Book of the Month
What did the
Art and cover by FRANK QUITELY
Digital inks and color by JAMIE GRANT
Letters by PHIL BALSMAN & TRAVIS LANHAM
Size: 320 pages
What if The Man of Steel were dying? Really, truly dying — and not in the rock’em-sock’em Doomsday fight-to-the-death manner — but slowly and privately, as you or I might, from what amounts to a fatal cancer. What does the most powerful being on the planet do with the precious little time he has left?
I was going to attempt to elegantly describe what All-Star Superman is about but multiple Eisner award-winning designer and writer Chip Kidd beat me to it in his wonderful introduction to this collection. So I figured, what the hell — I’ll just steal it because I’m not nearly as much of a Superman as I’d like to be.
Absolute All-Star Superman is the final Book of the Month for 2010 because the epic tale of a dying Superman is not just one of the best Superman stories I’ve ever read, but it’s one of the finest super hero stories of the modern age. No, that’s not correct. It’s one of the finest super hero stories of any age, really. It’s also some of the finest work from writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely, two creators whose work I could not hold in higher regard.
The brain child of DC Co-Publisher Dan Didio, the All-Star line launched in 2005 and was meant to give big name creators carte blanche to play with DC’s icons without the burden of history or continuity to weigh them down. Lots of books were rumored but only two ever hit stores — All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder by Frank Miller and Jim Lee, and All-Star Superman.
And quite frankly, after All-Star Superman there’s no point in revisiting the All-Star line. The pinnacle has been achieved and there will be no topping it.
As Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s tale opens, Superman rescues the first manned mission to the Sun, which was, of course, sabotaged by Lex Luther. In effecting the rescue Superman’s cells were overloaded with solar radiation, more so than his body can handle. Superman finds himself stronger, faster, and smarter than ever before (with a few new powers to-boot) but eventually his body is going to start breaking down and he’s going to die. What does a man like Superman — someone who feels responsible for everything and everyone on Earth — do when he finds out that his never ending battle is almost over? He sets about doing as much good, setting as much right, as he possibly can before it’s too late.
All-Star Superman was originally a 12 issue mini-series and each issue features one of the so-called 12 Labors of Superman, a task that he sets out to complete before his time is finished. It’s this device that allows Morrison to tell twelve different stories that all weave together in that grand way that Morrison stories do when he’s completely on point. I haven’t read a Morrison story that was this satisfying, structurally, since Flex Mentallo. And here Morrison does it better.
If you know anything about Grant Morrison then you know that he loves DC Comics characters and he loves the Silver Age. His love of the latter is particularly relevant here because All-Star Superman is a Silver Age story to its very core. It’s a story that bursts at the seems with giant robots, alien invaders, mad scientists, and crazy science. It’s a story that allows Grant Morrison to turn his wild imagination up to 11 and construct a world where everything seems possible. A sun-saturated Superman so smart that he can synthesize a serum that allows one to have his powers for 24 hours? Sure, no problem. It’s not just a fun bit of business when Lois takes a sip and can finally fully share Superman’s world, but it’s a story that turns decidedly dark much later when Lex Luthor gets his hands on that magical yellow liquid. Morrison doesn’t just throw his big ideas onto the page for the fun and the spectacle of it — Superman creates a new world called Earth-Q so he can study its development and ends up creating Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster who in turn create him! Think about that for a second. — everything here has a meaning and a purpose. Even early lines of dialogue that appear to be throwaways have a tendency to come back around to become important later in the story. The complexity of the structure in All-Star Superman, and the way that it leads to so many satisfying pay-offs, is really something that only comes through upon multiple readings, which to me is one of the hallmarks of a great story.
If I wanted to be really lazy about it (and boy, was I tempted!) I could have just scanned a few pages of Frank Quitely art and inserted them here with a caption that read, “This is why Absolute All-Star Superman is Book of the Month.” This book is breathtaking. Frank Quitely has been one of my favorite artists for at least five years and his work here is one of the primary reasons. There is always so much emotion in Quitely’s work. It’s filled with wonder, awe, melancholy, hope — all often in the same panel. And here Morrison lets Quitely work breathe, prescribing a heavy dose of two, three, and four panel pages, and then hitting the big emotional or important beats in the story with gorgeous splash pages. I haven’t oohed and aaahed like this when looking at a comic book in some time.
A lot of credit for the gorgeousness of the art has to go to colorist Jamie Grant who gives All-Star Superman a bright and vibrant look in the grandest comic book tradition. The coloring style is thoroughly modern but in that retro way that finds the bright reds and yellows and blues popping off the page. When you look at these pages there is little doubt that you are reading a SUPERHERO story, and I mean that in the best possible way.
What is it about Superman? What makes him so special? It’s certainly not just that he was the first superhero, that his very appearance basically created the superhero genre that dominates American comics. That’s just what makes him so special, historically. It’s not just that he’s a modern mythological icon recognized the world over. That’s just what makes him so special, culturally. What makes him so special as a character, as a fictional being that real life people look up to, is what Grant Morrison explores here in All-Star Superman. He’s someone who will fight the good fight even as he’s dying. He won’t give up until he drops and not even then because he really and truly believes that there is always a way… to overcome obstacles, to defeat evil, to save the day.
We’ve honored All-Star Superman just about as much as we can here at iFanboy. The first issue was a Pick of the Week, and this is even the second time that its been named Book of the Month. But even all of that doesn’t feel like enough.
That’s how great All-Star Superman is.
He even cures cancer before he goes!
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