Posted by: Graeme McMillan on April 13, 2007
So, I read Tom Spurgeon describe All-Star Superman as “one of the best superhero comics of the last 30 years” this week and thought, wow, that’s pretty high praise. And then I read ALL-STAR SUPERMAN #7, and re-read the first six issues (released in collected form this week as ALL-STAR SUPERMAN VOLUME 1 HC) and thought, you know, maybe he’s not giving them enough credit.
As much fun as the series is in single issue sittings, there’s a lot to be gained from reading the first half of the series in one go. You catch the running themes (multiple identities, mortality, the multiplicity of the Superman character type) much more clearly when you can sit there and connect the dots. Although the series is constructed so that even though every issue is a story in and of itself, each issue is structured to play off what has come before and set up what comes after – the fifth issue, for example, ends with Lex Luthor embracing death because he’s murdered Superman before the sixth shows the first time that Superman had to deal with mortality experienced from three different periods of Clark Kent’s life (with the third perspective an Easter Egg for longtime Grant Morrison fans, who’ve read DC One Million and know that Superman Prime is our Superman in the far, far future); even the cliffhanger ending of issue 7, the first real two-parter of the series (Even though #2 and 3 were kind of a two-parter), manages to provide a conclusion for the main plotline with the defeat of the Bizarro World before branching out into the two-page set-up for the next issue. It’s not that the series is being written for the trade, as the kids say, but just another illustration of how much thought and care has been put into its creation.
This is, without a doubt, a labor of love for Grant Morrison. You can see that, more than anything, he believes in Superman; this is a book, first and foremost, about Superman as a force for good and not something that worries about deconstructing the character or making him relevant for modern times. That’s not to say that it’s dated or retro, however… As much as the book’s focus on Superman as not only perfect but almost unrelatably so may bring to mind the Silver Age take on the character, this is timeless instead of old-fashioned. Morrison’s talked in the past about approaching super-heroes on a mythic level, but this is the first time for me where he’s actually achieved that, perhaps because of the lack of the self-consciousness that shines through on the rest of his mainstream superhero work (Compare an issue of this with his Batman, for example, or his Wildcats – in those books, he’s almost trying too hard to live up to his reputation, where here everything just works. There’s a calmness and focus, instead of “Grant Morrison, he’s so crazy”). Which isn’t to say that there isn’t imagination on show here, but it’s imagination used in service of the story – and imagination where the ideas come slower but are more followed through, as opposed to his other work – which makes all the difference.
A lot of the calm that the book exudes – fittingly, considering the unflappable, serene nature of its star – comes from the art, which shows off Frank Quitely’s very personal sense of design, pacing and space better than anything else he’s done; We3 may have been more formally inventive, but All-Star Superman gives him the ability to compose a page and control your eye without the need for hyperactive bullet-dodging cyber-rabbits. It’s widescreen art, but not in the traditional comic sense of the term – the panels stretch across the page to show surroundings, movement and the characters in a beautifully cinematic way, gracefully and allowing the reader to feel that everything is real, or at least, exists outside of the confines of that particular panel. There’s a sense of life in the work, if that makes sense. “Digital inker” and colorist Jamie Grant’s work helps dramatically in that, it has to be said – especially in the sixth issue – subtly reinforcing Quitely’s linework while giving it more depth and weight, and completely earning his name being on the cover.
So, I’m reading these seven comics last night, and realizing that there’s not a wrong step in any of them. The tone is perfect for Superman stories, the plots the right mix of adventure and overwrought emotion, the execution an ideal balance of humor and grace. It’s so stunning a series that delays between issues don’t seem to matter, because you know that the wait will be worth it, and when taken along with Jeff Smith’s Shazam series, a successful one-two punch for DC of superhero comics that make you feel like you did when reading comics as a kid, even though you’re an adult. Excellent, and then some.
No reviews for me tomorrow (or Sunday, for that matter) – It’s Kate’s and my wedding anniversary today, and we’re celebrating five years of Kate not coming to her senses and dumping my comic-readin’ ass by heading out of town for the weekend. Expect to see me recharged and full of snark in a couple of days, though.