Come On, Let's Go.

In Praise of Brevity

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All-Star Superman #1, 2005, Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely

This is the first page of Grant Morrison's hyper-lauded All-Star Superman series. It is also the most perfect example of how you tell a globally-recognized superhero's origin in this day and age. Morrison had to retell it in All-Star because he was spinning his own continuity off right at the last panel. His Superman was not the current Superman inhabiting the DC multiverse. Everything would be different in his comic, because he wanted to tell the story of his Superman, and not decades upon decades of conflicting editorial decisions.

Comics characters, especially highly socially cemented ones – Superman, Batman, the X-Men, et. al. – do not have an origin story. No, that's not exactly correct - they do not have a single origin story. The variations are as multitudinous as they are frequent. You can't go to the very first telling as that is akin to gleaning insights about a Picasso through a cave painting. You also can't go to the most recent as origins, in these days of ever-present crisis, tend to be twisted into barely-coherent and staggeringly illogical pretzels meant to fit the conceits of the latest sell-you-ten-one-shots-a-month, it-all-ends-here crossover event.

With this page, Morrison boils down the mythology to both what you need to know and what has been stable throughout Superman's protean history. Eights words within four captions on four panels and suddenly you don't have to worry about whether Brainiac was responsible for the explosion or if a baker's dozen of other Kryptonians made it out of there alive. Certainly, the comic regularly references minutia from decades-forgotten issues in countless cellars, but there exists no expectation of recognition. There's no “SEE ISH #571” here; only a quick and satisfied smirk when the writer dusts off and wields a character or plot device long deleted from the continuity. And it all begins with a story told by the reader as much as Morrison himself.

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