I want to talk about this moment from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman- the famous page in which the Man of Steel stops a teenager from committing suicide. Along with the eight word origin, it’s one of the most discussed sequences in the book. It happens when Superman is dealing with huge stuff in his own life, and it demonstrates how much he genuinely cares about the people he protects.
But you know all of that. What I want to talk about is the appearance of Regan, the kid he saves. I suppose it would be easy to look at how this character is dressed and see a perpetuation of the old, old stereotype about goths being suicidal, but that’s never how it struck me.
A big part of what I love about this scene is that Regan is so obviously a freak (and please understand, I use that word from a place of solidarity). Regan doubtless gets mocked and bullied at school, treated as an outcast and perhaps even a monster just for being different from everyone else. I acknowledge that there’s no direct evidence for it, but I personally can’t help but read Regan as queer. And if you’ve noticed me avoiding pronouns, it’s because there’s also no evidence on the page of Regan’s gender identity, although Quitely’s dimorphic art style has understandably led most readers to see a girl.
First of all, I love that someone like Regan exists in the retro-world of All-Star Superman. Far too often, the urge to recapture the storytelling magic of a particular earlier era (like, say, Silver Age Superman comics) is accompanied by a tendency to “clean up” the society depicted to resemble an idealized past, eliminating the freaks, punks, queers, and so forth. In fact, even the mainstream DC universe doesn’t have a lot of non-villainous characters running around who look like Regan. But in Morrison Land (and for those of us who’ve read his work for the last twenty years, this is hardly surprising), fantasmical retro-super-science can coexist comfortably with facially pierced teenagers.
More importantly, none of this matters to Superman. He doesn’t care if you’re goth or queer or trans or emotionally unstable. Superman looks at Regan and he sees a human being, and someone who needs his support. And so he helps, because that’s what he does. What Superman says in the panels above is great, but in that moment, and especially afterwards when they embrace, he’s also saying something else through his actions: “I accept you. Who you are isn’t scary or weird to me- you’re a person, and I care about you.” I think that must matter quite a bit to Regan, and I know it matters to me.