Ask Chris #20: Morrison vs. Moore and Why the Legion of Super-Heroes Works
Here at ComicsAlliance, we value our readership and are always open to what the masses of Internet readers have to say. That's why we've given Senior Writer Chris Sims the
punishment pleasure of stepping into the grand tradition of the Answer Man as he responds to your reader questions!
Q: Alan Moore's "Supreme" vs Grant Morrison's "All-Star Superman": which is the ultimate Superman story? -- cdtatro
A: Of all the questions I've been asked for this column, this one might be the most difficult.
I'm pretty sure just about everyone reading ComicsAlliance is familiar with "All Star Superman" at this point, but just so we know where we stand, it's the best Superman story in at least 20 years, with Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely doing a Silver Age-inspired tale of what Superman does when he knows he's dying. Brilliantly written, beautifully drawn, it's darn near perfect.
"Supreme," however, is a little more obscure -- it's hard to put together a full run, and while it was reprinted in the past few years by Checker, the print quality was really lousy -- which is insane because it's one of Alan Moore's masterworks. Beginning with "Supreme" #41 in 1996, Moore took over a Superman analogue created by Rob Liefeld and did (stop me if you've heard this one) as Silver Age-inspired tale in which Supreme returned from a long absence. Essentially, Moore was acting as though the previous ten years of Post-"Crisis On Infinite Earths" Superman were just a weird diversion, and now it was time to get things back to normal. Clever, groundbreaking and thoroughly rewarding (like pretty much everything Moore's done), it's absolutely phenomenal.
So which one's better? Brother, this'll take some thinking.
Right from the start, it's easy to point out that "All Star" has one big advantage over "Supreme": Frank Quitely. His work on "All Star" is quite possibly the best of his career, and his beautifully detailed pages and innovative layouts are able to carry so much information across to the reader, and for good chunks of the run, "Supreme" just can't compare.
That's not to say that "Supreme" is all that hard on the eyes: Once Chris Sprouse (who would later collaborate with Moore on "Tom Strong") shows up, it is a good-looking book, and every issue boasts flashbacks illustrated by Rick Veitch that are just incredible. Veitch draws his sequences to look like authentic Golden and Silver Age stories, doing note-perfect imitations of everyone from Curt Swan and Kurt Schaffenberger, the artists who defined the Superman family in the Silver Age...
...to EC Comics creators like Jack Davis, Will Elder and Harvey Kurtzman:
Moore and Veitch's work in "Supreme" is essentially a master class in the history of comic book art and storytelling, but often, the art on the main story just couldn't keep up. If Sprouse had drawn the whole run, it'd be one of the prettiest comics to ever hit the stands, but that wasn't the case, and while the guys who did draw the first year's worth are okay, they're unfortunately just okay, and often suffer by comparison.
As far as the stories, it's tempting to say that while Morrison has a relatively narrow focus in "All Star," Moore is far more ambitious in "Supreme." Part of that has to do with the nature of the two works: "All Star" was a twelve-issue limited series, while "Supreme" was an ongoing that racked up a total of 23 issues before it stopped (a fact I'll get to in a moment), but there's a key difference in scope, too.
Both comics are full of references to old Superman stories (Morrison does his own tributes to things like "Superman's New Power," while most of the Moore/Veitch "flashbacks" are overtly remixed versions of classics like "The Super-Key to Fort Superman"), and in fact, I'm pretty sure that this scene from "All Star Superman"...
...is at least partially meant to be an homage to this scene from "Supreme":
If so, that brings up an interesting fact: That Morrison himself considers "Supreme" as much of a valid text on Superman as the other stories he draws from.
But as I was saying, Moore's focus isn't as narrow. While Morrison's essentially creating an idealized version of Superman and his supporting cast, Moore is creating an his ideal version of the entire DC Multiverse, including analogues for Batman, Robin, the entire Justice League, the Justice Society, the Phantom Zone, and even manages to recast existing characters like Youngblood and Glory into his versions of the Teen Titans and Wonder Woman. He even works in the coupons that used to run in Superman comics for free rides at the Pallisades Amusement Park. It's essentially the entire DC Universe as created by Alan Moore, which is awesome.
Unfortunately, its scope also provides its own drawback, which is that while "All Star" comes to a fantastic, perfectly satisfying ending, Supreme just stops, ending right in the middle of the run. It does it twice, in fact; first when the ongoing "Supreme" series ends in the middle of a storyline, and then again when "Supreme: The Return" ends after six issues. Don't get me wrong , the final issue is great, but it also ends with a blurb reading "Next: Revelations!" and Moore's plot for the next issue exists, including a line about how it leads into the grand finale in the issue after that, both of which were unfortunate victims of the collapse of Awesome, the company run by The Rob Liefeld that was publishing "Supreme" after he broke with Image.
It wasn't just them, either: Moore was working on a "Youngblood" series and a "Glory" series at the same time, and while they were both great, they also bit the dust after a couple issues each.
Of course, getting back to the matter of scope, you could also argue that Morrison isn't just working with Superman as a character, but rather the nature of Superman as a metaphor for heroism itself, and that he's tying it into this overarching super-story that he's run through everything he's done at DC from "JLA" to "DC One Million" to "Final Crisis," and you'd be right. But you could also point out that Moore is, in turn, making a study of and a commentary on the way that the stories themselves have evolved over time, and if I started trying to figure out which of those was more important or done better, I'd be here all day.
Originally, I thought I might settle this by just comparing my favorite issues, but that presents a new problem, as my favorite issue of "All Star" is "the Superman/Olsen War" from #4, Morrison's tribute to "Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen," and my favorite issue of "Supreme" Is "New Jack City" from "The Return" #6, which is Moore's tribute to Jack Kirby.
You can't ask me to choose between Jimmy Olsen and Jack Kirby, cdtatro. I can't do it. And if I try, I'll explode like a computer on "Star Trek."
So instead, my final answer's going to be that they both have their strengths, but they're both of such high quality and different enough that comparing the two to decide which one's better is impossible. Sure, it might be a cop-out, but it's also true. And that's the nice thing about reading great comics: It's not a competition, and we all win!
Q: Would you kindly put on your Geoff Johns hat and talk a bit about the metaphor at the heart of the Legion of Super-Heroes? Something something future, right? -- Steven, via email
A: I think the metaphor for the Legion is a pretty simple one, and you're right: It's all about the future. Not just in that it's set in the future, but that it's actually kids -- and even more specifically, that it's kids who are inspired by super-heroes to become heroes themselves.
I used to not like the fact that so many Legionnaires have powers that are native to their worlds -- everyone on Cosmic Boy's home planet, for instance, has magnetic powers, and everyone on Titan is a telepath, just like Saturn Girl -- but whether or not that was just an easy way for the creators to explain where all of these powers came from, it's become part of what works about the Legion.
There's the underlying idea that everyone has something they can do to make the world a better place if they'd only actually do it. After all, everyone on Braal might have magnetic powers, but Cosmic Boy is the only one who decided to go out and help people all over the galaxy with them. And that itself is another huge part of the metaphor, the idea of people who are literally from different worlds coming together and working to help everyone.
Combine those, and you've got something that takes the old "the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing" message and literalizes it. The message here is that if we want to save the future, then we have to work for it and teach other people to do the same, and even if all you can do is eat matter, then gosh darn it, get out there and be the best Matter Eater Lad you can be.
It's the youth, though, that makes it really work for me. For one thing, it makes them easier for kids who read comics to relate to, because they're essentially just a bunch of kids who really like super-heroes. More than that, though, is the idea of youthful optimism. The Legionnaires believe in heroes in the way that kids believe in heroes, and they believe that what they do matters. And by acting on that belief, they make their actions matter.
It's an idea that I really like, that everyone can be Superman if they work hard to help others, and while I think there's a lot of appeal for kids in that idea, if it's delivered from an "adult," it can easily seem like the kind of "work hard, get good grades" lecture that they get from age five to the time that they drop out of college and start writing about comics professionally.
And now, a few quick answers:
Q: Simple question: which decade do you feel had the best comics from either of the big two, and why? -- Max_Barnard
A: Oh, no contest: The '80s. Simonson's "Thor," Moore's "Swamp Thing," Stern and Byrne's "Avengers," Byrne's "Superman," Ostrander's "Suicide Squad," Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire's "Justice League International," Miller on "Daredevil" and later on "Year One," Barr and Davis on "Detective Comics." It was a Golden Age, my friend.
Second place would probably be the '60s. Kirby all over the place, Lee, Ditko and Romita on "Amazing Spider-Man," and the height of Silver Age crazy-awesomeness over at DC thanks to Jerry Siegel, Otto Binder, Leo Dorfman, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger and others.
Q: Is it "Dark-seed" or "Dark-side" for Darkseid? How important is pronunciation in comics? -- MichaelWearden
A: "Dark-Side." And along the same lines, while DC's official line is that it's "Raysh" al-Ghul, I once asked a guy who worked as an Arabic translator and he told me it was more like "Roz."
It doesn't really matter though, as long as you know who it's meant to be when you see the words, though it gets a little trickier when you're dealing with creators. I'm still not sure if my pronunciation of Fabian Nicieza's last name (Knee-See-Ay-Zah) is right, and I've heard various takes on "Busiek" and "Guice," too, which can lead to awkward times at a convention.
Q: What are your thoughts on Anime Conventions? And have you ever been to one? -- Xaiados
A: I haven't been to one, but I've always wanted to go, and even moreso now that I've been to San Diego. I just really want to see what a con looks like when you're only casually interested in the subject matter, and see just how different they are from comic conventions.
Q: What was the best issue of a Wrestling comic you can think of? -- adampknave
A: Until Cullen Bunn and Tom Fowler's issue of "Deadpool Team-Up" comes out, the reigning champion is going to be Jarrett Williams' awesome "Super Pro K.O."