For He Is Like A Refiner’s Fire…

One of the problems of being a British comic blogger is that we get our comics a day later than the Americans. This can make it seem somewhat redundant to write about them. Once Jog, Marc Singer and a couple of others have written about All-Star Superman, what else can there be to say?

But I can’t let the very last issue of the best superhero comic series of all time go without talking about it. I’ve deliberately not read either of the reviews I mention above (though I know they exist – they showed up in my feed reader but I’ve saved them for later) so I can try to formulate my own thoughts. Don’t be surprised though if I say the same as them but less eloquently… I’m really just noting down a jumble of things as they come to me, here. I have to reread this in context with the rest of the series (and especially the perfect issue ten) and I’ll probably do a series of posts at some point examining it in detail.

It ends as it has to, of course – Superman becomes a God. We all knew he would. But he becomes a living idea – “My cells are converting to pure energy. Pure information.”

Thematically this makes sense – All-Star Superman has been as much about the idea of Superman as about the man himself – but it still packs a powerful punch. That splash page of Superman in the heart of the sun, coloured only in tones of gold, building an artificial heart for the sun, is just awe-inspiring.

And for someone like myself who is obsessed with seeing references to Alan Moore in Morrison’s work, it’s very reminiscent of the issue of Promethea printed entirely in gold. As always in Morrison’s recent work, All-Star Superman has at least at one level been an attempt at addressing Moore’s work. Morrison’s really in an unenviable position – he’s a truly great writer working in a very small medium which happens to have only one widely-acknowledged super-genius, who started just before him and to make matters worse has a huge overlap in interests and subject matter, who is clearly one of the great writers of all time but who just as clearly has very obvious flaws that Morrison himself doesn’t have. It’s amazing that his work contains as little commentary on Moore’s work as it does.

(For the record I think Moore is the better writer but Morrison is slightly more in tune with my personal aesthetic).

While Moore’s Supreme has been a very obvious structural influence on All-Star Superman, the main influence on this issue is Moore’s Superman work. Not Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow? (which Morrison underrates because of Superman crying and the plagiarism from Superfolks), though that gets a nod with the statue toward the end, but rather to For The Man Who Has Everything.

But while this is patterned after the earlier work, there are crucial differences. In particular, Superman chooses to return to the real world from the imagined perfect one (the look on his face when Jor-El mentions the word ‘surrender’ is priceless – I’ve gone on about Morrison here as elsewhere, but this comic could not have been done with anyone except Frank Quitely on art).

After having dealt with every other solar myth, it’s only appropriate that the last issue should contain the most explicit Jesus parallel (though again, the parallels are there with many other saviour-figures). Superman dies and goes to a perfect world where his father already is, chooses to go back to earth and save everyone, then ascends into the sky with a promise to one day return.

What’s wonderful is that in fitting the Superman story to these mythic archetypes Morrison and Quitely have taken elements from every version of Superman, without prejudice, and incorporated them into a larger framework. While this issue clearly references Moore’s work, the scene on ‘Krypton’ is also reminiscent of the Death of Superman storyline from the 1990s (where Pa Kent ‘died’ temporarily to bring Superman back to life). There’s even a nod to the godawful concept of ‘President Luthor’ from a few years ago. As a whole, All-Star Superman is the pure version of the Superman myth, condensed and refined, with all the impurities taken away (much like Superman himself at the end of the story). Morrison and Quitely have passed the concept of Superman through a refiner’s fire, and this is the quintessential Superman story.

If the human race survives long enough, and if Superman finally passes out of corporate control and becomes the folk hero he needs to be, along with King Arthur and Robin Hood and the others, this is the form his story would take after centuries of retelling and refinement. I really can’t imagine a more perfect superhero story than this series has been.

Random favourite bits from the issue (every panel is a favourite bit…)
Neoconlab – is that a very sly political dig, or just a coincidence?
“Surrender?”
“Turn and face down evil one last time” just before we turn the page to see Luthor
“Come on Clark, you can do it buddy!” turning Steve Lombard from a parody to a real, decent person in one panel
“Nice, ah, disguise, Superman”
“I should be writing these…”
“And we’re all we’ve got”
That very last splash page.

And I also love that this sets up DC One Million without ever explicitly linking the two.

I can’t say enough good about this comic, or this series. I’m going to try to do a retrospective of the whole series soon, but if there’s anyone among you who haven’t read this series yet, go out and get every issue *now*. This is a series with big ideas and a bigger heart. It’s a love letter to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and Wayne Boring and Cary Bates and Curt Swan and Elliot S! Maggin and Mort Weisinger and even to Alan Moore, and even to the tenth-rate hacks who’ve mishandled Superman so much in the last decade or two. And to the power of ideas, and to the fact that an idea can change the world.

Look! Up in the sky…

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1 Response to For He Is Like A Refiner’s Fire…

  1. I think Jesus (and the Legion of Superheroes; I only just recently discovered that lightning tree ref) was pretty well-covered in #6, but then this is structurally quite a symmetrical piece and, well, I’ll just c&p the burst I gave Jog:

    I’m prone to claim anything’s secretly about parenthood these days but certainly ASS – wasn’t it really all about fertility and empowerment, osmotically passed by, ironically, ASSman’s phallogocentric presence; a reclamation of confused male virtue with things like ‘kindness’ added? Little supermen like pollen. It ends with an artificial womb, which seems a particular fave of Morrison’s. Don’t tell me it wasn’t now.

    #12 seems oddly structured, viewed in isolation: I think the crux is dad, other-dad, telling Kal that sometimes being a man means you’re going to have to do something even though you really don’t want to do it, even though it will break your heart, because it has to be done. That is the final lesson, to complement Jonathan Kent’s. There’s some kinda natal symbolism there too with the exploding paradise garden – I find that panel really moving, actually.

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