Posted by: Joe McCulloch on May 30, 2008
All Star Superman #11:
Yeah, Morrison’s best this week.
I mean, Final Crisis #1 was OKAY and all; it basically read like the start of one of Morrison’s old JLA storylines, only with the very slick stylings of J.G. Jones backing it up. More humor than expected, along with a couple character deaths that’re abrupt enough that I’m not sure we’re supposed to feel shocked. I smiled at Dark Side wiping his face, since I’m a Seven Soldiers nerd. But it also came off as firecracker-thin as JLA sometimes did, particularly while the stories were still in the setup stage.
And Batman #677 was as EH as Morrison’s Batman tends to be in single-chapter form, packed with tense, prodding conversations ill-served by an art team that isn’t stellar with emotional nuance. Decent twist on the nature of the Black Glove in there, one that fits Morrison’s running themes really well, but the story didn’t have much else to it beyond overlong musings on the nature of Batman, broken up by fragmented threats – it’s all starting to feel like Born Again as smashed into Mask, that old Bryan Talbot story from Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight where Bruce Wayne is laying in a hospital bed and the doctors are telling him he’s only hallucinated his adventures as Batman to escape his horrible shit life. God, that one messed me up back in ’92.
But All Star Superman? That one’s got an ace up the sleeve it plays right on page one:
That’s a great panel. Everything about it is awesome. The crazy dramatic hatched shadows, the zone of white light, the giant lever Lt. Handlebar has to pull to get old sparky roarin’ while he makes dramatic note of the expiration of Lex Luthor’s time among us… but it’s the mustache that completes the scene. Let’s be serious about that.
There’s other reasons why this comic is GOOD. It’s the penultimate issue of the series, so you’d probably expect it to be about the right time for a reprise of the Superman/Luthor relationship, as detailed back in issue #5 – you’d be right, and just about every Luthor page kills. I don’t think it’s spoiling much to reveal that Lex’s execution goes terribly awry, but the action only serves to house some really fine supervillain character moments. I particularly liked his boast about curing cancer — not only something he clearly has no plans to follow through on, but something Superman just did last issue — and the continuing lies about the origin of (issue #3’s) superpower serum.
Luthor, of course, is the ultimate skewed double of Superman in a series packed with them – if last issue showed Superman striving to bring out the finest in humankind, Luthor embodies his worst possible failure, a person made just about the Super-equal while retaining absolutely none of the kind qualities. The issue’s portrayal also sports the most thorough mirroring the series has managed: a fortress packed with memorabilia and curious toys, a militia of robot helpers, and even his own goddamned evil sun, the help in “high places” first hinted at in issue #4.
Yet it’s all an act — Luthor stole his powers, and merely cut a deal with his sun — and Morrison happily peppers his lines with childlike flourishes seemingly on loan from All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder (“You knuckle-dragging retards.” “So how cool am I?“), but isn’t any Frank Miller signal for fun. It’s the essence of immaturity, of a Man unprepared to be Super.
On the other hand, not everything in this issue is about Lex Luthor, and not everything is as strong. Sure, I got a kick out of a ‘red skies’ gag showing up the same week as Morrison’s own contribution to the Crisis series, and Frank Quitely is always great at tucking away special details that’ll take more than one read to spot, like Bar-El from issue #9 terrorizing Phantom Zone criminals, or that photo of young Clark & friends slabbed so as to accomplish the plot of issue #6. While you’re at it, compare Quitely’s issue #1 Superman to the guy we’re seeing here, and check out how his physical state has decayed.
But I think all the referencing here exacts a bit of toll from the story. A good deal of space is taken up with Superman’s clash with Solaris the Tyrant Sun, a character that typically works great until it actually has to show up on the page and do stuff, at which point there’s rarely much to do with it. It is funny when Quitely draws its big blue eye squinting when Superman socks its belly(?), but the whole sequence does little more than reestablish the loyalty of Superman’s pals — including a dramatic sacrifice Morrison laboriously foreshadows — while haphazardly reminding us of the Superman’s New Powers plot thread that’s been hanging since shortly after issue #1.
It’s not unentertaining, but it registers as conspicuous consumption of space when set against more interesting content – never mind the hint of a convenient resolution to the series’ main conflict having drifted in from outer space! Still more than enough to keep you perked up for the grand finale, though – and in August there won’t even be a Crisis to upstage.