I don’t like Superman. It was drilled into my head during a younger and more impressionable age all the negative aspects of this God-like character, and since then I haven’t been able to look at him or read a story about him without being reminded of all these crappy character aspects. Humorously enough, I’ve found myself reading a great deal of Superman stories as of late, mainly due to Geoff Johns’ run on Action Comics, which has led me to read Adventure Comics and Supergirl and lightly follow Superman and Action Comics (which haven’t even been about Superman as of late). Now, with Last Stand over and War of the Supermen around the character, Superman is about to return to his own title, which I will be buying due to my enjoyment of the main author.
There’s only one real reason I ever gave Superman a decent change though, and that’s because of a short little book called All-Star Superman. I had read Superman stories before that, both canon and non-canon, and I had found ones that were decent enough (most of them Elseworlds stories or team books), but it wasn’t until I read All-Star Superman that I actually thought to give Superman the time of day again. I am now willing to read any Superman story thrown my way, and it’s all because of the brilliance of this 12-issue tale by Frank Quitely and Grant Morrison, and it’s not even canon.
Click behind the jump to see my thoughts on the book.
In a lot of cases, the biggest complaint I see anyone have with Superman is that there isn’t a lot to do with the character. We know his weaknesses, we’ve seen him die and come back, and at this point we simply watch him fight bigger and bigger threats and knock them down as best as he can. I suppose this is the whole reason that JMS’ Superman run will feature Superman walking across the country and experiencing life everywhere as we know it. So when All-Star Superman came around, and Grant Morrison was given free range with the character in the same way that anyone at Marvel can play in the Ultimate Universe, it allowed him to take a lot of the things that were stale and boring and reinvent them in a way that was fresh and exciting again. All-Star Superman takes Superman, regresses his story a bit, and ends it before where it’s at today, which helps save the character from being as stale as he is now – and it’s positively genius.
All-Star Superman is the tale of the final days of Superman. Due to a trick by Lex Luthor, Superman is finally left in a vulnerable position as his body slowly begins to destroy himself. He turns to science to help him, but he is forced to ultimately accept his fate and make due with the time he has left as he gets his things in order. This leads to several challenges (12 to be precise, though the book does not cover all of them), including a stint on Bizarro world and a battle of the wits with Samson and Atlas against the Ultra-Sphinx. All of this is rounded up in the 12th issue as Superman faces off against Lex Luthor one last time in a battle of life and death which I refuse to ruin.
The reason that this story is so good is that it effectively deconstructs Superman and the archetype that he created. Since he is a character facing his own mortality, he begins to weigh the odds and ends of life in various scenes (especially in one famous scene from the book pictured here which is absolutely beautiful). This is Morrison at his absolute best – telling a relatively straightforward story in 12 different parts. We see Superman explore all different parts of his life, and it’s the kind of story that you can read and enjoy with very little knowledge of Superman. Everything is explained within the book’s own context, including the characters who have been with Superman and his stories forever. Since the All-Star “universe” exists within it’s own continuity, Morrison has the freedom to tweek what he likes and remove what he doesn’t, which leads to things like Lois not knowing that Superman and Clark Kent are the same people anymore, which then has a very beautiful pay-off within the story. This story alone is enough for anyone to read and make Morrison their favorite writer.Continued below
Of course, you can’t have a great comic book without a great artist, and there are very few people who get Morrison’s vision as clear as Quitely does. All delays aside (which are effectively irrelevant now that the story is in trade now), the book has ended up being an absolute masterpiece and in so many ways an ode (or even a shrine) to Quitely’s talent. This is probably some of his most smooth and beautiful art since he and Morrison collaborated on WE3. His Superman is incredibly powerful while not being too gaudy, and the supporting cast effectively matches Superman’s build. Luthor especially makes a great visual parrable to Superman’s size, and it helps to clearly portray the dynamic between the two. Quitely’s art is both moving and incredible to look at, and it makes All-Star Superman the kind of book that you don’t just have to read more than once, you actively want to if only to see all his characters again.
I absolutely adore All-Star Superman. I have several copies of it now due to me pre-ordering the Absolute edition just because, and I even have the action figure based on Quitely’s art hanging in it’s little case on my wall right now. In my opinion, it doesn’t get much better than this. There are very few stories starring Superman which I will read more than once, and this story is so emotionally trying that I have been known to shed a tear or two when reading even the middle of the story (not just the end), or at the very least get choked up. It effectively isolates all the things that I dislike about the character and manages to knock him down to a point where he is an easily likable and even realistic character within the terms of a comic book.
And even if you don’t like Superman despite all this, you’re left with a tragic tale of one of Earth’s mightiest protectors doing his best to save the planet one last time before he can never do it again. It’s poignant, sad, and all together beautiful.
I would say that if you’re like me, and you think Superman is just too powerful and unrealistic of a character to enjoy, pick up a copy of All-Star Superman. It effectively changed my entire opinion on the character, and ultimately that’s what you want a story like this to do. A non-canon alternate world story is always supposed to help redefine a character, but if it redefines the character so much that you look at the normal character with new eyes, then the story was all the more effective.
All-Star Superman available in two hardcovers or two trades, as well as an upcoming Absolute edition which I imagine will be filled with amazing behind the scenes looks into the workings of Quitely and Morrison’s tale. I’m even fairly certain that a version with all 12 issues will be available in either hardcover or trade somewhere down the line. Whatever your poison is, you should find it and get it.