In light of my forthcoming marriage, some friends threw me a bachelor party a few weeks back. They took note of my love of pop culture, comics, and – more specifically – Superman. I love Superman. Always have. His filmic presence of late leaves much to be desired, but
the character the idea of Superman, his ideals, mythology, psyche. It’s always been something I’ve been endlessly fascinated by. And so they made a nifty gift bag, stuffed full of Superman paraphernalia. Superman underwear, a superman ice tray, a shot glass, a Funko Pop Superman figurine, and (you guessed it) a copy of All-Star Superman. A collected graphic novel of the twelve issues released between 2006 and 2008, written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely, and inked/colored by Jamie Grant.
I’m surprised to have never read it before, being such a highly regarded collection. But then again, Superman does have an overwhelming history, with thousands of issues for himself and even more appearances in other titles. I just pushed it off I guess, telling myself I’d get around to it. And finally I have.
And I loved it.
All-Star Superman is the quintessential Superman story, for a number of reasons. Namely, it reinforces everything that is Superman and everything there is to love about his character and morality. The reason Superman has always crested above all other superheroes, for me, isn’t because he’s the strongest, nor is it because he was the first. He is a moral compass, someone who sacrifices the life he wishes to lead (as Clark Kent) on a regular basis, to consistently do the right thing. If the Smalliville television series got anything right in its 10-year run, it’s the realization of the understanding that Superman, who wishes above all else to be human, can never be because the world needs him to be otherwise. And with All-Star, Morrison does a superb job of not only delivering that unmentioned sacrifice, but also showing how his unwavering ability to always do what is right precedes even his own life.
All-Star Superman is a book you can pick up at any time, for anyone, without having to worry about the immense history the character generally comes jam-packed with. This book isn’t canon, so one needs not worry what happened in any previous issue or tie-in event. Rather, it relies heavily on the generally-agreed-upon mythology of the character and his upbringing.
The series revolves around the idea that, after extreme solar radiation Superman’s powers have grown exponentially – but cell decay is quickly killing him. A prophecy from the future informs him he will complete 12 labors before he dies. These 12 labors reinforce the grand mythology of the character by placing him in events or situations that are obviously very difficult for him, including telling Lois Lane his identity, saying goodbye to his father, and so on.
Frank Quitely’s masterful articulation of the pencil is stunning. He expertly defines expression and tone with each panel, using the real estate on each page to best capitalize each thought or action evoked. One thing that stunned me was looking at the differences between the way Superman carries himself and his facial expressions vs. Clark Kent’s. Quitely did an excellent job portraying his two very different personas and demeanors regardless of what they were wearing at the time, without losing believability.
One of the best moments for me was a small passage where Superman is confronted by a frightened and worried Lois Lane, after she discovers his state of health. With his super-hearing he overhears the voice of a young girl about to jump off a roof to her death. He tells Lois he has to leave, and he saves the girl before she jumps. He tells her, “You’re much stronger than you think you are.” With that line, Morrison succinctly encapsulated the way Superman sees humanity. Not as a race of weak mortals to be lorded over, but as equals he can nudge in the right direction.
Although each issue fit together like a glove, the vastly differing stories do on occasion feel a bit absurd when placed next to each other. (I’m looking at you Bizarro-world). And sometimes you feel as though you missed a transition or action panel, or that it was never included, only to learn its included or touched upon later on, lead to some confusion when reading. But these instances are very rare.
Along with celebrating everything that is Superman, it celebrates the people in his life, his position at the Daily Planet, a severely juxtaposed villain, and even the people who created it. Yes, reverence is paid to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, in a brief, but powerful cutaway.
Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman is easily the best Superman story I’ve ever read, and is considered by many as Superman’s greatest graphic novel ever. It proves itself to be a great gift, an easy-yet-intelligent read, and it holds its own with even the finest of literature. It’s a wonderful reminder of why Superman is such an enduring icon and symbol for everything he stands for.