When it comes to writing, the most interesting aspect of iconic comic-book characters is the flexibility of intepretation. Writers representing wildly different ambitions, genres, generations and cultural backgrounds have been able to make their ideas fly with success, which is why there’s enough room, somehow, inside Batman’s cape for Bob Kane, Frank Miller, Tim Burton, Adam West, Bruce Timm and Christopher Nolan.
But there’s can be downsides in the comic books, however. These are ongoing adventures, at least on some level, and readers often reflexively look for some sort of continuity. There’s also the numbing clutter of so many competing mythologies through the years — not to mention some pretty bad fashion choices. What’s a writer to do if he or she wants to achieve something that is both fresh but alo "true" to the character? Grant Morrison reveals a lot about the choices a writer must make when approaching a character like Superman during this looooong answer to a question posed by Zack Smith about the starting-point context for Morrison’s highly regarded run on "All Star Superman," which took the Man of Steel into a setting that was entirely new but, as it turns out, quite familiar.
‘All Star Superman’ could be read as the adventures of the ‘original’ pre-‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’ Superman, returning after 20 plus years of adventures we never got to see because we were watching John Byrne’s ‘new’ Superman on the other channel. If ‘Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?’ and the Byrne reboot had never happened, where would that guy be now?
This was more to provide a sense, probably limited and ill-considered, of what the tone of the book might be like. I never intended ‘All Star Superman’ as a direct continuation of the [Mort] Weisinger or Julius Schwartz-era Superman stories. The idea was always to create another new version of Superman using all my favorite elements of past stories, not something ‘age’ specific.
I didn’t collect Superman comics until the ‘70s and I’m not interested enough in pastiche or nostalgia to spend 6 years of my life playing post-modern games with Superman. ‘All Star’ isn’t written, drawn or colored to look or read like a Silver Age comic book. ‘All Star Superman’ is not intended as arch commentary on continuity or how trends in storytelling have changed over the decades. It’s not retro or meta or anything other than its own simple self; a piece of drawing and writing that is intended by its makers to capture the spirit of its subject to the best of their capabilities, wisdom and talent.
So as much as we may have used a few recognizable Silver Age elements like Van-Zee and Sylvia and the bottle city of Kandor, the ensemble Daily Planet cast embodies all the generations of Superman. Perry White is from 1940, Steve Lombard is from the Schwartz-era ‘70s, Ron Troupe – the only black man in Metropolis – appeared in 1991. Cat Grant is from 1987 And so on.
P.R.O.J.E.C.T. refers back to Jack Kirby’s DNA Project from his ‘70s Jimmy Olsen stories, as well as to the Cadmus Project from ’90s Superboy and Superman stories. Doomsday is ‘90s. Kal Kent, Solaris and the Infant Universe of Qwewq all come from my own work on Superman in the same decade. Pa Kent’s heart attack is from ‘Superman the Movie‘. We didn’t use Brainiac because he’d been the big bad in Earth 2 but if we had, we’d have used Brainiac’s Kryptonian origin from the animated series and so on.
I also used quite a few elements of John Byrne’s approach. Byrne made a lot of good decisions when he rebooted the whole franchise in 1986 and I wanted to incorporate as much as I could of those too.. Our Superman in All Star was never Superboy, for instance. All Star Superman landed on Earth as a normal, if slightly stronger and fitter infant, and only began to manifest powers in adolescence when he’d finally soaked up enough yellow solar radiation to trigger his metamorphosis.
Whew. It’s interesting to see the knots that need to be untangled isn’t it? Anyway, this is just a small excerpt from Smith’s lengthy, multi-part interview with Morrison over at Newsarama. Well worth checking out and "All Star Superman," drawn with stately style by Frank Quitely, is certainly one of the most compelling works in the recent history of the mainstream superhero titles, check it out if you haven’t.
All images courtesy of DC Comics.