All-Star Superman: Volume 1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely with Jamie Grant
I am beyond unexcited for Man of Steel. I’m very particular about my Clark Kent, and what’s amazing about Clark Kent is not that he is a superpowered alien from another planet, but that he is a good man, through and through. (In fact, there’s an interesting article to be written on nature versus nurture in the cases of Superman and Captain America.) So when focus is pulled from that, I just start frowning. (Using very emotional music from The Fellowship of the Ring in a trailer did nothing for it to me.) But when All-Star Superman was recommended to me, I decided to give it a shot.
All-Star Superman: Volume 1 collects the first six issues of the All-Star Superman run, which was only twelve issues. When Dr. Leo Quintum and a team are exploring the sun, they are sabotaged by one of Lex Luthor’s agents, but saved by Superman. During the rescue, however, Superman’s cells become overloaded with solar radiation. While this means his superpowers are growing by leaps and bounds, it also means that Superman has a year to live. A year to live, get his affairs in order, and head off the last attempts by Lex Luthor to take over the world.
The All-Star series is an odd item on the blotter of DC’s recent history. Just like Marvel’s Ultimates, it aimed at shedding decades of built-up continuity in order for new audiences to meet new characters. Unlike Marvel’s Ultimates, which ultimately (I’m not proud of that) became closely interrelated, the titles don’t have anything to do with each other, allowing writers and artists to focus on presenting their version of iconic superheroes. The All-Star series bore only two fruits—All-Star Superman and All-Star Batman and Robin, although an All-Star Wonder Woman and All-Star Batgirl were announced. (And Adam Hughes, who adores Diana, was going to do All-Star Wonder Woman. Oh, my heart…) While the project didn’t survive, its aim is certainly admirable—it gives writers a chance to explore truly end-game material with these serial heroes, as well as a chance to ignore and include canon as they see fit.
I must confess—I picked up All-Star Superman under the false impression it would give me my Clark Kent, fueled by my discontent over what Man of Steel seems shaping up to me. Rather, Grant Morrison and company focus on their Clark Kent. Where I understand Clark as the real man and Superman as the disguise, Morrison understands there to be two masks for Clark: “‘Superman’ is an act. ‘Clark Kent’ in Metropolis is also an act. There are actually two Kents, at least – one is a disguise, a bumbling, awkward mask for Superman. The other is the confident, strong, good-hearted Clark Kent who was raised by his surrogate Ma and Pa in Kansas and knows how to drive a tractor. I think he’s the most ‘real’ of all.” This makes our understanding of Clark very different, and our appreciation of the Superman mythos differ accordingly—whereas I center it around the Daily Planet and journalism, Morrison centers it on Superman’s powers, with an interesting taste for whimsy throughout. Overall, though, his approach doesn’t resonate with me, but that’s okay; I’m happy there’s an avenue for this kind of storytelling.
So what did work for me? While I prefer a duality rather than a… triality? (Is that a word? Now it is.), Morrison manages to make Superman, “Clark Kent”, and Clark distinctive and yet connected; by making “Clark Kent”’s physicality and demeanor awkward by virtue of bulk, we see how even Lex Luthor can be fooled into thinking that there’s no way Clark Kent could ever be Superman. And speaking of Lex Luthor, I adore Morrison’s take on him—shrewd, determined, obsessive. His beef with Superman is not personal—well, not wholly personal—it’s ideological. When Clark is given the opportunity to interview Lex on death row, the reader is given an opportunity to hear him out. What does it say about us, Luthor argues, that our ideal isn’t human? He proudly shows off his physique, pointing out that they’re the product of hard work, not a quirk of birth. Without the rest of the series, I can’t speak to Morrison’s argument for Superman, but his argument against is clean, logical, and refreshing. I don’t know if I’ll continue the series—I’m not enthused enough—but I trust Morrison would make it worthwhile for anyone who does.
Bottom line: All-Star Superman: Volume 1 offers Grant Morrison’s unique, thoughtful, and whimsical take on the Man of Steel. While it’s not one that resonates with me, I’m glad it exists, and Morrison’s take on Lex Luthor, who despises Superman for ideological reasons as well as personal ones, is a very welcome slap to the brain. If you’d like.
I rented this book from the public library.