Sunday, June 10, 2007

All Star Superman #3: 'Sweet Dreams, Superwoman'

“Sweet Dreams, Superwoman” is another really fun issue that manages to seamlessly mix over the top Silver Age craziness with real, emotional impact. That’s the series’ greatest strength, and it comes out of Morrison’s love for the material. He truly believes in what this version of Superman stands for, and is able to extrapolate from his existence what the universe would be like. If Superman is a regular presence in your world, the appearance of an evolved lizard from the Earth’s core would just be a minor inconvenience, and that’s an exciting world to live in.

The first page of the issue is incredible, Morrison sums up the issue’s premise quickly so we can get right to the action, and does so it in a way that lets Quitely do some phenomenal work. I like that Superman color coordinates the box with his costume, in the previous issue, we saw a more domestic Superman, and this kind of design work fits with his interests. I love the way Quitely draws Lois, particularly the bottom panel, which is just dripping with sex. Is there any significance to that? I’m not sure, but it works well, she is clearly excited by the idea of being like Superman and that final panel shows her taking control of things.

My one major problem with this issue is that Lois gets powers, but doesn’t really get to do anything. She flies around at first, but then spends most of the issue standing around while Superman, Samson and Hercules fight over her. I think you could do something interesting where Superman transfers his powers to her, so that he is forced to be human and let her do the heroics. Alternatively, you could just have the two of them going around together and helping people, but I guess it was not to be.

But, I think Morrison’s primary interest in the issue isn’t showing what Lois would do with superpowers, it’s more about showing why Superman is different than other heroes. It’s interesting that he chose two figures out of older cultural mythology. Morrison has always equated Superman with the Greek gods, referring to the JLA as the pantheon when he was writing that book. In the same way that the Greek gods served as a model to aspire to for people at the time, Morrison wants Superman to be a model for humanity. I think that’s a major reason he takes issue with Moore’s deconstructionist superhero writing, to Morrison, superheroes aren’t juvenile power fantasies, they are models for humanity to aspire to. A work like Miracleman shows what an ordinary person would do when presented with huge power, the ways that it would corrupt him and lead to an almost Aryan society. This work is more about showing what the ultimate hero is, and how humanity struggles to live up to his example.

Anyway, it’s notable that Superman is presented as the only mythological character who’s actually more than human. The others are petty and jealous, hoping to impress Lois with absurd feats of strength. Superman is so confident in himself that he doesn’t need to engage in their juvenile antics, he just chills for a while, then ultimately wins using his mind. Morrison presents an evolution of mythological figures, we don’t need the violence and pettiness of our old models, Superman is above that. In addition to commenting on mythology in general, it also fits as a meta commentary on superhero comics themselves. Superman doesn’t need to lower himself to the pointless violence of other characters, he is beyond that, something that most writers of the character don’t get.

On the page where they first meet, I love how Quitely has the subtle background action of Superman retrieving Krull from space. That’s one of the best things about Quitely’s art, and the way Morrison writes for him. It’s not just an illustrated story, you have the “read” the images to understand the story and there’s a ton of details in each issue to catch on repeat reads.

I like how Lois is so confident in Superman, she goes along with the feats. For her, it’s fun to watch these other guys put so much effort in, knowing that they’ll get shown up soon. They can talk about having drinks at the crucifixion or riding a chariot drawn by gods, that can’t compare to hanging out with Superman. The funniest thing here is when Lois says she’s trying to teach him a lesson “after the creepy and ridiculous impersonation of Clark Kent that started all this.” He just can’t convince her that he can the bumbling journalist as well as the Superman.

Superman ultimately shows up Samson and Herclues through his intelligence, not his strength, answering the riddle of the Sphinx. It’s notable that his answer is to surrender, a non-violent approach. We all just accept that superhero comics have to have violence and fights to be sustainable. That’s what a hero does, someone who literally fights for what’s right. But, this book presents a different approach, and it’s exciting to see it in action. This is a whole new paradigm for the sort of stories that can be told with the character, and superheroes in general.

Superman goes out to a beach to finally shut up Samson and Hercules and does so in a spectacular arm wrestling competition. My favorite part here is Lois’s total relaxation as she sits and watches, as well as Superman’s whistle as he defeats them. Visually, it’s pretty fantastic too, emerging into the gorgeous blue sky and ocean after our time in the cave.

From there, Superman and Lois head up to the moon to do something he’s wanted to do since the very first day they met. What exactly is that? Clearly they have sex, but wouldn’t they have done that before? Perhaps it’s sex with the superpowers, they do look pretty spectacular on the full page splash up on the moon, another amazing Quitely image. That moment, and the closing scene makes us understand what it’s like to have a relationship that’s so far beyond what humans can have. Superman feels everything more, so much so that Lois is exhausted by her day and drifts off to sleep.

The final page is very sweet. Quitely has an unmatched ability for framing a panel. The top panel on the final page shows us exactly what we need to know, but in a more dynamic way than a full body shot of Superman carrying Lois would. Here, we have the strength of his arms, the iconic symbol, juxtaposed against the quiet sleep of a now human woman. That’s what the series is all about the blend of super and man, over the top craziness and relatable emotion.

This is another great issue, again proving that Morrison has the definitive take on the character. I feel like with every book he writes does everything the characters need to do. We don’t need any more X-Men after the end of his run, no more Doom Patrol, no more Animal Man. He takes the concepts to their logical ends, incorporating everything important from the mythos and condenses it into one great run. That’s certainly what he’s doing here.


RAB said...

I agree that Lois not actually getting to do anything with her powers is the weak point of the story. What I would have hoped for in this issue is only hinted at on the next-to-last page, when Lois describes the sensation of her powers fading away. Even then, we don't really get to feel it, but are simply told about it. This issue could have been all about Superman getting to say to someone else "Let me show you how the world looks to me" -- and maybe even coming to appreciate his life better by seeing it through someone else's eyes, the way you might notice things about your home town for the first time only when you're showing someone else around. The story we did get was fun, but I consider this issue a huge missed opportunity.

The previous issue belonged to Lois, and I liked the story...but I don't really care for the Morrison/Quitely Lois Lane. Same reason I don't like the Kate Bosworth Lois Lane: even though she gave an excellent performance, she was just hopelessly miscast. Lois Lane has to be someone we can see as worthy of being the companion to a superman, and it's hard to see that in a cute-as-a-button slip of a girl who looks and acts like she's fresh out of journalism school. But I could write a whole essay on who I think Lois Lane ought to be...

Patrick said...

I'd agree that he could have done a lot more with the premise, but I really like the Quitely/Morrison Lois Lane. She strikes me as someone who knows everything about the world around her, and is really smart and down to Earth. So, she's the perfect companion for Superman who can do anything, but will always feel somewhat alienated from humanity due to his powers and extraterrestrial origin.

But, I'd agree that Bosworth wasn't a good Lois Lane, particularly for the story they were doing. Considering the whole premise of the movie revolves around the character having been missing for five years, it might be best to have someone who wouldn't have been seventeen when he left. She didn't seem like someone who had graduated college, let alone won a Pulitzer and been a single mother.

It baffles me that movies will cast someone so young for a character who needs to be at least thirty, then on TV, we've got 27 years olds playing high schoolers.

David Golding said...

Am I the only person who thinks Lois's "not using her powers" is wonderful? As you say, "We all just accept that superhero comics have to have violence and fights to be sustainable" but "we don't need the violence". There's more to Superman than super heroics. Lois is the opposite of Miracleman. In fact, Lois uses her powers extensively to survive various hostile environments. And of course, she's seeing and hearing stuff in a super way all issue long. Rather than doing super stuff, what is it like just to be super? As she comments on losing the super senses, it's a reminder that it is a very special present to be like Superman, one which can't be given lightly, and we aren't.

Readers are full of desire, but I find these issues more suited for meditation.

Dan said...

In this issue, Superman asks Lois a question right before she falls asleep, exhausted after a day of adventure. Does anybody know if Supes ever gets to ask that question? Or what the question was, at least? The series is over and I cant find the answer!