In the pages of the twelve-issue maxiseries “All Star Superman,” Lex Luthor planned the Man of Steel’s ultimate demise. In reality, another bald-headed mastermind plotted it all and pulled the strings of what many consider one of the greatest Superman tales ever told: writer Grant Morrison.
The animated adaptation of Morrison and artist Frank Quitely’s comic book epic flies into stores on February 22 courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment’s line of original and adapted animated features. The Eisner Award-winning series chronicles the final days of the Man of Steel, featuring Superman battling enemies new and old, finally confessing his feelings to longtime love Lois Lane and, of course, going toe-to-toe with his archenemy and rival Lex Luthor. Critics and fans alike praised Morrison’s “All Star” for its iconic take on the Man of Tomorrow, which infused the timeless hero with a genuine sense of drama and emotion despite the grandiose nature of his adventures.
For their animated adaptation, writer Dwayne McDuffie, director Sam Liu and executive producer Bruce Timm took the essence of the series and distilled it into a feature film with a cast including James Denton as the titular star, Christina Hendricks as Lois Lane and Anthony LaPaglia as Lex Luthor. CBR News spoke with original series writer Morrison about his thoughts on the film, how he developed his personal definitive version of the Man of Steel and the possibility of an “All Star” sequel.
CBR News: When Warner Brothers and DC decided to adapt “All Star Superman” to animation, did they approach you about it and make you aware of their intention?
Grant Morrison: Oh, yeah. I knew way back from the very beginning. In fact, they asked me to take a go at the script, but at the time I just wasn’t available and I was really busy with other stuff. So, it didn’t work out that way. But yeah, I knew early on that the movie was happening.
What were your thoughts on them turning your story into a film? Some people often argue that comics, especially something like “All Star,” simply can’t be translated into a movie.
I don’t know. I think comics is kind of a movie of a different kind. They both share the same idea of a good story. Everyone likes a good story, so I think it’s one of the things of translating from one medium to another. That was why I was interested in seeing it. I was always interested in seeing everything moving and that transformation that it goes through. It was an experience for me to see what they could make out of it and I was very pleased with the results.
When talking about “All Star Superman,” people often refer to it as the Silver Age Superman with Modern Age sensibilities. But if you look at the comic, there are so many different eras of Superman present in the issues. When you originally sat down to write it, what went through your head as you created the Superman we ended up seeing on the page?
It was really trying to get down, “What is the essential Superman?” There are really three different eras, and I read all of them, from the 1938 Superman, the scrappy socialist who can only leap an eighth of a mile, to the 1950s Superman, who is always in major peril but his problems were still human problems, whether losing his hair or getting fat or growing old. He was kind of the most normal of them all. Then, the superhuman Superman of the 70s, who is just a scorecard of a guy fighting bad guys and other superheroes.
I tried to think about, “In all through these versions, what stayed the same?” Because something always stayed same. Every writer who does Superman has to make it seem like this is the new definitive Superman. So, even if there has been a lot of different versions, for me it was about finding the core of it. I found that in some of those ’50s and 60s comics, what made them great was, just as I said, they were about real human emotions and real human stories, but played out in this huge scale of other planets and people from the future and relatives from other worlds and monsters and robots.
But really, it’s about walking the dog and going out with a girl and messing things up. I think that’s why maybe people think of “All Star Superman” as a bit more Silver Age in the sense of trying to do new, modern real human stories, but on the giant scale of Superman. That’s the most interesting thing, is the “man.” The best stories are just about this guy trying to make sense of stuff and the girl doesn’t like him as much as he wishes she would. The bad guy hates him, but he likes the bad guy. That real, small human emotional stuff works great when you blow it up to cosmic proportions.
A lot of people who aren’t Superman fans always complain that he’s not interesting because he’s so powerful. “How is there drama when he can punch a planet in two?” But like you said, it’s about the events being cosmic, but the story being about the man.
The best Superman stories, particularly in that era I was talking about, is stuff like “The Death of Superman” and “Superman’s Return to Krypton.” There were really love stories or stories of grief, but as I said, you do them on a biblical scale with cosmic weaponry and space ships and it looks great. I think comic books should be about that stuff. I love the comics that have big energy and superheroes in big conflicts. As you said, Superman can be as powerful as you like, but his heart can be broken and that’s why it doesn’t matter if he can throw planets. If you break his heart, he’s useless. The emotional stories are always the big thing with Superman.
Looking at the film, they obviously had to edit out scenes and couldn’t include everything from the comic. Was there anything that you wished they got to include that they didn’t?
There’s always things that you think, “Oh, it’d be nice to have that,” but I was more impressed with the fact that they got so much in. I was really surprised when Atlas and Samson came out. I thought, “There was no way they’d get these guys in.” But it really comes to life. The same goes for the story with the Kryptonians. I really like the almost epic nature of it — showing these different days as we’re counting down toward Superman’s death. So, honestly, I was most impressed with the fact that they got so much of it in. When I went back and read the book, and I’d think, “Oh, it’d be nice if we could have seen the Bizarros, or great if we’d seen the goth girl alone at the top of the skyscraper,” but there’s so much there that it’s kind of a miracle. It’s a big book, with 250 pages, and they managed to get it into a feature length movie.
Was there a scene in the film where you were particularly fond of how it turned out in its translation from page to screen?
Oh, God, there’s lots of them. Particularly, the moment when Solaris arrives and it just ramps up to this cosmic thing. I don’t think we’ve seen anything like that in Superman for a long time, certainly not on screen. This is quite openly sci-fi, fantasy, you know, “Face the Scourge of Worlds.” That kind of over-the-top dialogue I think really, really works well for Superman. When he comes on screen and starts talking like that, it takes it onto this very epic level. So, I really like that. But so much of it, just the way they captured Frank Quitely’s set ups and composition and the new visuals with how they presented it in a really nice, long, letterbox shape, which I liked.
In regard to what you said before — how Superman never gets the girl and how he sees Lex — does this encapsulate your definitive take on the character? Is this your version of what Superman comics should actually be like?
Yeah. This was, “If I was doing it every month, it’d be like this.” Not to say that’s the only way. I’d be really sad if Superman didn’t changed, and he changes for every new generation — sometimes even faster than that. But I love all the different versions, even the ones that are very different from “All Star Superman.” I think if I was to do it again, for instance, I’d like to do the early Superman, who just lifts trucks and who can be hurt by a bursting shell. I’d like to do something really interesting with that guy. The young, angry Superman. The different versions always fascinate me because they all add up to this huge, gigantic, multi-generational story. It’s something quite unique.
When it comes to that idea of evolving Superman through the generations, in the ending of “All Star,” Superman is converting into pure energy. Looking at how people have evolved, with technology especially, we’re coming closer to the Superman ideal. Do you think Superman has to keep evolving because he always needs to be more than we can be as humans?
Absolutely. Superman was always a little bit ahead of us. Back in the first stories, he’s a muscle man, he’s a strongman. I do love that element of him, the tough guy element of Superman. He should never cry or anything like that. He should always be a tough guy because he was raised on a farm, pitching hay. He’s a tough kid. But, yeah, I think that he’s always ahead of us. In the ’50s, it was a different story because they weren’t trying to be realistic in those days. The original Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel Superman is kind of like “The Ultimates” or like “Watchmen.” It’s really trying to be set in the real world with this one super-strong guy that can jump around. When it got to the ’50s, the emotions were real but the energy we used were more from the realm of the ’50s mind. So, I think Superman is always ahead of what we think the idea of the Superman is.
Right now, today, we’re kind of like cyborg people. Everyone has a phone that links them to a global brain so they don’t have to remember any information or names or phone numbers. We have machines that can take you around the world and communicate. We’ve actually become kind of superhuman, and the idea for me was the next thing was a transcended Superman, and that’s what it is at the end. There’s a mythical image of him, of a guy in the heart of the sun continually working to save humanity at the very highest level. And at the same time, he’s kind of passed on his DNA, so you know there’s going to be a Son of Superman sequel, almost. So, I wanted to show that there’s this highest, transcended version of Superman at the end, but also, it’s a man who’s passing on his DNA, passing on everything that he is in the form of a son or a daughter.
That’s actually something I wanted to close out on. When the series first ended, you mentioned you had the idea for at least two more stories you still wanted to tell. Are those still ideas you want to explore one day?
Superman is a great character, and Superman, honestly, I could write for that character eternally. So, yeah, given the chance I’d love to do those stories one day. There’s a whole bunch of them. I keep coming up with new ones, that’s the problem. A new Superman story just comes up. Part of one of the things I wanted to do with the whole Son of Superman thing was to take that whole thing with the old Super Sons stories and update that, make it modern and have the son of Superman and Batman. The first page would be Superman and Batman shaking hands and saying, “Congratulations old friend. We’ve stopped all crime.” One day, I might get to them or some version of it. There’s a little bit of that in the “Multiversity” series that I’m doing. Some of these stories always come back in some form. But yeah, I’m getting close, within a couple years, of wrapping up Batman. So, the notion of doing some more Superman stuff is becoming quite interesting again.