Told you this might happen…
Floated the possibility of breaking the bi-weekly schedule, dependent entirely on the contents of a single comic book, some little underground thing called All-Star Superman #1. Even the most occasional reader of this column has probably bumped into some wildly unsubstantiated prediction about this book, and what I’d consider an almost guaranteed level of quality, but honestly…can anyone really blame me? At the risk of overstating, this creative team, on this character, is the culmination of a possible “dream team” that fandom has been imagining for years. One of those hopelessly obvious, yet incredibly unlikely pairings, which we’ve been talking about for years, but didn’t actually believe would ever happen. And who knows, without the success of Marvel’s Ultimate line, maybe it still wouldn’t have, but none of that really matters now.
It’s Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, giving us Superman stories for at least 12 issues, and if you’re not already excited at the prospect of that, I don’t know what else to say. This is why I keep my Wednesday afternoons completely open, for books just like this one, that match the level of anticipation I get from good movies and new episodes of LOST. Cause that’s what it’s all supposed to be about, right?
Anyway, the first issue is finally here, and I’m reviewing it in this very column, from an incredibly detailed perspective I’ve been meaning to try out for some time now. Only needed the right title to mark the occasion, and this looks to certainly fit the bill. So, here we go, immediate fanboy reactions from All-Star Superman 1, garnished by my favorite bits of Morrison-penned dialogue.
We’ll start at the very beginning…
Perfection. Mechanically, it’s not too dissimilar from a great majority of comic covers published today, ignoring relevant story elements, and goin’ for the straight on character shot. But instead of the emotionless glaring, and obvious posing we’re accustomed to, Supes is just chillin’ on his cloud, smirkin’ back at the camera, with the distant sun falling across him. My man looks like he knows something we don’t, and it ultimately invokes a word I don’t personally associate much with Superman. That word people…is “cool.” Superman looks incredibly cool, and obviously, that’s worth getting excited about before even hitting page one.
Eight words. Four panels. One origin.
Effectively sets the tone for the entire issue, as Morrison starts the clock, and dares us to keep up with him. Genius and obvious in the same breath, as Superman has one of THE most recognized beginnings in comics, making him the perfect candidate for this “collage” approach, and giving us all the same reference point from jump. Neither time nor space wasted…
Wasn’t patient enough to ignore the recent Wizard preview of this, so I’ve already received that initial kick, but on the real, Quitely and company knock this out. The two-page spread would actually make a really impressive poster, but as amazing as this is, think it only does artistically what the first page did from a storytelling standpoint, plays pacesetter not only for this issue, but the entire run. This is the kind of amazing visual we should come to expect, and following that train of thought, there will be much more material for DC’s poster department further down the line. Three pages in, already too much heat.
“See, I just remembered something. I’m a genetically modified suicide bomb in human form. DEATH. Courtesy of Lex Luthor!”
We get two whole sentences to bring us up to speed, and no character introductions to speak of, things racing along as Morrison guns the engine. Just the absolute basics, a quartet of explorers in a craft called The Ray Bradbury, experiencing system failure on the surface of the sun, and one of them is a bomb. But it’s all good though, cause Superman is on the way.
“It’s as big as 333,000 Earths. Imagine one hundred billion H Bombs exploding in your face, Miss Lane…per second. I looked it up on my super-watch.”
Welcome to the Daily Planet, where world famous reporter Lois Lane writes the Superman headlines before they happen, and ace photojournalist Jimmy Olsen comes into work on a jetpack. In just a few panels, I already love them both, Morrison injecting even the supporting cast with that perfect blend of smarts, wit, and charm. These are characters we can easily believe would capture the attention of the world’s greatest hero.
“But Lex Luthor lied, like he always lied.”
More Planet love, now with added Perry White, who Quitely draws like a bulldog with a man’s face. Also really clever how we finally get the establishing shot of the Daily Planet, only well into the scene, and that the little bit of background info on Lex Luthor, cloaked in a pep talk to Perry’s gathered reporters. Oh, and by the way, anyone who believes that Luthor had actually reformed is clearly stupid…
“Well, I’ve tried to be a model citizen, General Lane. I know I promised I wouldn’t waste my intellect on Kryptonite robots and elaborate super-death traps. I know that.”
Enter Lex Luthor, stripped down to bare essentials, just like everything else thus far. Another example that sometimes the basics can ultimately prove the most compelling, because it’s been proven that there are more than a few ways to portray Superman’s very classic archenemy. Playing him as both shrewd businessman and obsessed supervillain works to varying effects, but there’s something really refreshing about seeing him as straight-up mad genius, without all the extra nonsense and pretense. He’s jealous and he’s petty, and he wants Superman dead, and doesn’t care who knows about it. Every once in a while, the heroes should just act like heroes, and the villains like villains, just to keep us all guessing…
“But three months ago, I looked in the mirror at those nasty little spiderwebs of lines around my eyes, and I realized something. I’m getting older and…and he isn’t.”
Luthor with another fantastic stretch of dialogue, cut with glimpses of the situation aboard The Ray Bradbury, nine minutes in the future. Love how this is laid out as if this is all occurring simultaneously, when the Bradbury clips are actually set slightly ahead. Really cool storytelling trick blending a scene from the present, with one from the near future, and doing it on the exact same page, but somehow, I’m not even that surprised.
“So, if I want to die happy, it’s time to get serious about killing Superman. Don’t you think?”
The page of direct contrast, Superman with an almost blank, unaffected expression on his face, looking completely harmless in his brightly colored suit, sharing space with Luthor’s harsh eyebrows and piercing stare. Everything about this rivalry said in two excellent visuals.
“The purpose of my existence is to explode! You have no right to limit my ambitions, fascist! No right at all to stand in the way of my self-realization!”
“You misunderstand. I’m here to help you with that.”
Superman to the rescue, using more than just his powers of flight and strength, which is a rare occurrence. In a strange way, Superman even “helps” the human bomb achieve his ultimate potential, though I doubt inspiring people to blow up, is one of his more immediate goals. Morrison backs off and lets Quitely have his show here, and as usual, the results are what we’ve come to expect.
“…Superman is shielding us by extending his own bioelectric field…It seems impossible.”
“Only nothing is impossible, Flora.”
Greatest line in an entire book of great lines is on this page, along with more evidence that the story isn’t gonna be waiting around for us. Over the course of five panels, Superman rescues the crew, escapes the sun, and returns to Earth to have a battery of exhaustive tests performed. Just when you think you’ve caught up to it, the gears shift, and it picks up even more speed.
“What a bizarre irony if the source of my powers winds up killing me, when everything else has failed.”
“If I hadn’t tried to steal fire from the sun, none of this would have happened. You risked everything to save my crew and me. But Luthor has used us to kill you.”
This is Morrison territory right here, the opportunity to assault us with a ton of new, cool ideas, and then discard them, like he’s sure he’ll have better ones later. Superman exposed to a lethal amount of stellar radiation is pretty inspired, as is the possibility of him gaining a couple new powers as a result. Don’t know if quintillion is really a word, but the spell check seems to ignoring it, and even if it wasn’t, it sounds perfectly logical coming from the weird guy in the Technicolor jacket. Leo Quintum appears to be Emil Hamilton crossed with Willy Wonka, and again, there’s a very obvious effort to surround the title character with people potentially as interesting as he is. Sure Quintum will become a much bigger part of the overall story, and from here, that looks like a really good thing.
“I’m trying to escape from a doomed world too, Superman…It’s called the past.”
“We’re building outposts of tomorrow right here, in the now. You inspired it, Superman, all of this…And I promise we’ll find a way to save you. Or to replace you, if we have to.”
More new ideas, and more great lines as THE DNA P.R.O.J.E.C.T. and their mission is further outlined. We see Bizarro worker drones, Voyager Titans, nanonauts, and learn that Superman’s DNA reads like Bach. This is the kind of forward thinking Superman should really inspire, giving his presence on Earth much more relevance than that of flying police officer. Given eleven issues, Quintum likely will discover some way to save Superman, which would be quite the role reversal, a man so inspired by his bright example, that he actually rescues the world’s greatest hero.
“Clark Kent is fired in ten seconds.”
Dope page, anchored by the image of a little boy speeding after his dog, and right into the path of an oncoming truck, as Superman glides in from the background, absolutely NO way he’ll get there in time. The positioning is all incredibly subtle, thereby making it quite brilliant. Only nothing is impossible, remember.
Clark Kent as bumbling idiot. Another cool touch that helps illustrate just how Superman remains disguised by a pair of glasses. The entire Kent persona is an actual performance, a complete alteration in general mannerisms and body language, which aids in the suspension of disbelief necessary to accept it as a capable secret identity. Clark Kent has terrible posture, trips over stuff and falls on his ass. Honestly, a mask would work better, but I’m cool with the notion that a little sleight of hand goes a long way…
“Put me away, boys. Before I do something really terrible to Superman.”
Luthor caught red-handed, with a sly grin on his face, the evil bastard. Several pages ago he was glaring at us, but that’s all gone now, replaced with absolute content. And finally, the credits roll in, along with another cool little flourish, the content rating listed as DC, for “pulse-pounding, rip-roaring action to be enjoyed by all.”
“Your skill for self-preservation is almost a superpower in itself.”
“Why thanks, Lois. I just don’t know where my self-esteem would be without you.”
Didn’t catch it until my second read through, but Superman saves someone by intentionally bumping into them, and playing it off on his clumsiness, which is something you just have to love. Again, Lois shines, hammering Clark with endearing insults, all the way to her front door, as he trips over his own feet, and his own dialogue.
“Lois. Please stop talking for just one second. I have something to tell you.”
Love how Clark’s body language suddenly changes, as he completely drops the act and does the only thing he can to stop Lois’ rambling. Incredible cliffhanger, and extra points for flippin’ the whole “reaction shot” into something more intelligent and less obvious.
Okay, so apparently, I thought pretty highly of this first issue, and dependent on people’s overall response to this, there’s a very real possibility that I’ll continue to examine the upcoming issues in a similar fashion. This was easily, the best book I’ve read in the last couple weeks, and more than a bit ironic that with all the attention leveled on the “bigger” crossover events, with their life-altering character arcs and damaging repercussions, that with only 22 pages, Morrison outguns them on several levels. But again, not even that surprised, but I suppose it’s worth saying that with the industry convinced that bigger automatically means better, somebody came out and proved that… ah hell, I ain’t even gon’ say it. Ya’ll saw the title.
Hit me with your thoughts, and I’ll be back soon.