Sunday, 12 August 2012

All-Star Superman

We all know the Superman origin story. He is the last survivor of a dying race of superbeings, sent to Earth and raised on a farm before growing up to become the morally righteous world protector with a penchant for red underwear and capes. The character has been rebooted, adapted and updated so many times over the last decade or three that a nauseating number of stories recounting this simple tale now exist.

Thankfully when Grant Morrison wrote the twelve issue All-Star Superman he boiled down the thirty years or so of Superman’s life to eight words split across four panels. That was the first of many things he got right with the series.

All-Star Superman celebrates the character’s sixty-plus years of canon and history without ever becoming beholden to it. If something works Morrison includes it. If something is best left forgotten then it is. Numerous aspects of Superman and his world are reworked all in order to give us the best story possible, often things you wouldn’t expect to appear in such a relatively short series. That’s exactly how comics should be written.

Jimmy Olsen is transformed from irritating sidekick to brilliant scientist. The Fortress of Solitude is accessed using a key that weighs half a billion tonnes. The high intellect of the character, so often forgotten or downplayed over the decades, is highlighted at various points and there are dozens of examples of Superman truly being the strongest man on Earth, again something his regular appearances often downplay in order to heighten drama.

The premise of the series is setup in the very first issue. After Superman thwarts the latest diabolical plan of Lex Luthor it is revealed that ‘The Man of Steel’ has become oversaturated with solar radiation and is given a limited amount of time to live.

This development not only makes Supes fallible but it gives him something he so rarely has in modern comics: a purpose. Knowing he is going to die Superman focuses on tying up loose ends and ensuring that the world will be safe in his absence. There are some beautifully touching moments between the character (both as Superman and Clark Kent) and his father and Lois Lane.  

It all naturally comes down to a final showdown with Luthor, but it is far from the by-the-numbers Kryptonite-filled encounter most fans would (rightfully) expect. The climactic confrontation is just one of many instances in which Morrison defies expectations and surprises everyone from long term fans to those just picking up their first comic.

Morrison’s script truly does Superman justice. Fun, exciting adventures are woven with believable characters. Frank Quitely’s artwork is the perfect fit for the title, with Superman being all lantern jaw, boyish cowlick and kindly smile. Morrison has provided an excellent script but it’s Quitely who expertly brings it to life and imbues it with a warmth and sense of wonder rarely associated with famous Metropolis resident.

Whether you’re a fan of the character or not you will enjoy this book.

Critical information:
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Frank Quitely
ISBN: 9780857688170

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