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Author Topic: The Hidden Parallels of All-Star Superman  (Read 8043 times)
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alschroeder
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« on: April 17, 2006, 01:33:42 AM »

It's known that Grant Morrison likes his mythology---that he envisioned the JLA as modern Olympians, and Superman fit the Zeus-mold there---but in All-STar Superman, I think he's comparing Superman to a different mythological figure--Hercules.  The mention of Superman overcoming twelve super-challenges by Samson in issue three, his upcoming "Death" by the cells bursting from energy ---Hercules died a fiery death, an apothesis that actually turned him into a god---makes me think Morrison is not only looking at classic Superman riffs, but also making comparisons to the most famous strongman of the ancient world, Hercules.

   At first I was puzzled why Samson was teaming up with Atlas rather than Hercules, who he teamed with the several other times he came to modern times in the sixties, but if Superman is FILLING the Hercules role, it makes more sense.

    If I'm right, Superman will indeed undergo the "death" mentioned in issue one, but only to become even more powerful.

    Note in issue four, Superman will be a menace, out of control---and Hercules/Heracles often had bursts of madness that made him a menace to others---in fact, the whole reason he undertook the Twelve Labors was to pay for slaughtering his first wife and children due to madness that Hera sent his way.

    It's an interesting amalgamation. In JLA, Morrison introduced new characters inspired by the Olympians' enemies---the Hyperclan/Titans (elder super-beings), Prometheus/Prometheus, and Mageddon/Typhon.  One wonders what new characters he will create to approximate the Hydra, Cerebrus, Anteaus, etc.

    It's interesting to wonder what role the various supporting characters will have. I have my suspicions about  Luthor (perhaps the King who sent Heracles on his tasks, Luthor will secretely manipulate Superman and the menaces he faces), and Heracles had a close friend who often accompanied him on his travels, despite being a normal man---just like Jimmy.

    (And it was Heracles' wife who unwittingly gave him the best soaked in Nessus' blood that "killed" Heracles. Will Lois have a role in his upcoming "death"? Will her refusal to believe he's Clark play a role?)

     We'll see.---Al
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Al Schroeder III, former letterhack (met his wife through Julie Schwartz' lettercolumns) of MINDMISTRESS http://mindmistress.comicgenesis.com---think the superhero genre is mined out? Think there are no new superhero ideas?

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JulianPerez
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« Reply #1 on: April 17, 2006, 04:49:03 PM »

I wouldn't say that Morrison meant his JLA to be equivalent to the Greek gods on a 1:1 basis. There were just as many references to Camelot, for instance. What Morrison meant with his JLA was for it to be mythical and grandiose in a general sense.

This attitude always bothered me. Granted, the JLA are THE superteam, however, you don't have to make constant references to King Arthur's Round Table or Mt. Olympus. Just let the League be themselves and the "mythic nature" will take care of itself.

I wouldn't agree Morrison is trying to tap into mythology directly for ALL-STAR SUPERMAN. What he is tapping, though, is Jack "King" Kirby. And Kirby's approach to mythology was to give myth new life by combining it with space age concepts and gizmos. So far, we've had a reappearance by Kirby's DNA project as a major part of the story, and debatably, the Paranoid Pill in a cameo. Morrison clearly has a hard-on for all things Kirby.

Not to say that I disagree with you on your assessment that Morrison is trying to duplicate the Hercules myth (which is an interesting analysis, incidentally). The reason I think that ALL-STAR has worked so far, however, has been that it is so very much a SUPERMAN story: the Weisenger-esque cute things like Superman giving Lois powers for her birthday and having Superman perform contests of strength, the Kirby-esque things like Sampson and Atlas being time-travellers with a go-kart, the Schwartz things like a city of dinosaurs at the center of the earth or rescuing astronauts about to crash into the sun.

None of these things would work if they were made with another character, which is why I feel the Hercules analogue is not 100% apt. Morrison is trying to give the story a mythic type energy the way Kirby tended to, but that is not necessarily the same thing as saying that Morrison is trying to cast Superman in the part of Hercules. If Morrison, who is not a very subtle writer at all, DID, however, go in the direction you're suggesting and ape the Hercules myth, this would be profoundly disappointing.

Mark Gruenwald, in a letters page for WEST COAST AVENGERS, once said that while he loves mythology and superhero comics for the same reasons (monsters, over-the-top adventure stories, etc.), ultimately the two are not the same thing and never should be.

Superman and Hercules are two different characters and attempting to have Superman be Hercules are destined to failure. For instance, Hercules had no equivalent of a Lex Luthor-esque archnemesis. You mentioned the possibility that Grant might use Lex much like King Eurystheus of Thebes. But that wouldn't work, because for one thing, Lex is hardly cowardly and fearful. And a situation where Superman is required to do Lex's bidding out of guilt would make an interesting relationship, but is not how the relationship of Superman and Lex Luthor works.

The attitude of superheroes as mythology bothers me. For one thing, it's very pretentious. For another, it denies the fact that these characters are real people, by making them out to be mythic archetypes. And by definition, mythic archetypes are not characters we are supposed to accept as being "real."

One of the greatest weaknesses of myth, which often means that it has to be tooled around with when it's used for movies, is that myth is predictable just as fairy tales are predictable. If there are three sisters, the good one is always the youngest of the three. Why? Because all these stories are that way, from Cinderella to MacBeth. But superhero comics always work best when their events are unpredictable. If Agatha Christie was ever strapped for cash, she'd write one hell of a Justice League. Englehart's DETECTIVE was thoroughly engaging because it skeedaddled all over the place. In myth, you're allowed to cheat, but I didn't see that "immoveable object/unstoppable force" solution coming.

Quote from: "Al Schroeder"
If I'm right, Superman will indeed undergo the "death" mentioned in issue one, but only to become even more powerful.


You're kidding me, Al. Because here I was thinking Superman was going to die and stay dead forever.  Cheesy
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alschroeder
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« Reply #2 on: April 17, 2006, 04:54:52 PM »

But that isn't the only option.  He could AVOID the "death" by having, ohhh, say, the Parasite drain the excess power from his cells, or some other sort of power-draining, or siphon the extra power to others, or even release it in other ways.

I'm saying that he will  indeed undergo the "Death", at least in a sense IF Morrison's drawing from the HEracles myth, which I think he is (or using the Heracles myth for the structure, despite using all the Superman myth elements as well.) and come out of it somehow "improved" beyond what he started out as.----Al[/quote]
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Al Schroeder III, former letterhack (met his wife through Julie Schwartz' lettercolumns) of MINDMISTRESS http://mindmistress.comicgenesis.com---think the superhero genre is mined out? Think there are no new superhero ideas?

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JulianPerez
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« Reply #3 on: April 17, 2006, 05:19:18 PM »

Quote from: "alschroeder"
But that isn't the only option.  He could AVOID the "death" by having, ohhh, say, the Parasite drain the excess power from his cells, or some other sort of power-draining, or siphon the extra power to others, or even release it in other ways.

I'm saying that he will  indeed undergo the "Death", at least in a sense IF Morrison's drawing from the HEracles myth, which I think he is (or using the Heracles myth for the structure, despite using all the Superman myth elements as well.) and come out of it somehow "improved" beyond what he started out as.----Al
[/quote]

I don't think the Man of Steel is going to weasel out of this one somehow. Morrison mentioned the idea of the Underverse in issue three, and the idea that Superman "escapes" from it. Granted, we don't know what the hell that is, but given Granty's myth fetish, my educated guess is that Superman will "die" for real and then, finds himself in the Underverse, which is where people go when they die...or something like that. He would then fight his way out.

"Eat heat, Napoleon!" ZZZZZZZZZT! "Think you're bad, Alexander the Great? I saved a slice of asskicking pie JUST for you!"

The only interesting part of DEATH OF SUPERMAN was the idea that Superman, finding himself in the afterlife, has to fight his way to the land of the living. It was barely an issue, but THAT should have been the focus of the story. Imagine...Superman fighting his way out of the afterlife to come back to life! If anybody could do it, Superman could.

Morrison once said that the 1990s were the period where Superman's imaginary stories all were real. Superman dies, becomes two people, gets married. Though I don't think he meant it as a compliment - the imaginary stories happened, but in the most boring way possible. If Morrison wants to have Superman die but make it "cool," more power to him.

(Right now, I just noticed that whenever Grant Morrison does or says something I think is B.S., I call him "Grant," or "Granty" or "my pal Grant" but whenever he has an opinion I respect, I call him "Morrison" or "Mr. Morrison." I wonder what married people say about that.  Cheesy )
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RedSunOfKrypton
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« Reply #4 on: April 19, 2006, 04:26:01 AM »

Quote
I saved a slice of asskicking pie JUST for you!
My new MSN quote. Cheesy

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I wonder what married people say about that.
SHHHH. Wink
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TELLE
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« Reply #5 on: April 19, 2006, 09:05:30 AM »

Long blog post on same subject:
http://www.emaki.net/blog/2006/04/superheroes-are-not-mythology.html

Quote from: "JulianPerez"
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The attitude of superheroes as mythology bothers me. For one thing, it's very pretentious. For another, it denies the fact that these characters are real people


Julian, thanks for clearing that up.  I forgot that Hercules is not a real person like Superman is.
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Klar Ken T5477
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« Reply #6 on: April 19, 2006, 01:37:40 PM »

Hercules isnt real?Huh?Huh?Huh?? :shock:
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JulianPerez
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« Reply #7 on: April 19, 2006, 03:15:51 PM »

Quote from: "TELLE"


Interesting blog post.

I disagree with it in one respect, however: the reason it says that superheroes are not mythological is because mythology fulfills a function in societies, like explaining something in the natural world or performing moral instruction. For instance, the story of Samson and Delilah has a moral about not trusting shiksas. Lots of Just So Stories do things like explain why leopards have spots and all that.

But this is just one view of what it is that myth does.

There are many, many myths, including the sexy and famous heroic myths, that don't fulfill any function or provide explanations for anything and exist for their own sake. This includes Hercules, whose sole moral seems to be that wrasslin monsters is pretty cool.

I'm arguing that superheroes are not mythological, not because of what their stories try to DO, but because of what their stories ARE.

Superhero stories are written by a specific writer or writers working at a specific point in time. There are varying views about how myths form, but none of them say myths start out that way. This makes mythology a category so general anything can fulfill it, instead of being folklore created by a cultural process. If superheroes are mythology, why not airport novels, too? There's a Masters Thesis for a lazy grad student: "Homeric Themes in Tom Clancy."

What bothers me about something like my pal Grant using the JLA as Mt. Olympus fighting a bunch of bad guys like the Titans, is that it makes direct comparisons from the JLA *specifically* to Greek Myth, which is lazy writing. Just take a formula and plug new numbers into it. As opposed to Kirby, who gave things mythic significance, but you don't see a Zeus-type except in a very vague, skyfather-esque sense.

Though when the blog author has under ABOUT ME: "I write in words and pictures, and think deep thoughts about both," I seriously wanted to have my fist do like Voltron and detach from my body, rocket off, and punch him in the gonads.

Quote from: "TELLE"
Julian, thanks for clearing that up.  I forgot that Hercules is not a real person like Superman is.


 Cheesy

Superman is more real than Hercules and Paul Bunyan and the like in one fundamentally different way:

Everybody's heard of Paul Bunyan, but nobody cares about him.

Ditto for Hercules. In every vase painting or sculpture of Hercules in antiquity, Hercules wears a lion skin. But in nearly any movie version anyone can care to name, Hercules does without this thing that was the characteristic that identified him in art. Mostly it was done to not cover up the incredible physique of Steve Reeves and others. But for whatever reason, something important to Hercules's "look" was discarded. And nobody's really complained.

Contrast this with the cape and boot color nitpicking going on, or people wondering if Brandon Routh is too young to play the part.

For some, this kind of fan nitpickiness is irritating. And while I can agree with this at some points (does the size of the S really matter? REALLY?) I think it is ultimately good because what it shows is, Superman matters to people. The moment the boot and cape color discussions stop is when Superman is in serious trouble.
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"Wait, folks...in a startling new development, Black Goliath has ripped Stilt-Man's leg off, and appears to be beating him with it!"
       - Reporter, Champions #15 (1978)
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