The Man of Steel, Part II: The Best Way to Write a Superman Story
Hot on the heels of our previous The Man of Steel discussion, we would like to dive into what we believe to be the kind of storytelling that would be best suited to a character as all-powerful as Superman. As we have learned from Part I of our analysis, the process of developing a unique and intriguing premise for a god-like being is troublesome, to say the least. Sure, this does not discount the copious creative minds in the comic book industry that would gladly take on the challenge of crafting the next Kryptonian adventure. Still, we would be lying if we said that we, as comic book fans, found each and every one of those Superman stories compelling enough to do the character justice. After all, just how many times can we witness The Man of Tomorrow super punch his way through stronger and stronger antagonists before the whole affair becomes a ridiculously repetitive routine?
Hence, from our perspective, it would appear that the only method of restoring Superman to being a unanimously well-received and loved superhero as he was back in the day is to take a page out of the phenomenal Grant Morrison and Alan Moore books and flip the script on the traditional Hero’s Journey type of storyline.
All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison
Cover art of 2005’s All-Star Superman #1 by Grant Morrison
Arguably the most memorable Superman story to date, Morrison’s 12-issue story arc begins with a simple yet thought-provoking premise: what if Superman was dying?
To not venture forth into spoiler territory, the general consensus finds Superman exposing himself to a large amount of radiation from the sun that not only enhances his powers beyond his existing physical attributes but is also responsible for killing his cells, eventually leading to his very own demise. This then begs the question, what would an all-powerful god-like being do if he knew his days were numbered?
Superman: For the Man Who Has Everything
Cover of Superman Annual #11 (1985) “For the Man Who Has Everything” by Alan Moore
Often regarded as a hidden gem among the heaps of Superman content over the decades, Moore’s one-shot storyline gained its popularity among fans as one of The Man of Steel’s best tales in terms of its brief yet compelling examination of the superhero. In fact, to further stress on the impact of this story, an updated version of the tale was included in the highly-praised Justice League Unlimited animated series (Season 1, Episode 2).
A still from Season 1, Episode 2 of Justice League Unlimited
Again, for the sake of avoiding spoilers, a brief summary of the one-shot comic and JLU episode would go like this: It’s Superman’s birthday, and a couple of Justice League members pay the Last Son of Krypton a visit bearing gifts. As they enter the Fortress of Solitude, they discover Superman in a catatonic state, with an extraterrestrial plant known as the Black Mercy wrapped onto his body and feeding him an illusion of his greatest desire.
As we have hinted earlier in this discussion, Morrison and Moore’s stories share a commonality in their creative technique of turning Campbell’s Hero’s Journey archetype on its head. Instead of the fundamental forward-moving arc of the “humble beginning to the pinnacle of greatness”, the writers’ narratives begin at the “pinnacle of greatness”, only to then toss in a premise that serves to “humble down” or “humanize” Superman in a way that most audiences can relate to.
Therefore, we firmly believe that, should there be a necessity for the Metropolis Marvel to be uplifted in the comics, an approach such as the one taken by Morrison and Moore is undoubtedly the way to go. Essentially, for a character with no qualms when it comes to soaring through the sky, it would only be logical that his best stories should occur when he has his feet squarely planted on the ground.
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