Book of the Month

Book of the Month – All-Star Superman Vol. 2

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Size: pages
Price: 19.99

You just can't get enough Grant Morrison can you? Forget all about Final Crisis, because the best thing he's done at DC Comics in I-don't-know-how-long, is All-Star Superman. I waited eagerly for the second collection, released in February, and the entire 12 issues were simply a joy to read, and they breathed incredible light into the Superman mythos, something that might be hard than actually leaping tall buildings in a single bound.



I picked up the first issue when it came out, long ago. I never bought another, and I can't quite say why. The idea of Morrison and Quitely made me happy, but maybe I was just in a bad mood that week, and didn't want to like it. That can happen. However, by the time the first collection came out, I had hear so much good word of mouth, I snapped it up immediately. All in all, I'd like to think it worked out for me in the end, since I ended up reading it all at one time, and really falling in love with the series. Around this time, the later issues in were coming out, and I'd hear Conor talking about how much he loved them, even when Bizarro was present. This is notable, as Conor is a man with no affection for anything Bizarro. It should also be noted that issue #8, on Bizarro world, won the Eisner for Best Single Issue of 2007. But I didn't hunt those issues down, because a nice little set of 2 pretty hardcovers of the best Superman story I've ever read sounds pretty sweet.



When the volume starts off, Superman is trying to accomplish a great number of things, because he's dying. That's about the entire gist of it. Pretty simple right? If you were Superman, and you knew you were going to die, what would you do, and what would get in the way of you doing that? And we're off! Morrison is known as a “big concepts” guy, and quite often, it's rightly so, but the thing about this book that I loved was the simplicity of most of it, as well as the incredible personal interactions. I'd have a hard time choosing between the scenes with Lois where so much is unsaid, but known, and any scene with Lex Luthor, where the ideas of resentment and respect flit about, intersecting in such interesting ways. Lois knows Kal-El has an enormous responsibility on his shoulders, but she still desires to spend time with him, knowing he can't. She never holds that against him, and their relationship shouldn't be based on a “why not me? ” kind of argument. She loves him because of who he is. Morrison captures that aspect of their relationship so cleanly, without a great deal of extraneous cutesyness that so often pervades lesser writers. They just quietly understand and completely love each other, and do the best they can in light of the situation, which, in Superman's case, is usually extreme. The case of Luthor is exactly the opposite. Luthor hates Superman because Luthor is not Superman, and his planet-sized ego can't fathom that there is someone better than him out there. Nothing he does can assuage that, so he devotes most of himself to besting Superman, which is mostly a waste of effort. Conversely, Superman doesn't hate Luthor for hating him, but rather because he doesn't use his immense intellect and power to do anything helpful. If Luthor put his mind do it, he could better the world in real and meaningful ways, but he can't get over his jealousy and rage enough to do it.



Of course, in addition to the beautiful character moments, there are a great many other things to love in this volume. Many of the themes explored in the current New Krypton also appeared in Chapter 9 “Curse of the Replacement Supermen,” on a much smaller, but still very effective scale. Superman takes a page to take some sick kids to the pyramids of Egypt. He battles a living sun. He stops a young girl from committing suicide. He writes his own obituary, and of course, he defeats Luthor. However, unlike the impression many got from reading Final Crisis, he did it with all with minimalism and elegance. This is an elegant comic book, and I imagine that so much of it takes place when things are quiet. In contrast to the cacophony of Final Crisis, a majority of All-Star Superman is sotto voce, using no more energy than necessary. It is an accomplishment of superhero comic book writing.



Even in that face of all that praise for the words of Grant Morrison, the real reason I love this book is because of the art of Frank Quitely. Perhaps this is the case of absence making the hear grow fonder, but I love Frank Quitely's work and I only seem to get a taste of it every couple of years. I talk about artists quite a bit (see, I run a comic book website….) and I've gotten fairly good at describing what I like about an artist, but I am at loss with Quitely. I can't describe it all that well. It's not terribly dynamic, and the pages don't really leap out at you. In fact, at first glance, I would think it's really not that good. The people look weird, and the backgrounds are very sparse. But judging based on a first glance is a bad habit when it comes to comic books. Quitely's work doesn't look like anyone else's work. It reminds me of nothing. It's just Quitely. It even seems like he pulled way back on this artwork, which is much less busy than something like We3. These panels have lots of empty space, and you focus on what's important in the story. Some might say he's getting lazy, but I think we have to give him more credit than that. This is an examination of the quintessence of what Superman is, and from the costume to the Superman's personality, to Smallville, Kansas, things are a little bit simple, and a little bit sparse. That's not the same as bad, however. It just works. I can't identify why it is that I like it so much, but in this case, I'm glad for it. When you spend so much time looking at comics, and thinking about them, and trying to explain why things work, the unexplainable is sometimes refreshing.



The colors of Jamie Grant also have a great deal to do with the success of All-Star Superman. Just like Quitely's pages don't quite look like anyone else's, neither do Grant's colors. His collaboration with Quitely is not unlike that of Darwyn Cooke and Dave Stewart, where you just can't imagine any other combination. In a Superman book, the rule is, or should be, that the blue and red of Superman is bright and will stand out on any given page. A dark murky Superman doesn't work, no matter what Jon Peters may think. When Superman is on the Bizarro world, he stands out most obviously in the color. Even his skin tone stands out as better, more healthy than those around him. It sometimes goes against what the light in a scene might suggest, but just like famous actresses getting soft lighting to make them look better, Superman is treated the same. But it's not just flat coloring. There's very subtle grading and shading. Plus, since the backgrounds are so sparse, Grant is responsible for much of the overall feel of a page. An alien world has an orange glow. Metropolis is grey and blue steel. The colors are the first clue of how a comic book page should feel, and while Morrison and Quitely get the lion's share of the credit, the coloring on this book is perfect.



As I said, this is my favorite Superman story. I've been reading comics for a long time, and only a handful of Superman stories have had much impact on me. All-Star Superman delivers on that promise. It's never what I would have expected the great Superman story to look like, but here it is. It's a little too rare when the conclusion of a story lives up to the much heralded start, but the second half of All-Star Superman is every bit worthy of the first. Yes, the same man wrote this who wrote Final Crisis, but whether you like the latter book or not, it's an entirely different exercise in storytelling. Other than the undying reverence for the DC Universe of characters, I'm not sure you could tell this was the same writer. So if you've been thinking about picking this up and reading it, but you're not so sure about Morrison, go ahead. Read it with an open mind, and take your time. There's no prerequisite reading. There's no continuity.  Just read it and enjoy some of the finest comic book pages of our time.

Josh Flanagan
josh@ifanboy.com

Pick up All-Star Superman Vol. 2 at Amazon or InStockTrades!

Comments

  1. Great pick, and great review.  I just read the HC this weekend and absolutely loved it.  Although I haven’t read a lot of Superman stories, it is my favorite of the ones I’ve read.

  2. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Superman FTW!!!  I love this series so much!  

  3. I envy you the experience of reading it all at once! Makes me want to pull out my issues and do the same. Easily one of Morrison’s best works. Up there with Animal Man and WE3 for me.

  4. Is the 47% off thing still going on with Instocktrades.com?  Not to sound like a miser, but that’d make the book an even sweeter deal on that website.

  5. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    This is coming out in Absolute yeah?  I keep hearing that, but is it true?  I love the art in this, and it’s one of those rare books I really want as an oversized hardcover.  

  6. @Paul-I don’t think they have confirmed it for the Absolute treatment just yet, but I damn well hope they do it soon!!  I’ll be all over that

    I skipped the review because I haven’t read this yet.  I’ll be getting this book soon though, the first volume was just fantastic.  I know the jist of what happens at the end, but no details.

  7. Excellent pick. I have all these in issues and I actually re-read them two months and it really is wonderful. The Lex in prison issue is still my favorite.

    I hope it comes out in an Absolute. It’s been haunting my dreams.

  8. One of, if not the best Superman story ever.

    I said in my own review that while Geoff Johns tried to bring revelence back to the character; Grant Morrison just brought out why Superman is a great character and made him more revelent then ever.

    So much fun in the entire series, I cannot even tell you what my favorite part of the series was. Most likely the entire story is my favorite part. (Okay the Lex Luthor interview in prison was incredible)

    My only problem with this entire story is the art. Probably the best I’ve seen from Quitely, but I still dont like his faces. Some of his Sups or Lois Lane’s faces are amazingly ugly.

  9. I’m still waiting for the one containing all 12 issues. Come on DC, get with it.

  10. My favorite superman story ever. The best in the whole series is where superman saves the kids with cancer. That scene really touched me.

  11. This series might seriously be my favorite series ever.  No, I’m not being hyperbolic.

  12. wow, Josh, you really lucked out, getting All Star Superman Vol 2 to come out when it was your pick..this book is beyond awesome. The only thing I was frustrated with is the paper quality, but I guess I will just get the Absolute Edition…

  13. I was never a fan of the guy.

  14. Nice review. I’ll pick those up.

  15. @Aquaman…Me niether, picked up the first Trade and I was VERY pleasantly surprised. Solid story telling, eye pleasing art. Looking forward to picking part 2 up soon.

    Try it , you just might like it (or borrow someone’s copy)

  16. I know. ive heard great stuff about it. I have the 1st trade actually and ill probably by this one to.

    I just dont like that smug cape wearing douche! He always borrowed my shit without asking when we were in the justice league together! Thinks hes so cool with his "useful" super powers =(

  17. Pretty much the greatest work comic work of the aughts so far.

  18. I know what you mean about Frank Quitely; he’s very hard to describe. Lately though I’ve come to think of his work as a combination of technical draftmanship filtered through a child’s eye. His Superman burts wuth wonder, and strikes me as a more refined version of what might exsist in a child’s imagination.  The We3 animals are wrought in the same manner and the violence in the book has the same childlike elemental renetiscm in places, but that’s just my take.

  19. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    The thing with Quitely’s art are those soft edges.  It’s so biological.  Like everything on the page, whether animal, vegetable, or mineral, is alive. And not just alive, but gnarled and twisted and primal.  Look at Luthor’s hand in the top left panel of that second page.  It’s sick. It’s like Quitely is so conscious of anatomy that he emphasizes the imperfections in the human machine.  That’s why things look ugly.  But beautiful at the same time.  It’s like photographs of urban decay. Something beautiful about the brokenness.  

  20. For the record, that’s supposed to be "childlike elemental freneticism" up there. Always with the typos.

  21. @Paul: That isnt a bad way to describe his art. But I still think he isnt the best when it comes to faces.

    His other anatomical stuff I dont mind, but faces are fugly at best. But he is very good at doing the surreal. I cant imagine him doing anything else but crazy stuff like this.

  22. I hope they Absolute this. I own both hard covers, but I’d love for a giant sized, extra-fied version of this.

  23. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I totally get why people say the faces are ugly, but I don’t agree.  They’re very expressive and sort of raw and unmasked, but there’s something beautiful about them.  He does a really gorgeous Lois too.  It’s a mix of his own style with a classic, almost Fleischer Lois.  

  24. You’re are totally right about Quitely’s art, it’s very hard to describe and understand just why it is good.

    I always thought he gained a little inspiration from Robert Crumb. his character are a weird combination of attractive and repulsive; the figure’s have that heavy built and there is purposefully too much detail on the imperfection of his faces.

    He also really carefully maps out where objects are in a particular setting, drawing them from multiple angles in the same scene. It really captures the moving of characters though the settings.

    I noticed something really cool he did in issue 11. Superman feeds his baby sun-eater in the fortress. Liquid is slides down the walls of the sun-eater’s well-thingy. Quitely drew three of the walls of the well with liquid on them, the forth wall is absent because it’s actually part of that panel . Here the thing though, Quitely drew the liquid on the forth wall/panel so it look like a shoot taken through glass. Brilliant

  25. That Bizarro world issue is a triumph of comic book writing. There is a sort of bravado Morrison attacks that issue with which is the domain of only those that understand the languge of comics on some secret level. It leaves me awestruck every time.

  26. My only beed with Quitey’s art on this book is that Metropolis is never as hevaily populated as a metropolitan of its stature should be.  Any given panel he does of the Metropolis streets always has only a handful of people walking the sidewalks.  But that’s just unnecessary nitpicking.

  27. @Labor: I agree with you on those sediments. That whole two issues that deal with Bizarro, that was just a genius peice of writing. So many people either do a bad job or a medicore job doing Bizarro-talk. But what Morrison did was just make Bizarro work and give a whole new way to translate Bizarro. The sequence where Superman is giving orders to the other Bizarro’s to build a ship? Brilliant.

    Let me just say that I dont think Quitely is a bad artist, I think he’s really good. Other then that nitpick I mentioned earlier, I love everything else Quitely does to the pages. He truely is a one of a kind artists and brings much more bizarre imaginations then just what Morrison wrote down on the script.

  28. Issue 10 is my very favorite single issue of all time. I recently purchased 24 8×10 picture frames, several copies of the comic, and hung it on my wall in full. The pannel with the goth girl is absolutely transcendent, and it’s astonishing that this series has so, so many of these moments. I absolutely cried at this issue and I am not embaressed.

  29. Indeed. Issue #10 of All Star Superman is one of the greaest issues ever written. I think about it all the time. A masterpiece in 22-pages.

  30. Jumping on with the Issue #10 love.  Don’t know if I would call it my favorite of all time, but I really do not know of any other single issue that I could compare it with. 

    #10 was the issue that I lent out a copy of to friends just so that people could see how good a comic could be.

  31. great review josh. i’ve always used ‘efficient’ to describe ASSM but ‘elegant’ is a much better term. Lois and Clark "just quitetly understand and completely love each other." That’s a beautififul articulation of a beautiful relationship. he’s the greatest superhero, so he should have the greatest relationship. Josh, I agree that this is the best Superman story. 

    James Scheider, #10 is also my favorite single issue of all time, and I’m envious of your wall. 

  32. I liked both Morrison and Quitely in We3, but All-Star Superman does nothing for me.

     

  33. #10 definately was the best issue of the run

  34. I hate Comic Book Superman. I really do. No writer had ever gotten me to care about the guy. I did, however, really like the 50s TV show and the 70s movies. There’s just something about Reeve & Reeves. But comic Superman always left me flat. Indeed my favorite Superman moment is probably the only good thing to come out of the 90s… Parralax decking and downing Superman.

    So I picked up Issue #1 of All-Star Superman with a little trepidation. I was a big Morrison/Quitely fan from New X-Men (Loved Quitely’s Beast and Cyclops) and We3 (A brilliant little tale) so that was my main motivator in picking up the series. I read the first issue and I realized something… I cared about Superman. I wanted to see more of him. Like the 1970s movie, I believed a man could fly!

    All-Star Superman is probably the best Superman comic. I did enjoy "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" but there’s something so much more…. SUPER about All-Star Superman.  I can’t even quantify it. It’s just there!

  35. @summersleep: true! an absolute hardcover is def. called for

  36. At the end of this book,  I pictured Lois alone with a lot of cats – sort of a "look at all the lonely people" vibe.

  37. This book is amazing … the Zibarro story just blew me away. Initally I did not like the art too much, but one of my friends pointed out that the art actually adds to the mood of the book, and now I see the light.

  38. Hmmm kinda hoping for another April Fools Day book pick, but no luck 🙁

  39. It took me a while to get around to this, but thanks for recommending it.  The first collection didn’t really win me over — I thought it was well done, it just didn’t engage me much for whatever reason.  But based on all the great reviews I’d seen, I picked #2 up and it was incredible.  I think the Bizarro world ‘Star Spangled Banner’ was the point when I realized I loved this book. 

    I particularly appreciate the words about Jamie Grant; I can’t imagine this art without these colors.