Comics are a visual medium, and one panel can leave an impression that lasts a lifetime. With that in mind, I thought I would run through some of my favorite comic book panels of all time.
I begin the journey with one of my favorite comics ever, All Star Superman. I think it’s the best Superman story ever written, and it may be one of the best comics ever. Any given page of this 12-issue series is a work of art, but my favorite panel is rather understated.
My favorite panel in all of All Star Superman is where Lex Luthor breaks down crying.
It’s the culmination of a very powerful scene in which Lex has gained Superman’s powers, including the ability to see across the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Superman’s enhanced vision is more than just the ability to see through things; he can also see the various types of energy that glow in and around us all the time. That means that Superman sees everybody and everything as connected in some way.
Imagine being able to see into and through anything you want. You can watch radio waves bouncing around as they head into space, you can view the energy of a dying star from millions of miles away. It would be beautiful, but it would also be confusing. And the one thing you wouldn’t be able to see is something that makes sense out of all the chaos. You wouldn’t be able to see God or any other being that gives life a definitive meaning
As a person who lacks faith in a higher power, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about meaning in life. The worst and most frightening possibility in all of this crazy existence is that life doesn’t have meaning—we exist until we stop, and then we’re gone forever. Some might argue that morality has no place in such a world. Being good takes more effort than being evil, so why waste the energy if there’s no cosmic right or wrong?
I think this panel articulates my answer to that question very well. “It’s all just us, in here, together. And we’re all we’ve got.”
If there’s no ultimate reward to being a good person, you should still strive to help others and be kind. Everybody else is stuck in that same terrifying nihilistic void, and the only thing that matters even a little bit is what you do with your short life. If you are cruel, all you do is add to other people’s misery before you stop existing. If you are kind, you at least help make the world a little less frightening and confusing for others who are in the same boat as you. If nothing matters in the long run, then what you do right now means everything.
For all of my philosophizing over that one panel, I guess it’s worth noting that Superman knocks Luthor unconscious with a punch on the very next page. Even in their most enlightening moments, superhero comics are basically about punching your problems until they go away. But there’s something to be said for the fact that a single panel can help to define a person’s worldview.