All-Star Superman: The Man Of Action

[Content/Trigger Warning: Suicide]

At the tender age of 16, I was deeply depressed.

My childhood, from about age 8, had been a stressful mess full of fear, anxiety, sobbing, and obsessive worrying. And by my teens, I’d found that I had managed to somehow keep on, if not necessarily ‘cope’ with the circumstances that never seemed to go away. There was a ‘numbness’ as I call it, which helped me take, accept and endure all the rubbish life seemed intent on throwing in my face.

It was tiresome, but it was also, as I came to understand it, life. I’d never known any other beyond it. I could scarcely imagine beyond it. Any alternative I had heard was in stories- hearing others speak, or in fiction. I’d hear it all and feel a deep sense of envy.

Ah. Normal.

I wish I had that.

But I didn’t. And spending any amount of time thinking about what I didn’t have, couldn’t have, and could not change, was just more source of pain. It was like picking away at a wound that would never go away. I’d just be making it worse.

Best not to think of that. Best to let that float out of the mind. Think of something else. Think of something else. Focus on another thing.

It was, as you can imagine, not a terribly effective strategy. For one cannot cover up an empty hole in their essence with paper, and pretend it isn’t there. It’s still there, even if you paper over it. The hurt is still there. The pain remains. And you are, for better or for worse, shaped by that experience. You can’t exorcise it from yourself.

But back then, I thought you could. I thought you could focus on other things. I thought you could smile, even when you weren’t happy, and fake it till you made it.

I looked at the legions of kids playing pranks, making jokes in the cafeteria at school, and laughing, genuinely laughing, from the bottom of their hearts and souls, without a care and worry, and I felt a deep sense of yearning. I wished I could laugh like that. I wish I could let go. But I felt forever chained, bound to my trauma, and the unending worries that seemed to make up so much of my youth.

I’d dream, envisioning various fantasy scenarios, wherein I’d ‘made it’ in some spectacular sport or career, some magical pathway, which freed me, with which I could live a happy, splendid life, lifting my family out of the poor conditions we lived with. A scenario in which I didn’t feel like an outsider alien, peering in, wishing I could blend in. A situation in which I was ‘normal’, like everyone else, and happy, as so many seemed to be, relative to how I felt.

Every one of them was foolish, obviously, and they were fantasies of escape, of change, of a different life, one unbound and unconstrained by trauma and terror, one that just meant it wouldn’t be like this.

Anything but this.

And so I held on.

It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was only getting harder and harder. It felt like I was carrying an invisible weight that seemed to only be growing heavier and heavier. And I wasn’t getting any stronger. It felt like a collapse was inevitable. I wondered when I would give out.

But I also knew I couldn’t. Not yet.

I just had to go on until this one point. If I could endure it all until then, if I could be strong until that prophetic, long-awaited moment, it’d all be okay. There was a light at the end of this dark tunnel.

Only it turned out there wasn’t.

Everything went wrong. The stairs built on air fell apart. The expectations, hopes and dreams, the plains laid in ideality, all came crashing down like comets of crimson fire, devastating the materiality upon which I’d stood. My life felt like it had ended. Like it was all over. I’d endured, I’d kept going, I’d survived, and yet it was all for naught. It all meant nothing. Dreams were for fools. I dreamt, and it meant nothing. What was the point? I wondered for the billionth time all over. What was the point of it all?

I’d told myself the point of it all, the suffering, was the light at the end. That suffering in itself was meaningful, and for a purpose. I’d still held onto some crumbs of cosmic purpose, of the benign divine, even as I’d been given every reason not to, and scoffed at the notion. That crumb of self-justification, that all of this had any meaning at all, that it was all leading to something, when it led to absolutely nothing…it destroyed me.

What was the point? Nothing at all. Absolutely nothing. Why did it all happen? Why did it ever have to be this way? Why did I have to endure all this? Why me? Why me? What did I do to deserve this? What had earned me this? Why was I even born at all? What the hell was the point? I wish I’d never been born. I was a mistake. I shouldn’t even exist. I’d brought nothing but greater burdens, misery, and pain, both for myself, and for others, just by coming into this unfair world.

As my world seemed to fall apart, as the apocalypse seemed to have arrived on my door step, and I lay petrified, unable to grasp the horror, the devastating reality that this would or could happen to me…I was broken.

I wondered what the point of even waking up or getting out of bed was, more than ever before. I wondered the point of doing anything was. Why the hell was I still here? What the hell was the bloody point?!

I just didn’t understand.

It felt like my whole life had been a prison, wherein every escape attempt resulted in only further and greater punishment by the universe. Wherein even the very idea of escape, the hope and dream of better, of fantasy, was a fool’s errand to attract and draw further pain with magnetic precision. If you just let that stupid thing go, then you’d be living easier. It would hurt less. It’d make it all more bearable.

It’d make looking at so many of your peers and kids your age that much easier, as you would hurt less. You’d let go of the hope that you could ever belong, that you could have what they have, that you could be happy and have a future.

These were the thoughts swimming in the mind of a stupid teenager, at the tender of 16, as I lay depressed. The days felt like a blur, as they all blended together, everything felt monotonous, and every action felt like trying to touch the sun itself. Impossible, too much, bound to burn you.

I’d always loved comics. I’d been an Art Kid all my life, and then gotten into writing much later, becoming a Writing Kid, because it felt like a release from everything else around my life. And comics was the form that naturally married the two together, the drawings I so loved doing, and the writing I so treasured, rubbish as it was. It was a visual language, a mode of expression, that I could understand, speak, and felt most comfortable in.

However, I mostly read Manga. Or YA books with comics and cartooning in them, along with Sunday strips, the odd smattering of Indian Comics, and European material, such as Tintin. I’d only ever held one floppy of American Superhero Comics in my hands in youth, but it was more of a symbolic artifact than the fount of passion.

Superheroes, to me, were an object of The Screen. They were the thing you watched in animated series, they were the thing you cheered for in a TV Drama, the spectacle you attended at the cinemas, or played as in video games. Beyond that, they were merchandise. They were not a quantity of the page for me. They were not things to be read, but viewed. The novelty of the one floppy I owned aside, I never really thought of them or thought about them much as entities of the page.

However, a friend of mine at the time was massively into Superhero Comics. He repeatedly tried to get me into them, to little success. He told me that there were things to learn in them, things to take away, which would be useful for any creative individual. He expressed to me that the comics were better than any film or show or game, that they were the source material. I nodded along and humored him, while not being able to feel quite the same way. I’d read the two volumes of Thor he lent me, and I liked them just fine. I’d tried the New 52 volumes of Batman, Justice League, Green Lantern, and some others, but they failed to move as well. I read the Earth One volumes available at the time, which I took no offense to either. But none of them sold me, or made me care, about the idea of genuinely reading these things. I didn’t get it. I felt I had a better experience with them on a screen, without having to read. None of these things had matched the thrills of the DCAU in my youth, or any cinematic equivalents either.

But then I picked up an unexpected book.

Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, and Jamie Grant’s All-Star Superman hit me like a bullet train.

Here I was, sitting depressed, at what felt like my own personal apocalypse, like hell itself had arisen and swallowed me whole. It felt like my life was over. I didn’t know what the point of living was, with death seeming more and more like the only goddamn escape from this prison I’d been caught in. And here was Superman, who was now suddenly dying.

It blew my mind.

It caught my mind immediately.

I’d never read anything like it, especially with such a larger-than-life icon.

Here was a man, a Superman, who despite all his power was now doomed to die. His life was over, at an end. And thus the question, the very obvious question that the text raises, became utterly fascinating to me, a kid consumed with thoughts of death:

What does Superman do in his dying days?

And the answer didn’t disappoint.

Here was a man who’d spent his entire goddamn life completely lying to the love of his life, unable to truly reveal himself to her, or commit himself to a loving relationship with true intimacy. Here was a sad man who’d utilize robots, his friend Batman, or other shenanigans to convince Lois that he wasn’t what he so transparently was. A man who was upheld as the utmost symbol of Truth, who couldn’t even tell his truth to the woman he’s in love with, who loves him back.

A man who had f***ed up his relationships so bad, who was so alone and isolated, that upon the arrival of his moment of death, he couldn’t even talk about it! He had no one he could or would confess to. Here was a man who’d built up so many barriers, who’d become an icon, but still, at his greatest hour, at his lowest point, was alone, with nobody and no one. He can’t even have a moment with a loved one, wherein he speaks his truth to them, and they embrace.

I didn’t see a Perfect Man. I didn’t see an Ideal Hero. What I saw wasn’t some Unflawed God, which is how this Superman, I would come to later understand, was largely viewed.

I saw a failure. I saw a man who’d done great things, but was an absolute mess and a disaster. A man who when he actually DOES reveal who he is to the love of his life (and it takes his death to even get him to do that!), she doesn’t believe him.

How profoundly sad is that?

He’s tricked her, and f***ed with her so many, so many goddamn times, that she just doesn’t. And why should she? This is a man that has, despite speaking potential truth now, in the best case scenario, still just been the biggest liar possible. He’s lied to her constantly, since the day they met, and for some reason now he’s just revealing who he is?! Why should she fall for this, and not think this is some prank?

And that that is the situation and where his most vital relationship stands…is deeply, deeply sad. Here is a man who cannot honestly communicate, who’s completely failed with what matters most in his entire life, and he cannot undo that.

Flipping through page after page, I witnessed a man who acted entitled, who in his petty show of spite and pure ‘Don’t mess with me next time’ ego  would break people’s entire limbs while whistling and enjoying himself, just to show off.

A hero who kept on punching in rage, even as his enemy Solaris would beg for mercy, and plead to his better instincts. An emotional mess who could not begin to admit to or show weakness and vulnerability unless under the influence of Black Kryptonite, and that’s only after his best friend kicks the shit out of him. A man who cowers and hopes he is not seen in his moments of weakness, and must hide and bury all the shit he’s carrying and feeling.

I saw him as the invocation of the mythic 12 Labors framework invited me to see him:

A Hero With A Fatal Flaw, in the classical sense.

And like those heroes, there was something deeply sad about Superman here. There was something unmistakably tragic here, which is why I could not turn my eyes away.

I was transfixed by this man who had failed, who struggled at very basic things, who was so alone and isolated that he spent more time locked up in his Man-Cave in the Fortress Of Solitude talking to himself and his weird robot pals, rather than speaking with true honesty to all his dearest allies.

This framing fascinated me. I’d never quite seen a text frame him like this. I’d never seen Superman or superhero stories like this.

And it worked, too, because it didn’t feel like it was being done in a scathing fashion, as to damn the character. It seemed to honestly, seriously, look at such an individual and ask emotionally where they’d be at, and what all their baggage of bullshit would do them and their life. The text loved Superman, but it loved him in the way we all love our fathers, seeing all the flaws, the failings, the things that make you wince, the things that you sigh, the stuff that makes you mad, but also all the rest. The wondrous parts, the joy, grandeur, and the gratitude.

It’s only with that sincerity that it could have ever worked. For there was a journey here, for this dying man.

A sprawling time epic that spans the solar cycle, All-Star took me on an emotional voyage. And each time, I was initially befuddled. I didn’t get it.

Why does Superman even get out of bed? What’s even the point? Why not just live out his days happily while he still has them? Why do all of this? Why try so bloody hard?

But each time, as Superman would keep going anyway, a small piece seemed to re-align in my head. And each time it did, I better understood why, until it all finally clicked.

As I got to the now iconic and legendary issue, #10- Neverending, it all fell into place.

It wasn’t that Superman was The Goodest Guy Around, The Bestest Guy Around, or The Nicest Fella Out There. It’s just that…this dude would not give up.

Even as it was all futile, as it was all utterly pointless, he can’t just not try. He can’t lie down and think ‘It’s all over now’. He’s fundamentally incapable of doing that. If he falls, if he fails, he just HAS to get back up and keep going. And that has nothing to do with Goodness, which isn’t something you just inherently are, but something you do, but with Superman’s fundamental deep-seated need to act. He’s a man of action.

Sure, it’s easy to sit back and go ‘Well, it’s all over now.’ It’s easy to just accept an outcome and wallow about. It’s easy to believe The End is The End.

But it’s harder to look at that and go ‘I gotta keep going. I gotta put in EVEN MORE effort. I can’t just quit.’ And amidst that obsessive desire and need to keep going, that inability to just stay down, that need to always get back up after taking a beating, I suddenly got it.

Tears streaming down my eyes, I finally understood. This was a man who, even in the face of his greatest sorrows, his most heartbreaking failures, could not just lay down and say ‘It is what it is’. He had to make things better. He had to try to do something, even if it didn’t matter. And this non-goals oriented approach, this ‘Action for the sake of itself’, because you need to act, this destroyed my ‘What’s the point?’ goals-minded ideological thinking.

I got it.

Even if there is no ‘point’, you still have to live. You have to keep going. Life in itself is a reward, a gift. You can’t stop trying, you can’t just give in. And most importantly, you can’t stop imagining that things can be better. It hurt me to do that before, and perhaps it always will, but that pain? It’s not something to run from. Even if it’s only a tiny bit, even if it’s only one person, even if it’s on the most infinitesimal level, you have to be able to imagine better. You have to be able to believe in a better future, for someone, for something. Imagination is, and always has been, our greatest gift and curse. All the rubbish in reality exists because we all imagined it into existence, so why not imagine better? Is there not grace in doing so? Is there not beauty in it? What’s so shameful or silly about that?

By the time this famous page hit, I was a mess. I was crumbling, but for completely the opposite reasons from before. This was my brain being broken apart and reassembled in rapid-speed surgery. This was a profoundly life-changing reading-experience.

Here was a writer who I’d never heard of, Grant Morrison, alongside an artist I’d never known, Frank Quitely, who’d just broken me apart and put me back together again.

Superman’s superpower, the truest, realest superpower, as demonstrated by this book, to me was his ability to care. His ability to give a shit, even when he didn’t have to. That, I realized, was the bravest thing possible. To care, knowing you can be hurt, that you can be disappointed. To have expectations and hopes, even if they crumble and crash before you. To not be apathetic.

It’s a comic wherein Superman literally has Depression, but it’s framed through The Bizarroworld. Morrison and Quitely eschew ‘realism’ here. You don’t get Superman in his apartment or Fortress moping about and being sad. But what you get is Superman descending down into this under-realm, where only opposite-speech is the way, wherein nothing makes sense, and the longer you stay, the more you forget all the beautiful, wonderful things that exist beyond it. And this approach, this vision of taking something real and rather than doing it ‘straight’ and ‘realistically’, pushing it almost into the realm of symbol, to visually illustrate how it feels over how it actually is? That blew me away.

It connected and instantly made sense to my teen mind, carrying a potency that doing it ‘straight’ just wouldn’t have quite had. This had a different flavor. And it was there and then that I understood what Grant Morrison superhero texts do so well, which I’d go onto remember forever:

They take Internal Reality and turn it into External Reality.

Depression manifests as Bizarroworld, a deep pit of dystopic dilapidation. A crumbling cavalcade of absurdity, where up is down, and down is up, where nothing feels meaningful, where every action carries a ‘What’s the point?’, as even its gravity feels crushing. The more time you spend there, the worse it becomes. A realm devoted to the idea of Nothing Goes Right, a condensation of every moment where you dropped something you valued and it broke, of every breakup, of every mistake and regret, desperate to plunge you into further misery. A space designed to make you only feel worse and worse, unless you manage to take action and navigate out of it.

And thus Superman does what Superman always does: He takes action. He imagines a way out of depression itself. He fashions himself a rocket, and rockets himself out of Depressionland. Now, this is patently ridiculous and not how this actually works in actuality, but these ideas, these feelings, turned into pure symbol, turned into myth? They work on that level! When you’re at your worst, you can’t just stay there. You gotta look around at your mess, and you gotta see what needs doing, so that you can feel better, so that you can do better. You have to productively find a way out of this slump, this low. And sometimes, that includes and means, and this is vital, asking for help. That’s what Superman does, too. He cannot escape Bizarroworld himself. He can’t create the rocket himself. He needs help.

You figure out what it’s going to take to sort yourself out, to figure your shit out and get your life in order, or as close to it as possible, and you try and do that. And that is what this stupid little Bizarroworld comic is somehow about, through symbol and mythic construction. The Internal made External, the inner-universe and very real emotions and states writ large and turned into myth, that’s what spoke to me here.

In fact, every single issue of All-Star seemed to be almost devoted to this tireless pursuit. Or being about a certain experience, which everybody could relate to, just writ-large, made into weird sci-fi superhero symbolic tales. From the mission statement of the first’s to the Spousal Spat Over A Misunderstanding in the second, to The Date After A Spat in the third, to The Breakdown With Best Friend in the fourth, to Checking In On The Ex-Friend in the fifth, to the reflection and regrets on A Parent’s Death and Funeral, so on and so forth. Whether it be relatives popping up to tell you you ain’t shit, that you’re a bloody disappointment or something else, everything was turned into brightly colored almost Jungian internal reality to be played with in sci-fi spectacle. Everything from Black Kryptonite being necessary for expression of weakness to more just made sense. This isn’t reality. It’s the archetypal realm of the symbolic, wherein the artifice is purposeful, and serves a point.

That you could do stuff like this with something as iconic and monumental as Superman of all things, blew my kid mind. Because in reading the work, I realized rather immediately: Oh! This is deeply personal. This is incredibly intimate work. It’s work wherein This is work done as though no one else before had envisioned a Superman. That you could take something as big, as iconic, as established and well-storied as Superman, and that you could do him like your personal indie project, with such a distinct, personal voice that stood out, that blew me away. That was the hook for me with Superhero Comics. That sold me, in a way no pitch or previous attempt had. That personal touch, that deeply intimate, personal vision.

And from there, I couldn’t stop. I was hungry. I needed more. From there on, I’d go onto devour all other Morrison and Quitely texts, and while Quitely had a more limited library, much of it with Morrison, Morrison themselves had a massive one. I burnt through it bit by bit, and always, I noticed what I did in All-Star.

This very clear perspective and delineation of how Reality and Fiction interact and intersect, of how they speak to and inform each other, of using the fictional, the realm of the symbolic, to talk about and address very real things through metaphor, rather than use Literalist Realism which so many others skewed to. It seemed to earn Morrison the rep of being ‘confusing’, but I never had that experience reading them.

Even things which didn’t make strict plot sense always made a mythic or thematic sense, and above all, they gave you the feeling. Their dialogue was lyrical dialogue, skewed to a musicality, a specific rhythm, the sensibility of lyrics in a song, while the contents opted for the dramatics of Opera and Theater over hardline reality. Operatic internal realities, the minute human experience made into the mythic, that’s what I saw in so much of their superhero work. Whether it’s the mad rush of Final Crisis, wherein it feels like time is being compressed and crushed, via its Channel-Flipping style of storytelling, which gives you a sense of what a universe under apocalyptic siege feels like in the reading, to the Breccia-inspired spiral lyrics issue of Batman with Burnham, it all captured a feeling or mood and a vibe.

But beyond that, their work had a diaristic quality to it that I found tremendously appealing. There was a real sense of ‘So this is how I feel today! I don’t know how I’ll feel tomorrow. Maybe it’ll be different! What do you think?’, wherein you were actively being asked to fill in certain gaps, to input and impress your thoughts upon the work, to share what you thought of it. It was all utterly personal work, but at the same time, it all seemed so…open to being wrong? A striking sense of ‘What do you think?’ accompanying every story, of wanting to just communicate, to express, and hear back.

And perhaps my favorite manifestation of that impulse is the other recurring bit of their work. The need to connect, the need to reach out, which manifests in moments like the famous Superman Suicide Help scene. Suicide, it would seem, happened to pervade almost damn near every Grant Morrison work where it possibly could fit. From All-Star to Doom Patrol to Batman to Flex Mentallo, which is just an entire comic about not committing suicide, it’s all over the place. And each time, every time, the work would try to offer comfort.

It never felt like some calculated, cheap move, either, as it felt deeply personal and honest, feeling like it came from a sincere place. It seemed to be a massively under-discussed part of their work, but a vital one, which spoke to a key impulse that even as a teen I found tremendously appealing. As fellow critic Sean Dillon once put it to me rather eloquently:

Grant’s entire career is that one Doom Patrol page with the painting and the rain. Just trying to reach out and help someone suffering, no matter how little it may be. Gamble a stamp, You’re so much stronger than you think you are, and There are no bad children. It’s the same instinct.

Flex Mentallo is entirely about a man convinced he must die, and that there is no other way, and Klaus is about the salvation of a bad child who believes he deserves all the punishment he’s getting, and wonders if he has any future.

There is a genuine positivity and kindness, a meaningful comfort, offered by Morrison’s work that at the age of 16, I found life-changing. And it’s not Toxic Positivity either, for Morrison can write the most utterly nihilistic and dark texts, from The Filth and Nameless to Annihilator and plenty more. They’re not texts trying to paper over the harshness or horrible truths of reality (look no further than Doom Patrol, which is entirely about a Superhero Therapy Group dealing with that), or pretend ‘It’s all going to be okay forever’. They acknowledge all the worst, most monstrous, fucked up realities, and then having looked at all of that, they breathe, and extend their hand, smile, and with a will to reach out.

That’s what I found so comforting from that text. That there was someone out there who understood. Who also wanted to reach out. That they could make art such as this from that impulse. And that for all the horrors and failings and muck and shit of the earth, amidst all that, these works saw genuine beauty, they witnessed wonder, and were inspired and astonished by it the way a passionate child would be, without shame.

If it had just been the empty platitudes of Toxic Positivity I’d been given all my life, it wouldn’t have worked. Any of that would’ve fallen apart. I needed someone or something to acknowledge all the mess, how much it all sucked, and then emphasize that it was worth going on anyway, and the why of that.

That’s what so much of their work does, but also what especially All-Star of all books did for me. It’s a work so devoted to the idea of getting back up, the worth of getting up, the value of it, instead of just laying down, that the hero must literally do so from death, with a choice offered:

And Superman has every reason to just rest now. He did it. He tried his hardest. He did so much. Surely he can now just give up and give in, right?

Alas not. It’s never ‘enough’. So long as you can stand, you get back up, and you don’t give up.

I loved that. Crying, reading this stupid little superhero book, I loved that. Something about that felt and read as so deeply human, as so deeply real. Looking at futility in the face, and going ‘I gotta try anyway’. I can recall so many people I love and respect making that choice. I can recall myself making it. It felt so deeply honest and resonant, such an utterly human response.

But it’s also not a response that absolves him from his failures either. Superman survives, but he must live out the remainder of his days in the heart of the sun. He doesn’t get to be with Lois Lane. He doesn’t get to hold her hand or live with her. It’s all too late.

He must live out the rest of his days in the sun, in self-exile, enduring, going on, for more than 15,000 years, while everyone he loves and cares about lives on, grows old and dies, receding into memory. Superman cannot have the life he would deep down perhaps like, for his failings make that impossible.

But still, he keeps going. He has to. He just cannot give in. And when he finally emerges out from there, gleaming golden, ages after everything, he finds that it was a task worth doing, in itself. Living, glowing, and thus letting all others do so. It was worth it.

The conclusion of All-Star is triumphant, rather than dour or depressive despite the lead character having to clearly suffer for thousands of years alone, laboring away in the sun, while all his loved ones pass on. It feels like penance, like a price, for all things gone wrong. But even as it is that, it’s never framed as a horrific end, despite the clear aching tragedy and bittersweet hurt that underlies it all. Instead it is a triumph because it is expressing the fundamental core idea at the heart of it all: No matter how bad it gets, no matter how futile it feels, to keep trying, to keep going, to persevering to be better, to dream of better, and to take action to make that happen, that in itself is a triumph.


That was the point.

It’s why one of the most moving, and heartbreaking moments in the entire work is this scene, which illustrates a young Clark Kent trying to save his father in the face of futility:

The beauty and sincerity pervading this and it struck me deeply. The work’s point could not be clearer and louder, even as a kid.

Returning to it now, I can still see it moves me deeply. I look at it with great fondness, for it is the work that gave me everything. It is the work through which I’d read tons more works. It is the first step in the process that would lead me to meet so many of the people who I now consider dear and close friends of many years. It is the first domino that set things in motion. It is the work that helped change my life, and I suspect I’ll always be keenly aware of that.

I didn’t need Superman to be real to save me. I just needed this stupid comic book to exist to inspire me. The ideas it presented were more than enough for a child. They found meaning, they found purpose.

It’s why I did not find it shocking when not long after, as I read Supergods, I found out that Morrison themselves had found solace from that very same idea. The child of anti-nuclear activists, constantly used in spying and info-gathering missions, Morrison wrote about being horrified and terrified of The Bomb. They had constant nightmares of it, and couldn’t sleep, as they were trained in drills of action for potential nuclear disaster. But then the American Military who brought and held the threat of that nuclear armageddon also brought with them Superman, who provided them a strange comfort.

As they put it so famously in their iconic turn of phrase:

Before The Bomb was a Bomb, it was an Idea. Superman, however, was a Faster, Stronger, Better Idea.

And I instantly got that. I connected to that. I felt that same comfort. In the end, I thought that was the only real worth and material value of Superman, beyond being an IP for Warner Bros to mint billions. If this fake cartoon can make a kid feel like the world’s got something worthwhile out there, and is worth it, that is more than enough.

But also in the years since then, I’ve wondered about that idea. I wonder about that idea of ‘comfort’, and am wary, naturally. Even more so having come across those who bristle at comfort as a notion in fiction, viewing it with skepticism, which feels deserved, given how much lazy fan-service or cheap platitude-spewing empty stuff is peddled, particularly in the Corporate IP space, all under the banner of said comfort. But at the same time, I don’t believe this is quite that. Its comfort derives from its open honesty rather than cynical performance or empty gestures. It, much like most of Morrison, is wracked with the horror and isolation and terror of the cosmos. It acknowledges all our muck and mess, which is also why its conclusion is that of essential decency, of needing to desperately try, for we’re all we have, and this is the life we’ve got. We can’t just bloody give in.

But beyond that, while I am sympathetic to the skepticism, I also resent the school of thought that Real Art and Meaningful Art is about Suffering, about Pain, while comfort is easy, cheap fluff and the stuff for children’s tales, not Mature, Adult texts. I’ve seen and known enough who believe that to tire of it.

And each time, as I come back to this, I’ve found myself thinking of this Ursula K LeGuin interview:

It’s incisive and cuts to how I feel about this affair, I think.

Art can be potent, art can be moving, and its embrace can be as vital and affecting and important as its hurt. And in the end, that embrace is what All-Star gave me, when I most needed it.

I’m 22 now. Still depressed, I’m afraid, but much healthier, in a much better place. I’m on a better path now than I was then. I have a much greater, infinitely richer, far livelier and more delightful support system now. I’m happy that I am who I am, while always trying to be better than the last day.

And I find it ridiculous that it all happened, that I met all these people, that I ended up like this, that it all turned out the way it did, because I read this gosh darned stupid superhero book.

But you know what? That doesn’t make it any less true.

“The universe is a cold, empty, miserable place. But in defiance of that, the most rebellious thing you could do is be happy.” – Grant Morrison

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