Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman has many strengths which help make it an incredible ride for the reader. The quality of illustration by Frank Quietly and the digital coloring by Jamie Grant help supply the reader with character depth which simply can not be included in the text of the comic. The depth of Superman’s character is reflected through the difference in illustration and coloring between Superman and Clark Kent. However, the techniques which explore Superman’s dimensions reveals the lack of depth in Lois Lane which is distracting from the overall high quality of the comic, and is an aspect I found disappointing. It is yet another example of the tendency for the Superhero genre to overlook and flatten their female characters, and fail the feminist Bechdel Test*.
Superman could not have any character depth without first showing his stereotypical side of superhumanness.In his super form, Superman is everything the reader expects. He is a giant height, with an extremely solid build, big muscles, and a strong jaw. His black hair is perfect except for one strand of hair which curls on his forehead. This is the typical media image of Superman, also recently portrayed as such in movie Superman Returns (2006). Superman is the true hero, handsome, and supernaturally gifted, bravely defeating all challenges that come his way. He wears his landmark red and blue outfit with the manly short shorts and classic <S> on his long cape and broad chest. This physically perfect specimen stands upright, and faces danger with a determined close up on his face, revealing his sculpted bone structure, and he is often drawn as facing straight forward, a very aggressive stance. Superman is brave, suave, and everything Lois Lane treasures in a man. However, the aspect of All-Star Superman which really adds complexity to his character is the lack of heroic qualities depicted visually in is his alter ego Clark Kent.
The artists of All-Star Superman make one thing clear; Clark Kent is everything Superman is not, especially human. He is clumsy, inarticulate, and unimpressive, especially to Lois Lane. The artists do a great job of portraying the physical differences between Superman and Clark Kent, besides the glasses. When Superman dons Clark Kent’s suit, his posture immediately changes, giving him a slumped over, chubby look, instead of the brave, fit pose Superman has when fighting evil. Clark Kent is constantly fumbling everything, late to a meeting, knocking over a coworkers coffee, and falling as he walks in the door, all in the first two pages he’s introduced. Another technique used to show the difference between Clark Kent and Superman, besides the physical stature, is the use of color in each outfit. Clark Kent actually still wears blue and red, the main colors of Superman’s outfit. However, the red is found is a very dull tie, and his light blue shirt seems more off white than blue. The colors are barely noticeable underneath his big dirty-brown suit jacket, which almost makes Clark Kent blend into his office walls. These not-so-subtle costume changes help the reader separate the Clark Kent with all his human faults from the forever revered Superman. Although Kent is distinctly human, he still can not help but to do good, unwittingly saving strangers whom he seems to bump into or trip from falling objects or cars.
However, these clear artistic decisions executed to help the reader emphasize with Superman are totally absent from Lois Lane’s character. Lois first makes her appearance as an unprofessionally leggy brunette who works with Clark Kent. The content within her speech bubbles lack character depth, but considering it is a comic book, that is to be expected. Lois Lane’s clothes are a more muted, feminine color scheme of Superman’s red and blue. She wears a tiny blue dress, a purple jacket, and matching purple heels, different enough from the red and blue to distinguish her, but enough to signal her as an entity related to Superman. Later on, she wears a long purple dress, not nearly as bright as Superman’s ensemble, which makes her dress look dark, and dreary when she is next to him. Her lack of brown clothes literally illustrates her total emotional separation from Superman’s more human side, Clark Kent, a man she insults continuously throughout the comics, even calling him an idiot in the first episode. Lane’s lack of red clothing may also be seen as an artistic representation of how she does not know the truth about Superman, denying his real identity, and not knowing the truth about his morbid circumstance. While the color of her clothing represent an unspoken angle to her character, the sign given to the reader is that she is even more superficial than the speech bubbles can convey. Her stances as Lois Lane are very feminine and non-challenging, much like Clark Kent’s posture is rather crooked and unassuming. She is never depicted straight forward without a defensive body position, like an arm crossed in front of her, as if to stop Lois Lane from ever being assertive, even when she tries to attack Superman. A lot of her body positions are affected by the comic book’s sexualization of her character, putting her in awkward body positions for the sake of attractiveness. One example is how, when crossing the street with Kent, the artists drew Lane’s legs at an odd distance and angle, as to better draw her upper body more provocatively. The body positions she is drawn in made me, as a feminist, annoyed. Her body is already unrealistically gorgeous but the artists still found it necessary to physically disadvantage her multiple times by drawing her in uncomfortable but more aesthetically pleasing stances. However, the biggest disappointment came for me during Episode 3, in which Lois Lane receives superpowers for a day.
The change in uniform and body stance seem to hint at a deeper character development of Lois Lane, but the plot line and constant sexualization lead to dashed hopes for the reader. Superwoman’s super-suit is actually less revealing than it could have been. There is no cleavage, although the suit is very feminine, and clingy as noticed by superhero Atlas, and does not include any pants. This Episode 3 is a very strong cover, which deceived me into thinking Episode 3 would contain some awesome girl power fighting. It is one of the few times Lois Lane is drawn straight on without any body language apologizing it. In the cover of Episode 3, Lois Lane is actually drawn is though she is leading Superman, portrayed straight on with a fairly normal assertive stance, while Superman is facing slightly away, behind her. The Episode even starts out awesomely, with Lane accompanying Superman to attack; however, the two of them discover two other supernaturally strong men are already taking care of the monster. Unlike Clark Kent who retains a super instinct for saving lives, Lois Lane does not save lives, even when given the supernatural power necessary to. The two other supermen add a sexual dynamic with Lois Lane which quickly leads to a super objectifying competition between the men for Lois Lane’s time, totally ignoring any position of authority she has over herself, regardless of the fact that she is probably more powerful than the other two men who are not Superman. Her lack of drive to do anything radical with her temporary powers creates a very boring storyline and is a disappointment to any reader who thought that made a modernization of a classic superhero story would allow for changes to include a more pro-active romantic interest.
Lois Lane is only one of many undeveloped romantic interests in modern renditions of superhero stories, and All-Star Superman is just one modern superhero retelling which would fail the Bechdel test* if it was a movie. Rachel, from the Batman movie The Dark Night, and The Black Widow, from the film The Avengers, are two examples of how this particular genre is no stranger to creating one dimensional women’s roles in their films. Rachel, Batman’s love interest, although she does have a strong moment with the Joker, spends most of the movie existing simply to humanize Batman and choosing whether to marry Harvey Dent or the Batman before she dies in order to motivate Harvey Dent’s descent into evil. Rachel has very little motivation in The Dark Night not driven by romantic feelings, and never talks to another named female character in this blockbuster movie. This movie does not pass the Bechdel test. The Avengers faces a similar issue when it comes to the lack of development in the movies female characters. The most prominent female character is the Black Widow, one of the Avengers. She does have several an awesome fight scene and is instrumental in finding out the villain’s plan. However, her personal history is barely explored, she does not get as much screen time as the other male avengers, and she is hyper-sexualized, much like Lois Lane was. The Avengers is yet another superhero tale which fails the Bechdel Test.
Obviously the lack of strong female characters in the modern renditions of classic Superhero stories is a problem which should be fixed now that superheros are making no longer merely exposed comic book fans, but now find themselves in several popular films a year. Why, when so many other plot points are altered, the genre fails to change female characters to be three-dimensional, is a question forever left unanswered. But media like The Hunger Games, where a female anti-hero saves the day, void of romantic attachments, hopefully fighting for better days for female her
“Bechdel Test Movie List.” Bechdel Test Movie List. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2013.
Morrison, Grant, and Frank Quitely. All-star Superman. New York: DC Comics, 2007. Print.
*The Bechdel Test is a feminist test which measures movies based on three criteria: The movie must have at least two named female character, who talk to each other, and have a conversation that has nothing to do with a man. The amount of movies which fail this test are astonishing.