V: Superman, All-Star: Part 2by Bobby Acosta on Jun. 29, 2011, under Comic Books, DC, Opinion, Reviews, Superman
“…The measure of a man lies not in what he says, but what he does.”
- Pa Kent
Finishing not more than four years ago, “All-Star Superman” has already placed itself in the annals of comic legacy as the pinnacle of Superman, and comic book stories in general. Penned by the brilliant (or crazily minded, depending on point of view) Grant Morrison and drawn by his frequent partner in comic excellence, Frank Quitely, this tale of the end of Superman’s life, strangely, focused less on the how he’s going to spend the end of his life and more on what Superman is going to do with that time.
And with that, we are given the greatest series of challenges that a man like Superman (how many men are like Superman) would ever face. “All-Star Superman” was only 12 issues long and each chapter featured a tale unique unto itself, as it revolved around Superman, but it also had the difficult task of introducing the reader to the kind of world this Superman lives in. Since this is not Superman at the beginning of his career, it’s a tad different to introduce us to world that the hero has already inhabited. He’s had his thrills. He’s faced death. He’s made allies, enemies, friends, and loved ones. This version of Superman knows what he can do.
So with that, the stories are told the way they are supposed to, without all the exposition that comes from origin tales where you have to have an info dump occur just to know who’s who and what’s what. Everything that’s needed to know is brought up as the story goes along, which is just a testament to the skill of Grant Morrison. Nothing is foreign, and everything is new and exciting.
However, Grant Morrison’s writing skills shine through all by themselves with this. What’s really the drawing point of the series, where Morrison and Quitely truly are above the rest, are the insane adventures that Superman gets up to. With his last days alive, what would the most powerful being on the planet do? With that, we get into the ideas that made “All-Star Superman” the Eisner Award Winning Continuing Series it was. Spoiler Free! I promise.
Issue 1: …Faster….
Billionaire, eccentric science-explorer and head of the P.R.O.J.E.C.T. Science division on the moon, Leo Quintum is trying to map the sun with his Bizarro drones. Things go wrong, horribly wrong, when Lex Luthor steals government technology and plants a human psycho-bomb on board. Superman saves the explorers, but after, Dr. Quintum gives Superman grave news. His bodies Kryptonian cells are made to absorb sunlight, and with that he’s become immensely powerful and intelligent, but they absorbed too much on the surface of the sun. He’s suffering from Apoptosis, cell death. He’s dying. Faced with this realization, what is a Man of Steel to do? Reveal his identity to Lois Lane? Continue to protect the planet? Has Lex Luthor finally won?
Issue 2: Superman’s Forbidden Room
In an effort to become closer to Lois Lane with what time he has left, Superman brings Lois Lane to his Fortress of Solitude. What wonders await the hard-nosed investigative reporter as she bears witness to the strange and surprising keepsakes Superman has. Things like the Time Telescope that allows Superman to contact successors and enlist their aid to prevent disasters before they even happen. Or showing Lois the baby sun-eater he captured around the orbit of Jupiter. Creating miniature suns on the Cosmic Anvil from New Olympus is something she never would have bore witness to. Even so, an authentic dinner aboard the Titanic remains is not enough to tear Lois away from Superman’s secret room. What experiments are going on in there? Why do they involve diagrams of Lois Lane’s Biology? Hopefully Lois can find out before it’s too late for her.
Issue 3: Sweet Dreams, Superwoman…
What would you do if blessed with the powers of Superman for a day? Lois Lane may be the luckiest woman in the world for receiving the best birthday present ever. Lois soon discovers that being Superman does come with its perks, like being able to hear radio waves or seeing the stars dance. But when Krull, leader of the underground dinosaur rebellion, attacks Earth she is forced to deal with the time traveling “heroes”, Atlas the World Holder and Samson, God’s Warrior. When the two begin to vie for Super-Lois’ affections, Superman is forced into the ultimate contest of testosterone-charged superiority. That is, until the time-bending Ultra-Sphinx intervenes and causes problems for Lois’ Birthday.
Issue 4: The Superman/Olsen War
Jimmy Olsen has always been Superman’s Pal, helping out in times of crisis as best as he can with his Superman Signal Watch. Things go awry, when taking the place of eccentric, zillionaire Leo Quintum of P.R.O.J.E.C.T. fame to write a report for the Daily Planet, Superman begins to exhibit signs that he may not be himself. Almost as if something dark has affected him. Soon, Jimmy Olsen has to use all the resources of P.R.O.J.E.C.T. to try to stop the most powerful being on the planet, including throwing himself on the front line. Can Jimmy Olsen possibly stop Superman before he rips the planet in half?
Issue 5: The Gospel According to Lex Luthor.
In a special issue involving no Superman appearances at all, Clark Kent goes into prison to obtain the interview of a lifetime: master super-criminal Lex Luthor, the man responsible for the death clock that’s been placed on Superman. Go inside the disturbed mind of the maniacal super criminal and what the psychological struggle with Superman really means to him. Why does Lex do what he does? Why is he allowing himself to stay in prison? And, will Clark be able to keep his identity as Superman a secret while interviewing the most dangerous man in the world in a prison meant to keep the most evil super criminals locked up? The Gospel of Luthor is laid out here…
Issue 6: Funeral in Smallville
Let this tale take you back, to the town of Smallville, when Superman was still known as Clark and was unsure of his life beginning in Metropolis. Soon, strange things begin to happen. New workers arrive to help out Ma and Pa on the Kent farm. Clark’s childhood friends, Pete Ross and Lana Lang, begin to suspect something. And soon, there is more than one Superman across the fields of Smallville. Will they all be able to stop the Time-Stealing Chronovore? Whatever happens, know that by the end of this issue, Clark will be unable to save one of his loved ones and that action affects the course of Superman’s, and Clark’s, life.
Without giving away the next six issues, just know that once you finish, a complete overall tale will be told, and you will never think of Superman the same way again. It only gets better and more marvelous from here. The stakes are raised through issue 12, and Superman is finally faced with the ultimate challenge before he faces death itself.
The only objective I really tried to accomplish is showcasing a supreme example of comic book storytelling. It’s hard to say anymore about a book that’s written by a wonderful writer and a fantastic artist. Go back and read it numerous times, I guarantee there will always be some marvelous detail or intricate panel design that affects how you see the story overall. There can’t be much more to say. You come across these little gems of entertainment in all forms. Movies like “Gone with the Wind” or albums like “Dark Side of the Moon”, universally praised. This book, “All-Star Superman”, is going down as a comic definitely revered by all who love the form as the definitive Superman story, or anyone that loves Superman in general.
Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely will undoubtedly work together again in the future and attain a large level of success, but this collaboration, creating the prime Superman tale, can also be the word used to describe what all Superman stories should be: magic. He’s not supposed to be grounded in reality and faced with the grittiness of the world. That’s what Batman is for. Superman is supposed to do the unattainable, to show us the better way. “All-Star Superman”, as detailed earlier, is twelve issues of oddball and crazy concepts. Magic. That’s what Superman has always been about. Always.
I’m so pressed for space on this, I’m positive there are at least half a dozen more essays to write about this story. Issue 10 in particular, but I don’t want to give too much away. That will have to be for another time.
“…There’s always a way.” – Superman
- In addition to writing for the column “Comic Matters” for the Tucson Citizen website, Rob Acosta is also a 5th Grade Elementary school teacher, frequenter of local comic book shop Heroes & Villains and explorer of the importance of comics. Contact him at email@example.com