What Makes Superman So Super… In Ten Panels Or Less

Today: We’re looking at what makes Superman “super”… in 10 Panels Or Less™. Actually, in exactly five panels.

Tomorrow: We’ll use this recap as a springboard into a discussion of the importance of providing context.

< SPOILER WARNING >
These images come from All-Star Superman #10 by writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely. They don’t give away the plot of this book but they are essential Superman reading. You have been warned!
< / SPOILER WARNING >

What makes Superman so “super”?

That’s what makes Superman so super.

Tomorrow: We’ll use this scene as a springboard into a discussion of the importance of providing context.

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This scene is collected in All-Star Superman, Vol. 2.

8 thoughts on “What Makes Superman So Super… In Ten Panels Or Less”

  1. As someone who’s had experience with suicide and family members suffering from clinical depression, this was the one time I was actually disappointed with All Star Superman and disgusted with the amount of praise this scene received.

    People don’t commit or go out on rooftops like this because a doctor is late for an appointment. The fact Superman even suggests she’s otu there and comforts her with the knowledge he was just late is ridiculous.

    It’s also not a matter of being strong and looking at things positively nor is it just a matter of knowing things aren’t as bad as they seem. To me, it’s downplaying the pain these people are in with broad strokes hand waving away of complex, typically physical, problems that physically prevents these people from being happy and living so-called “normal” lives. It has nothing to dow ith their puppy dying or a doctor missing a meeting or the stereotyicpal “emo looking for attention” reasons many people associate with suicide.

    Speaking of which, drawing her the way they did didn’t help either. Nothing like perpetuating stereotypes.

    I know it wasn’t Morrison’s intention to mock or make light of these things and he was goign for the cliched superhero saving someone from falling trip, but, to me, this isn’t even close to a good portrayal of the subject matter and he should have just went in a different direction. As it is, most will just look at it as a great scene where the little emo girl just needed someone to tell her life is beautiful and to keep her chin up to solve her problems.

    No one ever tells that diabetic to stop worrying about their sugar and to stop taking insulin. The vast majority of clinical depression cases are due to similar problems with the brain not producing certain chemicals. Many people go undiagnosed simply because of stereotypes with depression and mental illness and the fact people look down on them because of it when in most cases a simple pill a day will correct any imbalances.

    Sorry for the long winded rant, but it’s a touchy subject that I have experience with and dislike it being actually praised for its pisspoor portrayal in most cases.

  2. Hi Kirk –

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and comments on this. I’m sorry for your loss, and your points are well-made and well-taken.

    Comic books are visual shorthand so, yes, there are absolutely shortcuts and stereotypes being employed in this story.

    If people are reading this scene as the solution to dealing with someone who’s suicidal, then I agree they’re missing the point of the story–and perhaps treading on dangerous ground in real life.

    The idea of the story is that small acts of kindness can make a huge difference to the world, and this idea is reinforced with a number of small vignettes that show Superman making a difference in the lives of ordinary people around the world.

    In real life, there are multiple reasons that someone might try to take their own life. And one of the worst things a lay person like Superman–someone who is not a qualified mental health professional–can do is attempt to handle a suicidal person on their own.

    However, my interpretation of this scene is that we are not seeing Superman cure suicide with a few kind words. But I do think Superman is doing many of the right things: He’s remaining calm. He’s offering words of encouragement. He’s not leaving her alone.

    If there is one aspect I’d fault this scene for, it’s that we don’t see Superman take Regan to qualified help, and we don’t see Superman engage Regan in conversation. It’s all one-way. After calling 911 or 1-800-SUICIDE, he should encourage Regan to talk, to express what she’s feeling, and then listen to what she has to say.

    Context is important. Thank you for making sure this was addressed.

    – Chris

  3. I must say, this is a pretty deep conversation for a blog about 1) comics and 2) product management. Kirk, my condolences. Chris, interesting reading.

  4. As someone who has also dealt with suicide and loved ones suffering from depression, I have to respectfully disagree with Kirk. I found this scene to be very moving and emotional.

    I’ll admit, I actually hate Grant Morrison. I loathed his run on New X-Men, and his current run on Batman I can’t even read it makes me so annoyed. However, All-Star Superman is one of my favourite comic books ever. I believe that, when Morrison gets it right, he gets it REALLY right.

    Regarding stereotypes, well, saying that a person who dresses the way that Regan does can’t have suicidal thoughts is in and of itself a stereotype. People who are clinically depressed can dress in any style, from jock to hippy and yes, to goth as well.

    As Christopher said, we don’t see what happens after this. We don’t see Superman calling 911 or 1-800-SUICIDE, although I think that, given Superman’s character, this is all but shown. We also don’t see much of what happens before this. We see a panel of Regan’s therapist pleading over the phone for her to stay where she is and not do anything rash, but that’s it. While the therapist getting held up was definitely not enough to drive a person to wish to take their own life, it may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Regan may have begun to truly trust and rely on her therapist, and she may have needed him that day.

    I realize that I’m using a lot of “mays” here, but that is sort of the point. As horrible as it may sound, the comic DOESN’T focus on Regan. It focuses on Superman, and the scene shows Superman’s truly selfless nature.

    SPOILERS!

    He has a very miniscule amount of time to live, yet makes time for the everyman, for no other reason than it’s the right thing to do. The rest of the book does not focus on Regan, and therefore we don’t get to see the before and after of the page shown. And, in fact, we DO see a very similar situation (where Superman is seen trying to help a suicidal person) in the mainstream DC Universe. And, in that scene, we see it fleshed out, with Superman doing everything that Christopher mentions: calling 911 or 1-800-SUICIDE (I can’t remember which, offhand, though I believe its 911), before engaging the person in conversation and encouraging her to talk. And I am positive that, though this isn’t shown here, it’s what Superman did with Regan as well. From the time that is shown in captions throughout the comic, we see that helping Regan is the last thing that Superman does that particular day, and it occured sometime mid-afternoon. This serves to cement my belief that he spent the majority of the day helping her.

    At the end of the day, I really do believe that this scene DOES deserve the praise it gets. It shows exactly why Superman is the most well-respected hero of the DC Universe, and how he realizes that everyone, no matter how insignificant they may feel, matters.

  5. There’s a few points I think that are also missed by just reading and not paying attention to the visuals. Firstly, this scene is so cliche in Superman stories and generally he just swoops in and catches the person and flies off. This is particularly powerful because he’s not just relying on super powers but on his ‘humanity’. Secondly, look at her face when Superman talks to her, she’s shocked that someone cared enough to stop her, that speaks so many words about suicidal people. I don’t think by any means that the scene is amazing, but it’s definitely touching compared to generic Superman fare.

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