This week, “All-Star Superman” arrived on DVD and Blu-ray amid much acclaim but also wrenching heartache — screenwriter Dwayne McDuffie died Monday at age 49. The animated film is based on the namesake comics series written by Grant Morrison; our Geoff Boucher interviewed Morrison via e-mail last week before McDuffie’s death.
GB: Where and when did you see “All-Star Superman” for the first time? If I remember right, you said you got emotional when he you saw it?
GM: I was given a preview copy of “All-Star Superman” back in October, a day or so before I saw you when I was called upon to burn Gerard Way’s brains out for the “Sing” video. I may be a remorseless slayer of rock stars in my spare time, but I have to admit I choked up a little at the end of the movie when Superman kisses Lois Lane and hurtles into space on his final mission.
GB: There seems to be some new structural freedom in plot — the way we consume information now and the “digital jump” of the post-rewind era makes audiences less thrown-off by a story that starts underway. I was thinking of that during the first few moments of “All-Star Superman,” which doesn’t slow down for traditional introductions, does it?
GM: I don’t know how much that structural freedom has really trickled down to Hollywood yet, but certainly in a world where channel-surfing, YouTube and free-roaming sandbox-style video games are so popular, people are definitely becoming more comfortable with interactive, open-ended or multi-tracked mosaic forms of narrative. They can also handle the idea of being dumped into a story at the height of the action — as in games like “Call of Duty” — and learning on the fly. The first Superman adventure, back in 1938, opened on a scene of this completely new character leaping through the air with a snarling blond in a nightdress under his arm, so he was always ahead of the curve. When text messaging and tweets are the main mode of written communication between people, it seemed extravagant to depict the origin and early life of Superman in “All-Star” using anything more than four drawings and eight words! I went with the assumption that most people have a basic grasp of who Superman is, and if not it’s pretty easy to look him up. I’d imagine most of the people who read the book or see the movie will have access to phones that connect them to a massive global database of information. When everybody has what amounts to a complete reference library in their pockets, there’s no need to spell things out for an audience anymore.
GB: There are so many allusions to the different eras of Superman comics as well as landmark issues (especially “death” issues) and they made me smile. Talk a bit about putting those in the story and the challenge of making sure you don’t slip into medley mode.
GM: The idea with “All-Star” was to condense the different versions of Superman over the decades — the 1930s socialist crusader; the ’40s patriot; the ’50s and ’60s sci-fi dad; the troubled cosmic seeker of the ’70s; the yuppie of the ’80s; and the dead Superman of the ’90s – into one definitive portrayal of the first and best superhero facing mortality. There were a few nods in the direction of classic stories, but what we really wanted to do was tell the story of how it feels to be a man dealing with the end. The best Superman stories are about real human emotions played out on a Paul Bunyan-esque scale.
GB: What surprised you most while watching the animated adaptation of “All-Star Superman”? Either about your own work or the work of others?
GM: I was most surprised by how much of the book Dwayne McDuffie managed to condense into animated feature length. If I’d written the screenplay, I’d have probably missed out half the material he found room for, so I was quite delighted when characters like Samson and Atlas showed up. As for elements of my own work, Dwayne used quite a lot of dialogue directly from the book, and it was fascinating to hear it read. I like to write superhero stories with non-naturalistic, composed or heightened dialogue, and I haven’t really heard any of my lines spoken by actors since I was writing plays. I wasn’t sure how it would sound but was very happy with the result.
GB: Was there a particular voice performance that you would like to celebrate?
GM: I’d hate to leave anyone out but I only have a few lines, so the main leads obviously deserve a mention; James Denton gave Superman the calm, quiet strength and stoicism of a Kansas Buddha. Christina Hendricks was especially good in the snappy exchanges with Clark Kent, and they both played the Superman/Lois relationship as refreshingly adult. Anthony LaPaglia took the same approach and wisely steered clear of scene-chewing melodrama with a vocal performance that suggested not only Lex Luthor’s blind hatred but a kind of weary regret. More than anything else it was the actors’ grown-up approach to the material which I most appreciated. And hearing the voice of Ed Asner as Perry White made my day.
GB: When will you give me the 100-page Superman Family special that will make my life complete?
GM: It could be sooner than you think. I still have a few Superman stories I’d like to tell.
– Geoff Boucher
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