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Author Topic: All-Star Supes #5  (Read 11605 times)
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JulianPerez
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« Reply #16 on: October 29, 2006, 03:44:27 AM »

I did not like ASS #5 as much as many others seemed to: it is by far the weakest issue in the series. I read ASS #3 to the point of memorization, it was THAT fun, and ASS #1 always had enough exciting things to keep on going, as did ASS #2. This one, though, had considerably less going on.

I did not like Maggin's Luthor as presented here for one reason:

The "secret" to Luthor's characterization - the thing that makes him interesting going all the way back to the Silver Age, is that he was a sympathetic villain, in the mold of Namor or Magneto. Many ascribe this take on Luthor to Maggin, who most articulated this in novels like LAST SON OF KRYPTON, but it's way, way older than Maggin and the entire Bronze Age: as soon as we got the Silver Age origin of Luthor, we saw a young man that was totally unappreciated when he tried to help, and for that reason filled with rage. Maggin didn't pull this out of thin air.

Lex Luthor didn't fit in. Lex Luthor was misunderstood, and because of this, the brain that could have benefitted mankind, tragically, was misdirected. Lex Luthor also is to blame, not just society, however: he was impatient and not cautious, and never tested his inventions, and never saw their flaws and side-effects that caused people to justifiably be afraid of them. Why did Superman never recreate Lex's Kryptonite antidote? Maybe because Superman DID, and saw that it had all sorts of terrible side effects, something Lex might not have bothered to check for.

This is why Lex Luthor being in Smallville is so important to his story: yes, there's the irony of him and Superman being friends before they became enemies, BUT the main thing here is not that they were friends, but WHY they became friends: in an insular, suspicious town like Smallville, both of them are strange and different. They're the only ones that get each other, that speak each other's language in that town, the only ones that know what the Perseid star group is and can talk to each other about Astronomy and Albert Einstein.

This is why I always said that Steve Gerber would write a great Superman/Luthor story. Not just because of Gerber's inhuman talent, but also because Superman's story, at its heart, is a very emotional one, and a story about loneliness, and Gerber has done an entire career around the idea of the loner: not in the sense of someone like Wolverine, but in the sense of someone different and for that reason isolated.

BIRTHRIGHT more successfully got across and grasped Luthor in this way.

Grant Morrison included Hitler in his hall of Lex Luthor's Heroes. This is a little throwaway line, and criticising it will come off as nitpicky, but it is very typical of Morrison just not getting what Lex is about. Lex admired Al Capone and Genghis Khan, yes, but Hitler was conspicuously absent from his Hall of Heroes. Not just because Maggin insists Lex is a Jew that doesn't practice (which I can totally see) but also because Hitler was a monster who was out to control people. Genghis Khan and Capone make SENSE, because Lex Luthor is a character that has admiration for rebellion: he sees chaos as liberating, and sees brutality as a means to an end. This is another reason for Luthor's contempt for Superman: how he represents law and order, things that Lex despises. Hitler was not a rebel; he's the exact opposite of a rebel. Hitler doesn't belong in the company of characters like Capone, who in a strange way are admirable for their refusal to follow the rules.

Hitler's just plain evil, and anybody that likes Hitler must be a nasty person too. I can understand making an unusual kind of hero out of Capone or John Dillinger, but Hitler is such a world-class jerk that nobody you want to be sympathetic would admire Hitler. That's the problem with Lex liking Hitler: it makes him unsympathetic. It makes Lex a monster. It's all part of a take on the character that makes Kent's statement later on that "Lex isn't all bad" a kind of hollow, empty lip service. OF COURSE he's all bad, Clark - Jesus, didn't you see Lex waste the Parasite gangland style?

Really, ASS #4 shows more of the Carlin-era Luthor than "classic" Luthor. Lex Luthor in ASS #1 was cracking jokes while threatening to kill the crew of the Ray Bradbury. But there's none of that here: Lex is glowering, sneering and angry when the verdict was read, and contemptuous and arrogant around Clark Kent...as he was as a businessman, with none of the sense of humor and back-and-forth that made Hackman and Reeves's interactions so memorable. 

Apart from the treatment of Luthor there are other problems with ASS #5. The first is how the sequence with Clark and Luthor talking just goes ON and ON.

People rake Busiek and Johns over the coals for that sequence in "Up, Up and Away" where "Clark Kent spends a page buying a pretzel," forgetting the fact that this is not all that page accomplishes: it serves other important functions like getting across what the status quo in Metropolis is, and how people are behaving now. You know much more about Metropolis OYL after that page than you did before. (And it was warm and funny, too.)

But Morrison on the other hand, goes on for PAGES with just Clark talking to Lex. Most of this doesn't teach us anything new, nor is it interesting to watch - nothing happens in the book until halfway through and it's Lex vs. the Parasite. The idea that Lex Luthor hates Superman because he is a perfect alien that trivializes human achievements and accomplishments...this is hardly a stunning never before heard insight into Lex Luthor's character here, folks, at least not one that several pages of nothing should be devoted to. We had Lex stand around talking while on the treadmill and going down stairs for pages on pages. Watching Lex Luthor work out, watching him box, watching him go downstairs...why didn't Grant throw in something exciting, like Lex Luthor watching grass grow in the prison yard?

Why is it that Busiek and Johns are not honored, but Morrison is so lionized by classic Superman fans?

Not to get political here, but I suspect the exact same reason that so many classic Superman fans support ASS despite the fact it is demonstratably not "classic" Superman, for the exact same reason that many Christian Conservatives voted for politicians like Ronald Reagan, despite occasionally his behavior and platform was not entirely Christian or in favor of Christian causes.

So many Conservative Christians are so used to being peripheral, so used to having the mass culture ignoring them, that all a politician has to say is "I agree with you" and they've got the Christian Right on their side, because they don't measure events in terms of RESULTS, but respond emotionally.

Our culture is just as coarse and permissive NOW, as when the younger Bush took office, yet in 2004 Conservative Christians came out for him because he, uh, liked to talk about Jesus a lot.

So, Busiek and Johns, want classic Superman fans to like you? You don't have to actually, y'know, USE classic Superman or Luthor's characterization. Just make a big deal about how you like Jesus a lot.

Reading this, you may get the impression that I didn't like ASS #5. This isn't true. I did like a great many things about it. For instance, note Clark Kent's body language when the Parasite says "I'll get you! I'll suck you dry!" His knees knock together. PRICELESS.

Lex describing Lois Lane as "cool and cruel," not noticing Clark Kent sighing in the corner, is absolutely spot-on...and also, it's very, very interesting that someone like Lex would notice and pay attention to that. This brings to mind another element that's interesting: how Clark fits in the Superman universe. How does Lex feel about Clark Kent? This issue gives answers.

This issue really brought home how interesting the nature of the Clark Kent disguise is. How Clark Kent's clumsiness is studied, and how he uses it in clever ways to save Lex's life, catch prisoners, and so on. The Lex comment that he likes Kent because he's so human and fallible, everything Superman isn't, brought a smile to my face.

I absolutely loved the moment where, during the prison riot, Lex Luthor says "You're in my world now, Kent." Lex Luthor is in his element during madness, disorder and violence - it's where he feels at home. Lex taking on the Parasite in jail was Lex proving his right to lead was also a fascinating, fascinating idea. Lex Luthor snapping, and kicking the Parasite gangland style saying "nobody messes with me," also was very revalatory into Lex and his savage, brutal world: smarter anthropologists like myself have done comparisons between crime, gangs, the mafia, and so forth, to animal group behavior. Very, very literate of Grant to pick up on that. And the idea of Lex having a criminal code, "you're under my protection now" and using that to protect Clark Kent in jail, was really, really an interesting and nuanced behavior.

I did like how Grant Morrison just had Lex Luthor go on and on about Superman and why he needs to die and be destroyed and so on. Notice - Lex Luthor, even when prompted by Clark Kent, doesn't discuss his own accomplishments or his own views. He just goes on and on about Superman.

Nastina showing up at the end was absolutely beautiful - perhaps it's because of Clark's face at the end (confused, exhausted, and horrified at the same time) when she drives him out, Phantom of the Opera-style. "She's 18, speaks 30 languages - and wants to rule the world someday, bless her." Maybe it's just me, but Nastina's a million times sexier than Lois Lane. Notice too, that "wanting to rule the world" isn't a joke here, it's a threat. This is a problem I've got with series like, for instance, INVADER ZIM: "bad guy" comedy, or jokes coming out of villains being villains, is officially the most tapped comedy vein ever. Here, they talk about someone wanting to rule the world and it's SCARY (as it should be), not funny.

I love, love the tangible aura of menace, with Lex being left in prison. As Neil Gaiman said, "they put him in prison, but they couldn't put his mind in prison." Does anybody find it scarier that Lex is still in there? Still with something up his sleeve? Somehow, psychologically, it's worse than Lex just being out.
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MatterEaterLad
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« Reply #17 on: October 29, 2006, 05:02:07 AM »

I'd put a little more stock behind any of this if there was any evidence that Genghis Khan or Capone were "rebels" and Hitler somehow different...Capone was an opportinist that killed any other opportunists in his way, and his opportunism was not benevolent...no one knows of Khan's "feelings", only that he ordered opposing forces killed absolutely and systematically, often for racial reasons, notwithstanding rape and occasional slavery.  A real Robin Hood was Genghis Khan...

Did Maggin say Luthor was Jewish?  Einstein connection?  Hmmm...
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JulianPerez
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« Reply #18 on: October 29, 2006, 08:51:40 AM »

I'm not saying Al Capone was a nice guy. I'm saying that part of the reason gangsters have had such appeal, almost to the point of being folk heroes, is because they're seen as being rebellious and living life outside the law. Genghis Khan, as a barbarian that made his own rules, personifies characteristics that Lex Luthor admires like lawlessness and chaos.

This is all very, very different from Hitler, who was an authoritarian that represents control over others, law and totalitarianism and so forth. If your boss is overly controlling, you say he's "a Nazi." The OPPOSITE of the characteristics that Luthor stands for.

But this is ignoring Hitler's very specific role in our culture. Hitler is "the evilest guy that ever lived." Hitler is a byword for evil.

Hell, even Ol' Scratch himself isn't as reviled as Hitler is: ask any Heavy Metal band.

It isn't that Lex Luthor admires Hitler by itself that's the problem. The problem is this is typical of Grant Morrison going out of his way to make Lex Luthor a very unsympathetic and Evil with a Capital E villain like Doctor Doom, when Lex is a villain that works because he's complicated and misanthropic. Silver Age Luthor admired Captain Kidd and Al Capone. Maggin Luthor's hero was Albert Einstein.

On an unrelated note, I was wondering about the scene where Lex Luthor shows his muscle to Clark Kent and throws a weight set at him, and Clark wonders if he's being intimidated. The scene is most likely to show one very interesting idea that Grant Morrison has about Lex, which is how he is shaped by prison and its almost animal kingdom rules of behavior and establishing dominance. Seen in that light, his actions there are in context.

ALSO: Paging Mary Whitehouse! All complaints about violence always are to some extent hypocrisy, but sometimes hypocrisy is more blatant than usual. I can't believe the violence in this book hasn't been mentioned yet. Lex Luthor guns the Parasite down mafia-style all the while kicking him so hard alien pulp goes flying and screaming "NOBODY MESSES WITH LEX LUTHOR!" Why is it Grant Morrison can get away with this, but Geoff Johns is a "gore-crazed hack?" Holy double-standard, Batman!
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« Reply #19 on: October 29, 2006, 10:49:08 AM »

Maybe Hitler is just too polarizing to even deal with at all, when you look at the various attempts to dea with him or someone who "thinks like him" you run the spectrum of what people think is universal evil to something like the Star Trek episode "Patterns of Force" where John Gill uses Nazi methods but is portrayed as not so much evil as totally misguided.

But then, that's just me, I sometimes think exploring motivations in comics is not always worth it.
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jamespup
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« Reply #20 on: October 29, 2006, 06:03:33 PM »

"ASS #1 always had enough exciting things to keep on going, as did ASS #2. "

This sounds really funny out of context
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