We have read the stories before. The stories of the tragic hero: where the hero will fight for what is just, for what is right, but in the end that hero will die. All Star Superman Volume 1 is the genesis for that story.
The first collection of the Eisner Award-winning series provides us with five tales told in six issues. Issue one shows us the ultimately fatal, heroic deed that will end Superman’s life. Issues two and three provide a great story of Superman and Lois Lane together at the Fortress of Solitude, where Superman surprises Lois with a birthday gift that only he can give her, his powers. Issue four peers into the relationship between Superman and the ambiguous Jimmy Olsen in the All-Star Universe. Issue five gives us an “up-close and personal” with the man that killed Superman, Lex Luthor, and the interview is conducted by none other, than the bumbling oaf, Clark Kent. And finally issue six; a step back in time for one last visit with a father that was taken so early in Clark Kent’s life.
From the opening page, this is a comic that you know is going to be different from anything that we have seen of the Last Son of Krypton. In eight words, Grant Morrison concisely (yet thoroughly) provides the origin. I have read hundreds of Superman stories, so I am familiar with the character, and this origin seemed more than sufficient. I can imagine a young child, curious as to the large, bright posters adorning the windows of their local comic shop, stepping in to take a look around, picking up the first issue of All-Star Superman, opening the cover to that first four panel page and understand completely where this “superman” has come from.
In contrast to this first page, I am reminded of Ultimate Spider-Man (funny, seeing how the “All-Star” line is DC’s answer to Marvel’s “Ultimate” books). Brian Michael Bendis took five issues to flesh-out a new telling of Peter Parker’s fateful bite from a spider; Grant Morrison took one page. Both renditions capture the origin story masterfully. There is no formula; there are no rules. Stories are only complete with a beginning, middle, and an end. Too much story is sometimes too much; too little story is sometimes too little. The original origins for these characters were each told in one comic. One writer has epically drawn the origin out; another has respectfully trimmed it down to poetry.
The book only continues to get better. The serene mixture of classic and modern takes on the “Man of Steel” brings together the styles and musings of writers from all throughout Superman’s history. The bumbling oaf that Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely portray Clark Kent as would lead no one to suspect the farmer-boy to be their great champion of justice. In issue #1, when Clark “runs” to make an editorial meeting at the Daily Planet, we get a wonderful panel showing Clark trip over his own feet, bump into a desk, and drop his papers and notes only to slip on them as he enters Perry White’s office. This Clark Kent no longer exists in the regular continuity of the DC Universe, but this is a very welcome nostalgia in this book.
The collection is not told in the classic “cliffhanger” style, where the final page of the issue reaches some climatic moment leaving the reader salivating for the next issue, 30 long days away. Instead, sticking with the theme of the portrayal of Superman’s origin, the issues flow together with subtlety. The first issue is the only issue where Superman is actually the main focus. The rest of the issues are told emphasizing the major co-stars of Superman’s world: Lois, Jimmy, Lex, and Jonathan Kent. The final two issues being the crème de la crème.
The fifth issue takes place inside a prison, where Clark Kent has gone to visit Lex Luthor, on death row, for an exclusive interview. Clark tries to be a dutiful reporter and ask the questions he is supposed to ask, but Lex lectures Clark and provides Clark with his own rationalities for hating Superman. Lex Luthor is a brilliant man, but it is apparent from this issue, that his brilliance teams with insanity. Luthor lives in a delusional world, orchestrated in his own mind, where people love him and follow him; he believes his fellow prisoners look up to him and adore him, yet he is so blind to reality, that when a riot breaks out, he neglects to acknowledge the several attempts by the other prisoners to take his life. He is only saved by the apparent “clumsiness” of Clark. Through all his brilliance and ambition to see the Man of Steel dead, Luthor’s hatred for Superman lies in one pitiful, adolescent line: “How would you feel if someone deliberately stood in your way, over and over again?”
The final issue of the collection concludes the trade with a sense of awe. We are shown a young Clark Kent living with his adopted parents outside Smallville, Kansas. The family gets some surprise visitors who are there to help on the farm. These visitors turn out to be “supermen” from different futures, and as the story reaches its climatic ending, a young, brash Clark rushes to help two of the visitors stave off an attack by the “Chronovore.” This act of heroics, as Clark learns, takes “a precious three minutes of [his] life. And in those three minutes… Jonathan Kent [suffers] a fatal heart attack.” The death of Clark’s adoptive father molds the Kryptonian into the hero he will be. As Clark reminisces about Jonathan at his funeral, he tells the solemn audience what he learned from his dad: “The measure of a man lies not in what he says but what he does.” This story speaks with the same volume of the memorable line that Uncle Ben spoke to young Peter Parker more than 40 years ago. I would not be the least bit surprised to hear Morrison’s story referenced some 40 years from now.
For those familiar with Morrison and Quitely’s work, you will not be disappointed with this collection of off-beat Superman stories. Each issue is one in itself. This is the type of book that can be released once every two, three, or even four months and the reader will be able to come away satisfied, yet wanting so much more. The sense of the classic Superman stories ripples throughout the book. The credit pages in the front of the book are full-page shots done in the old printing style where you can see the colored ink dots. But despite all the homage to the past, this comic brings so much to the character that it will set the stage for the future of Superman. The praise for this book is validated; don’t believe me? Go read it.