Tuesday, October 7, 2008

All Star Superman: An Alternate Reading

Sorry I'm late to the party. If you didn't know already, the ending of All Star Superman was awesome. And there has been some discussion about the character of Leo Quintum: was he the future self of Lex Luthor, returned to help humanity? What I want to discuss is something different, however:

Do the last two pages of All Star Superman #12 tell us whether Leo Quintum is a "good guy" or a "bad guy"?

Does he want to help Superman or destroy him? It seems as though everyone involved in the discussion linked to above assumes that Quintum is a "good guy"; that, even if he is Luthor, he has reformed and become a better person. But I wonder if writer Grant Morrison left open the possibility that Leo Quintum -- whether or not he is Lex Luthor's future self -- is a bad guy.

Here is the final scene from issue twelve (SPOILERS):

(This takes place after Superman has dispatched current-day Luthor and left Earth -- possibly for good -- to restart our Sun and save the world.)

Now, there are two possible interpretations of this conversation, if you ask me: Quintum is good, or Quintum is bad.

Here is the script, for easy reference:

Quintum: Even Luthor seemed to find some closure in the face of renewed global calls for his execution. He seems so faded, so small, now that he finally got his dearest wish. A world without Superman. There's a challenge to human ingenuity. We all have to make sure it gets taken care of while he's gone.

Agatha: But what if Superman never returns? What then, Mister Quintum?

Quintum: I wouldn't worry too much about that day, Agatha. Now that we know how it's done ... I'm sure we'll think of something.

If Quintum is Good:

When Quintum says, "A world without Superman. There's a challenge to human ingenuity. We all have to make sure it gets taken care of while he's gone," he means that "we all have to make sure the world gets taken care of while Superman's gone, and that task is a challenge to human ingenuity." And when Quintum tells Agatha not to worry, he means that she shouldn't worry if Superman never returns, because he's got Project 2 to help take care of the world.

If Quintum is Bad:

Here is where it gets a little trickier. First, when Quintum says, "A world without Superman. There's a challenge to human ingenuity. We all have to make sure it gets taken care of while he's gone," he means that "we all have to make sure that Luthor's dearest wish -- a world without Superman -- gets taken care of while Luthor is gone, which is a challenge to human ingenuity." This interpretation is possible because of the ambiguous "it" and "he" in Quintum's statement, which I have italicized. The "he" could be Luthor, since he is going to be executed and will be gone, just like Superman. And if the "he" is Luthor, that means the "it" could be "Luthor's dearest wish, a world without Superman." Note that although Quintum says that Luthor "got" his wish, Quintum might believe that Superman might not permanently be out of the picture and thus Quintum will have to take care of Luthor's wish while Luthor is gone.

Next, under this interpretation, when Agatha asks, "But what if Superman never returns? What then, Mister Quintum?" and Quintum responds, "I wouldn't worry too much about that day, Agatha. Now that we know how it's done ... I'm sure we'll think of something," he means, "I wouldn't worry too much about the day that Superman returns because I've got Project 2 to fight him." Also, Quintum's statement, "Now that we know how it's done," means, "now that we know how to get rid of Superman." This interpretation follows from the interpretation in the above paragraph.

(As a side note, the interpretation also is supported by how Quintum responds to Agatha's question: she asks about what happens "if Superman never returns" and Quintum tells her not to worry about "that day" -- if he is good and is telling her not to worry about Superman never returning, he wouldn't say "that day" (since you can't pin down Superman "not returning" to a single day); instead he'd tell her not to worry about "that" or "that issue." If, on the other hand, he is bad and is telling her not to worry about the day that Superman returns to face him, he would say "that day," since when Superman returns will be on a certain day.)

So there you go: two possible interpretations for the final sequence of All Star Superman. Do you agree that there are two interpretations? If so, do you think Morrison intended it?


  1. I don't agree that the use of "he" is ambiguous. It must be referring to 'Superman' two sentences earlier. However, the tone of Quintum's remarks, the use of the phrase "that day" and the look of the final panel are threatening and make me feel a sense of impending doom. I think Quintum is bad. And what is the "it" that can now be done? I think it's build an evil superbeing that Quintum can control - an evil Superman.

  2. It's possible; but the only thing I'm not convinced about is due to the fact that Morrison's put ties to DC 1 Million (there was a tie-in issue that, while not written by Morrison, was still going by his outline, and it indicated the next Superman is "Superman Secundus", which would explain the "2" symbol).

    Then again, we don't know the story of Superman Secundus... but even if he was evil, he would have to turn good as Superman chooses him to take his place.

    Also, I don't quite think the final page is as threatening; the previous panels seemed to have a darker tone up until the final reveal, where the vault door is the brightest thing in the panel.

  3. I guess, keeping with the tone of the series, I saw the ending as kind of hopeful, almost like, "we'll all have to be Superman now that he's not around"...but the concept of a Quintum/Luthor is interesting. I could see it happening.

    ps: Thanks for the add on the blogroll!

  4. All I saw in the unfurling of the big "2" at the end was the threat/promise of a sequel.

  5. I know this reply is well late, but I thought I would weigh into the argument. I was only looking for details on the availability of issue 7. Honest :)

    If one looks at All-Star Superman #10, Superman gives Leo Quintum a copy of his Kryptonian DNA structure, which relates to the statement regarding "...how it's done".

    I'm sure people have seen this, but if you look earlier in the series, Quintum and Superman appear to have a mutual respect regarding the others' intellect. However, when Superman returns from his errant sojourn to the sun, to supposedly save Quintum from Luthor's meddling, his powers have been increased exponentially (which has seemingly affected his Kryptonian brain, hence his increased cognitive power), which is a surprise to Quintum and Superman alike.

    This is paralleled later in the series (issue #12) when Leo is standing in front of the #2 vault. The aspect of the shot implies a dominance of the presence inside the chamber. This is a visual device that is employed by Quitely to suggest that what is inside the chamber is as great a sum of the whole of science at humanity's disposal; humanity has created its own saviour.

    This visual cue is supported by the imagery that takes place a page prior of the newly Superman-restored sun rising over the surface of the moon.

    Morrison's intention with All-Star Superman can be seen as getting the audience (humans) to sympathise with a near-indestructible alien as he faces certain death; something that has been dearly lacking from Superman comics for several decades.

    I believe he succeeds by presenting a situation to the character that invokes the feelings that all living creatures must deal with: those associated with mortality.

    Leo Quintum, and Lex Luthor are the individuals responsible for Superman facing his mortality. Quintum is simply the tool for which Luthor can realise his life-long dream. Morrison uses Quintum as a device to enable this to happen.

    There has been a long-standing stalemate between Superman and Luthor, both considered to be the greatest minds of the eras of their respective races. Quintum serves as a solution to the Luthor-created problem of a world without Superman.

    Ambiguity and symmetry may suggest that Quintum is a future, reformed Luthor, however it is not like Morrison to leave something so open to interpretation. There have always been hints to his massive plot devices, but never does he pull a proverbial rabbit out of the hat. Even with his run on New X-Men, Morrison created a character that would eventually turn out to be Magneto (which would be further retconned, but it was his intention from the start to create Xorn as a character to ingratiate himself with the X-Men in order to infiltrate and manipulate the younger, more impressive young mutants at the academy). There were hints through his run as writer of New X-Men that Xorn was in fact, Magneto, subtle as they were.

    Subtlety is obviously quite different to trickery. Like many of the Superman stories of the Silver-Age, the story is laid before us in black-and-white, needing little to no interpretation to understand the story.

    Anyway, in conclusion, I believe that Leo Quintum is little more than a weapon in Superman's arsenal. He is both the tool of Superman's demise (by placing Superman in a position to be taken advantage of by Luthor) and rebirth (by Superman trusting Quintum with his DNA code in order to create new Supermen in case Superman was unable to return from his journey to repair the sun).

    While I accept that the assertion that, however far-fetched (as much as something can be far-fetched when talking about an alien from a distant planet that has superhuman powers based on the radiation from the yellow star at the centre of our solar system) that Quintum may well be a future version of Luthor, at no time does the 12 issue series of All-Star Superman irrefutably suggest that this is the case.