. Maybe you give up and let yourself be executed, as the overt text seems to suggest.

Or maybe you disappear, travel back in time, don a pair of glasses as a foolproof disguise, (plus some hair plugs, switching the X in your name to an O, and adding some colors to your old coat) and you become the man Superman always knew you could be. You devote yourself to scientific pursuits meant to expand human knowledge and create a better world. You place yourself near the sun where Superman must come to your rescue in issue #1 so that in #12, he may rescue the sun itself, and every creature that lives in its light. And eventually, because you earned Superman's total trust, you are given the chance to continue your former enemy's legacy for thousands of years, through the P.R.O.J.E.C.T. Remember, Superman is always right, and Superman always wins in the end. And if even Luthor can be saved by Superman, every single one of us is saved. What's more, Superman must know who Quintum is. That's why he's willing to entrust Leo with his and Lois's DNA--because he knows the man Luthor was, and the man Quintum has become. He has the confidence of seeing his beliefs proven true before his eyes.

Assuming that Leo is Lex, the next question is why? That is, why does Morrison, in nearly all his significant superhero comics, keep returning to the idea of the future reaching back to the past, so that they may save each other? The trope is present in Animal Man, New X-Men, DC 1 Million and The Invisibles, to name a few.

I think it might have something to do with the essential nature of superhero comics as they are created and experienced now, read primarily by adults, pale reflections of an idealized aspect of many readers' childhoods. There's the wish fulfillment aspect; hindsight as the ultimate superpower--the chance to do it all over again, but better. Leo is Lex's chance to be the man he always bragged about being, if only Superman weren't there to impede him. Again, Leo/Lex is the stand-in for all of humanity, in that regard.

All-Star Superman, the comic, is like a meta version of Leo Quintum. It's the Superman concept's chance to actually be what DC has puffed its chest about for decades--Superman as role model, Christ figure, avatar of morality and decency, etc. Except instead of telling us that in endless mediocre stories where Superman actually acts like a fool, dithering and crying, All-Star Superman shows us that role model in action, what it means to portray the best of our natures in a cape with a propensity for punching the fuck out of things.

The book itself recalls the past--not only of Superman, but for the people reading the comic, their own pasts. But it does so only in order to prepare the way for a brighter (Superman not only is in, but *is* the sun now) future. Grant Morrison strikes me as a nostalgic futurist, continually hopeful that by sifting the sands of our former selves, we can filter out all but utopia.

Ultimately, Luthor/Quintum is the lynch-pin character in the book, because 1) he initiates the plot, 2) he displays real (albeit off-panel) character growth in moving from the Luthor at the end of #12 to the Quintum at the beginning of #1, and 3) by doing so he symbolizes Morrison's hope for humanity. Superman himself is a beautiful cipher--by design, he's an avatar for perfection, always there for everyone else--for Leo and his crew, for the goth girl on the ledge, for Luthor, eventually for every living thing on Earth--to help them evolve, to become better. That's how Morrison ends so many of his stories--with humanity soaring into the sky to face Maggedon in JLA, or stepping beyond their physical forms to expanded consciousness in The Invisibles. All-Star Superman may be the most graceful version of the standard Morrison ending yet.

UPDATE: Finally had a chance to look through all the issues. In addition to Superman's line in #12 "You could have saved the world years ago if it really mattered to you, Luthor," a commenter below points out that in #1, Quintum tells Superman that he too is trying to escape a "doomed world--called the past." Further, in A-SS #10, when Superman gives Quintum his genome, the scientist questions the decision, saying "I could be the devil himself for all you know." Superman replies "Oh, I think I'm a better judge of character than that, Professor," then hands him the vials containing his and Lois' DNA, saying "This is how much I trust you, Leo." The scene takes on a completely new meaning, assuming Quintum is Luthor.

LATER UPDATE: Be sure to check the comments for the discussion, kicked off by RAB, of the derivation of the name "Quintum."

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