Wednesday, April 9, 2008

All-Star Superman #10: Kal-El so loved the world...

Superman has always been like a Greek god, and a big part of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman has been an exploration of his role as a deified hero. In the sixth issue (reviewed by me here), visitors from the future described Superman's "Legendary Twelve Labors"—an obvious analog of Hercules' 12 labors. That superhero comics are modern myths is a fast-aging cliché, but Morrison has done an excellent job of reminding us of its truth.

With All-Star Superman #10, he throws us for an interesting loop. We all know that Superman is a Greek god—but now it's beginning to look like he's the Judeo-Christian God, too. As one of his labors, Superman has created a microverse in which he does not exist—a "World Without Superman"—and it looks suspiciously like ours. In fact, it contains the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche, an unnamed Greek philosopher (possibly Plato?), and Joe Shuster—all exemplars of the human drive for divinity. In a world without Superman, we aspire to become him—in other words, if Superman didn't exist, we would have to invent him (and we did).

Some reviewers have complained that Morrison is treading ground he's already covered (particularly in Animal Man), but I don't think that's the case. In that story, the real-world creator meets his invented creation; here, the fictional creation actually inhabits a higher level of reality than our supposed real universe. The game is played with the same pieces, but the configuration is different enough to be truly new. Until now I've been thinking of All-Star Superman as an amusing but ultimately scattered series of one-off stories; now it's beginning to look like a major work in Morrison's oeuvre. His run is set to last only two more issues—here's hoping it ends with a cosmic bang rather than a New X-Men-style fizzle.

Also posted at SF Gospel.