Sunday, September 21, 2008
All-Star Superman #12: A Prequel to DC One Million?
Spoiler alert: The ending to All-Star Superman #12 will be discussed here. Go no further if you haven't read the story and want to be surprised!
All Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely is without a doubt, one of the best Superman stories ever told. It's an incredible achievement and I can't wait to purchase a hardcover omnibus edition of this masterwork. All the facets of Superman's glorious universe are captured in a loving tribute to the Weisinger-era. I loved Morrison/Quitely's depiction of the Fortress of Solitude, the bottled city of Kandor, Zibarro, and the return of the bumbling Clark Kent persona. Best of all, Lex Luthor was returned to prime form, Superman's archetypal opposite, the man who uses brain to overcome brawn. Luthor's depiction here is one that future filmmakers should pay attention to, someone who makes intricate plans on how to kill a super-alien threat, instead of making stupid real estate deals.
Wha-Huh? This is a Once And The Future King type of ending. This begs for a sequel. When I first read it, I thought: You ain't done, Morrison. But Morrison has repeatedly stated in a number of interviews that this is the end of his story about the last adventures of Superman. After this, he may do some All-Star 1-2 issue stories with other artists, like a take-off on the imaginary "Sons of Superman". I was really unsettled and puzzled by the last few pages of this epic story, until I read some message board comments about an earlier Morrison work. That prompted me to unlock my aging Fortress of Long-Boxes and re-read DC One Million.
DC One Million was an imaginative DC crossover event that Morrison engineered in 1998. I say engineered, because he not only wrote DC One Million issues 1-4, but he created an elaborate future DC Universe featuring the descendants and inheritors of the current DC super-heroes. I'll take a swing back down memory lane in another post, but the kick-off for DC One Million is this: the original Superman is still alive in the 853rd century, but he's living/hibernating in the heart of Earth's Sun. The heroes of the 853rd century, Justice Legion A, know the time/date of Superman Prime's emergence from the Sun. In order to celebrate this grand event, the Justice Legion travels back in time to invite the 1998 JLA (which Morrison wrote at that time) to attend this mega-event.
Nothing goes according to plan in a DC crossover! Solaris the Living Sun is a sentient artificial sun in the 853rd century. He orbits Uranus and is a secondary sun to the one in our solar system. According to the legend told by the Justice Legion's future Superman (Kal Kent), Solaris was the greatest enemy of the Superman dynasty until the Superman of the 505th century gave his life to reprogram it. Solaris was a benevolent force until the 853rd century, when it's villainous personality came back due to Superman Prime's re-emergence and the plan of the immortal Vandal Savage. The 1998 Justice League must help defeat a computer/human virus that Solaris sent back in time via the artificial being known as Hourman. Ironically, the only way to do that is to have John Henry Irons (Steel) create Solaris from scratch! A time loop paradox, for sure. After the 1998 JLA gives birth to Solaris, the Starman from the future creates a worm hole and dispatches Solaris across the universe. It's assumed that he will eventually return to bedevil the Earth at some future point.
We see Solaris return in All Star Superman #11. Now I know that Morrison claims that All-Star Superman doesn't take place in DC's main continuity. But in my own twisted, fragmented mind, I think of all Morrison's DC stories taking place in one universe. Even more illogically, I view Morrison's DC Universe as a continuation of the Mort Weisinger / Julie Schwartz universe. It certainly is the only way I can make sense of All Star Superman. When Solaris appeared in the panel above, I had no recollection of him at all. I figured this was mentioned earlier in All Star Superman and I had forgotten it during the three years this series was published. Kal Kent, the Superman of the 853rd century, appears briefly in All Star Superman #2. His costume is the same as it was in DC One Million. Kal Kent mentions "We fought Solaris, the tyrant computer, in the year 500,000 AD." Although I'm not sure what to think, near the end of All Star Superman #11, when Superman says this just before putting Solaris away for a while: "By the 24th Century, I'm told, you'll have been rehabilitated to work with humanity instead of against them. Rehabilitation begins here, Solaris."
The Wikipedia article on All-Star Superman states that "It emerges that the booby-trapped, genetically enhanced Luthor clone that had attacked the PROJECT expedition to the Sun in Issue 1 has metamorphosed into Solaris...". After re-reading All-Star Superman, that explanation somehow escapes me. The Luthor clone we see expanding into a sphere in All-Star Superman #1 has spikes growing out from its body, but that is the only connection to Solaris that I see. The clone really appears to be destroyed within the sun during the climax of issue #1. I just don't buy it, I prefer to think of Solaris returning from the events of DC One Million #3.
How do we piece together that Luthor knows Solaris is coming to aid him? Well, Luthor is very resourceful, he's communicated with many alien races to bring down Superman in the past, so he could have contacted Solaris in any number of ways. In All Star Superman #5, Luthor says to Clark Kent: "I have friends in high places." In All Star Superman #8, Dr. Quintum sees something hiding in the sun, which appears to be Solaris. When Solaris finally appears for the showdown in issue #11, Jimmy and Lois seem to know him: "Evil artificial star from the future." Before taking off to fight Solaris, Superman downloads data files on Solaris to his robot army. How can we explain that everyone knows so much about the Tyrant Sun?
All-Star Superman is Morrison's prequel to DC One Million. I'd make an Episode One analogy here, but clearly, in this case the prequel is much superior to the sequel. But how else do you explain issue 12's cliff-hanger ending that begs a resolution? Lois is convinced Superman is coming back, she's left with this eternal longing that seems like it can never be quenched. There needs to be an answer, an issue 13, but there won't be one, because in Morrison's DC universe, it's already been written.
DC One Million #4 is the real final chapter in the All Star Superman saga. Solaris rises up again to poison the Sun with Kryptonite before Superman Prime (the first Superman, Clark Kent) can emerge. Thanks to the heroic efforts of the 1998 Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner) and the Martian Manhunter (who exists in the future, making me think Morrison has already figured out his return from Final Crisis), Solaris is outsmarted and ultimately destroyed. Superman Prime emerges from the Sun as a golden god. The 1998 Superman takes one look at future Prime and zips back to the past, before he knows too much about his own fate.
The ending to Superman's story takes on an even more mythic tone when the future Superman takes a DNA sample (unwittingly stored/preserved inside Solaris and retrieved by Green Lantern) and recreates Lois Lane. There is magic involved, but Lois is back along with her memories and personality. As Kyle Rayner describes it: "It was like he'd waited a billion years for her. Like nothing else had meant anything in all that time. It felt like the whole universe was being put right somehow." The happiness doesn't stop there; in the end the 853rd century techno-magic restores back the inhabitants of the doomed planet Krypton. Jor-El conducts the marriage ceremony of Lois and Superman, and everyone presumably lives happy ever after.
All Star Superman #6 (Funeral in Smallville) has the final missing piece to this puzzle. Clark Kent is visited by the Unknown Superman of 4500 AD, Kal Kent from DC One Million, and Klyzyzk Klyzntplkz (the Superman of the 5th Dimension). At the end of this chapter, Superman Prime appears, introduced to Clark as the "leader of the Superman Squad". Clark asks "which of my descendants are you?" Superman Prime just laughs this questions off, because Clark is not ready to learn that he's really looking at the far future version of himself. You'll notice that Superman Prime looks identical to the way he did in DC One Million. I have to wonder who those other two Super-beings are that have followed him through time: are they his future children with Lois?
The scene lasts for just a few panels, but it's long enough for Superman Prime to make a reference to New Krypton. Clark can't possibly guess that this Golden God is actually referring to the fact that his birth planet will one day be completely recreated, along with his birth parents.
If Lois and Superman don't get together until the 853rd century, how do you explain the descendants of Superman in the centuries from the 21st to the 853rd? We see Kal Kent in this series. DC One Million mentions a multitude of other Super-descendants, even ones that marry into the Luthor and Fifth Dimension gene pools. This all ties in with the very last page of All Star Superman #12, where Dr. Leo Quintum is standing in front of the huge door that reads Project Superman or Project 2 (with the super logo inverted). In issue #10, after Superman brings the citizens of Kandor to their new home on Mars, he gives Dr. Quintum the details of the Kryptonian genome, along with instructions on how to combine human and Kryptonian strands. Project Superman will not only create successors to Superman's legacy, but it will elevate the human condition in other ways. Some of those ways are seen in DC One Million, where ordinary humans have minor super-powers that they can use for a few minutes at a time.
This is how I piece all these bits of Super-Morrison-lore, and when I put it together, the ending of All Star Superman #12 makes sense to me. Putting this stuff together is fun, but then again, I'm the kind of nut who likes to track down the 500 orbs in the videogame Crackdown. If you aren't versed in these bits of DC history, does it take away anything from fully enjoying All Star Superman? When I first read issue #12, the final battle between Luthor and Superman seemed complete, but the story between Lois and Clark did not really end that well--it feels hollow and incomplete. With the DC One Million connection, it feels like an ending to a story that Morrison has been writing since he started working at DC Comics. Nuff said.
Link: Wikipedia article on All-Star Superman
Thanks to various members on the CBR message boards for pointing out things I've missed the first time around. I've re-edited this article to incorporate certain factoids.