New To You Comics #67: The Gold Standard Man Of Steel In ‘All-Star Superman’

by Tony Thornley

With the comics industry continuing to battle the effects of the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are continuing to talk about comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals and things that go bump in the night. This week, we dive into one of the greatest stories of the world’s greatest hero.

All-Star Superman was originally part of an ill-fated line of “continuity free” series from DC Comics. Only two series came from the line- the much maligned All-Star Batman & Robin and this series. While its sister book was a creative bomb, it was clear from the first pages that Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Jamie Grant, Travis Lanham and Phil Balsman had something special on their hands.

When one of Lex Luthor’s plots results in Superman receiving a fatal dose of solar energy, the Man of Steel realizes he only has weeks to live. He determines to fill those final days with the good deeds that he was known for in life. And so begins the final labors of Superman…

Tony Thornley: I’m going to come out and say this from the beginning. I love this book. Though I don’t think it’s absolutely perfect, this is one of the best- if not the best– Superman stories ever written. I also think it’s probably the best thing Grant Morrison has written and Frank Quitely has drawn.

This is a story that understands Superman as a concept better than almost every other Superman story ever told (with maybe only one other coming out ahead of it). It honors his legacy on all levels, while blazing its own trail. Morrison homages all different parts of Superman’s history, and they also add new elements to the mythos. This is just a great story, literally from page one.

Brendan Allen: You already know Superman is not usually my bag. That being said, this is probably the best Supes story I’ve read. There’s a lot packed in there, but it really only takes a basic knowledge of the franchise to sort through. And my knowledge of this franchise is exactly that. Very basic.

And, not for nothing, this is a long ass book. I owe you for this. 

TT: Oh yeah, it’s long, but you get the whole Superman experience in one package.

That’s one of the best things about it for me is that, though they write it as one serialized story, Morrison makes each issue stand on its own as a self-contained story. You get the introduction, the Lois Lane issue, the Jimmy Olsen issue, the Luthor issue, the Bizarro issue… Each episode drives the full narrative forward, but you could sit down with every individual chapter and come away completely satisfied.

That also makes it a bit of an easier read. If you can’t sit down and read the whole thing in one sitting (impossible for me), you can break it up in these bite sized chunks easily. Even better, Morrison gives the reader a chunk of the myth of Superman an issue at a time, getting deeper and deeper as they go.

BA: Truth. The compartmentalized sections also makes it more palatable when you get to a section that doesn’t quite work for you. You know it’s gonna move on to a different situation pretty quickly, so you don’t necessarily need to put the thing down.

That was the Bizarro section for me. Hurt my head. Backwards double speak. There’s another story like that, right? Zatanna? Says all her spells backward? That’s too much thinking for one speech balloon. Takes me days to read those things.

TT: Yeah, I know what you mean. The two Bizarro stories are probably the roughest parts of the book, but they’re both still good stories. However, it really does help in the reading of it. Don’t like Jimmy Olsen? His spotlight story is only 20 pages, you’ll be on to the Luthor segment in a minute. It really does help the flow of the book. 

BA: Funny you should mention the Jimmy Olsen bit. I did not actually care for that part either. Can’t quite place who he reminds me of, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t want to punch that dude. It did, mercifully, move on quickly from that section. 

TT: Oh the Jimmy issue was my favorite!

BA: Really? I guess that’s why we do these things. They’re not all gonna land.

TT: Actually, I liked the Lois issues a little better, but I do love the Jimmy story.

BA: The Lois bits were my favorite. That was a clever little dance she and Clark were doing. The incredulity that he could be both Clark and Superman? With all the evidence right in front of her. That was a master stroke.

TT: Oh Morrison wrote Lois so well. Though I do think they underwrote Clark Kent, the rest of it was just great.

Quitely does stunning work in this story, especially paired with Grant’s colors. He’s able to convey the majestic scope of Superman and his world immediately. Even the quieter moments, such as Jonathan Kent’s heart attack in issue #6, are awe inspiring. He draws three different versions of Superman here, in a cool way. You get Kal-El, the icon, Clark, the mask, and the true Superman, and each of them are physically different in noticeable ways.

BA: One of the things that I’ve always thought was a little bizarre, and I know I’m not alone here, is that Superman and Clark Kent’s aesthetic isn’t really all that different. In this story, Clark tries to come clean to Lois, and she’s flat out not having it. The reason it actually works here is because Quitely made Clark and Superman look vastly different. It’s not just slicked back hair and specs. 

Superman stands tall, carries himself with confidence. Kent is hunched over. Rumpled clothes. Mussed up hair. Same build, same bone structure, but you’d never be able to tell it’s the same dude without really, really looking for it. Reminds me of the time Abyss took off his mask, cut his hair, shaved, and put on a suit. Called himself Joseph, and even though you knew it was him, you still had these doubts. Had to be him, except maybe it wasn’t? Abyss is a monster. Joe? Joe’s a pussycat. Joseph Park even kind of resembles Clark Kent in this series. 

You know what? The Joseph Park angle ran on Impact Wrestling (then TNA) in 2012. I wonder if Park and the TNA bookers didn’t get the idea from this 2008 series.

TT: It’s the Christopher Reeve thing! Have you ever watched clips of Reeve moving between Clark and Superman? It’s some incredible acting, and Quitely heightens what he does on the page. Its another way that the book honors a century’s worth of Superman.

Another thing that works wonderfully is the action. Quitely has always been able to draw fantastic action scenes. This is next level though. In the Luthor issue, he’s able to draw subtle action, as Clark fumbles around in his secret identity, saving the day over and over again while Luthor storms around, not noticing what’s going on right next in. In the Smallville issue, Clark faces a threat that’s more of an other-dimensional concept than a monster, and he’s able to make the reader believe it’s a threat. And it just goes on and on like that the entire volume.

BA: None of the issues I have with this book are with the art, and I don’t really have many issues at all, other than this is clearly one of your favorites, and not mine. Character designs are distinct and memorable. I already mentioned that Kent/Superman thing. That really impressed me. Fight scenes are amazingly choreographed. The book is gorgeous, really. 

TT: So what did you think in the end?

BA: It’s not bad. It’s definitely a Superman story, though. Probably one of the best I’ve read, but also not running out to buy it any time soon. They did a Batman like this, though, yes? We should hit that one up on one of your picks. Batman, I can get behind.

TT: We’re not going to do All-Star Batman & Robin, but maybe Morrison & Quietly’s Batman & Robin… That would be fun because I haven’t read that since it came out. 

BA: Is that the one where he’s on a road trip and beats dudes up at all the rest stops along the way? Because that sounds fun.

TT: Oh there is that All-Star Batman too… Good grief modern comics can be confusing. So, what’s next?

BA: We’re going to hit up a post-apocalyptic horror fantasy with Image Comics’ The Realm Volume 1, by Seth Peck and Jeremy Haun

TT: Sounds like fun!

All-Star Superman is available now in print and digital from DC Comics.

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