Sep
17

Requiem for a Sun God: Looking Back on All Star Superman

Posted by David Uzumeri on Wednesday, September 17th, 2008 at 02:13:42 PM

All Star Superman #12 is finally here, and Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s twelve-part epic (and it truly is an epic) has come to its long-awaited conclusion. For a while, Morrison was teasing that this conclusion would be the be-all end-all of all Superman stories, so I was somewhat surprised when I got the final page and wasn’t presented with any sort of twist or revelation but rather the final piece of a puzzle that, I think, we’re supposed to put together ourselves.

So with a great deal of thanks to Kal-L at the Comic Bloc and our own Gabe Mariani, I’m going to try to see if I can figure out what was really going on for these twelve issues. Spoilers, obviously, below the fold.

I find it very difficult to believe that Leo Quintum is anyone other than Lex Luthor himself, heavily implied by both the similarities in the trenchcoat and the appearances of their female assistants (Nasthalthia’s helmetgun is somewhat similar to Agatha’s hairdo).

Starting from there, consider that Quintum’s coat is a rainbow rather than green – much like Lex’s experience in ASS #12 where he’s brought down by the inherent beauty of the universe now that he can sense the entire spectrum of life, Quintum is a new, reformed Lex Luthor who’s finally saving the world as he always claimed.

Rehabilitation has been a major theme throughout the work, as has the “neverending battle” between Superman and Lex Luthor. In #4, Superman solved the riddle of the Sphinx – “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?” – with the answer that would provide the thematic center of this conclusion, “they surrender.” At the end of All Star Superman, Superman has retreated to the heart of the sun – literally becoming a Sun God! – essentially realizing Luthor’s dream of a world without Superman. And what is he, according to (hilariously enough) Quintum and Lois? Bored. He’s got no more drive. He’s lost the fight. He’s surrendered. He can’t save the world now; everyone wants him dead. So he goes back in time.

And now, we come to the enigmatic final page of the book, and what it might mean, especially intertwined with the “God creates man/man creates God” theme of #10:

Quintum: “Now that we know how it’s done…”

All Star Superman #12

Okay, what’s going on here? We’ve got the door implying that inside, in P.R.O.J.E.C.T., is a second Superman. But it’s not a “Superman Reborn” or “Cloned Superman” symbol or anything, it’s a Superman symbol that looks like the number two. As in, the second attempt. And Quintum’s line – “Now that we know how it’s done”…

Did Leo Quintum createSuperman? Was there ever a Krypton? Or was Krypton all the fever-dream of an older Lex Luthor, now Leo Quintum, imagining a planet of super science-gods as the backstory for his project? I recognize it’s not easy to reconcile this with the appearances of Kandor, the Phantom Zone and the Kryptonian astronauts, but P.R.O.J.E.C.T.’s resources are vast and thematically the idea of Lex Luthor going back in time and atoning for his sins by creating Superman to inspire humanity is so utterly perfect that I’m continually drawn to the idea. Is Morrison implying this? Or am I just dreaming? Because otherwise, I’m really not sure what the Superman-2 project is supposed to represent.

UPDATE: Or, as David Brothers just pointed out, it could just be the birth of the Superman Corps leading up to DC One Million, using the vials Superman gave Quintum during #11. Still, though, I think there’s seriously something to the theme of redemption and the Luthor/Quintum connection. I’m curious to hear what everyone else thought of the issue.

Posted in Blurbs · Read more by David Uzumeri

15 Responses

  1. Remember, this is Grant Morrison Mythology here, not the standard Superman mythology. According to DC1Million, there was a Superman Secondus that followed Superman Prime, who lived in the Sun. I believe Secondus’ shield was similar to this. It was heavily implied that this was Kon-el.

  2. [11:20] [djdb] I haven’t read it yet, but “Now that we know how it’s done”
    [11:20] [djdb] this seems to say that they are following the blueprint. not that he created it, but perhaps that he observed
    [11:21] [djdb] Earth is going to have a Superman. I think what we’re seeing is the birth of the superman corps or whatever
    [11:21] [david u.] That’s very possible, and let’s not forget Superman gave Quintum his and Lois’s DNA or whatever
    [11:22] [djdb] yep
    [11:22] [djdb] so now we get the next Superman
    [11:22] [djdb] ASS turns out to be the bridge between JLA and Superman 1000000
    [11:22] [djdb] wow, that may be it
    [11:23] [djdb] this is just the ultimate superman story, in every sense of the word
    [11:23] [david u.] well superman retreats into the sun to build the sun a new heart
    [11:28] [david u.] oh totally
    [11:34] [david u.] Superman Prime leaves Earth for the far reaches of time and space, he is succeeded by Superman Secondus. The Superman Dynasty are the descendant of Superman Secondus, but he is not necessarily portrayed as the descendant of Superman Prime. [SUPERMAN THE MAN OF TOMORROW #1M]
    [11:34] [djdb] kapow

    fbb4l like what

  3. I definitely thought that was a giant question mark rather than a 2 the first time I saw it

  4. I would just like to say, this book was fucking awesome. I love this Superman, and as Grant has said “Superman loves you too”.

  5. “Now that we know how it’s done” could also refer to living up to Superman’s example and ultimate human potential. That is one of the reasons Jor-El sent him to earth after all.

  6. Yeah, I pretty much totally retract the “born on Earth” part. It was right after I’d read it, I was still processing it! Give me a break!!!!

  7. This was a great series. Hard to believe it actually shares the “All-Star” banner with that execrable Batman title.
    One criticism though-
    The plot device of the mad genius receiving unlimited powers, then enhanced senses, then realizing how wonderful the universe is, then gaining an appreciation for all life and having a nervous breakdown- was already done in pages of “The Authority.” Of course “All-Star Superman” was quite a bit better, but I thought the similarities were still pretty obvious. Particularly since Quitely drew both stories.

  8. Of course, what are Superman’s last words to Luthor? “You could have saved the world *years ago* if you really wanted to.” So a reformed Luthor takes the advice–literally.

    In Morrison’s conception, Superman, the perfect man, always wins, is always right–so his last feat before reigniting the sun is to set up the conditions to redeem his greatest enemy–by stepping aside to let him fulfill his potential, *and* giving him the motivation to prove Superman wrong. I’m convinced that Superman knows exactly what he’s doing. And that Quintum, having lived through this before as Lex, knows that he needs to position himself near the sun in issue #1 in order to get Superman there. Morrison’s work is filled with doubled characters–think Magneto and Xorn–and also with people who travel from the future to save the past and redeem everyone–in Animal Man, JLA, and especially The Invisibles.

    Really, this was a brilliant comic book.

  9. So clearly the golden superman from the Pa Kent issue is the original Superman, right?

    I don’t like the idea of Quintum being Lex Luthor, especially since he almost was blown up in issue one by Lex, but the pieces might fit anyway. He certainly is the anti-Luthor if nothing else.

  10. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced Quintum pretty much has to be Luthor.

    Evidence:

    1) In #1, Quintum tells Superman that he too is trying to escape a ‘doomed world…it’s called the PAST.”

    2) In #10, when Superman is about to turn over his DNA to Quintum, the scientist questions the decision and says “I could be the devil himself,” to which Superman replies that he’s a better judge of character than that, then hands over the vials, saying “This is how much I trust you, Leo.” In the Superman cosmology, Luthor *is* the devil. What does this scene even mean, and why would Morrison bother with it, unless Quintum is Luthor, and Superman knows it?

    3) In #12, Superman’s rebuke that Luthor could have saved the world years ago if it really mattered to him. This dovetails nicely with issue one, in a time loop sense.

    Given the above, Quintum’s description of Luthor’s decline at the end of #12 could be read to mean that part of his own personality withered in Superman’s absence.

    Andy’s objection above actually *supports* the Leo/Lex theory, in that Quintum-as-future-Luthor would have the hindsight to know that a) the attempt on his life was destined to fail and that b) it was necessary to get Superman to the sun in order to poison him in a way that would eventually allow him to save the star from Solaris in #12.

    Add to all this the cosmetic and costuming similarities–just look at Quintum, and compare him to Luthor, (particularly their facial structures in those identically-framed bottom-of-the-page close-ups in issue #1), plus his penchant for female assistants and the very Morrisonian joke of Quintum’s disguise being a *pair of glasses*, then add all that to the future-rescuing-the-past themes I mentioned above that appear in almost every Morrison superhero comic, and it seems inescapable. They’re the same guy, which allows Superman to have his greatest personal victory of all, instead of failing in his last attempt to reach Luthor–which *really* doesn’t fit with the spirit of the series.

  11. Quintum as a redeemed (and reborn!) Luthor? That never even occured to me, but the arguments put forth in the original post and in Cole Moore Odel’s comment are very convincing. And it does tie nicely into some of the themes of the series (redemption and mirror images).

    I do have to disagree with one of Moore Odel’s points, I don’t think Luthor is the devil of the Superman mythos, but as the anti-Christ. Superman throughout the series has been very much a Christ figure (with the exception of issue 10, I suppose) and Luthor is his opposite number, an anti-Christ. Just look at the cover of issue 12, Luthor with Solaris framing his head (compare to the usual pictures of Christ and other holy figures with a sun-like halo). Also, Luthor had his own Christ-like ressurection in issue 11, when he is ‘executed’ in the electric chair and comes back more powerful than ever.

    The possible Quintum/Luthor connection brought an interesting thing to my mind: the use of glasses to signify humanity. The difference between Clark Kent and Superman (and so the difference between man and superman) has often been symbolized by the glasses (think of, for example, Kingdom Come and even the Death of Clark Kent storyline). Luthor normally does not wear them, and when he has gained Superman’s powers in issues 11 and 12, he wears them on his forehead (and so not over his eyes, indicating their presence, but not in a wrong manner), which underscores his inhumanity (some of Luthor’s main traits, of course, are that he sees himself as superior to everyone else and that he cares nothing for his fellow man).

    So what do we see when he has ‘become’ Leo Quintum? He wears glasses (or something like them anyway), indicating that Quintum is a Luthor who has embraced humanity (both his own humanity and humanity as a concept). Or at least, that’s what I read into it.

  12. Derk, your idea about the glasses is great–they symbolize both human frailty and improved clarity. Luthor props the glasses on his forehead because he refuses to see. He places them over his eyes as Quintum when he finally attains the moral clarity to see the world as it could be, as Superman sees it.

    Of course, Morrison deals directly with glasses (and mirrors, which are all over the series) with the Mirror of Truth scene in issue #2, as Superman stands in front of the mirror, wearing glasses that are unreflected.

  13. “Particularly since Quitely drew both stories.”

    Let’s not forget that Grant Morrison actually ghost-wrote that issue, because Millar was falling behind on the schedule, due to his Crohn’s Disease.

  14. [...] Here’s some links to Chris’s Leo Quintum/Lex Luthor theories that he mentioned when talking about All Star Superman (here, here, here, and here) [...]

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