Thursday, 16 July 2015
Five Panels Which Define Superman
Chances are that if you've ever looked up All-Star Superman, you'll have seen the above image. It's one of the defining moments in a truly great comic, and arguably Grant Morrison's masterpiece within the DC Universe. It shows Sups caring about the common person, talking someone out of committing suicide and the willingness he has to care about the common person. However, above all of that, I personally think that this is the scene which defines Superman and should be used as a guideline for many future adaptations.
While the moment in of itself is poignant, the real impact of it stems from its placement in the comic and preceding events. At this point, Superman is dying, irreversibly so. He has been given limited time at best and is choosing to help the world any way he can in that time. This emerges in many ways, going from preventing the planet turning inwards upon itself in a great disaster to finally opening up to Lois and offering her a chance of greater happiness. Even in the face of a chance to put things right in his life, to prevent total Armageddon, he's still someone willing to take the time to comfort someone who has lost everything. Even a complete stranger.
The pages before the image above truly help to reinforce the exact meaning of this situation. A robot (well, mecha but it was distinctly B-50s style) was rampaging across the city, Lois in its grips and trying to pick a fight with Sups. Being the true man of steel, he naturally takes it down very quickly and disables its threat, only to be confronted by Lois. Rather nonchalant about her brief captivity, her concern is instead far more about Sups himself and what will follow his death, how close it is and what it will mean for them. Each of these are treated as almost everyday occurrences despite the severe nature of their situation, and the robot's threat is barely an afterthought to either of them. It's something he has dealt with time and time again, and they are familiar with. This means the focus is placed on a far more personal level and greater meaning is present in the quieter interactions between characters, giving more weight to the above page. However, the fact he so readily takes off, so readily moves and quickly convinces someone to walk away from the edge has another meaning. In Superman's life, acts like this are just as frequent and commonplace as the fifty foot tall death machine he just disabled, and mean just as much.
Even racing about the world, even solving disasters time and time again, he still finds time to help a single person in need. Still treats it as being just as important as every act he has performed that day and even the comic itself subtly suggests he was keeping an eye open for exactly this sort of thing.
When people criticise Superman they argue that he is unrelatable. No story involving him can possibly feature him showing any compassion on a personal level or even care about anything beyond world ending threats without making him unlikable. They say he cannot possibly have a true moment of heroism akin to Spider-Man or heroes with less superpowers or less strength. This proves that, in the story is in right hands, such arguments are unequivocally false.
When people argue and talk about Batman, they see someone capable analysing a crime scene, instilling fear in criminals and acting as the right hand of justice.
When people speak about Wonder Woman, they talk of someone capable of inspiring others to greater heights, someone you'd want to help you win a war either by the sword or by a word.
Superman? He's the one you want doing what he's always done better than everything else: Saving lives, no matter who that person might be.