Thank you so much, Max.
(Full Disclosure: I originally wrote this for a scholarship application. Fingers crossed!)
Of the myriad forms of media I’ve absorbed in my years, be they visual, musical, or literary, only one has affected me as profoundly and shifted my worldview in such a way that the work changed me as a human being. That work is All-Star Superman, a comic book series written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Frank Quitely. The series comes in twelve issues, each forming a masterful story in of itself, like the facets of a beautiful diamond. This series is, in my opinion, one of the greatest stories ever told.
In the very first issue, Superman is poisoned via solar radiation, the very source of his powers, by his arch-rival Lex Luthor. Superman’s power is augmented considerably, but at a cost: he will die within a matter of weeks due to his body being converted to pure energy from the lethal overdose. Not only does this constitute one of the greatest contradictions of all, the world’s most powerful man slowly dying, but it allows for a shockingly deep examination of mortality and what it means to be a hero. The first six issues deal with Superman’s interactions with the people who touched his life most: he reveals his identity to his girlfriend Lois Lane and gives her a sample of his powers for a day, entrusts the future protection of his adopted homeworld Earth to scientist Leo Quintum, spends time with his best friend Jimmy Olsen, interviews his killer Lex Luthor as reporter Clark Kent, and reflects on the death of his adopted father ten years earlier. They all show a beautiful tapestry of what Superman is to different people: he is a friend, a lover, a son, and how he was formed by every experience in his life to the beacon of hope he stands as in the story.
In the next six issues, he begins taking on the prophesied Twelve Labors of Superman, including escaping the Bizarro World (a land totally counter to our Earth), facing down his corrupt replacements, and creating a universe in a microcosm to see a world without a Superman. However, his greatest action by far occurs in issue ten. We see a girl on a skyscraper’s ledge, crying, about to jump. Her psychiatrist is trying to talk her down over her cell phone while stuck in traffic, but she throws it over the edge. Superman appears next to her, and tells her, “Your doctor really did get held up, Regan. It’s never as bad as it seems. You’re much stronger than you think you are. Trust me.” He then comforts the girl and brings her down from the high area. That simple, wholly human act of benevolence coming from someone who is decidedly not human is why this work has changed me so profoundly: because Superman shows me that there is no such thing as an impossible task. He never falters, he never stops trying against the impossible, and no problem is too small for him. Superman embodies hope, and he embodies everybody’s ability to look within themselves and be stronger than they ever knew they could. The series ends with a large door marked with a number two; it presumably contains his cloned successor thanks to Dr. Quintum. However, to me, it is more than another messiah to save the Earth: it is the fact that hope never dies, that no matter what you face, there is always a way.
Anonymous said: I have always wanted to ask Supes, what is with the red underwear?
They’re Kryptonian Overpants. Mostly, they just look cool. I mean, would Batman have copied the idea from me if they didn’t look cool?