COMICS RETROSPECTIVE: Comic book perfection? A thoughtful look back at "All-Star Superman."
All-Star Superman, Writer: Grant Morrison, Art: Frank Quitely, Colours: Jamie Grant.
It’s very difficult to write a good Superman story. So many are mediocre or bad. He is, after all, good at everything he tries. It’s not possible to pit him against a human, and you can only beat up so many alien “gods” before it becomes tedious. However, Morrison and Quitely looked to establish the epitome of the character, by using what had come before and staying true to the morals. They did it by answering one very large question: “What would Superman do if he knew he was dying?”
Superman travels to the sun to save eccentric scientist Leo Quantum from a suicide bomber (of sorts) sent by Lex Luthor. In the process of saving the vessel and the crew, Superman is overexposed to the solar radiation that normally gives him power, overloading him so much that his body can’t take it, and is now slowly degenerating. He seems to quickly come to terms with his mortality, although showing the true hero he is, he can’t just hang his cape up. He needs to get closure on things before his time is up. He challenges himself to right many wrongs and to do it all before the inevitable.
This is a book for the Superman connoisseur. Yes there is action, but the true backbone of the book is the heart. There is emotion here that is very rare in a “blockbuster” comic book. Each issue focuses on the relationship between Clark or Superman, and someone else. Superman becomes a more reflective character, as he ponders his legacy that he will leave. For someone who has been near indestructible, this book challenged him to really think about those he will leave behind, and what he can do for a world that’s been dependent on him.
He faces 12 challenges in this book, and it’s not evenly split to make it easy on the reader to say, one challenge solved per issue. Without spoiling anything I would say the best issue is #10. It’s a masterpiece of storytelling in both literature and illustration. Seeming rather complex and difficult to understand, but with a second read, you take in everything that was crafted within that one issue. Like a truly masterful symphony it builds to what I can only describe as the greatest panel in comic history.
This book (in the absolute version) has a beautiful cover (as seen above) that shows off what the creative team are intending with the story. Creating a Superman that is more like a messiah than anything we’ve seen before in print. This is definitely one of the inspirations for Zack Snyder's Man of Steel (2013), where in that movie and the follow up film, we see him as more of the messiah character. They even borrow a line from this book “they will race, and stumble, and fall and crawl……and curse……and finally……they will join you in the sun.”
Frank Quitely's art is truly exceptional throughout this book. He manages to bring a distinction between Clark and Superman that I’ve not seen from other artists. He draws Clark as a hunchback and clumsy, and brings a rigidity to Superman. Characters such as Lex through the history of Superman have tried to find his identity, yet when Clark stumbles around without glasses they are none the wiser that Superman is before them. This is made believable by the significant physical changes in the characters.
Now I don’t believe there is such thing as a perfect book. There are a few panels where the mouth on the face is just too small. However that’s all I can pick out as a slight impurity on what is otherwise comic perfection.
I cannot stress enough, if you are a Superman fan, this is a must have for your collection. If you’re looking for a good book, this is also a contender. Definitely a favourite of mine, and I can say that in my opinion possibly one of the best books ever written.
You can buy copies of All-Star Superman from local comic shops, as well as other retailers. It is also available from comixology