Tim's Reviews > Absolute All-Star Superman

Absolute All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison
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Jan 11, 12

bookshelves: favorites, superheroes, comics
Read in July, 2010

By taking the characters and the worlds they inhabited at face value, Grant Morrison, in his own words, “hoped to show how the superheroes pointed to something great in us all” (Supergods 292). His work on All Star Superman stands as the quintessential story of the Man of Steel. All Star is another “final” story, one that presents Superman faced with the promise of his own mortality. In facing this challenge, however, Morrison has Superman perform his greatest feats. All Star stands outside of the normal publishing line and is thus allowed to play with the character without the constraints of the character’s long and complicated continuity. Superman is presented as supremely powerful, but humble and selfless. Morrison effectively grounds the character not with guilt or tragedy or personal baggage, but in personal relationships. Past efforts to make superheroes relatable most often involved angst and cynicism, but Morrison leaves all of that behind him. Frank Quitely’s art lends to Superman’s humanity—All Star Superman is not in a constant state of flexing or posing, but he holds himself with a calm presence and assurance. Morrison and Quitely’s Superman is recumbent, his cape drapes over his shoulders and his costume bunches up at the seams. Even as a physical presence, this Superman is more human.

All Star Superman effectively captures the essence of the character’s early years. Morrison looks backward in Superman’s history to tap into what has given him his lasting appeal. Superman has always spoken for the ideals of society, and when he did not, the character lost its way. In an interview with Wired magazine, Morrison described part of his goal in All Star, “we chose not to deconstruct the superhero but to take him at face value, as a fiction that was trying to tell us something wonderful about ourselves. Somewhere, in our darkest night, we made up the story of a man who will never let us down and that seemed worth investigating." In the early days, Superman, as The Man of Tomorrow, spoke for the greatest hopes of a downtrodden people. Here, Morrison reaches back to that sense of wonder and escape to fuel his work. Especially in a publishing landscape that for so long had been convinced the key to a superhero’s success was more grit and anger, All-Star stands as a testament to the true strength of the superhero. All Star Superman shows the reader Superman as a myth, a being that can exist only in imagination, but grounded in what makes us all human: fear of death, fear of the unknown, love, altruism, overcoming odds. When faced with death, even Superman is powerless, but he lives his life despite his destiny on his own terms. It is a message of the potential of man, through the lens of the superhuman.

Morrison understands the role of the superhero in society better than perhaps anyone else in the business and utilizes it perfectly in what may not be just the best Superman story ever told, but the best SUPERHERO story. The cultural power and strength of the superhero relies on emphasizing the moral potential of the human spirit through the lens of superhuman struggle between good and evil. It may be easy to scoff at the simple nature of “truth, justice, and the American Way,” in society, but there can be no doubt that Superman will always continue to strive for those loftiest ideals, no matter the challenge.

All-Star Superman is full of memorable moments that made me laugh and some that made me tear-up. Superman is shown to be emphatically human throughout, and his selflessness and kind-heartedness are rooted in his relationships, as particularly illustrated in chapter 6 with his father. He takes the time to save the life of a single individual ready to give up n life in the midst of grappling with his own morality in one of the books single most memorable pages. All-Star Superman is a soaring and inspiring adventure.
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