Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s twelve-issue run of All-Star Superman is probably the best comic book of the last decade. It’s when I discovered that The Dark Knight Returns can be surpassed by DC. It made me realize I prefer Superman to Batman. And I’m kinda jealous that there isn’t yet an equivalent Spider-Man story.
In a Newsarama interview, Grant Morrison explained his approach to the series, clarifying an earlier statement that the title would be his take on the Superman books if Crisis on Infinite Earths had never happened. I admit that writing this piece would be slightly easier for me if Morrison hadn’t let on how his position on the matter is more nuanced than he had initially described it.
When I introduced the series in an interview online, I suggested that All Star Superman could be read as the adventures of the ‘original’ Pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman, returning after 20 plus years of adventures we never got to see because we were watching John Byrne‘s New Superman on the other channel. If ‘Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?’ and the Byrne reboot had never happened, where would that guy be now?
This was more to provide a sense, probably limited and ill-considered, of what the tone of the book might be like. I never intended All Star Superman as a direct continuation of the Weisinger or Julius Schwartz-era Superman stories. The idea was always to create another new version of Superman using all my favorite elements of past stories, not something ‘Age’ specific.
I didn’t collect Superman comics until the ‘70s and I’m not interested enough in pastiche or nostalgia to spend 6 years of my life playing post-modern games with Superman. All Star isn’t written, drawn or colored to look or read like a Silver Age comic book.
All Star Superman is not intended as arch commentary on continuity or how trends in storytelling have changed over the decades. It’s not retro or meta or anything other than its own simple self; a piece of drawing and writing that is intended by its makers to capture the spirit of its subject to the best of their capabilities, wisdom and talent.
Which is to say, we wanted our Superman story be about life, not about comics or superheroes, current events or politics. It’s about how it feels, specifically to be a man…in our dreams! Hopefully that means our 12 issues are also capable of wide interpretation.
Spider-Man is different from Superman in that there has always been one main continuity, even with all the side adaptations. It’s tougher to figure out who the real Superman is. While some fans prefer the Pre-Crisis Superman, the Golden Age Superman was the original and Christopher Reeve’s take on the character has influenced the public consciousness the most. Despite a few retcons and changes to the setting, the Spider-Man in the current comics is the same one who was in Amazing Fantasy #15.
The Illusion of Change allows the writers and editors to pick and choose which elements of the backstory to use. So it can be similar to what Grant Morrison did with All-Star Superman. Post-One More Day, most of the stories that occurred when Spider-Man was married can still be referenced. Which means less explanations are necessary when reconciling parts of the the backstory.
CBR’s Stephane Garrelie had one of the most insightful comments about Brand New Day, suggesting that the creative team of Amazing Spider-Man was trying to accomplish something similar to the “If the Crisis on Infinite Earths never happened” take on Superman.
As long as you choose to ignore OMD, BND is a good read. As far as I’m concerned, I read it as if we got only the illusion of change since 1985. So no problem.
OMD poses some moral problems that should be adressed later, but no matter how crappy the Joe Q stuff was, or the fact that this EIC made all he could to make a reboot inavoidable during the last 7 years, that change nothing to the quality of the new stories. You can read Dan Slott’s BND as if it was the Marv Wolfman or the Roger Stern Spider-man with 2008 refs. It works.
Under the Illusion of Change, we would still have new villains like Venom. Roderick Kingsley would still be exposed as the Hobgoblin, minor characters like Lance Bannon could still die, and major characters like Norman Osborn could still return from the grave. And villains can have storylines which will come to define them in subsequent appearances, as the Rhino had in the Gauntlet.
Some elements of the backstory remain tenuous. While Spider-Man has always had one core continuity, things do get complicated thanks to the sliding timescale, which means that stories written in the 1960s happened several years ago. Another factor is the effect of other media. Some of the adaptations tend to define the characters to a greater extent than the original comics.
So the Brand New Day Harry Osborn might seem to be closer to James Franco’s take on the character than the guy with the weird ties in comics published in the late 1960s. Because the movies, cartoons and Ultimate Spider-Man have shown it, readers could assume that the alien costume caused Spider-Man to become more aggressive, when that was never the case in the original saga. In some cases, Marvel has to deal with readers misremembering the backstory. And it’s more confounding when the unofficial version might just be an improvement.
There is a Cary Bates Superman vibe from the Brand New Day/ Big Time comics, although a major distinction is that things tend to change more from issue to issue. But the transformation of the Rhino reminded me of how Lex Luthor became even angrier after he accidentally destroyed an alien world along with his wife and infant son. It’s something for future writers to use at their discretion, allowing some change, but making sure it doesn’t overwhelm the series. Doing it right is the way Marvel (and readers) can have it both ways.