All Star Superman
written by Grant Morrison
illustrated by Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant
The second volume of Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman was released this month, bringing the iconic hero’s twelve-issue All-Star arc to a finish. And Morrison and his artist cohort Frank Quitely wrap it up as powerfully as it started in volume one.
The All-Star imprint was designed by DC in 2005 as an avenue for acclaimed writers and artists to try their hands at the publisher’s top-tier superheroes, like Superman and Batman, without having to concern themselves with the years of continuity associated with those characters.
Morrison doesn’t totally redo the origin story (though he summarizes it in four simple panels) or rehash old Superman stories, but instead uses classic moments, characters, and the overall history of the series to create his own story, and it proves to be the quintessential example of the All-Star imprint, providing big moment after big moment, and great endings for nearly every issue. He gives readers a Superman both familiar and yet totally fresh and exciting.
He doesn’t waste any time using Superman’s seemingly infinite powers and indestructibility on thugs in the streets of Metropolis. In true, sometimes strange, Morrison fashion, issue one starts in medias res, with Superman in space. An expedition to the sun is facing difficulties, and in Superman’s successful effort to save it, the heat actually alters him at a cellular level. As it turns out, the whole scenario was planned by his arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor. Superman’s cells begin to burn out, his power fades, and it looks as though the end is near for the Man of Steel.
It is then foretold that Superman will complete 12 heroic feats before his death, and those feats are carried out over the course of the series. Whether Superman dies isn’t necessarily the most important thing, though. The trick with Superman has always been convincing readers that an indestructible, all-powerful being might be in danger, or unable to complete his task of defending Earth’s people, and Morrison handles this to perfection.
Longtime Superman fans will find endless references to series lore mixed with the futuristic space-age happenings. And though many may find it a bastardization of the icon himself that Morrison gives his mighty powers to just about everyone—from other survivors of Krypton to numerous characters that consume a Superman formula to future incarnations of Superman and even to a dog—the author’s decision to do so gives readers a Superman worth caring about more than ever before. This is a Superman, then, not necessarily to be admired for his powers, but what he does for people with them and what he sees in the people of Earth, what he sees in us.
Quitely builds every panel meticulously with understated detail. The art is deceptively simple, and while not calling much attention to itself, works to serve the overall tone of the stories.
Morrison’s All-Star Superman may not be the perfect tale of Kal-El. The series has its missteps (two issues dedicated to the painfully hard to read dialogue of Bizarro World most immediately come to mind) but it’s one of the best Superman reads out there. The All-Star title never lets off the gas on the action but finds some of its biggest moments in between, in the subtle accents Morrison gives an enduring hero. For longtime fans and those who swore off the Last Son of Krypton long ago, All-Star Superman is a fantastic breath of life for a timeless character.