Sunday, October 26, 2008


More Imaginary Stories

I've made no secret of the fact that I consider Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All Star Superman not only one of the best Superman stories to date, but one of the best superhero comics in ages.

In fourth installment of an ongoing interview at Newsarama, Morrison reveals a little bit of the behind-the-scenes work that went into the series, and illustrates one of the key elements that makes this series so remarkably good.

In the third issue of the series, Lois Lane is given superpowers for 24 hours, and gets to fly around Metropolis and elsewhere as Superwoman. Naturally, a pair of space-and-time-travelling strongmen see this as a perfect opportunity to woe her away from Superman. Enter Atlas and Sampson.

This isn't the first time that the characters have made an appearance in a Superman comic, far from it.

These are throwaway antagonists and rivals in All Star Superman, to be used in a single story and then never seen again. What's remarkable to me is that Morrison has treated each as though they are the stars of their own stories, who've been off having super-adventures in never-published comics we'll never see.

While I’m at it, I should also say something about Samson and Atlas, halfway between old characters and new.

Samson, Atlas and Hercules were classical mainstays of old Superman covers, tangling with Superman in all those Silver Age stories that happened before he learned from his friends at Marvel that it was possible to fight other superheroes for fun and profit, so I decided to completely “re–vamp” the characters in the manner of superhero franchises. Marvel has the definitive Hercules for me, so I left him out of the mix and concentrated on Atlas and Samson.

Atlas was re–imagined as a mighty but restless and reckless young prince of the New Mythos – a society of mega–beings playing out their archetypal dramas between New Elysium and Hadia, with ordinary people caught in the middle – and Superman.

Essentially good–hearted, Atlas would have been the newbie in a “team” with Skyfather Xaoz!, Heroina, Marzak and the others. He has a bullish, adolescent approach to life. He drinks and plunges himself into ill–advised adventures to ease his naturally gloomy “weighed down by the world” temperament.

You can see it all now. The backstory suggested an unseen, Empyrean New Gods–type series from a parallel universe. What if, when Jack Kirby came to DC from Marvel in 1971, he’d followed up his sci–fi Viking Gods saga at Marvel, with a dimension–spanning epic rooted in Greek mythology? New Gods meets Eternals drawn by Curt Swan/Murphy Anderson? That was Atlas.

Samson, I decided would be a callback to the British newspaper strip “Garth.” Although you may already be imagining a daily strip about the exploits of time–tossed The Boys writer, Garth Ennis, it was actually about a blonde Adonis type who bounced around the ages having mildly horny, racy adventures.

(Go look him up then return the wiser before reading on, so I don’t have to explain anymore about this bastard – he’s often described as “the British Superman,” but arse! I hated meathead, personality–singularity Garth...but we all grew up with his meandering, inexplicable yet incredibly–drawn adventures and some of it was quite good when you were a little lad because he was always shagging ON PANEL with the likes of a bare–breasted cave girl or gauze–draped Helen of Troy.

(Unlike Superman, you see, the top British strongman liked to get naked. Lots naked. Naked in every time period he could get naked in, which was all of them thanks to the miracle of his bullshit powers.

(Imagine Doctor Who buff, dumb and naked all the time – Russell, I’ve had an idea!!!! – and that’s Garth in a nutshell.

(Sorry, I know I’m going on and the average attention span of anyone reading stuff on the Internet amounts to no more than a few paragraphs, but basically, Garth was always getting naked. In public, in family newspapers. Bollock naked. Let’s face it, patriotic Americans, have you ever seen Superman’s arse?

Newsarama Note: Well, there was Baby Kal-El in the 1978 film...

(Brits, hands up who still remember the man, and have you ever not seen Garth’s arse? Do you not, in fact, have a very clear image of it in your head, as drawn by Martin Asbury perhaps? In mine, Garth’s pulling aside a flimsy curtain to gaze at the pyramids with Cleopatra buck naked in foreground ogling his rock hard glutes...).

Anyway, Samson, I decided, was the Hebrew version of Garth and he would have his own mad comic that was like an American version of Garth. I saw the Bible hero plucked from the desert sands by time–travelling buffoons in search of a savior. Introduced to all the worst aspects of future culture and, using his stolen, erratic Chrono–Mobile, Samson became a time–(and space) travelling Soldier of Fortune, writing wrongs, humping princesses, accumulating and losing treasure etc. Like a science fiction Conan. Meets Garth.

Fortunately, you’ll never see any of these men ever again.
It occurs to me that this approach of working out in some considerable detail the backstories of characters we'll never see again--preceding from the assumption that they've gone through all the sorts of character beats as the stars of published superhero comics--isn't a million miles from that Morrison used in his revamp of the old "Club of Heroes" characters in a recent Batman arc. In some sense this is related to the imaginary "Astro Comics" that Kurt Busiek uses when working up the backstories of Astro City characters, but almost seems the inverse in some way that I can't quite articulate yet.

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