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The Indisputable Matt Maxwell Presents:




ALL-STAR SUPERMAN ended recently. When I saw Grant Morrison at SDCC this year, I told him that I was both looking forward to that final issue and that I was as much dreading it. He said something to the affect of “I understand where you’re coming from, but it’ll be worth it.” I then shook his hand as he stood there, gleaming-pated and sharp in his ice-blue suit, looking all the world like Mister Freeze (or is it Captain Cold? I get the two confused.)

Which of course explains why Darwyn Cooke came by a bit after that and told Mr. Morrison that he’d lobbied hard to have Morrison voice that role for the NEW FRONTIER feature. Makes sense, after reading that Morrison was also the model for Mr. Cooke’s take on the character in the book as well.

Though Mr. Morrison really made a much more convincing Architect of questionable moral certainty in ARCHITECTURE AND MORTALITY. But that’s neither here nor there.

The fate of the ALL-STAR SUPERMAN book is now in doubt. I’ve heard both that it’ll continue with a rotating cast (and that was always the plan from the start), and I’ve heard that it’s a dead book now (much like SUPERMAN CONFIDENTIAL). This is saddening, but not a surprise. As much as I’d like to see the idea of these series continued, that being high-powered creators doing self-contained stories with an eye towards later collection as standalone volumes that you could then use to introduce other audiences to these characters, it’s something of a lost cause now.

Even if you can use these as introductory volumes, the question is, what do you lead other readers to? I suppose you can steer them in the direction of the monthly books, but maybe that’s not such a great idea. Not necessarily because of the quality differential, or perception thereof, but because ALL-STAR SUPERMAN and SUPERMAN CONFIDENTIAL aren’t really driven by the same things that drive the monthly books. Sure, it looks like that on the surface, but they’re not.

ALL-STAR SUPERMAN tells a story. SUPERMAN CONFIDENTIAL tells a story. Individual arcs of the regular SUPERMAN books may tell a story, but mostly they’re plots. They can’t be much more than that because they’re long-running serials, franchises in a word. When you’re running a franchise, you want the appearance of change, of character progression, but really you can’t be afforded that luxury. If the character changes too much, then you end up shaking the audience off. They’re reading it for a particular setup, or series of setups and resolutions.

Kinda like THE SIMPSONS, or at least the way THE SIMPSONS used to be; I dunno as I haven’t watched it in several years. There might be some wild and crazy situation within the first two minutes (usually a red herring for the episode’s real wild and crazy situation like Homer falling into the employ of Scorpio or being forced to do missionary work on a remote island), but by the twenty second minute of the episode, things are more or less back to the way they were. And if not then, then certainly by the beginning of the next episode. Talk about your semblance of change.

The long-running serial comics kinda face the same problem. Oh, sure, there’s been plenty of change, usually wrenching and usually undone some time down the line, but nothing that really sticks. It’s soap opera change, only the actors don’t have to age because they’re not real. And for a lot of readers, that works just fine; they’re satisfied and keep reading along.

Most other readers, however, are looking for story, whether they know it or not. They want to see something risked and rewarded or punished (depending on the kind of reader being attracted—there’s plenty who want to read miserable stuff, just like there’s plenty who want to read uplifting stuff.) They’re looking for some kind of resolution. You only get a resolution at the end of a story. You only get an end of a story if you’re willing to let it die there.

This is why we get super-hero movies where you end up with dead bad guys at the end (whether or not the hero themselves kills them); the formula demands that the bad guys are so vile and terrible that death is the only possible punishment for their misdeeds. Yawn. But it does grant finality to the proceedings, that I’ll admit. However, I’m wandering off the subject here.

Franchise-driven serials simply can’t withstand the kind of changes that drive real story. You can’t have Batman resolve the issues that drove him to stomping criminals on a nightly basis, else he gets past it and he’s done as a character. Same reason why Batman can’t just flat out kill all of his enemies. Hell, that doesn’t even work for the Punisher. Spider-Man can’t get over his Uncle Ben’s death and the X-Men must always be freaks and outcasts (beautiful freaks at that) or they break.

Or do they? Grant Morrison took that idea, of human/mutant co-evolution and ran with it beautifully on his NEW X-MEN run. Of course, he also used the run to write a love letter (or was it a poison pen?) to the Claremont run of X-MEN. Mr. Morrison took the opportunity of his finite run on the book to actually tell a story and inject some change into things. Not just cosmetic change, but real, fundamental character-driven change. That’s a tricky thing to do but he pulled it off. I’d also note that he did the same on JLA and DOOM PATROL and his BATMAN run (though I’ve kinda lost patience with that). Mr. Morrison’s runs on those books are loved not just because they’re great comics (pro-tip: they are, largely) but because he tells a story that respects the essences of the characters, one that ends.

How anyone could follow up JLA or NEW X-MEN or even DOOM PATROL boggles my mind. It’s a thankless task. Mr. Morrison puts all the toys back in the toybox, unbroken and maybe even a little shinier, a little more well-loved. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s come to a conclusion with them.

See, mostly comic runs just sort of end. They cease. Sometimes they’re given an opportunity to conclude, but mostly they’re not, because if they’re successful, they need to continue on. Which is why when we get a WATCHMEN, we cling fast to it. There’s a story with a beginning a middle and an end that we don’t need an encyclopedic knowledge of backstory to enjoy. But most importantly, we get a sense of closure, of finality, even if we’re left with the tantalizing possibility of Veidt’s plot being unraveled with Rorschach’s journal (though that conclusion is pretty much made explicit by both Dr. Manhattan and Veidt’s own nightmares about the Black Freighter). But we don’t need to see it. We took that journey with the characters.

And a journey’s gotta end for it to have any meaning.

Hail and farewell ALL-STAR SUPERMAN. Goodbye to you, SUPERMAN CONFIDENTIAL. What you could have been, we can only imagine but will never know. Instead of a stage where celebrated creators could dance: imagine if you will interpretations of the character by Michael Chabon and Joe Kubert or Thomas Pynchon and Jim Woodring (hey, it’s my dream: don’t judge.) But that’s not what we want, apparently. We want a world without end, no matter the contortions necessary to drive that.


Matt Maxwell

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