Many, many others have written about the genius of the original All-Star Superman, so the series doesn’t need my late stamp of approval. But while I fully expected to enjoy the story, I didn’t anticipate just how much more I would appreciate Superman as a character after finishing them.
I recently purchased the trades in a mad rush to catch up before watching the direct-to-DVD film that was released last week. Several times, I’d flipped through the All-Star Superman collection in a bookstore, shrugged and put it back. Again, I assumed that it was good, but I was convinced there were no more truly interesting stories about the Man of Steel. Even the gushing cover blurbs couldn’t win me over.
Comic book icons are the hardest to write because they can only be trifled with to a point. Usually, you can’t deviate too much from their basic backstory or blueprint. If they’re killed, editorial brings them back in a year’s time. In this context, maintaining the freshness of a storied, nearly invulnerable hero like Superman is an especially difficult task. He loves his job, his parents, and Lois. He’s loyal to his friends. He’s good with children. He does the right thing because that’s what he learned in Kansas. Isn’t that kind of goodness … boring?
All-Star Superman — the series and the movie (adapted for the screen by the late, great Dwayne McDuffie) — answer this question with a resounding “No.” Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant took a character who is often dismissed as a demigod Boy Scout and reminded us of why he is the most important superhero of all time. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t yet read the comics or seen the film, but suffice to say that Kal-El’s heroism comes across as something incredibly decent and organic, not predictable and corny. And dude, he makes Da Vinci look average. Batman is justifiably celebrated as a genius, but in these stories, Superman is over-the-top brilliant. He’s perfecting A.I., concocting serums, reading Lois’ DNA, and communicating (sorta) with his 28th Century counterparts. All before breakfast. The Fortress of Solitude is like the best Manhattan penthouse ever, crossed with Mt. Olympus and NASA. And he designed it HIMSELF.
Unfortuantely, this level of awesomeness can’t be sustained indefinitely, which is why some of the most powerful Superman stories — including Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? — have less than happy endings. But they do have hopeful, emotionally resonant endings. I am not ashamed to say that I was in tears by the end of Morrison’s series and the movie adaptation. My husband, a non-geek, gave the latter his ultimate compliment. “That was tight.”
Indeed. Superman, you’re my hero.