Exploring The Iconic And The Personal In It’s A Bird…Vs. All-Star Superman
by Benjamin Hall
[***Spoilers for It’s A Bird… (2004) and All-Star Superman (2006-2008)!]
The twelve issue series All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely is a boiling down of Superman’s iconic elements. While It’s A Bird… by Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen is a mix of autobiography, public service announcements, and a wide-range exploration of what makes Superman work. (To be more specific, the autobiography and public service announcement aspects concern Seagle’s family’s dealings with Huntington’s Disease.) Though both are vastly different in structure and narrative, they both share similar aspects.
Some of the said similarities are: Superman meaning different things depending on each person’s idea of the character, disbelief that Clark Kent is Superman, displaying Superman’s ability to inspire, and mentioning Superman’s creative roots, as well as being critically acclaimed by readers.
The first similarity appears throughout both works. In All-Star Superman we see it through Superman interacting with other characters. While in It’s A Bird… we see it through various snippets of potential Superman tales and various people Seagle apparently conversed with. In the former, the most obvious exploration of what Superman means is on display during Clark’s interview with Lex Luthor. While in the latter, Seagle himself is constantly trying to find his own meaning while arguing for and against Superman’s ability to relate.
In fact, Seagle and Morrison’s versions of Lois Lane both express similar disbelief that Superman could actually be Clark Kent and fool people for so long. However, where It’s A Bird… stops exploring that aspect of the concept of Superman, Morrison and Quitely explain through various moments how it works. (Essentially the clumsiness, overly large clothes, slouching posture, as well as other elements presents Clark as a different person).
As for the inspiring moments, we need look no further than the visuals. Though Quitely’s art is arguably more dynamic and expressive than Kristiansen’s more dream-like style, both display Superman as iconic. Yes, we are given more inspiring moments in All-Star Superman due to Morrison and Quitely’s extreme focus on, and paring down, of Superman to what makes him most notable. However, I would argue that Seagle and Kristiansen’s narrative shows more about “how” Superman causes people to see wonder in life than the “why”. By this I mean that we are given thoughts and opinions throughout It’s A Bird…which leads to a conclusion suggesting it is a child-like hope in imagination.
Speaking of imagination, Seagle and Morrison both pay tribute Superman’s creative roots in their own ways. Both reference Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of the Übermensch (or Superman) from his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra and remind readers of Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel. Seagle presents the two references in separate scenes in an analytical way that is mainly text-based. On the other hand, Morrison combines the references in an overt and more visual way via Superman’s experiment of creating a pocket universe without him.
These two different styles led to many critical accolades. Yet while people are still talking about All-Star Superman, people seem to have forgotten It’s A Bird… still exists.
In conclusion, both works have their merits, but focusing on the iconic seems to beat out a more personal style in grabbing the attention of Superman fans.