It’s unsurprising that the editors decided to pull the text above out of it’s original introductory caption box and give it’s own page in the anniversary edition of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, transforming it into a full blown preamble.
This is what Wikipedia has to say about the closing sentence, Alan’s Moore’s last word on and celebration of Superman:
“This is an Imaginary Story… Aren’t they all?” The legend is a triple entendre:
- It could be interpreted that the story is non-canonical.
- It could be interpreted that the story is canonical, since all comic books are “imaginary stories”, so it is as valid as any “official” Superman comic
- It could be interpreted that the story is canonical, but for this incarnation of Superman, as the upcoming John Byrne reboot would render the earlier series as “imaginary”.
- It could be interpreted that that the story is the end of the Earth-One Superman had the Crisis on Infinite Earths never happened.
Isn’t that a quadruple entendre? Whatever. There’s something missing from that list. It’s what gives the line it’s awesome fuck yeahness, but as it doesn’t speak directly to comics it doesn’t surprise me that it often goes overlooked. Yes, Moore was quite possibly concerned that the Superman stories of his youth had just been relegated to the bin of history by Crisis on the Infinite Earths, yes he could be railing against the strictures of canon, but personally I’ve always read that line as a celebration, not just of a certain view of Superman or a certain incarnation of Superman, but of the imagination full stop.
After all, isn’t Superman, the guy who can do anything, the superhero who best encapsulates all that’s good and beautiful about the infinite possibilities of the imagination?
It’s unlikely that the Alan Moore of the mid-eighties had quite such well-formed views on the subject of meaning and story as he does today – to the best of my knowledge he didn’t talk much about Idea Space in interviews back then – but to suggest that he put great stock in fiction doesn’t strike me as much of stretch, in fact I see the line above as evidence that his thoughts were heading in the direction that would ultimately bring us From Hell and Promethea.
When Moore writes “aren’t they all” he is putting Superman stories in the same broad category as the Bible, Noddy, personal historical narratives, and the mythology of predatory paedophiles, which isn’t to say that he’s explicitly arguing that all stories are of equal importance, just that stories have the potential to be very powerful indeed, and that, hopefully, this one is amongst the best. This point is reinforced by the juxtaposition of the legend with the opening splash page featuring a memorial statue of Superman.
Memorial statues carry with them connotations of timelessness, of permanence, of stories that cannot and should not be forgotten.