Sunday, September 12, 2010

All-star v Secret Origin

Well, Superman Secret Origin finally concluded last month, only 10 months after it started. That makes for two series on Superman in the last 4 years that were written by premier writers and pencilled by premier artists. All-Star Superman, though, has gotten a lot more positive feedback, at least on this blog. One thing they had in common was serious delays in publishing, but let's see how else they compare.
All-star Superman had Frank Quitely while Superan Sectret Origin had Gary Frank. They're different styles, with Quitely harkening back to some of the earliest Superman art while Frank has a photo style. His Superman looks a whole lot like Christopher Reeve. One is not better than the other. They both are a pleasure to view. They both stay away from the overly muscled and disproportionate boobage. I'd say they're both more realistic in their depictions of human anatomy than a lot of other artists in the comics world. In keeping with the very science fiction feel of All-star, Quitely's work evokes the 1930s. Frank's art is well suited for the modern era tale of Secret Origin. I think each was a very good choice for the story each illustrated. I enjoyed the art in both books very much.

The stories in both books are engaging, too. All-star is about the "final" battle between Luthor and Superman. To a large degree the battle is already over as soon as the story starts. Luthor's killed Superman. It's only a matter of time and how Superman handles it. Calm would be an understated description of Superman's reaction. He goes on to perform 12 labors, a la Hercules. Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White are all well developed, especially the former two.

Secret Origin is, of course, about Superman's origin, rather than his end. Of course, this covers a lot of ground that's been covered by previous writers. Nonetheless, I think it sets out a very good starting point for the current Superman. That it finished long after a lot of the subsequent stories had already been published is not a fault with the story but with the publication process. Like All-star Superman's conflict with Luthor is at the center. Luthor's just as self-centered, egomaniacal and brilliant, but this story has him starting out as a peer of Clark Kent in Smallville. Lois is as hard charging as ever and Jimmy's a figure of humorous distraction but honest intent.

Some of the noticable differences between the stories are that Secret Origin has The Daily Planet on its last legs for most of the story. Luthor, after the first couple issues showing him in Smallville, is at the height of his power in the world and, especially, in Metropolis. He's the man everyone turns to for help. All-star has The Daily Planet at full strength, while Luthor is in prison on death row for his many crimes. The Parasite in All-star sucks up power just by being in Superman's vicinity while the Parasite in Secret Origin has to attach his mouth/sucker to his victim. General Lane is nearly non-existent in All-star, only showing up to be throttled by Luthor at one point, while General Lane in Secret Origin is nearly as xenophobic and power mad as Luthor.

All that being said, what I found most interesting was the difference in how Superman was perceived by himself and others in the two books. Grant Morrison's All-star has Superman viewed as the savior of humanity. He's viewed this way by everyone except Luthor and by Superman himself. His primary worry on learning he's dying is how and whether humanity can carry on without him. Sure, he tries to tell Lois he was Clark all along (which she doesn't believe, amusingly). He fights some battles and puts Luthor back on death row where he belongs, but his primary impetus is trying to protect humanity from itself.

On the other side of the coin, Geoff Johns, in Secret Origin, portrays Luthor as a false savior to humanity. Luthor revels in that perception and encourages it. When Superman comes along, he's a threat who must be eliminated. When Superman protects a crowd from a rampaging Metallo and Luthor sanctimoniously queries Superman's intentions, Superman specifically tells the people that he's not their savior, nor is Luthor. This Superman wants the people to be their own saviors, a very secular humanist position to take. It may be kenspeckle to those of us who have read Superman stories over the years, but in this origin it's by no means obvious that Superman is here to help and not to take over.

In fact, the All-star version of Superman, while not malignant, seems to be reveling in his position as savior. Pragmatically, he can't be a savior to everyone, but he sees himself that way, as do the people. He leads no personal life. Sure, he has the Fortress of Solitude with his tsotchkes, including Kandor in a bottle, but his closest fellows seem to be the plethora of robots he's created to keep the Fortress running. He shows up to file stories with The Daily Planet and to maintain his cover as awkward buffoon, subject of practical jokes, but none of those people actually know him. The only ones who do are his parents, and he seldom sees them. He has visitors from his future who are actually his descendants, but they're only briefly present. The Morrison works out the plotting, it doesn't even look like he'll ever hook up with, let alone marry, Lois. She doesn't believe Clark and Superman are one and the same even after he tells her, her own zetetic into Superman's identity so often having resulted in frustration and denial that he was Clark. He's left in the sun at the end, having given a DNA sample to a brilliant scientist who can use it to make clones, apparently the source of his eventual descendants.

It's a sterile, cold, comfortless life for the All-star Superman, despite the affections of his parents. I have a hard time believing he could take any comfort in Lois, who only loves him as Superman, not as Clark. Clark being an integral part of the whole of who he is, the love of Lois is incomplete, at best.

The Secret Origin Superman not only has his parents, but Lana Lang and Pete Ross who know who he is, fully. I don't expect Lois to know at this starting point in the story, but the potential is clearly there. This Superman faces an anti-alien sentiment that DC's been working since at least the Johns Legion of Super-heroes run that the All-star Superman didn't face, but he also preserved the importance and independence of the humans he protects by not allowing himself to be seen as anything more than someone who just wants to help out. He's also clear that he was raised on Earth and considers himself human, despite his extraterrestial origin. All of which garners him admiration but not worship.

Overall, I like the Superman of Secret Origins better. I also like the story better. Although Morrison employed some new and interesting concepts in All-Star I didn't find the execution to be as good. For one thing, issues 7-9 could have been left out altogether. The Bizzaro World stories were amusing but the ones in Action Comics that came out around the same time were more so and more fitting for an ongoing series like Action than a limited series like All-star. The lost astronauts of Krypton who chided Kal-el for not taking over Earth and making it a new Krypton didn't further the overall story. Curiously, the story reinforces Superman's role as savior, just as a different kind than these astronauts had perceived for themselves. The end result to these two also felt like a deus ex machina, as Superman did nothing to address the threat they presented. He just lucked into them having radiation poisoning.

Johns was more restricted in the parameters of what he could do with his story. His story is the set up to the ongoing Superman stories. Yet within those parameters he told a concise story of how Superman came to be Superman and how he took his place in the superhero world. He shows the same goofy cover Clark persona and has a similar bullpen of characters at The Daily Planet, but Perry White is shown with more steel in resisting the powerful Luthor. He develops the hows and whys of the character of Clark and of Luthor, neither of whom come from an ideal family background but who had very different results in who they became.

In the end, they're both stories any reader can and should enjoy. They're just two different perceptions of the mythos of Superman. For a more concise execution, I recommend Secrett Origins over All-star.

No comments:

Post a Comment