Friday, December 28, 2007

PROPAGANDA Best of 2007 - number 5
All Star Superman

All Star Superman

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant

When I reviewed All Star Superman on the basis of just the first issue (back in February) I concluded it was probably one of the best treatments of Superman I’d ever read. After reading the collection, I’m possibly even more impressed.

Morrison has taken Superman; a dull, tired character (after all, how many great stories can you honestly get out of God - the Superhero?) and just simply breathes new, vibrant, incredible, original life into him. But he’s done this not by ditching all the complex continuity and all the bizarre ideas that other writers have tried to ignore or simply write out of history, but by embracing it all. All the Super-Pets, the multi-coloured Kryptonite, the strange villains, the complex and convoluted time travellers, the Fortress of Solitude and it’s half million ton key, time telescopes to contact once and future Supermen, Baby sun eaters fed by miniature suns created on cosmic anvils, Lois Lane as Superwoman, Jimmy Olsen the boy reporter and his signal watch - it’s all here in Morrison’s Superman and all fits into the mythos perfectly well, so great is Morrison’s skill at integrating classic and much loved yet slightly silly elements into a modern, relevant comic.

He’s taken everything iconic about the character and distilled it into his version, perfectly integrating decades of history, continuity and myth into a perfect reading experience.

From the very first page it’s obvious that this is very special. You’ll never see a better origin story than the first 4 panels of this book. It set the tone of the entire tale; perfectly concise, succinct and managing to tell a complicated tale in a very simple fashion.

(one of comics all-time great origins summed up in a few panels
and still managing a nod to Moses in Morrison, Quitely and Grant’s All Star Superman, (c) DC

But this isn’t all about Grant Morrison’s writing. His continuing collaboration with Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant is a thing of artistic perfection. Their Superman is all about quiet power with enormous restraint, their Clark Kent is a completely believable clumsy human. Every character is perfectly realised and wonderfully drawn. Quitely may get all the glory but Grant’s inking and colouring produce a life and vibrancy rarely seen in comics and the whole book is awash in glorious, vivid colour.

There is so much going on in the book that a lot of it could pass you by on a first reading. This is where Morrison really earns his reputation of one of our greatest writers. His stories are superficially simple, fast and uncomplicated, but there is layer upon layer just waiting to be discovered. He writes every story in such a way to let you fill in the action. You don’t see the daring rescue, or the simple intervention to avoid some coming catastrophe, all we see is a before and after panel, it’s up to you to fill in the bits in between.

(even the world’s greatest superhero has his limits in All Star Superman, (c) DC)

Taken individually, the six issues here are shining exemplars of how to produce an old fashioned self contained comic. Every issue has enough to leave you gasping at the sheer enjoyment the comic provides. But throughout the book there is a larger story, and Lex Luthor is the key. In Morrison’s world Luthor is a perfect villain; evil, twisted and complicated. And it is Lex’s scheme to send Superman into the sun in issue 1 that reverberates throughout the book. This solar close encounter has effectively poisoned Superman. He finds out that he’s dying, Luthor has finally won. And this victory, this oncoming death informs everything in the book from that point onwards.

I’m not going to give anymore of the plot than that, because this really is one of those books that you deserve to pick up and be delighted by without knowing every little plot twist. Suffice it to say, you’re all in for a wonderful time.

It makes the grown up me feel the same way I did when the I did as a child reading Claremont and Byrne’s X-Men and the way the teenage me felt on reading Alan Moore’s Captain Britain or later, his Miracleman. And it fills me with the same excitement as I felt on first reading books like Sandman, Animal Man, Zenith, Transmetropolitan, Preacher, Planetary and any and all of the wonderful genre books of the last couple of decades. It’s instantly recognisable as a near perfect book, with Morrison, Quitely and Grant producing the most perfect Superman ever seen.

Originally posted at FPI blog here.

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