In the article, “Making and Breaking the Superhero Quotidian: How All-Star Superman Embodies and Revises the Everyday,” Frank Bramlett considers how Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely “use the extraordinary, the remarkable, and the unexpected to highlight yet ultimately overturn the story of Superman’s day-to-day practices and expectations.” Morrison and Quitely rewrite the Superman comic, giving his backstory in one page, 4 panels. The notion of the quotidian means “the everyday, the unremarkable; the quotidian refers to everyday routines and expectations.” Morrison and Quitely challenge Superman’s “regular” quotidian after Superman flies to the Sun to save the crew of a scientific expedition. As a result, his body absorbs too much solar radiation, and he slowly begins to die. What sets All-Star Superman apart is “that it calls attention to Superman’s quotidian existence by radically changing Superman’s circumstances.” After Superman returns to Metropolis, he is experiencing “an extensive, life-changing trauma. This trauma shakes his everyday experience to its core and causes him to revise his understanding of his day-to-day living, as well as his interactions with a host of friends, enemies, and loved ones.” Superman realizes that the source of his powers is killing him, and he begins to question his routines. Additionally, Morrison and Quitely give us a Superman that is aging, a moral Superman, a hero that isn’t stuck in time.
Defining the Superhero Quotidian
The quotidian of the superhero coordinates with Coogan’s definition of superheroes; mission, powers, and identity. In the case of Superman, “his day-to-day actions and behaviors involve helping others, to the point that he expects to be needed.” Among other superheroes, part of Superman’s daily life includes a fight against evil. In the earlier comics, Superman is always battling some sense of evil, and he always wins. He, himself always expects to save someone. When he returns to Earth after being stuck in Bizarro World, he is surprised that someone else had “save” Earth. Perhaps one of the most important point Bramlett makes is that
What superheroes accomplish is seen as extraordinary and wondrous in the eyes of onlookers, the participants in the comic who observe the superhero’s actions. But these same feats are often taken for granted and seen as ordinary by the superheroes themselves. They live their lives in two identities, their superhero guise and their alter-ego guise. In other words, they manage their mission, powers, and identities in such a way that it becomes a sort of routine, something that they expect from their lives on a regular basis.
In Marvels, people were sometimes in awe when they saw a Superhero, but to that Superhero, it’s just another day. They live their lives like any regular individual, any regular American. Wonder Woman’s dual identity was completely normal and part of her everyday life. It’s the same for Superman. Part of Superman’s daily routine includes him being Clark Kent, his alter ego, who is a journalist at the Daily Planet. Another part of his day includes him flirting with Lois Lane, before rushing to save the world. Reading a comic book without having a superhero save the day seems impossible, seems unthinkable. As readers, we want to see the hero save someone, or fight for justice. Superman’s quotidian of saving the day is an ordinary expectation for the audience/readers.
Additionally, Bramlett argues that Morrison and Quitely “draw ontraditional elements of Superman stories, a choice which helps readers feel at home with what they’re reading.” By keeping these traditional elements, Morrison and Quitely kept the quotidian existence of the Superman comic. “All-Star Superman” doesn’t have a different backstory, or a different daily life. Erving Goffman states that a “pre-established pattern of action which is unfolded during a performance and which may be presented or play through on other occasions may be called a ‘part’ or ‘routine’” This concept helps us understand the consistent story and flow of Superman. Superman’s action of fighting for justice is a pattern that has been rewritten over and over. It’s a part of his routine, we expect Superman to save the day using his super-strength, super speed or any of his superpowers. Superman often faces challenges and has to overcome them. Even if he is “losing” his powers, we expect Superman to always win.
Frank Bramlett also includes Richard Reynolds working definition of the superhero genre. Richard Reynolds constructs a list of seven motifs from the first ever superhero comic. One of his motifs that shows quotidian is “[t]he extraordinary nature of the superhero will be contrasted with the ordinariness of his surroundings.” Superheroes carry out their performance on a “front,” that is a conceptual/physical space. Most of Superman’s mission is common within Metropolis, that “city streets, Lex Luthor’s headquarters, the Underverse, among countless others.” The other motif that Bramlett mentions is “the extraordinary nature of the hero will be contrasted with the ordinary nature of his alter-ego.” As stated before, Superman’s alter ego is Clark Kent. In this comic, Clark Kent is drawn to physically look different from Superman. He is a very clumsy man, has poor posture, and dresses awful. Clark Kent has a regular job and lives a regular, everyday life. Bramlett states that, “In order to inhabit two different social roles, Superman has to differentiate his performance by using tools and other signs that set him apart from Clark Kent. This is an everyday task, a quotidian endeavor, and he succeeds nearly to perfection in All-Star Superman.” Superman is extremely comfortable with his alter ego personality. He plays his role so well, that Lois Lane doesn’t believe Clark Kent is Superman, even when he tells her. It’s a persona he was playing for years, it’s part of his daily life, he knows how to be Clark Kent. However, when Clark Kent visits certain settings, we expect the role of Superman to show up.
Revising the Superhero Quotidian
Another important part of Bramlett article is “quotidian disruption.” Borland and Sutton explain that when [quotidian disruption] takes place, “both natural attitude and routine practices become problematic and confusing, and this is an impulse for mobilization.” When Superman realizes that he isn’t immoral any more, his everyday routine changes. Bramlett states that “In the face of extraordinary change, actors adjust, and their day-to-day practices accommodate the new and bring about a different quotidian.” Superman’s quotidian becomes disrupted the day he found out he is going to die. However, he learned to adapt to his new life. He accepts his faith, he doesn’t question the world or question why this is happening to him. His body changes, some of the powers that he exhibits are new or are enhanced. Superman’s day-to-day existence, his quotidian experience of his superpowers has shifted in “All-Star Superman.” He chooses to not become hopeless when he finds out he’s dying, but to redouble his effort to complete his missions. A slightly new quotidian appears for Superman as he adjusts to his new life. It’s almost impossible to think that someone doesn’t lose themselves after finding out they are going to die.
Frank Bramlett states that, “In the everyday, the unremarkable, Superman plays certain roles and engages in certain performances that occur with a high degree of regularity.” What are some, or one performance that is considered “a high degree of regularity” in “All-Star Superman?”
Frank Bramlett states that, “When Superman finds out that he is dying, he realizes that his everyday existence has to change; in other words, his daily life—his quotidian—will shift because he knows the end of his life is coming. Superman’s day-to-day living, his everyday life begins to shift as soon as he discovers his mortal wound. The expectations and routine practices of his quotidian experience shift to accommodate what Luthor did to kill him.” What is one change you noticed with Superman? What routine practice or quotidian shifts did you notice? Could be a big change, a change in his personality, or the way he saves the day.
What are some specific examples of Richard Reynolds two motifs that show quotidian in “All-Star Superman.” If preferred, you are welcomed to use other comic books to show specific examples, such as Marvels, Watchmen…