Sunday, 21 July 2013

#CBR5 Book 89. "Absolute All-Star Superman" by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 5 stars

I'm going to start with a confession. I didn't use to like Superman much. I thought he was a goody two-shoes, a bit wet, and just not as interesting as Batman, or as cool as Wonder Woman, the other two big superheroes of the DC Universe. My husband always told me I was wrong, and while I like the 1978 film with Christopher Reeve, I was just never convinced that he was worth my while. Grant Morrison changed my mind about that. In his twelve issue mini-series, which did rather better than Frank Millar's spectacular train-wreck All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder (for one thing, it got completed), Morrison tells an utterly compelling story, showing why Superman is one of the ultimate superheroes, and why, while he might not be as cool and gritty as Bruce Wayne, Kal El is a much more admirable character.

Warning! There will be certain spoilers for the new film Man of Steel in this review. If you haven't seen it (do yourself a favour, and just don't - it's NOT a Superman story, and it's a long, boring and just really rather depressing film), you may want to avoid this review. You can go read All-Star Superman instead. It's amazing and captures exactly who Superman is and why he is so great.

While Man of Steel spends almost a quarter of the new film waffling around on Krypton, with flying monsters, and council members in Time Lord robes and Russell Crowe being grim, Grant Morrison sums up Superman's origin story on ONE page, with four panels. Because you're a native tribesman in the Amazon jungle, you've probably heard of Superman, and you KNOW how he came to be on Earth. His planet, Krypton was doomed - his parents sent him to Earth, where he was adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent. That part of his story is not what makes him remarkable and heroic.

In the twelve issues of the comic, Superman is poisoned by solar radiation, thanks to a diabolical plot by Lex Luthor. He has less than a year left to live, but decides to keep this information from the general public. In the year he has left, Superman performs eleven near-impossible labors, before he leaves Earth to complete the twelfth and final one, to rebuild the sun from the inside out, saving humanity yet again.

Morrison doesn't just write a great Superman. Jimmy Olsen is given a much meatier role here than just Superman's slightly dumb sidekick (the issue devoted to him is great), and it's not difficult to see why Lois Lane is both a star reporter and the love of Superman's life. In the second issue, she is given superpowers for 24 hours as a birthday present from Superman, and it's a thing of beauty. While my husband loves every single issue, I'm not quite as fond of the Bizarro storyline, or the one with the Kryptonian villains I can take or leave, as well. But then there's the issue that deals with Superman's relationship with his adopted father, Jonathan Kent, which makes me cry every time, and the simply spectacular issue 10, which may be my favourite issue of a comic book ever written. Yes, better even than anything by Neil Gaiman or Mike Carey or Gail Simone or Alan Moore.

The various issues are gorgeously illustrated by Morrison's many time collaborator, Frank Quitely. The art is really wonderfully showcased in the over-sized Absolute hardcover edition, making the many subtle details that Quitely puts in his art, and which you often don't notice until the second, or third, or even fourth time you read through the issues. The Absolute Edition also has a number of extra features which make the reading experience even more rewarding, such as Grant Morrison's notes on the various characters, and his thoughts on each of them.

Basically, if you're already a Superman fan, you HAVE to read this comic, if you haven't already. If you're not, and you've always told yourself that he's too lame and goody goody and he's just not all that interesting, you should let Grant Morrison try to change your mind. If you can read these twelve issues, and still not see that Superman is awesome, then I cannot help you, my friend. But at least you've read something truly remarkable.

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