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CSBG Archive

Comics You Should Own – All Star Superman

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“You’re much stronger than you think you are. Trust me.”

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All-Star Superman by Grant “Solaris is so cool, you guys” Morrison (writer), Frank Quitely (penciller), Jamie Grant (inker/colorist), Phil Balsman (letterer, issues #1-8), and Travis Lanham (letterer, issues #9-12).

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Published by DC, 12 issues (#1-12), cover dated January 2006 – October 2008.

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Some SPOILERS below, but not too many! And I apologize for the quality of the scans – my scanner is acting wonky, so I took photographs of pages and used those. It’s not the best solution, but it’ll have to do until I can figure out what’s going on with the scanner. DSC02714 (2)Technology and I don’t get along!

The mythological aspect of Superman is always fairly overt, as it’s such an easy metaphor, but Grant Morrison’s first crack at writing a solo Superman book brings it more to the fore than most Superman stories, not only with regard to the title character but in conjunction with many other characters, as well. The very first scene in the book, after all, shows us Dr. Leo Quintum stealing fire from the heavens, and the Prometheus metaphor extends into the series as a whole, even as Quintum also fulfills a Joseph role, right down to his coat of many colors. Morrison mixes myths skillfully, bringing in the Greek templates, Biblical templates, Norse templates, and a Viking funeral at the end (where it mixes with Greek philosophy, not myth). Superman lends himself to myth, but Morrison understands that his entire world can, as well, simply by his living in it. Superman’s world isn’t “realistic” in many senses of the word, because Superman’s presence makes others strive for excellence. We see this in Quintum and Lex Luthor, two sides of a coin, as one tries to match Superman’s example by making the world a better place while the other can’t overcome his jealousy and uses his vast intellect to bring Superman down. Luthor is a tragic figure, of course, and while Morrison doesn’t turn him sympathetic, he’s still sad to consider, especially in the climax of the book, when Superman uses words to bring him down rather than his fists.

Superman is the most mythic of superheroes, but Morrison manages to keep him this way while humanizing him, which makes his struggles more relatable and tragic. DSC02716 (2)This balance is what drives the story, as Superman is given a death sentence in issue #1 when he saves Dr. Quintum from dying in the sun (thanks to one of Luthor’s creations) and receives too much solar radiation for his cells to process. It gives him new superpowers but also kills his cells, so the rest of the series is about him trying to wrap up his affairs before his death. The threat of mortality is often a good narrative choice, because it adds importance to the way a life is lived, and while Morrison can’t exactly kill off Superman (the “All Star” line isn’t “Elseworlds,” and it’s clear that Morrison is writing the “real” Superman far more than, say, Frank Miller did in All Star Batman), he comes as close as he possibly can. Morrison makes us pay more attention to his main character because we know the specter of death is bearing down on him, so all his choices have an added poignancy. His revelation of his secret identity to Lois at the end of issue #1, for instance, should be a major life change for both of them, but Morrison subverts that expectation when Lois simply refuses to believe that Clark Kent could be Superman. It becomes a funny moment, but it’s still tragic underneath, because not only can Superman and Lois not be together as romantic partners, but she doesn’t even believe he’s telling her the truth … and, of course, he’s not completely honest with her, as she finds out from Quintum that he’s dying. DSC02715 (2)Superman’s impending death not only colors his relationship with Lois, it affects his entire life. He becomes obsessed with finding a way to enlarge Kandor. He travels through time to say goodbye to his father, which he didn’t get to do the first time around. He tries to rescue the citizens of Bizarro World (which he would always do, of course, but there’s some added desperation to his actions this time). He’s oddly naïve about the new Kryptonians who arrive on Earth even after they give him reasons to suspect them. Finally, he tries throughout the comic to get through to Lex, interviewing him as Clark Kent in issue #5 and battling him in issue #12 as Superman. Yes, Superman is always optimistic, but Morrison’s death sentence on him makes his pleas to Lex a bit more plaintive, as if he knows he won’t be heeded but for the first time, it’s cutting him to the core that he won’t be. By killing him, Morrison can examine what a truly motivated Superman might do – he trusts Lois, he takes some more risks than he might otherwise (his rescue of Jimmy in issue #4, while a standard rescue, seems unnecessarily risky given that he has no idea what effect the underverse might have on him, and indeed, Black Kryptonite is very bad for him), and he tries harder than ever to solve the world’s problems. The bittersweet aspect of the book stems from that – he’s more powerful and more motivated than ever, but it can’t last.

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If we get back to the mythic element of the comic, it’s fascinating to consider the way Morrison extends the mythic beyond Superman. DSC02717 (2)Superman has always been the most Christ-like of superheroes, and Morrison dips into that a bit here, but the themes run throughout. As I noted, the Promethean myth is paramount on the first few pages, and it never really goes away. Both Quintum and Luthor can be seen as Prometheus, as they bring glory to the human race even though Lex does it with an ulterior motive. Quintum’s multi-colored jacket evokes the Biblical Joseph, and Quintum’s generosity and cleverness are Josephite qualities. Lex is more like Loki than Satan – he isn’t completely evil, and he enjoys sowing lethal mischief – and he’s able to find the “mistletoe” that kills Baldir/Superman. Lex’s problem is that he wants to be worshipped, but on his terms. Superman doesn’t want to be worshipped, and this seems unbelievable to Lex. Morrison digs into Roman myths a bit with the Sol Invictus cult, imagining a benevolent sun deity – Superman – battling a malevolent one – Solaris – in issue #11. Morrison gives us Hephaestus-Superman in issue #2, we get lesser demi-gods in Samson and Atlas, who appear in issue #3 (an issue in which Superman faces a riddling Sphinx, as well), and Clark Kent gets ferried by Nasthalthia (a distinctly Greek-sounding name, even though Morrison didn’t invent the character) across a hellishly red river to escape Lex’s prison riot in issue #4. DSC02718 (2)All of these bits and pieces of myths build up a world in which Superman is, basically, a god – he performs plenty of miracles in this comic, after all – and presents him with labors to perform that prove his godliness. Morrison makes the connection between this comic and Heracles’s 12 Labors overt in issue #3, when Samson mentions that he completes 12 “super-challenges” before he dies (Samson also spoils the rest of the comic, but Superman’s feats of strength aren’t really the point). Myth is ever-present in Superman comics (and DC, in general, traffics in myth-making more than Marvel does), but Morrison has no interest in cloaking it in anything but what it is.

The best Morrison comics, however, don’t focus solely on the epic. Whenever Morrison gets too crazy without remembering that he’s writing about “real” people, his imagination tends to get away from him. The mythic aspects of All Star Superman are important and give the book its scope, but Morrison doesn’t forget the humanity of the characters, and this helps temper the epic parts of it so it’s far more relatable. DSC02719 (2)The most famous example in this series of Superman’s humanity is probably when he convinces the young girl to refrain from killing herself, but they’re all over the series. Issue #10 – in which Regan appears – is the most obvious, as Superman not only saves her life, but figures out what do with Kandor and even convinces the Kandorians to cure some tough diseases (he also creates life in that issue, but that’s not really humanizing, is it?). It’s not just in issue #10, however. In issue #3, Superman goes out of his way to rescue Krull when Samson throws him into orbit, and it’s not because he knows Krull was goaded into the attack by Samson, just that he doesn’t want to see Krull die. As Clark Kent, he saves Luthor’s life in issue #5 (Lex believes it’s dumb luck that Kent saves him, but of course it’s not). In issue #6, a young Superman fights the Chronovore and misses his father’s death, but present-day Superman goes back in time to have one final conversation with Jonathan Kent. He inspires Zibarro in issue #8. He saves Bar-El’s and Lilo’s lives in issue #9 even though they loathe what he represents. What makes this such a good Superman story is that Morrison finds the balance all Superman stories should have. DSC02721 (2)Some writers try for epic, but they end up coming up with a villain that can just punch hard, and Superman has to punch harder. Morrison certainly does that – Solaris is a good villain, and Lex Luthor with Superman’s powers is another one – but in most of the cases in this series, Superman is confronted with a problem that requires his brains as well as his brawn (and in some cases, only his brains and not his brawn). Morrison gives us a Superman who, if he’s not the smartest guy around, can think faster than anyone, so solutions present themselves more quickly. He can figure out variables much faster than others, so he can “see” the future better – as in issue #8, when he calculates exactly when Bizarro-Flash will reach his rocket ship. Morrison tends to write his superheroes as super-competent – his obsession with making Batman into a god-like being is proof of that – but with Superman, it’s just that his consciousness is so much more expansive than humans’ that he doesn’t have to be the smartest guy, because he just sees things completely differently than humans do. Lex actually comes to this realization in issue #12, but of course, it’s too late for him. The other things writers do is humanize Superman to the point where he feels less powerful and alien. Morrison never forgets that he’s not human, and he constantly reminds us of that fact, but he finds the right balance with the human side of him. He does this very well when Clark Kent is around, but it’s not the only time. His Superman is “human,” too, and that makes the book richer.

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Morrison’s sense of humor is pretty strong in this comic, too, and in that sense, he’s ably aided by Frank Quitely, whose art on the book is wonderful. DSC02723 (2)Quitely’s precise line work and his quirky style makes everything look almost hyper-real, which makes him fairly ideal for comedy – it’s unusual that he hasn’t done more work that’s purely comedic. Morrison gives him instructions, but Quitely makes the humor work. This is especially true when Clark Kent is doing things that heighten his buffoonery but occasionally show him doing “Superman” things without giving away his secret identity. We first see this in issue #1, when Clark walks Lois home (and right before he reveals his secret identity to her) – Clark walks into a man crossing the street and knocks him down, but it’s only to stop him from getting crushed by a muffler that falls out of the overhead elevated train. I noted up above that Clark saves Lex’s life in issue #5 when he disconnects his electrical cord before it shorts out and catches fire, and he does it in as goofy a manner possible, which Quitely sells perfectly (Clark saves Lex’s life twice, in fact, but the other time, while he’s still pretending to be clumsy, isn’t quite as humorous). Quitely’s depiction of Clark/Superman is excellent, too – Clark slouches and is slightly pigeon-toed, and his ragged hair falls over his forehead, while Superman stands straight and has the classic spit-curl (one of Superman’s powers must be “super-styling,” because he can make his hair do that really quickly). It’s enough to make you believe that Clark and Superman are two different people, as Lois does even though Clark reveals that he’s Superman. DSC02724 (2)Quitely’s thin-line, oddball style is perfect for the Jimmy Olsen-in-drag panel in issue #4, as Jimmy is just androgynous enough to make the drawing work without being offensive. There’s another wonderful comedic moment in issue #9, when Steve Lombard – who is just as big as Clark but looks more macho simply because of the way Quitely draws his and Clark’s movements – tries to set Clark’s jacket on fire. Quitely does wonderfully with the scene, showing Clark, again, as a bit of a buffoon, but then he surreptitiously uses his power to set Lombard’s toupée on fire to get revenge, and Quitely’s drawing of balding Lombard instantly ages him, showing him diminished even compared to Clark. The final panel of the sequence is tremendous, too, as Clark looks worriedly over at Jimmy and Lois, who seem to think something strange has just happened but they can’t quite figure out what it is. It’s a superb scene due to the way Quitely shifts the way we view the two men in it. Quitely doesn’t have a fluid style, so his action scenes are much more discrete scenes than other artists, but his attention to detail makes them wondrous to behold. We only see the Chronovore in a few panels, but it’s terrifying partly because it’s so cleanly delineated. Superman’s battle with Solaris is also amazing because of the precise line work. DSC02725 (2)Quitely draws every piece of wreckage in the fights, so the damage hits harder, as we see everything that has been destroyed. Jamie Grant’s shiny digital coloring might not work with every artist or book, but with Quitely’s fine line and with Morrison’s “bright” script – despite some dark corners in the book, it’s a comic about how Superman saves everyone because he’s, well, super – it assists greatly. Grant’s sheen on Quintum’s Technicolor dream coat, the lava that Bar-El and Lilo frolic in, and on Solaris’s malevolent surface, for instance, makes them stand out wonderfully against the “flatter” colors of the main participants (none of the colors are traditionally “flat,” but Grant makes some of the more basic than others). This kind of digital coloring has become the standard in the decade since All Star Superman, and it doesn’t work on every book, but it works very well here.

All Star Superman is a brilliant Superman story partly because Morrison doesn’t need to continue it. There’s a finality to it, which makes it work a bit better (I know that, if this were the “real” Superman, a new writer would figure out a way to undo Morrison’s ending, which wouldn’t lessen the impact of what Morrison does, but the fact that there’s no issue #13 helps make this feel more important). DSC02726 (2)More than that, though, is that Morrison is able to “sum up” Superman, which writers of a continuing serial can do, but then they can’t really go anywhere with it. Morrison is able to do a “greatest hits” version of Superman, one that distills everything great about the character into several short stories, without worrying about the long-term impact they will have. All Star Superman still relies a bit too much on our prior knowledge of the characters – Lois, for instance, is a decent character in the book, but there’s not much in the series that would make us really understand why she cares about Superman other than he’s dreamy – but not as much as some comics. Morrison’s penchant for “wow” moments occasionally overwhelms his ability to make the characters “real,” but his best comics find a way to balance those perfectly, and that’s what we get in All Star Superman. It’s probably not a Comic You Should Own, because it’s more likely a Comic You Already Own, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to revisit it. Re-read it today!

As always, you can check out the archives. I know I promise to post these more often, but I will try! We’re into the fourth year of “S” titles – will it ever end?!?!?!?

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43 Comments

Well, duh.

Ken: I couldn’t just write that, could I?!?!?!? :)

This is one of the few later era Superman stories I enjoyed, mostly because it reminded me of the Bronze Age Superman; more specifically, of the stories of Elliot S! Maggin. Maggin wrote some really great Superman, especially the two novels, Last Son of Krypton and Miracle Monday, released with the first two movies. Maggin gave the characters personality, his Superman used his brains to apply his brawn in the most efficient manner, and he made Luthor a quirky, 3-dimensional character. His Luthor worshipped Einsteing, slept on Snoopy sheets, used cover identities to hide his inventions and carry out altruistic acts, and tried to kill Superman. He was a troubled youth whose only “friend” was Clark Kent. Morrison captures a lot of that and I found myself enjoying it a heck of a lot more than his other stuff, of this era.

Yes, this is a Classic. I’m not much of a Superman fan, but when I culled 95% of my collection a couple of years back, this TPB stayed on my shelf.

GM once commented on the cover where Supes is sitting, arms wrapped around his knees, looking out over the world, that this is a more realistic pose for Supes because someone who is invulnerable would not feel the need to project power; he would sit in a position that is comfortable and unguarded because he does not need to be on guard. I thought this was insightful.

What truly amazed me about the Regan scene (and I noticed this only after a while) is that Superman saves her only by speaking to her; he didn’t catch her after she jumped or anything. His words, his attitude towards her is so powerful that he manages to make her believe in herself enough to not commit suicide.

And in reality, that is a power that everyone has, the power to affect people for good, the power to help people when they need it, even if it is just using words. In that sense, Superman relates to all of us, and he can inspire us all.

Amen, Jeff Nettleton! I wish that DC would ask Maggin to do some stories (the digital Adventures of Superman or the Convergence minis would have been perfect) since he was always able to tell fun stories that made you think about the “man” in Superman without, say, resorting to the crying Superman trope. He made Superman cool without trying to make him a badass and made him relatable without making him into a wuss.

More on topic, All-Star Superman is amazing. Morrison understands Superman so well and Quitely is so perfect at body language. I kind of wish we saw the series of specials that Morrison proposed when this ended, but it’s perhaps better to leave this story unsullied by sequels.

This doesn’t have much to do with the write-up, but when you do finish this series (although, frankly, that looks to be a loooooooong time from now), would you consider going back and doing it again with graphic novels and books that were ongoing when you were going through the first time? I’d like to see that, although I wouldn’t blame you if the thought made you shudder.

Jeff: I haven’t read much Maggin Superman stuff (one or two issues, I think), but that’s interesting. This definitely has a Bronze Age feel to it (Morrison was born in 1960, so that’s not too surprising), so I imagine Morrison was influenced by Maggin.

Nu-D: I’m not a Superman fan by any stretch of the imagination, but yeah, this one is really good. Interesting about that cover. I hadn’t heard that.

LFKO: I think that’s why the scene is so great. Superman doesn’t need his powers, he just needs to tell Regan what she needs to hear. It’s really beautiful.

Peter: Yeah, Morrison always has expansive ideas, and occasionally, it’s probably best if he left this as is. Although whenever he and Quitely get together, it’s pretty great, so maybe the follow-ups would have been excellent, too!

Anonymous: Oh, sure. I look at this as a never-ending series. I’m fairly young and in good health, so I don’t see why I can’t do this for a long time, and I’m definitely planning on starting over at the beginning of the alphabet eventually. I really do wish I could do these faster – maybe this year, since I’m not doing as much reviewing, I’ll be able to crank some more out. That would be nice!

I have mixed feelings about ASS because Morrison’s “meta” writing bothers me. This idea that you get the feeling you’re coming in in the middle of the story is a trademark of his. The ASS universe looks like it has a very interesting history but we don’t get to see it. I’ve heard all kinds of explanations for what ASS is: The pre-Crisis Superman if the universe hadn’t been rebooted, Morrison’s own private universe where all of his DCU stories take place like Miller does. But what I see ASS as is just another universe on it’s own. The lizard men below the Earth sound like they have a fascinating history with Superman. So do Atlas and Samson. None of which we get to see. Why does this universe’s Lex hate Superman? We don’t know. Which is kind of a big deal given what a huge role he plays in the story.

I think a lot of the popularity of the book stems from what was going on in the main Super books at the time which was a convoluted mess. A simple, more Silver Agey version, was an appealing draw.

IanC, I know that the Atlas and Samson stuff comes from old issues. I’m not sure if the lizard men are something from the old comics. I think pretty much everything in ASS comes from the old comics, just … updated? Streamlined? (Except Zibarro, which I dunno if that was wholly a GMozz creation, and Solaris is from DC 1 million, of course) So mostly it’s utilizing elements from the Silver Age books in a “final” way. And I don’t think we NEED to see the history of the lizard men, etc, because not unlike Astro City, we’re given enough background to get the idea but if we saw EVERYTHING, it’d be boring.

And I don’t think the popularity of the book stems wholly from being a contrast to what the Superman books were at the time ASS started, because you can reread this and it’s still incredibly good stuff. It’s totally awesome, that’s why we love it!

I love this book, certainly. Although I honestly think the Bizarro issues make it drag (and me hate Bizarro stories never!) (translation: I normally like Bizarro).

And I’ll be blasphemous. I think the animated cartoon did a really nice job of streamlining the story, and may even be better. Although I don’t think the issue 10 stuff is in there, and that issue is the best of the series, so actually, never mind…

And for Quitely on more comedic stories, his stories in… Flinch and Heart Throbs, maybe? (the Vertigo versions from the mid to late 90s, of course) are quite funny. His artwork is great for choreographed comedy.

I’ll be even more blasphemous. Going on the raves here at CSBG, I picked up We 3. Hated it. Then, going on the raves here, as well as the excellent movie, I gave All Star a whirl. I stalled halfway through. I just don’t think there is enough symbiosis between the art and the writing. These are not comics. They are the outlines of comics.

IanC: Yeah, I agree with Travis, that I don’t really need to see all the backstory. I’m not one of those people who needs to know Luke Skywalker’s dog’s name or what John McClane’s best subject was in school – I like the teasers about the vast history behind All Star Superman, and it’s fun to imagine what had already happened. I get what you’re saying, because we do come in “in the middle,” as you note, but I think it’s more important that Morrison relies on our collective knowledge of Lois and the other supporting characters, which always kind of annoys me in comics. His work with them in the comic is good, but I never got the sense, just based on this comic, that Lois loved Superman, for instance.

I also didn’t read Superman comics at this time (or ever), so I don’t know if you’re right about comparing this to the “real” Superman comics of the time. I know that when I first read it, I thought it was good but not great. When I can re-read it, it’s much better. Of course, that’s true about almost everything Morrison writes.

Travis: Yeah, I don’t like Bizarro, and so I gritted my teeth and powered through them in this series. It’s one of the reasons I will probably not get the Bizarro trade of the mini-series that DC published last year, even though I’ve heard good things about it (and thought the first issue was okay). I just can’t get into Bizarro!

mrclam: Fair enough. I disagree with you, but that’s why we all have our own brains to decide these things! :)

Nu-D –

What Morrison said about that relaxed pose on the cover of #1 has always stuck with me and has impacted the way I see and think about Superman ever since.

Every time I see these Jim Lee-type drawings of Superman, or especially the last 2 or so of the New 52 where he’s constantly shown hunched over and grimacing an snarling or punching something with every muscle in his body on the verge of bursting, or even Henry Cavill’s really clenched posture… I just find myself thinking: why is he so on edge? He’s Superman, for Pete’s sake! What could be making him THAT mad? What in God’s name does he have to punch THAT hard?

(The same goes for recent depictions of Wonder Woman and Captain Marv—uh, Shazam)

Eh, the Bizarro mini was OK. Not great. And I do generally like Bizarro.

Bought the trade, read it, kinda liked it, didn’t keep it.

I don’t understand all the love for it, but I don’t need to.

The way I heard it about the pose on #1 is that GMozz saw a cosplayer at a con dressed as Superman and the guy was interacting with GMozz in character, and really relaxed and all that, and that helped GMozz crystallize his perceptions of Superman for ASS. Pretty cool stuff. I wonder if that cosplayer is around and if he realizes that he’s the dude that helped make ASS so awesome.

“But what I see ASS as is just another universe on it’s own. The lizard men below the Earth sound like they have a fascinating history with Superman. So do Atlas and Samson. None of which we get to see.”

You don’t really need to know all their backstory. But if you want to you can pick up either the Absolute edition or the trade paperback that collects all of them in one volume, but I can’t remember if all of the notes are included or some are included. The Absolute’s your best bet for all of it though since it has some backstory notes about Krull, Tyrannko, the Ultrasphinx, Samson, Atlas, and others.

“Why does this universe’s Lex hate Superman? We don’t know.”

But we do know. In the fifth chapter he goes, “How would you feel if someone deliberately stood in your way, over and over again? If it wasn’t for Superman, I’d be in charge of this planet!” In fact a lot of the fifth chapter you can figure out why Luthor hates Superman. Luthor resents Superman standing in the way of humanity’s (and especially Luthor’s own) advancement. But then as we find out by the final chapter his hate is really a way of making excuses for not advancing himself like he claimed he would.

Travis, You’re absolutely right on about what Grant Morrison said about the Superman pose thing. He said it in his own biography/thesis on superheroes, which was an interesting read in its own right for those who want to study Morrison’s writing. For the record, I actually enjoyed the planet Bizarro arc. #7 was probably the weakest for me just because it was a straight action/adventure story with nice comedic timing but less so the pathos or expansion of the Superman mythology but led to #8 which I thought was pretty good. The highlight for me in that issue was that rather than give in to despair in his isolation, Superman took the time to establish a connection with the bizarros and have them accomplish something they never could on their own. I especially liked how you can read the scene where the bizarros tell Zibarro to leave as them telling zibarro to go to earth and be happy but Zibarro just misses the point and sees it as a piss off, because he was the isolate who placed himself above them, but they acknowledged his pain more than he realized.There’s some lessons in super-empathy there! Oh, and thanks for the write up Greg. I always enjoy your Comics you should own posts and this is one of my favourite comics, especially as I am actually a Superman fan, and you brought up some points that I overlooked, so thanks that.

Man, now I really need the Absolute edition, then! (I actually don’t own the whole thing, but have read it from libraries.) Thanks for mentioning the notes, Jay!

I should also mention that I really enjoyed in this piece how you pointed out the mythological allusions, Greg. It’s something I subconsciously knew, but you spelling it out pointed out how good GMozz is at this stuff.

My favorite Superman series. Quitely’s art is amazing and the amount of attention and detail in it is so good, even when I reread the book I can sometimes find little details that I have missed before.

Superman greatly appealed to me when I was in kindergarten & prime school, but nowadays, not at all. A friend of mine doesn’t like him either but once lent me his copy of ASS on the premise that it was the ‘one really good story to tell with Superman’.

I agree that the scene with the suicidal girl is fantastic. I also thought the character of Clark Kent was very well set apart from Superman, to the point that I could even imagine everybody in that universe being stupid enough not to see that they’re the same guy.
Apart from that, I honestly wasn’t too impressed. I don’t need a fleshed-out backstory for everyone and everything but there really were too many characters and situations where I had no idea who or what they were, which made me feel disconnected from the book. Some parts of the story bored me, some parts simply annoyed me (Bizarro). Other parts entertained me, but overall it’s really not something I feel I ever want to revisit.

I like Quitely’s art, but that first cover always looks to me like Supes is doing a poo on a cloud.

Kenozoic: Ah well. Such is life!

Anti-Chris: Thanks, sir. You know I love writing these!

Travis: I’m sure I missed some, but I’m happy to help! It is one of those things that you get it when you read it, but I always find it helpful when someone else also sees it – that’s why I love annotations so much!

Hobgoblin: I get what you’re saying, even though I don’t necessarily agree with it. One criticism of Morrison that I have is that he can do this, and when he goes too far away from trying to create good characters, his comics don’t work. I don’t think he does that with ASS, which is why it’s so good. But I certainly understand where you’re coming from

Thanks for your response, Greg. I still want to add that my ‘kindergarten/prime school’ comment possibly came off as very condescending (& aggresively so)- if so, I apologize, I meant to emphasize that I felt disconnected from the Super-verse to begin with, and I’m possibly a bit biased about the tile as well. I certainly believe that there’s a lot of quality to be found in the decades of Superman books. This story in its totality however (despite some truly excellent bits indeed) failed to draw me into the world, really stick with me or convince me to read more.

Hobgoblin: Ha! No worries – I didn’t take it as condescending at all! I definitely think Superman is more appealing when you’re younger, because he’s purer. That’s actually what I like about this story – it feels like Morrison taps into that without making it childish. It’s hard to explain, but I think the “epicness” appeals to kids, and Morrison does a wonderful job with that while still making it something enjoyable for jaded adults like me! :)

What i loved about this series, is that Morrison brings the silver age themes and imbued it with modern sensibilities.
His take on the Kandorians among other things for example, was his “homage” to the silver age story and stuff wherein “mini-supermen” comes out from his fingers. Weird but true! hehehe!

I loved the fan theory (apparently disproven by Morrison) that the “out of nowhere” character Leo Quintum is actually Lex Luthor having traveled back in time and atoning for his sins, except that he doesn’t act as though he has foreknowledge of any scenario, as if he did, he’d have been sacrificing many people.

All-Star Superman is truly amazing and it is required Superman reading.

My only little quibble with it was that Lex was too campy in a few places. Morrison doesn’t outdo Smallville Rosenbaum’s Lex. Morrison doesn’t make Lex in All-Star as villainous as he quite could have, as he did in JLA and etc.

I love this book but the “digital inks” really bring Quitely’s art down a notch. I also think the animated adaptation is mind-p boring.

I was inspired to re-read All-Star Supes by this column. Imagine my dismay when I went to my shelf and discovered that the TPB did not, in fact, survive the Great Comic Book Culling of 2012. What was I thinking?

The Morrison-written issues of DC 1 Million also use portions of All Star Superman, and bookends All Star Superman on both ends.

Greg:

Have loved this column since finding your “Flex Mentallo” posts almost a decade ago, along w/ the many others you’ve done (Oh, hey, I did finally get the issues, if you look back to my comment on the Mentallo post. Thanks for the “Automatic Kafka” tip!).

Couldn’t agree more on this selection. Personally, I’ve never been the biggest Superman fan, and I know other dedicated Superman fans that didn’t enjoy this series as much, but I think this is (to me) a stellar Superman tale, the tale as myth and archetype. It’s Morrison at some of his most contained and precise, as well as imaginative and human.

Also, love the story where Morrison and Waid find the Superman-costumed-individual as this series is getting its start. They approach “Superman,” who’s sitting on a rock, and just start talking to him. Became the influence for the cover of #1.

Cheers!

-will

Yes! More Comics You Should Own! X-Files AND this all in the same week?! Happy happy days are upon us once again!

These are my favorite articles, Greg, and more often than not you are leading me to comics I’ve yet to read. Much appreciated for that, sir! ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, however is one that I have read, and although I’m not a big fan of either Morrison or Quitely, this truly is an exceptional work of art. I love how well each chapter tells its own entertaining story and still expertly moves the larger plot along.

Squashua: I love that fan theory, even though, as you point out, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Still, it’s intriguing.

I wrote about DC One Million in the context of Morrison’s JLA run. You’re right, though, that they do share some things.

JG: Lex has always seemed to me a bit campy (except, I guess, when Byrne revamped him), so it didn’t really bother me, especially in the Silver/Bronze Age context that Morrison was going for. I get what you’re saying, but I suppose it’s a matter of degrees, and the degree to which he’s campy doesn’t bug me.

Rob III: When I first read this, I agreed with you, but looking at it now, I think Grant’s inks aren’t bad. They certainly aren’t the greatest inking job ever, but they don’t detract from the pencil work and in some places (the first page of the entire comic, for instance), they’re very nice. But they did take a while for me to get used to them.

Will C.: That’s awesome – I’m always glad to point people in the direction of cool comics, as I love getting pointed to stuff I haven’t read myself! I really appreciate the nice words.

Darkfork: Thanks for the compliment! As you might recall, these are my favorites to write, and I do hope I can get more done this year. I love writing in-depth stuff about comics I love, and it’s always nice when people chime in about them!

“I can save him! I can save everybody!” As much as the much-quoted sequence in which Clark/Superman talks the girl out of committing suicide with just a few powerful words is, the panel that really chokes ME up whenever I read or even think of it is the one from which that quotation comes. It’s odd that while Superman is often dismissed as a now-anachronistic ubermensch, it’s the super-popular (pun unintended, and really for it to work as a pun it would have to be BAT-popular which would not make any sense! Hah!) “realistic” modern Batman who is the real masturbatory power fantasy, then again there is a tendency in recent years to see anything that is “dark” or brutalist in the wider pop culture to be more realistic and worthy of praise; no matter how repetitive and ridiculous it truly is underneath (naming no names! I’ll say that the ludicrous obsession with pseudo-realism is a cause of both weariness and hilarity for me!). But I digress! The whole sequence set around Jonathan Kent’s death and that one panel in particular perfectly captures the convincing, touching, and emotionally resonant ( surprisingly so, perhaps) Humanity of Superman/Clark as a character even with his powers beyond those of mortal men, at least in the hands of a talented writer. Even with all of his abilities he couldn’t prevent his father’s death and is still affected by Time (even tho’ his older self gets to return to the past to spend some precious hours with his dad – that’s the power of Story). He *can’t* save everyone but he’ll try hours best. Morrison in All-Star Superman does a sterling job (despite some “iffy” moments and a few hints of the self-satisfied coldness that can infect his work) of making Superman *work* in the modern world – in contrast to the incredibly disappointing and hermetic New52 Superman he did in which she neat ideas were squandered. All it took was Imagination (on his part and that of the readers) and daring. What an idea!
Thank you for the fine short analysis, Greg. Well done, sir. I look forward to more CYSO in the future!

Warm Regards, Pontificatin’ Hal

The Silver Age Superman has one of the best mythologies in superhero comics. The only thing that comes close is Stan and Jack’s Fantastic Four. That period of Superman has ideas that are the awesome essence of superhero comics. But…

The execution was almost always not nearly as awesome. For every charming gem there are dozens of stories that are stilted and a little boring. And worse, the idea of Silver Age Superman as the ideal man, a role model, even a messiah, seems to me a later development that was retroactively applied to that era, for purely nostalgic reasons. When you actually read the stories, Superman was more often a manipulative jerk, a little creepy even by the standards of the 1950s and 1960s. Superdickery indeed.

All-Star Superman is so awesome because Morrison uses that mythology, that amazing potential, with narrative techniques that make justice to the material, and also gives us a Superman that is as good and compassionate and empathetic as the Superman we “remember” (but who mostly existed only in our nostalgic imaginations or in later stories, like Donner’s movie and Alan Moore’s coda to the character).

[…] At Comics Should Be Good, Greg Burgas writes about why you should own All Star Superman […]

Hal: Interesting insights, as always. Thanks for nice words!

Rene: That’s a good point. I haven’t read very much of Silver Age Superman, so while I know he’s a dick (thanks to Brian and Superdickery), I didn’t know how prevalent is was. But you’re right – Morrison took that mythology and made a Superman worthy of it, which is pretty keen.

This was good series, certainly hit me in the gut in places which is rare, and I don’t normally dig Supes so that’s cool. And I know only a few posters used ASS as an abbreviation, but those jokes are fucking endless. Not even going to start.

Spoiler alert though: I’m here because I just bought the first trade of Empty Zone, and it seems like something you might like, Greg. It’s like an assassin/zombie story in a blade runner-like universe, really dark and imaginative. It’s also one of those mid-four-digit sellers, and could use a boost, if you check it out and feel like bringing it up sometime. Jason Shawn Alexander writes and draws and kills it.

Also I remember you liking The Last Broadcast, and saying it might end up on your year-end list. As a fan of that I was just curious about if that was anywhere near the runner-up. Also Gotham by Midnight was pretty dope, thanks for giving it exposure; it being #3 was a surprise.

“Thanks for giving it exposure” like I wrote the thing. Just dug it.

toothpaste: Thanks for the recommendation. Alexander runs hot or cold for me, but I certainly don’t hate his work. I’ll have to check it out.

The Last Broadcast, if I recall correctly, finished in 2014. If you’re talking about the trade, I didn’t get it this past year. I did like it quite a bit, but for 2014 I didn’t exactly do a “top ten” list, so I don’t know where it would have fallen. But it was a cool series. And I know writing about Gotham by Midnight didn’t save it, but maybe some people will get the trades! :)

For most of the reasons listed in the review, this is my favourite comic of all-time. Not just superheroes or any other qualifier, just my favourite comic. It’s page-for-page excellence, and I probably re-read it at least five times a year all the way through.

[…] You should really read All-Star Superman. I’m a Marvel guy telling you this. – Comics Should Be Good […]

I’ve never realized the mithology reference and build up for it I just thought that Grant was writing his wishful title as enthusiastic as posible.

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