Comic Book Review: ALL STAR SUPERMAN (2005) (Part One)
With the new ALL STAR SUPERMAN animated feature being released recently, I thought it’d be cool to take a look at the series that spawned it.
Hailed as one of the greatest Superman stories ever told, Grant Morrisson gives us the last Superman story ever told… in ALL STAR SUPERMAN. Unlike a reboot or re-telling of an origin story, Morrisson takes concepts and themes already established in the decades of Superman mythos, and enhances them in his own… unique and eccentric way.
ALL STAR SUPERMAN gives us a Superman who, unfortunately isn’t indestructible; a Superman who has finally fallen to Lex Luthor’s attempts at claiming his life. However instead of an instantaneous, grand exit… Superman is condemned to die a slow and fragile death. Poisoned by the sun itself, Superman has to spend the rest of his days doing what anyone with a limited number of days on Earth would do: truly live and ensure his legacy.
In order to do justice to the entire run, I’ll break it down on an issue by issue basis. The first 6 issues go up this week, followed by the last six next week.
Issue # 1
As first issues go, No. 1 of ALL STAR SUPERMAN starts off with a bang! The stunning visuals of Frank Quitely right away transports us to the sun, where a philanthropist is trying to secure a sample of the sun, with the aid of Supes himself. During the trip however, Lex Luthor’s scheme interferes (as always) but Superman ends up saving the day, at a lethal expense. Ironically, the very thing that gives Superman his powers, (the yellow sun) ends up overloading the cells within his body with the extreme exposure, causing him to suffer from a sort of Super cancer. Right away, the tone of the series is set as being a visual will and testament of Superman and his finishing of any and all business before his death. The first of which, as shown in the cliffhanger of Issue #1, seems to be to reveal his identity to Lois!
Remember ROCKY 2? The slow, emotion heavy, romantic movie in the ROCKY Franchise, that, despite being exceptionally directed by the man himself… was borderline chick flick? That’s really how the 2nd issue of Grant Morrison’s ALL STAR SUPERMAN presents itself. After revealing his identity to her, Superman takes Lois on a star studded tour of his new and improved Fortress of Solitude. The entire issue, is basically Morrison’s showcase of the Fortress, complete with special sewing rooms, rooms full of knick knacks and paraphernalia, sun eating pets and robot workers. But get this: despite being finally exposed to all this cool shit, the only thing she’s having a hard time believing, is that he really is Clark Kent. Seriously?!
You’re watching a cape wearing alien from another planet, hammer into creation mini Suns to feed his pet sun eater… but you have trouble believing that the same dude puts on glasses and a suit, and becomes a different person?! Talk about being in denial. Not only that, she thinks Supes is basically off his rocker from exposure to the sun by pretending to be Clark. And I don’t mean to be sexist… but despite how Superman has literally welcomed her into his world, secret identity and all, she refuses to focus on anything else but: “you lied to me!!”. I mean, come on! And here I thought Lois Lane was supposed to be the epitome of women’s empowerment. Tsk tsk.
The issue is very well written though, as we see Superman struggling with the choice of having to tell Lois about his current condition, and eventual death. We see a Superman that, probably the only time in his life, has things in perspective, now that he’s got an end game in view. On the upside, since it’s her B-Day, Supes has been hard at work creating a magic love potion that’ll make Lois superpowered for 24 hours. Do I hear super powered lovemaking happening…?
So… the romance continues in Issue # 3 of Grant Morrison’s ALL STAR SUPERMAN. Lois Lane finally gets to spend a day in Superman’s shoes, complete with his powers and also getting to stop an invasion on Earth. However, things take a turn for the unexpected when Atlas and Samson show up to help save the day. Seems like they’ve taken a shine towards the now superpowered Lois and want to challenge Supes for her heart. Talk about an old school love tri—quadrangle…?
The issue moves very quickly through a brief dinosaur fight, despite having superpowers, Lois still manages to somehow put herself in danger, resulting in Supes having to save her as usual. All in all this issue was pretty funny and gave us a narrative break from the heaviness of the first two issues. There’s also a revelation that Superman will have to achieve some ‘legendary feats’ before his demise… as recorded in the future. Also, Lois getting to walk a mile in super shoes was a welcome plot, as she always tends to be the whiny bitch who demands Supes’ attention, without ever truly understanding his side of things.
Another one of these ‘break from the actual story arc that everyone cares about’ sort of issues comes in the form of Issue No. 4 of Grant Morrison’s ALL STAR SUPERMAN. This issue belongs to our very own Super BFF Jimmy Olsen. For one of his features from The Daily Planet, Jimmy gets to be PROJECT director for a day. PROJECT is an organization headed by kazillionaire with literally unlimited resources that has made insane advancements in science and technology to better humankind; same crew who went to take a sample of the Sun, that inadvertently overloaded Superman giving him Super-cancer. Yea, I know; ironic.
During his day-long stint, Jimmy ends up becoming witness to the discovery of Black Kryptonite which, as we find out, turns Superman bad. I guess they ran out of things for all the different Kryptonites to do, so this just turns him bad, plain and simple, no complications. While Supes is on his rampage, Jimmy steps up and injects himself with a ‘Doomsday’ serum, which turns him (surprisingly) into a creature very similar to—no this is a shocker!—Doomsday! *gasp*. The issue is interesting as we get to see some inner workings of PROJECT (except for WTF the acronym stands for) along with life from the perspective of Jimmy Olsen; even though it’s not everyday he’s director of PROJECT. The issue itself isn’t that extraordinary, and is feels more like a filler issue before the getting to the good stuff.
Finally! After the last three issues that seemed like slow, pace setting filler… we get to the juicy bits in Issue No. 5 of Grant Morrison’s ALL STAR SUPERMAN. We’re introduced to a Lex Luthor who has been convicted of massive crimes against humanity, and is awaiting death in jail, just as Clark Kent comes for the last exclusive Luthor will ever provide. This is a brilliantly written issue, as we get to see CK and LL civilly interact, all the while knowing that these two are the greatest rivals in fictional history. We see Lex almost reveling in his new found home, making plans to create a new model for society, as he calls it, from jail. Clark’s bumbling façade is in full swing in front of Lex as he tries to hide his identitiy as always. We get to hear Lex rant on in his typical holier-than-thou attitude, blaming Superman for all of humanity’s problems.
The greatest thing about Luthor as a villain, is that in his eyes, he’s the hero and Superman is the bad guy. That concept is what sets Lex Luthor (in the comics) apart from any other fictional villain in the history of stories, comic or otherwise. Lex’s deranged mentality that the world has been held back and damaged by Superman’s very existence, actually makes one think and can even be up for debate. The philosophical consequences of Superman’s messiah complex really creates for some amazing food for thought. Would we be better off without Superman always saving us from ourselves? Should humans not learn from their mistakes, and motivate themselves to advance, instead of relying on an alien super man? Lex isn’t entirely wrong. Which makes him that much more evil.
An awesome issue from the (I would say) deranged mind of Grant Morrison himself. He really does bring up very interesting points that make us think differently about things that we think, we know very well about. The issue ends with Lex revealing that his last act of glory was to poison Superman using the sun, causing his eventual death, which he assumed Clark will expose to the world as a reporter. Clark finally knows that his condition isn’t due to some accident, but was the act of his arch rival, who, for all intents an purposes, has won. Ahh… that’s the good stuff!
Wow. Is really the only way to describe Grant Morrison’s ALL STAR SUPERMAN Issue No. 6. This issue really cranks up the awesome-ness by a couple of notches. We get to go back a few years to see a still innocent Clark Kent in Smallville, deciding whether or not he should pursue journalism oppurtunities in Metropolis. At this point he’s visited by 3 men, who pretend to be farmhands, however are actually various Supermen from the future, tracking a rogue creature through time. Our Superman of course teams up with them to save the day, however during the conflict, Jonathan Kent suffers from a heart attack that takes his life. Unable to save his father, Clark remembers all the lessons he was taught by his father, at his funeral. He eventually decides to leave Smallville for Meteropolis, where he will have he becomes the legend we all know.
The futuristic Supermen consist of one from the 5th dimension, one from A.D. 853,500 and another mysterious Superman, who is later revealed to be Superman from the current timeline in which the rest of ALL STAR SUPERMAN takes place, who’s come back in time with the others to see his father one last time before his death. This was just an awesome issue. I mean multiple Supermen from multiple eras in one issue, can’t really beat that. Especially when you get a cool futuristic look at Superman’s descendants?! I mean, you can just have an issue entirely full of these guys without much action happening, and it would still be cool. Kinda like THE EXPENDABLES.
Come back next week for the last 6 issues of Grant Morrison’s ALL STAR SUPERMAN.