Book of the Month

Book of the Month – Absolute All-Star Superman

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Written by GRANT MORRISON
Art and cover by FRANK QUITELY
Digital inks and color by JAMIE GRANT
Letters by PHIL BALSMAN & TRAVIS LANHAM

Size: 320 pages
Price: 99.99

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.



Conor Kilpatrick
He even cures cancer before he goes!
conor@ifanboy.com

Buy Absolute All-Star Superman at InStockTrades or Amazon:
 

 

Comments

  1. This edition is absolutely gorgeous

  2. It’s in my amazon wishlist:)

  3. On my wishlist.  This book is a masterpiece.  I can’t wait to read it to my children.

  4. I should probably say read it *with* my children. 

  5. Can´t wait to get it on my iPhone4. 

  6. Great write up Conner. issue 10 is the single most perfect issue of comics ever made.

  7. The Luthor issue is one of my favorite all time comics.

    I wrote about why I think Supes is special a while back on my blog. In a nutshell, I think he’s great because when you ask the great question that you have to ask of all heroes – do they make the world a genuinely better place, whithout causing more trouble then they’re worth – the answer is yes. That’s rare.

  8. Oh, gah, cut myself off. Anyway, that’s what this book showcases really well, IMO.

  9. Im wondering what the extras are like for this. I already own the issues AND the hardcovers for this and while oversized Frank Quietly art is very very VERY tempting, $100 is a lot of money for something I already own twice. Some enticing extras may sweeten the deal for me…

  10. @mikegraham6  There are a lot of extra’s. Character designs with explanations, examination of characters like luthor, backstories of new charachters like Samson, Atlas, the supermansquad, ultrasphinx, a summary of the 12 works.

    And if not for the extras, the size alone shows so much detail in the frank quietly art.

  11. @mikegraham6  I’m counting 28 pages of extras

  12. This book certainly deserves the Absolute treatment and is a purchase i’m strongly considering. Quitely’s pencils are brilliant and having seen some originals in person its awe inspiring. Morrison’s story is epic and really a lot of fun. I’ve been thinking about re-reading it again, and getting this might be a good reason. 

    I do disagree with your assessment on the coloring. I think the over reliance on gradients and washed out tones in places really did the pencils a disservice. This book also contains one of my all time most hated pieces of comic letting, and I think its unfortunate that some of this great art was ruined with some of that stuff. To each their own with that stuff really. 
     

  13. Great review
    I want morrison to write sumperman again but he probably feels he cant improve on all star superman and he might be right,
    but nobody and I mean nobody does superman like morison.

  14. An awesome edition of one of the best stories in recent memory. My wife was good enough to pick it up for me on my birthday last Friday and I’m currently re-reading it yet again after delving into the brilliant extras. Well worthy of BOTM and possibly Book of the Year.

  15. I’ll be honest, I disn’t understand some of it (As per usual with a lot of Morrison’s work) but who cares when the book is that beautiful. Also the Lex Luthor in jail story when Superman has to protect him while still keeping the facade of Clark is a truly uniuqe and fantastic issue.

  16. @TheAskanison Agreed

  17. I’m about four issues into this volume, was rereading it this very evening in fact, and it’s every bit as good as I remember.  Might even be better as there’s no maddening gaps between issues.  It just seems like a perfect use of the all star format, Morrison just took the freedom and gave us a story that was everything Superman could be.  Really, what else could you have picked?

  18. I’ve been agonizing over whether to get it.  I have the two HCs already, but the Absolute just looks ever so lovely.  Maybe if I get some XMas cash, I’ll spring for it, but it’s just hard with already owning the 2 HCs.

  19. @odare77  You make a good point about the delays. Once you read the whole story in one or two seasons, the connections and the elegant structure becomes much clearer.

    @Neb Sell the HCs?

  20. Looks like I’d better get this. Now i’ll have the issues, trades, and the absolutes 🙂

  21. I have mixed feeling about this pick, I understand it’s a gorgeous book and great story and great art, so at that it deserves the pick, but it seems like putting a little spit and shine on an already great story shouldn’t have push this infront of any other contenders, I don’t know, just feels a little 90s foil coverish but only classy and much better done to me. maybe it’s worth it, I don’t know. and it’s $99!!!  forget it

  22. @conor  A definite option, and one I may take sometime soon.  Absolutes, however, do tend to take up a lot more space than the HCs, and my shelf overfloweth.  I’m sure one day (like tomorrow), I’ll man up and pull the trigger on it.

  23. Good point made in the review:  The colorist closes the deal.  Unfortunately his/her contribution is overlooked too often… 

  24. I want it 🙁

  25. I’ve drastically cut back on the number of deluxe hardcovers I buy, but this is definitely on my “to get” list. Will have to save up some pennies, though.

  26. I have waited a long time for this puppy. I figured that it was a no-brainer for DC to make this into an Absolute when we were about half way in the run. Issue #10 still melts my brain when I read it.

    If there is only one Superman story to own from this decade, this is it. Only the Johns/Frank work comes close, but nothing really stands out quite like this, …frankly.

    If you absolutely have to, murder for it.

  27. I have this in floppies and HC. I ordered the absolute from DCBS. I got impatient waiting for it and reread it in Borders, as the floppies and HCs are in storage. Now that I have the Absolute I have started rereading it! It is gorgeous, and warrants the triple dip!

    Finally, an absolute Superman that deserves to sit next to my Absolute Dark Knight. The only Superman story that deserves the Absolute treatment.

  28. Nicely done Conor! Superman is what I read the most, and All-Star Superman has been my most favorite read. I bought the Absolute version and when I opened it up…….. I got chills!!!!!

  29. This is the book that got me into comics. I’m all over this

  30. I cannot justify the price for DC’s Absolute Editions. $100 for 12 issues plus some extras is too steep, especially when I can get 1200 pages of Usagi Yojimbo for the same price in the same month. I had to go with the Usagi.

  31. @nilcam  Intsock Trades has it for $61.99…. What do you think about that?

  32. All Star Supes will be my 14th Absolute, since I finally found a copy of Absolute Watchmen yesterday. Yeesh. I fully expect it to be in my top 3 of those, along with Ronin and Dark Knight. Matt Seneca did a great appreciation piece on it here, if anyone is on the fence about whether or not it’s an upgrade over the issues or the HCs:

    http://deathtotheuniverse.blogspot.com/2010/12/notes-on-absolute-all-star-superman.html 

  33. I bought this in Absolute before I’d read any of it, based mainly on months of hype from the guys here and the fact I firmly believe Morrison/ Quitely is the greatest partnership comics have ever seen.  I was not disappointed.  It’s just beautiful in every way and is the ultimate Superman story.  The only thing I missed was that they didn’t do an issue featuring the Justice League, or at least a Batman team-up; I think they could have lost one of the Bizarro issues to make way for that.    But if they had done that it would probably have been so good that my brain would have melted so I suspect that’s for the best.

  34. @RickyStardust  I think that if you add any other heroes in it dilutes the story which is focused like a laser on Superman and his world.

  35. @SuperMoore: Amazon had Usagi Yojimbo for $63. I cannot conscience $5 per issue for a hardcover. The Usagi set appeals to me more and is a better value.

  36. @Conor, I think that’s a good point, but the book explored Superman’s relationships with other characters brilliantly well and it could have done his relationship with the League or Batman in the same way.  I think the way he deals with those characters is an important aspect of him.  Plus from a personal point of view I just LOVE great Superman/Batman team-ups.  But really it’s a masterpiece either way.

  37. I find it morally reprehensible that I don’t have this yet. Nice work, Conor.   I am glad to hear there are extras in it–this is probably the only Absolute I am gonna buy all year…

  38. @RickyStardust  I don’t think All-Star Superman would like All-Star Batman very much…

  39. @ResurrectionFlan  He wouldn’t, but he DOES like the Batman that exists in his universe. He calls him his best friend twice in the book.

  40. Maybe it’s just me, but one of my biggest issues with All-Star Superman is sometimes the problems Superman has to face are ones that are wrapped up by themselves instead of Superman actually solving them by himself. For example, when Superman meets the two Kryptonian astronauts, imstead of actually beating them or finding a way to stop them from ruling the earth, they get poinsoned by Kryptonite while fighting Superman in space and are defeated. Another example is when Lois becomes paranoid about Superman and thinks he’s going to do someting terrible to her. Later, Superman just explains that something was causing her to be paranoid and it’s all right now.

    These moments in the book really bug me because they seem to take all the tension of what problem Superman has to face and if he’ll succeed. Plus, it doesn’t make him look very heroic in not being able to solve these problems. I understand that All-Star Superman is meant to be a tribute to the Silver Age, but these happyly tied up problems remind of how back in the Silver Age, the story would allow Superman to win through pure luck or use something in the story that was never explained before. I want to see Superman struggle (like him struggling to get off Bizarro World) to find a way to save the day, instead of victory being handed to him on a plate.

    Am I being cynical or is it I just don’t understand what happened?

    The only other thing I tend to dislike is the ending which seems to fly in the face of showing Superman being a figure of inspiration. Instead of showing how the rest of Superman’s cast will carry on Superman’s exmaples of heroism, they decide to just make another Superman and have him solve all their problems.

    Still, despite my misgivings, I think All-Star Superman stands next to the best of other Superman stories.