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All Star Superman is a collected comic series by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. This is an attempt to do something slightly new with the character and present him in a more vulnerable and human light. Superman is the most famous of all superheroes but some feel that the character is constricted by the fact that he is essentially an Earth bound God and indestructible. It's sometimes difficult to generate a sense of struggle and danger for Superman in the way that one can with characters like Batman and Daredevil, even Spider-Man. A notable exception was the Death of Superman arc in the weekly comics where Superman died (he was reborn in the end of course) preventing a rampaging alien monster known as Doomsday from trashing Metropolis. All Star Superman is not bound by the continuity of the weekly stories and has an interesting and relatively bold (if episodic) premise sort of along these lines too. In the book Superman saves a team of sun exploring astronauts working for P.R.O.J.E.C.T. from a monstrous Lex Luthor clone and is left with even greater powers - a bioelectric aura he can project. However, this was all planned by Luthor as the final demise of the Man of Steel. Superman is now overwhelmed with yellow star radiation and while it has made him even more powerful he is told by eccentric super scientist Dr Quintum that it is also killing him and that he now has a year to live. Superman must now put his affairs in order and decide what to do with this knowledge. He keeps it a secret from the world at large but decides that he will tell Lois Lane and reveal that Clark Kent is Superman so he can spend his remaining time with her (in the comics he'd already told her that he was Superman but this is a stand alone story arc that does its own thing). Meanwhile, a time traveller from the future named Samson tells Supeman that before he died he completed twelve mythical tasks like Hercules. Ka-El soon his hands full with all manner of problems involving Black Kryptonite, Bizarro world, Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor, Supermen from the future, and more besides.
This is an imaginative comic but not quite a great one. One slight reservation I did have was with the art. It is striking at times but it has a glossy, blocky computer artificial feel that reminded me somewhat of that terrible The Dark Knight Strikes Again sequel by Frank Miller. The art and (especially) the story here is far superior but this particular style of art is not my favourite by any means. Superman is drawn to look very unrealistically comic book with a bulky body and a huge superhero chin. It's effective at times and there are some spectacular panels but I prefer comic art that is less alternate world surreal and slightly more down to earth or conventional comic book. It is quite interesting though the way that characters are interpreted in different ways visually and the contrast adds a layer of extra interest. Lois Lane is very period supermodel femme fatale and drawn in a different style to Superman. I actually think it's one of the better depictions of Lois Lane in the Superman graphic novels I've read recently. While this is not your typical Superman story and it eventually becomes incredibly strange (even a little circuitous and confusing), what the author does well here is to present Superman/Clark Kent and the familiar supporting characters in a fashion that we recognise from the other incarnations of this property. This is still the Superman we know but just in a very different situation to the the ones we usually see him in. If this was a film it would be called "high concept" for the central premise. We assume that Superman is immortal so the conceit of having him face up to death and the time he has left creates some interesting places for the story to go.
There is some inventive stuff here that makes for some enjoyable panels and scenes. A wonderful splash page of Superman's lonely ice frosted Antarctic Fortress of Solitude where he takes Lois Lane to reveal he is Superman and that he is dying. There is a widescreen feeling to All Star Superman at times that works very well. They have dinner in a restored stateroom of the Titanic and Lois is rather wary of him at first because he has new powers and is acting strangely. When he reveals he is Superman for the fist time she refuses to believe him and suspects it might be a prank. A natural reaction perhaps but Lois Lane must be a bit slow to have spent all that time Clark Kent and never realised that he's Superman without the glasses. I suppose it's only a comic. One of the twists here is that Superman gives Lois the temporary powers of a Kryptonian so that she can experience what it is like to be Superman (or Superwoman in her case). They fight side by side and travel from the surface of the moon to the depths of the ocean. This section is generally well done and explores the humanity of Superman. He might be an alien named Ka-El but he's also a bumbling mild-mannered reporter named Clark Kent. They are one in the same and both a part of him. What I liked about the Fortress of Solitude section and the Lois/Clark relationship here was that it stressed how lonely and difficult it must be for Superman to be the only one of his kind on the planet and have to keep his secret to himself. No one could truly understand what it was like to be him - until Lois. His act brings them closer together and makes him feel like less of an outcast.
I liked the fact that there was a distinction between Superman and Clark Kent (sort of like Christopher Reeve did in the films) as the weekly Superman comics I use to collect just had Clark Kent as cool and collected as Superman so there was no real difference between them. The episodic structure means this is a collection of stories but they are all relatively interesting even if the book does run the slight risk of disappearing up its own yellow star when it becomes more complicated. The depicton of Lex Luthor is excellent in Al Star Superman. He is incredibly clever, ruthless and dangerous just as Luthor should be. There is a good story here where Luthor is in prison for his crime and Clark Kent goes to interview him. I also liked the brief origin of Superman we get and the flashbacks to the young Clark Kent in Smallville where he is visited by Supermen of the future (it's a long story). This is an affectionate and thoughtful riff on the Superman legend if not quite the classic comic that some have suggested. There are certainly many nice little touches though that I did enjoy. Like Superman having a key to his Fortress of Solitude but the key being so heavy that only he can pick it up. The irony of the thing that gave him his powers also being the thing that might kill him is also a nice conceit I think. Perhaps the greatest moment in the book comes when Superman takes to the air and we get a wonderful two page spread of him in flight. This taps into the mythic nature of Superman and the iconic status of the character. All Star Superman is a good book but not quite a great one for me. This is more a collection of great moments rather than one big great comic. Fans should enjoy it though and find the stories interesting. At the time of writing you can buy this for under a tenner.
This is another re-imagining in some respects, however All Star Superman is made up of 12 editions which were released over the course of three years and was issued quarterly instead of the more traditional monthly publication dates. The benefits that this has over the regular on-going titles are numerous, most obvious is that there are no restrictions in the plot and the story and therefore the story can break the boundaries of having the hero fail in certain areas whilst exceeding in areas that we never usually see Superman excel within.
Grant Morrison is a veritable writing genius, in the first volume it is discovered that Superman is terminally ill and hasn't long left, as you read the series it continues the downhill slope and sees Superman tackling a number of things in his personal life before the inevitable happens. A good example of this is the potential execution of Lex Luthor whose escape leads to the discovery and unveiling of how the death of Superman has been achieved and why. Like I said before, this is taking Superman out of his comfort zone and breaking new grounds without the need of a reset button or the events being a dream that stops when he wakes up and with a number of twists and turns being made in some new ways in the telling of the story, does indeed deliver a new stance for the Man of Steel.
The story continues with Superman performing his twelve tasks and knowing his time is near, he feels that these need to be done to ensure the world carries on without him. Throughout the books the twelve are never fully seen or mentioned and only a handful are actually confirmed as to what he has done. In fact when reading this you could say that this is his farewell concert or tour as the problems that he faces show a different persona to that of a man who stands up for Truth, Justice and the American Way, a saying that has only recently started to be used again in the comic universe. Effectively he is tying up loose ends that he feels need to be resolved.
The depiction of Superman is slightly different to say the least, the costume still has the bright colours and long cape, however the facial features are slightly different and the chin is more rounded in a Desperate Dan manner than the sharp chiselled features that are usually accustomed to the Superman appearance. The other characters such as Lois Lane are instantly recognisable as to who they are and are used well in the story. As usual with the Superman/ Lois Lane relationship the two characters fire off each other slightly more passionately and the use of the dialogue in certain circumstances show the relationship between the two.
The art overall is not to say minimal, but has a slight quality that reminds me of the drawings of Wayne Boring from the 50's and early 60's. By this I mean that the stance of the characters in the manner that they are in motion or even standing is the primary piece of information in the pane. Although all are in proportion and look bright they stand out more due to the background being a slightly different tone in colour, this makes the pictures literally stand out and in turn draws the reader in further to what is happening in the story itself.
Of course with the main character knowing that his time on the planet is up then he is going top act with an edge and throughout issues 7 to 12 we see a man who has lost the honour of being Superman and someone who has to make that last statement. This for me was the key to the whole story and showed me what Superman would do in a situation like this, and as sad as it may be it showed a far more emotional man who was far more determined and focussed to get things sorted. In reality he was sorting his house into order before he went and this shows how a being that was sent to Earth manages that. Of course the reaction across the world is something else and that raises its own issues as well and these are dealt with as various sub-plots and issues that again need to be managed throughout the course of the story.
The latter half of the series from 10 onwards turns Superman's world upside down and things happen at an alarming rate and it comes across as chaos to the reader which in reality it actually is. This part for me was refreshing to read as the situations and resolutions that have been presented are something that the reader never usually sees or reads about until a special or one off edition is printed.
What is unusual with the story is that most of it is familiar in terms of the Superman legacy, yet is different in the manner that it is presented. By this I mean that there have been a number of changes and adjustments to what I call the source material, however these are minor changes which have resulted in quite a refreshing story to read, if not a little sad and quite moving in places.
Due to the energetic storyline it isn't really possible to read the second Volume of issues 7 to 12 that have been released as an independent read and so you naturally need to read the first issues of 1 to 6 as part of Volume 1 as well which nicely sets up the second as the first is the foundation setting, I did read both in one session and felt that it was better this way given the fact that the story was continuous in nature. I think if I had to wait three months for the next issues I would have literally walked up the wall in anticipation.
Having read the whole thing a number of times I can see why it was split into two, for "business" reasons, but what is annoying is that the Volumes are relatively thin and could have been produced as a single edition. With the disappointing news that the Superman movie franchise is on a hiatus at the moment, it's nice to see that the quality of writing for the comics is getting better and better and this story does deliver in a number of levels entirely that show how an icon must deal with a mortal situation.
Whether or not the hero returns is an open questions that may be answered, enough is explained in the story to get from A to B. The problem is that if a sequel was written that the starting point would have to be created and even though I believe that doing that wouldn't be difficult given the way the story concludes, but may not be well received given the epic proportions of the later issues. What I'm saying is that the ending is perfect at the moment... well for the time being!
----Review contains spoilers from the first few pages of issue 1---
Entering the world of comics can be a daunting prospect. The amount of backstory (sometimes spread across several different comic series') which readers must familiarise themselves with in order to comprehend the current storyline, is a formidable barrier to potential readers unwilling to pore through numerous back issues or synoptic resources. Aware of this problem, since 2005, DC have provided a solution in their All Star imprint. Matching top industry figures with some of the publisher's most popular characters, the imprint aims to produce accessible iterations of popular characters, distilled to their essense and incarnated in their most iconic manifestation. With the All Star Superman series, the Scottish trio of Grant Morrison (writer), Frank Quitely (artist) and Jamie Grant (inker) were allocating the task of repackaging The Man of Steel, minus the narrative baggage.
A common complaint made of Superman is "how do you make an invincible, unremittingly noble character with just one distinct weakness interesting?". Morrison makes him interesting by exploring him as a character: his relationships, the authenticity of the clumsy Clark Kent persona and the effect of Superman's presence on the world. But he is never deconstructed. This thoughtful approach only highlights the problems and contradictions implicit in the character to build up what becomes a more balanced perspective of him.
There is a reason for Superman's heightened sensitivity: he is dying. Finally succumbing to one of Lex Luthor's schemes, he flies too close to the sun. This event overloads his solar-receptive body cells, drastically increasing his capabilities but instigating cell death. Although most of the issues work as standalone stories, Lex's triumph and Superman's approaching demise serve as an overarching plotline which will presumably be resolved over the next half of the series (Vol 1 collects 1-6 of 12).
His impending death adds a poignancy to proceedings, but any overly melancholic tendencies are entirely overridden by Superman's refusal to brood and Morrison's breezy yet effective dialogue. He continually demonstrates the economical storytelling exemplified by the first four panels which deal with Superman's origin, yet exhibits a charm and wit in the dialogue and scenario composition which I wasn't even aware he possessed beforehand. It's unashamedly "comic book writing", but in the superlative form.
Morrison just seems determined to take advantage of his lack of constraints and have fun with the material. His enthusiasm is apparent in the way the issues are packed with fantastical elements, constructed around novel scenarios which drive the story forward but give the characters due space to develop.
While I've focused on Morrison's influence so far, Frank Quitley and Jamie Grant's contributions both match the quality of the writing. Unfortunately, I don't feel I'm capable of adequately conveying the importance of their contribution, but suffice to say that even if my discussion of it is limited to a single paragraph, the art and colouring is fantastic and complements the tone of the comic brilliantly.
Quitely's finely detailed art has a startlingly strong realism in character design and posture, and even if Superman and Lois are ludicrously idealised (his neck disturbingly thick, her figure overly svelte) and backgrounds are mostly plain, the high quality of the character and monster drawings override any complaints. They all look wonderfully textured, which can be attributed to Quitely's fastidious line work and devotion to drawing remarkably convincing facial structures, but the digital inking by Jamie Grant must be credited too. It's bright and simple enough to avoid realism, but the way the shades blend together gives a great effect which would be time consuming to replicate by traditional means. The blending isn't overdone though, many colour zones conform to single shades which preserves a distinct "comic" rather than "digital art" look.
The comic is just plain fun. If this series wasn't meant to be among the very best Superman stories, it would have ignited my interest in the main comic. As it is, it's a very enjoyable, personable interpretation of a familiar character.
It's Superman but not quite as we know him. All Star takes place in a slightly different universe to the regular DC. The world however veers off when Superman saves a bunch of astronauts attempting to get close to the sun when Lex Luthor tries to sabotage the mission.
This results in Superman getting up close and personal with the Sun. In doing so he over saturates his cells causing them to start die. In essence the Man of Steel is dying. What follows is a rare insight into the workings of what makes him the greatest saviour the planet has known. Superman begins to reflect on his place in the world around him.
Grant Morrison is an excellent writer, his dialogue and actions scenes flow seamlessly. The story is a very original take on the world that Superman inhabits and makes it easier to relate to this character than his current DCU counter part. Equally the art by Frank Quietly is amazing, his style is somewhat realistic but at the same time over exaggerated just to the right effect to make the characters pop off the page.
I should start by saying that I normally have no interest in Superman because Superman generally has it easy. He's the most powerful hero in the DC Universe. He's wrestled an angel, he's come back from the dead. Nothing can touch him. How boring is that?
One thing I am interested in, however, is the work of Grant Morrison, a writer with an imagination that works on such a cosmic scale that it sometimes quite frightens me. From his early days writing Zenith for Britain's 2000 AD, through his groundbreaking adult tale of anarchy and chaos magic The Invisibles, to his epic meta-story 7 Soldiers Of Victory, Morrison is a writer whose output is surprising, often challenging, and almost always brilliant.
All Star Superman - volume one of two, by the way - is a Superman story set in what is probably best described as an alternative timeline. Trying to place this into the character's ongoing mythology is unnecessary and confusing, as it takes place in a world of fantastic technology but where Lois Lane is not aware of Superman's secret identity. In fact, one of the recurring signatures of Morrison's superhero work for DC has been his fascination with taking snippets of old storylines and underused characters and working them into modern continuity, and I suspect that All Star Superman is the ultimate expression of that. This is a not a comic that sits at a specific place along Superman's timeline; rather, it's set at a specific time in the history of comics. It's a modern story set in the Golden Age of comics production, where characters regularly interacted with fabulous devices, travelled to distant planets and had adventures with their counterparts from different dimensions. That sense of whimsy and invention is present throughout this book.
Another of Morrison's great skills is writing the type of villain who engineers complex, Machiavellian schemes for defeating the hero, and Lex Luthor fits into that grouping perfectly. Morrison paints him as a bitter genius who is obsessed with Superman's destruction, who sees not a hero but an all-powerful being with a God complex who descends from the sky and condescends to tell the people of Earth what they should and shouldn't do. Lex has decided, as he puts it, to "get serious" about killing Superman, engineering an accident which forces the Man of Steel to fly close to the Sun. Superman, of course, gets his powers from our Sun, but getting too close overloads his system and begins to cause cell-death. Lex uses Superman's own abilities against him, and his lack of concern when caught is unnerving.
And so, Superman begins to put his affairs in order. He reveals his identity to Lois (who, in one of my favourite moments, simply refuses to believe him). He gets into a competition with Hercules and Samson. As Clark Kent, he interviews Luthor (who obviously doesn't know that the man interviewing him is the same Superman he's murdered). In general he begins wrapping things up.
A word must be said about the art. Frank Quitely illustrates Morrison quite regularly, and they do seem to work well together. His style is slightly stylised - he tends to draw people with big chins - but he gets a real grip on both the confidence of Superman and the bumbling nerviness of Clark Kent. His pencils are digitally inked and the whole thing coloured by Jamie Grant; these three have worked together before on the excellent title We3, and the combination here is immaculate. Quitely's sense of visual storytelling is superb, and Grant's bright, vibrant colours add depth, solidity and mood. Not only that; they also help recall the pulp-fiction mood of the early Superman comics that Morrison is celebrating.
An appearance from Krypto ths Super Dog, and a chapter called Superman's Forbidden Room where Lois becomes convinced that Superman is planning to force her to be the mother to a race of deformed superbeings, might sound silly when judged next to the dark and gritty style of modern comics, but when viewed as a tribute to an earlier, more fun-loving time they make perfect sense. Indeed, the second ever issue of Lois Lane's own comic featured a story called, wait for it, Superman's Forbidden Room.
In fact, it is when judging All Star Superman against the relentless violence and gore of recent comics that this comic shines brightest. All Star Superman is a joyful celebration, a comic about a character that can and does do the most incredible, remarkable things. In the story the close exposure to the sun has massively magnified Superman's abilities, at least until he dies, and that's how the comic as a whole feels: this is Superman, but much, much more super.
There are some magnificent moments, which I won't spoil. There's a couple of great scenes where Clark Kent uses his bumbling as an excuse to save someone's life without them ever realising it. For long time fans of Morrison's work there are some neat references, especially towards the end of the book. Even Jimmy Olsen comes out of things looking good, which really is an achievement. The only real criticism I have of this collected volume is that it deserves to be printed on a better quality paper to really bring out the colours. And of course, it's inconclusive - you'll have to buy the second volume to see how this turns out.
But really, that shouldn't be a problem. Morrison can sometimes think too big, making his stories dense and over-complicated, but that's not something you can say here. This is a story that isn't interested in making a clever point. It isn't designed as a gateway story intended to force you to buy an interminable number of trade paperbacks if you want to see the tale to its conclusion, like some of DC's recent output. It's not packed full of melodrama masquerading as excitement, and can make its point without having to have characters tearing the arms off other characters. To criticise this comic for not being a wild reinvention of Superman is to miss the point - All Star Superman is Superman as he would be if he were a brand new character created today, with the innocence and fun of the original comics from the 1930s, and it features pure, iconic versions of well-known characters. It's an epic, intelligent and beautiful ride, and most importantly it's just plain fun. All Star Superman Volume One is the first half of a twelve-issue love letter to one of comics' most iconic and enduring characters, and it deserves every plaudit thrown at it.
There currently seems to be so many alternative and reworking of superheroes that I really don't know what to read next. I really enjoyed Superman Red Son, but to be honest Superman has never been my favourite character. He's too powerful, too nice, his alter ego isn't very interesting and in fact the only version of Superman I really enjoy is the version that is Smallville and this is because we concentrate on Clark Kent as a teenager and the Blue and Red Costume never makes an appearance. One of the main things I can't stand about the Superman reworkings is, we always have to have Lex "boring" Luthor in them. Bring back Doomsday. He may have just rampaged and kicked ass, but I prefer him to Luthor. There's just a part of you that wants to shout at him to grow and do something else with your time. Most Superheroes stop super villains and most super villains just want to rob banks and take over the world. But Luthor's never ending obsession to kill Superman and nothing else is as dull as dish water.
So, is this an alternative Superman story? Not really. I was assured that the All Star Superman was worth reading. I was a little apprehensive, as the All Star Batman was frankly poor.
The All Star series is a DC spin off that unites great writers and great artists to re create from scratch their most popular characters without the restrictions of what has gone on before. So far they have only done Batman and Superman.
This is story is written by Grant Morrison, an incredibly original and talented Scottish comic book writer, who made a name for himself for creating and writing the incredibly popular 2000ad comic strip Zenith, which combined superheroes, politics (The Prime Minister in Zenith was a superhero who used his powers in disasters to gain votes) and pop music (Zenith is a superhero pop star who does similar to the PM and gets his records high in the charts).
Frank Millar who wrote All Star Batman is obviously having a bad patch at the moment, however Morrison is still writing amazing stuff, so I thought, why not give this a go.
Basically it revolves around Lex Luthor (yes, him again) finally getting what he wants and orchestrates a plan where he sabotages a ship that's close to the Sun. When Superman saves the ship, he is stronger, more intelligent and all round more powerful than ever. This is because his powers are powered by the sun, so getting as close to it as he did makes him more powerful, but his cells overload and he is slowly dying.
Then through volume 1 of this graphic novel we have Superman slowly get his affairs in order, although he doesn't tell anyone he's dying.
The verdict? This is an OK story. I was lead to believe this was a reworking that stripped the Superman story down to bare essentials, but apart from him slowly dying, I can barely tell the difference between this and any other normal story.
Frank Quitely's artwork is lovely though. Just right for a story that has a sensitive edge and humour too. He makes Superman a big muscular man and also does this with Clark Kent. Kent's size is constantly referred to as him being a farm boy, so he would be big from working on the fields. A nice touch, but nothing that couldn't have been mentioned at any other time.
It's difficult to know at what date this is set. There appears to be a lot of technology and Zeppelin like balloons as a form of transport. It could be like the alternative universe in the Doctor Who episode The Age of Steel, where they use air balloons as a form of transport.
Each chapter has a stand alone story even though there is an arc going through, but this makes the graphic novel somewhat disjointed. And the chapter with the mythical gods Samson and Atlas is quite bizarre and does not work at all. Also the inclusion of Krypto the Super Dog is also weird. It's the same as having Bat Mite or Plastic Man in a story. If you're reworking a history, surely they'd be the first things you'd want to pretend never happened.
This story has received high praise from the comic book press. I have no idea why. It's entertaining and I do want to see what happens in volume 2, but it really isn't anything at all special.