Collecting issues #1-6 of All-Star Superman.
This regular-sized hardcover collects the first six issues of a proposed twelve, which see Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant elaborate their own new take on the Man of Steel. Unfettered by the constraints of continuity, the team is free to mix whatever elements of the Superman mythos that they require to suit themselves, presenting a suitably iconic interpretation of the character, but one which is stripped of the baggage that has accumulated over the past 70+ years. Not only is this an admirable approach to take with such an important, flagship character, but it makes for a hugely accessible read, and one which allows Morrison & co. to really get to the heart of the character, imbuing him with an energy and immediacy that gives him an appeal that he hasn't had in years.
The first thing that strikes you about the book is the colourful exuberance of the visuals. Digital inker and colourist Jamie Grant is the book's secret weapon, making the most of the pencils with some disarmingly vibrant primary colours, but applying them with enough finesse that he never risks losing the delicacy of Quitely's linework. The iconic opening image of Superman gliding underneath the sun is a perfect example, with Quitely capturing the lightness and grace of the moment with his pencils, and Grant reinforcing the grandeur and power with his dazzling colours. The art never seems showy or indulgent, with every panel advancing the story in an economical and efficient manner, but with a level of subtle detail which rewards a closer look on a second read. There's also an inventiveness in Quitely's linework to match the raw imagination of Morrison's script, with the artist playing with his page layouts and panel borders to enhance the effectiveness of his storytelling. More subtle story points are frequently carried by the art alone: more than once, a bumbling Clark Kent averts some kind of accident via his slapstick antics, and it's all conveyed through Quitely's peerless sequentials. The only omission from this collection is a reproduction of the original series' covers, logos and all, as there's something stylish and attractive about the graphic design of the book that is lost by the simple reproduction of Quitely's cover art alone (especially when the captions and thought balloons that livened up the cover of issue #4 are so noticeably absent). Still, it's a very small complaint, and one which doesn't detract from the quality of the book too much.
Of course, Grant and Quitely's art wouldn't be nearly so powerful if it wasn't attached to a compelling story with characters that we can really care about, and it's with the characterisation of Superman and his supporting cast that the book really shines. Morrison doesn't attempt to deconstruct Superman, to make him uncharacteristically 'cool' or 'edgy', or to subvert the character in any way; rather, he is happy to stick with the basics, recapping the character's origin in the space of four panels on an amazingly concise opening page, surrounding him with his most essential supporting cast members and energising him with an abundance of wild, attention-grabbing ideas. Many readers have commented on the Silver Age sensibilities of Morrison and Quitely's take on the character, but All-Star Superman draws on many different time periods – from the 1920s-style Art Deco designs of Metropolis, to the 1950s charm of Smallville and the Kent Farm, to the 1960s and '70s retro science-fiction concepts of P.R.O.J.E.C.T., to the bang up-to-date technology and speech patterns – and combines them to produce as timeless and elegant an interpretation of the character as I've ever seen. I'm no Superman expert, but the only recent book that I can think of which even comes close is Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale'sSuperman for All Seasons, and this book manages to escape the overwhelming sentimentality and nostalgia that sapped some of that book's dynamism.
Despite the lack of solid continuity with any incarnations of Superman that we've seen in the past, Morrison includes numerous references to previous stories that help to create an impression of the character's rich history, without tying him down to specifics which might be off-putting to newcomers who aren't well-versed in Superman lore. It's all executed in such a smooth and inconspicuous way that uninitiated readers won't be distracted by the writer's off-the-cuff inclusion of a concept from an old Silver Age issue, or his sly allusion to a more recent storyline, but longtime fans will appreciate the reference. This collection sees Morrison include appearances from pre-existing characters and concepts as diverse as the Parasite, Samson and Atlas, a baby Sun-eater, the futuristic Superman of DC One Million, Doomsday, and Krypto the Superdog, as well as the more familiar faces of Lois Lane, Perry White, Jimmy Olsen and – of course – Lex Luthor. Everything old is new again, and the classic elements of the character's backstory are integrated well with the original ideas that Morrison brings to the table – most notably the driving concept that Superman is dying due to his over-exposure to the Sun's radiation in the book's first issue, and the amusing wrinkle that is Lois Lane's refusal to accept that Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same when confronted with the truth.
As the issues were gradually released, I enjoyed them as a series of highly-enjoyable, imaginative and exciting done-in-one stories, and the long delays between issues were less of a problem than they might have been for a more contiguous storyline. However, it's only upon reading this collected edition that I began to realise just how connected everything actually is. I suppose this shouldn't come as a surprise: after all, Morrison's long run on New X-Men was characterised by a meticulously-planned overarching storyline which ultimately pulled together many disparate plot strands from several of his story arcs for a satisfying conclusion. Here, Lex Luthor's plot to destroy Superman by over-exposing him to the sun's rays
forms the backbone of the story, with a grander, epic plot revolving around the twelve tasks which Superman is said to have performed before his "death". The connecting fibres between the individual stories are subtle, but they are there – often hidden in what appear to be throwaway lines or details in the artwork – and reading all six issues through in one sitting helps to reinforce the idea that these single stories are all part of a larger whole. Whilst it remains to be seen whether All-Star Superman in its entirety will hold together as well as some of Morrison's previous works, it's already looking promising on the strength of the first half of his run.
The only extras to speak of here are a short foreword and a biography page (I guess that DC are holding all their bonus material back for the inevitable Absolute edition), but if you're buying this book, you're not buying it for the extras: you're buying it for the excellent first six issues of a run which is likely to go down as an instant classic. Even at this half-way stage, All-Star Superman can stand alongside books like The Authority, Planetary and The Ultimates as one of the last decade's genuine breaths of fresh air in a genre which is always in danger of stagnating, and one of the most promising new titles of recent years. I haven't enjoyed such an unpretentious and fun superhero book in ages, and whilst a five-bullet rating carries the implication that things can't get any better than this, I'm secretly hoping that Messrs. Morrison, Quitely and Grant use issues #7 through #12 to prove me wrong.
Collecting issues #1-6 of All-Star Superman.