John Wiswell's Reviews > All-Star Superman, Vol. 1

All-Star Superman, Vol. 1 by Grant Morrison
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's review
Oct 17, 08

Recommended for: People who love Superman, people who hate Superman
Read in September, 2008, read count: 3

So there’s this All Star line of books, where popular writers and artists combine to create distinct visions of some legendary DC heroes. Superman got the treatment from Grant Morrison, famous for dozens of stories with minimal Superman in them, and Frank Quietly, whose difficulty in drawing the human form is a longstanding gag amongst comics readers. And these guys came out saying they were going old school. Old school with a main character we have a hundred reasons to hate: he can’t plausibly lose, his threats are pushed too hard to be threats at all, his relationships never develop, we know how every villain relationship goes, he represents an idealism we don’t believe in (or at least, don’t like) anymore, we want edgy self-loathers with their deep sadness these days, yadda yadda.

And yet this team took on All Star Superman, used the pulpy, over-the-top conflicts and pseudo-science that was making readers wince thirty years ago, the winking sense of humor and cosmic scale of Superman’s influence, and turned it into something incredibly endearing. I want to call this original even though every ounce of it as nostalgic or derivative of some element of the character’s history. Where it’s different it actually exceeds the overages of previous stories – the first chapter sees Superman fly through the heart of the sun and drink up so much yellow light that he starts sprouting new powers (and, by overdosing, accelerates his life cycle and sends him towards death).

The plots are simply nuts, something inspired by fever dreams and the cover advertisements of fifty years ago. Luthor uses the sun to try and burn out Superman. Superman gives Lois his powers for her birthday. You normally just could not get away with this.

The throwaway inventions are preposterous – the key to the Fortress of Solitude is one inch long, but made out of a collapsed dwarf star, and so only he can lift it to put it in the lock. The book has dozens of creative things like that.

And it all works, by hilarity, by intrigue, or by sheer ingenuity of the writers. They take something as absurd as Luthor’s ego not letting him believe an oaf like Clark Kent could be Superman, and make it feel right within their quasi-preposterous universe. All Star Superman is proud of what he used to represent and what used to surrounded him, and with a grasp on the psychosis of Luthor, the preposterousness of planet-shattering conflicts, and a sense of self-aware humor, it manages real spectacle and inspiration.

Quietly still can’t draw human anatomy, but his buffed up heroes and tensed up faces seem to fit the nostalgia-tinted world of All Star Superman - an amazing feat considering it doesn’t look a lick like the original comics. Quietly’s Superman also has a little pudginess to him that nudges him just over the line of ridiculousness and into charm, funny subtlety compared to the wild environments he draws, from the interior of a sun, to a lab whose walls host a hologram of a few bursting cells in a man’s heart, to a secret escape route beneath Luthor’s prison. Between the plot, between the alternately familiar and fantastic characters, between Morrison’s bizarre scifi and Quietly’s visual imagination, there is something worth reading or seeing on just about every page.

It’s quirky, engrossing, and unashamedly embraces the two things people hate most about Superman: he’s powerful beyond the point of any plausible threat, and that he’s a sunny idealistic role model. It slaps science in the face and gives mythology the finger. Forget darkness, edginess and the shame of a guy running around in pajamas (Quietly seems to goad the haters by turning his infamous briefs-on-the-outside into full-on boxers). Cheesiness may just be the new edge.

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