Come On, Let's Go.

In Praise of Brevity, Pt. 2

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All-Star Superman #10, 2008, Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely

Morrison and Quietly, as they tend to in this series, get along so many emotions and ideas in so few words and such very simple illustration. There a million reasons – some I can describe, some I cannot – but this panel gets me right in the gut every time I see it. There's a context to it revealed organically, previously in the issue: Superman stops a runaway train, riding which is Regan's psychiatrist. He is on other side of the telephone – that small pink thing Regan (nice choice of name, by the way) drops the lefthand panel.

Her facial and body expressions tell the story in a way that dialogue never could. There's sense of disappointment and resignation in her body language: one hand at her mouth, rendering her mute, the other hovering over the dropped phone, unsure of what it has done. With her eyes shut that tight, you know she doesn't want to do what she is about it, and inside that wide-eyed surprise at Superman's silent arrival, there is a sense of relief and closure; things have gone wrong for her, again, but this time it may not be so bad. She still tries to get away from him, almost by reflex, in that Tim-Burton-doll way she is exists, not believing his words but just as quickly embraces him for dear life.

Her sense of alienation is painted perfectly; she's a dark, scratchy splotch against the majestic impersonality of the Metropolis skyscrapers. Superman's speed, too, is conveyed brilliantly as faster than the speed of thought. He arrives silently enough to not spook Regan, in the midst of her last thought, and his touch is calm and soft enough to simply surprise her. He is much larger than her, as invulnerable but not as impassable and numb as the environment which has driven her to suicide. His embrace lets her know that there is a part of her just like him, and in that way, just like the buildings, just like everything in her world, and that she is in no way alone, nor can be.


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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