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:

  1. It could be interpreted that the story is non-canonical.
  2. 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
  3. 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”.[citation needed]
  4. 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.

7 Responses to “The fuck yeah files: “This is an imaginary story… Aren’t they all?””

  1. Anton Says:

    Isn’t it also addressing and indeed challenging the whole idea of a canonical text for what had long been considered an at least semi-mythic character? The idea that some stories about the God Superman were ‘real’ and some were ‘imaginary’ was clearly nonsense. This Superman story is imaginary because they all are. Moore is attempting nothing less than deicide here. If Silver Age Supes is gonna die then his stories die with him. But that famous closing sentence is, after all, a question to the reader. are they all imaginary? Or could it just be possible that…? That’s the magic of this particular wizard’s spell.

  2. Figserello Says:

    I love that ‘aren’t they all?’ line. It is indeed a vindication of the imagination.

    Some old school fans took them as very offensive, believe it or not. We’re all supposed to know that these are ‘just stories’, but at the same time, this can’t be stated within the stories themselves.

    Rather mind-bogglingly, one old fan I’ve discussed this with was aggrieved (still, now!) that Moore seemed to be implying that his readers didn’t know the difference between an imaginary story and an ‘Imaginary Story’! I’d say he speaks for a lot of them.

    For myself, letting my unkind side show, I detect a hint of huffiness in the sentence. I have no proof, but possibly Moore wanted this to be the *real* *final* adventure of the Superman he’d grown up reading in the sixties, but was told by DC that no, this had to be an imaginary story, or an Imaginary Story, even, so he’s letting them know what he thinks of THAT!

    Being less unkind and a bit more literary about it, the ‘Aren’t they all?’ statement reads as part of the movement in the story from immersion in a colourful, benevolent, much-loved fantasy world to a darker, more realistic understanding of how the world works. Superman is shown rather painfully how cruelty and hurt can operate given a chance.

    The movement is away from ‘childish things’ to what passes for realism in the grim and gritty world, and ‘Aren’t they all?’ is part of that ‘awakening’.

  3. Zom Says:

    Anton, I think it could be seen as a challenge to canon, yes.

  4. plok Says:

    Nicely put; and that Wikipedia stuff makes me chuckle, since it’s never ever occurred to me that there could be such a thing as somebody out there wondering if “Whatever Happened To…?” is canonical!

    What a world!

  5. David Golding Says:

    Isn’t it strange to even use “non-canonical” to describe works that are officially published in the regular series?

    Love the post, Zom. Wasn’t Moore writing this around the same time as Watchmen? The essay about Pallas opens with the “marvelous and spell-binding planet of imagination”, so I think you are on the money to say that ideas about ideas had entered his idea space already… possibly in a less developed, but I challenge anyone to say that that introduction is less potent than Promethea. (It was surely potent enough, all those years later, to drive Morrison to his famous four panels.)

  6. Bill Eggert Says:

    Thoughtful, articulate essay. That said, I never liked Moore’s stuff, always felt he was overrated, and hated this imaginary story back then and hate it even more now. Feel it very disrespectful to the Silver Age stories.

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