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The Fortress of Solitude
All Star Superman - Grant Morrison; Frank Quitely
Member Name: Jake Speed
All Star Superman - Grant Morrison; Frank Quitely
Advantages: Inventive and enjoyable
Disadvantages: Episodic, art is not quite my cup of tea
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.
Summary: Worth a look
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