Friday, September 21, 2012

Travis' Book Review: All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison

As a contemporary comic book fan, I love the lore and character of Superman, but I must admit that I generally find it difficult to be interested in Superman comics. Yeah, I know…he’s Superman! He’s the Man of Steel!  He’s the square-jawed cover model for truth, justice, and the American way. Well, that’s actually kind of the problem – he is just too strong!  In today’s market, Superman’s appeal seems to be mostly limited to cultural nostalgia.  He has always just been the same flying, invulnerable, faster, and stronger than anyone Superman, and after 80 years of being the same character, it’s easy to lose interest.  That’s why I was very excited when Grant Morrison, one of my favorite comic book writers, began writing his own interpretation of Superman. If anyone could make Superman relevant and exciting again, it would be him.  Luckily, Morrison’s All-Star Superman does not disappoint. 


All-Star Superman begins with the concept that is all too familiar to comic book readers – imminent peril.  Lex Luthor has sabotaged a mission to explore the sun, and Superman, as usual, swoops in to save the day. Our hero prevails, and for his crimes against humanity, Luthor is sent to prison where he is to await his execution. Luthor’s plan, however, wasn’t actually to sabotage the mission. Knowing that the yellow sun is the source of Superman’s power, Luthor’s intention was to kill Superman by luring him too close to the sun, thus causing his cells to overcharge. The result is that Superman gains even more strength, a stronger sense of aesthetic, and an enlightened curiosity, but all at the cost of cellular breakdown.  In one year, Superman will die, but he intends to use his newfound capabilities to prepare the world to become a world without Superman.


Released in 12 parts from 2005-2008, All-Star Superman pushes the idea of Superman to new heights without having to reinvent the character. Written by Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely, and inked by Jamie Grant, the series incorporates decades of established storylines, characters, and plot points without the author feeling the need to rewrite what the audience already knows. The beauty of the story is that the author and illustrators have a great understanding of what made Superman so wonderful in the Golden and Silver Age of comics. Morrison writes a very modern storyline, and the illustrators are able to capture a certain sense of brightness and glow that is oft forgotten in many modern comic series.  Even amidst the artistic glow, however, it is still Morrison’s storytelling and characterization that shine brightest, allowing the reader to dive into the complex psyche of his character. This Superman is curious, enterprising, adamantly moral, and most importantly, physically and emotionally vulnerable. The audience really gets to feel what it is like to be Superman.  He is not simply a being with superpowers, but a being with an enlightened sense of humanity.  


The story also expands on the symbolism and mythology of the character. Morrison chose to call the story “All-Star” because it is a recurring DC title meant to showcase the company’s big players. Morrison actually uses a more literal approach to the title, transforming Superman into a celestial being. The character shines such a light on the planet that he has become as big and as important to humanity as the sun itself. In that way, Superman is a figure, an idea, and a beacon that shines light on spirit of man can become - not only in the universe of these characters, but for the reader, as well. It’s a concept that may seem a little outdated for modern readers, but Morrison is able to write in a way that a fan of Superman, a first-time reader, and even a skeptic like me can feel the wonder that was once and still is Superman. That said, I would highly recommend All-Star Superman to any comic book fan or any reader willing to try a new medium.


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