Comics Worth Reading is where I highlight a series, graphic novel, or single comic issue that I feel is so good, it must be read by every comic fan. This week I’m going to talk about the modern classic All Star Superman, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely.
By now most of you regular comic book readers have heard about All Star Superman, but I’m sure there are plenty out there who are unaware of this series. It’s been published, republished, repackaged and re-released in many formats. You can hunt down the original 12 magazine versions, buy the trade paperbacks, or break your bank on the massive Absolute hardback gigantic version for around $100 (I managed to snag this version for half price years ago when it first came out, thanks to a now defunct discount website called Thwipster). Warner Bros even adapted it into an animated movie that was released on Blu-ray and Netflix. Why is this series so popular? Why after six years since its first release is this series frequently re-released, mentioned and referred to?
There’s a very simple reason: it’s Superman at his finest.
Right now there is a sad misunderstanding of who Superman is, as a character and as a person. In the much discussed “New 52” reboot of the DC Universe from a few years back, Batman received 4 distinct new series in which he was the central figure (Batman, Detective Comics, Batman and Robin, and Batman the Dark Knight) as well as many other spin-off comics that featured characters from the Batman storyline. And as a comic buyer from that time I can also attest to the fact that DC made sure Batman was featured prominently on almost every other comic they released (like the JLA series)–even if he didn’t appear in the story. But Superman? He got only 2 titles (Superman and Action Comics) and the continuity of those 2 comics were a confusing back-and-forth between a 5 year period, in which in one comic he was just starting out and the other he was established as a super hero.
Why the discrepancy between the two characters? I’m sure a part of it was Warner Bros (who owns DC Entertainment) wanted to maximize Batman, due to the much more recent success of the the Dark Knight series of movies. And they probably assumed he is a more popular character. But more than that, I believe Batman is a character most people, especially those who create comics, that is readily understood, and has been that way since watershed stuff like The Dark Knight Returns from the 80’s. But Superman? For some reason either the creators at DC, or maybe the wider audience, doesn’t like the traditional portrayal of Superman as a wholesome, honest, tried-and-true hero, with very few faults. So for the last 20 years they’ve been trying to reinvent him. Make him more human, more flawed. And they’ve always failed.
People don’t seem to resonant with a “modern” or “edgy” Superman. Even in the recent remakes of Superman there have been mixed responses to anything that seems to tarnish his character (Superman Returns seemed to have failed because of the strange relationship Superman had with Lois, and their supposed bastard son being raised by another man–weird). The biggest complaint I’ve heard about Man of Steel was Superman’s actions at the end to defeat the villain. All of a sudden fans want an infallible, purely upright hero. I think we’ve wanted it all along. We want Batman to be an edgy, dark, maybe a bit haunted figure. Superman is supposed to be the Paragon.
Enter All-Star Superman. Despite the obviously disturbed nature of its writer, Morrison penned his Magnum Opus with this series. There something about our hero in this story that harkens back to the classic, adventure stories we grew up with. You can almost hero the original Superman music in the background as you read the 12 issue tale. There is a simple purity about the character, about his nature. He is the good guy. There is no compromise with his character, or what he is capable of doing.
The story is rich with charming Superman-mythos details. We visit the Fortress of Solitude and see the amazing technology Jor’El bequeathed to his son. Superman embarks on fantastical adventures, travels through time, lends Lois some of his super-powers, and pals around with good o’ Jimmy Olsen. Lex Luther is the way he should be, a crazed evil scientist bent on destroying his enemy. There are surprise guests and new characters. The stories are full and engrossing. You’ll come away refreshed and happy. Comics can be fun, you guys!
The artwork of Frank Quitely is perfect for this series. The bright and vivid artwork leaps from the pages. Superman is indeed larger than life. The locales are living and vibrant. Every fits into the story appropriately. It is a world that matches the bigness of Superman.
So why did DC cancel this series? And why has following Superman comics, even ones written by Morrison, seem to fall short? Fans want a real hero, a Superman we can look up to. When will the creators of these stories get the message? I don’t know. For now I will enjoy this series and hope for a better tomorrow.
Purchase All Star Superman in a single volume.
Know of a comic that you love and want featured on the site? Hit me up here (or: adam[at]talesofmaora.com) with the pictures or links.