Monday, January 21, 2008

Coming to DC in 2009: All-Star Gandhi, All-Star Joan of Arc

All-Star Superman #1-9
Written by Grant Morrison
Drawn by Frank Quitely

I don’t mean to be crass or anything, but if the American standard of trade suddenly shifted from dollars to blowjobs, I’d still pay twice as much as the cover price for All-Star Superman, and I’d still pray for it to come out more than once every three months. This is not my roundabout way of sexually propositioning any of the fine folks at Plan 9 Comics; I’d say the same thing if the store was co-owned by Chris Claremont, P. Diddy and Anna Nicole Smith’s corpse (too soon?). All-Star Superman is that good. It doesn’t have to be blowjobs. Our currency could suddenly be read on the Wall Street ticker as “$1=Five fights picked with Chuck Norris” and I’d still beg for the privilege of paying $2.99 for each issue.
I’m going to try and get the objective facts about plot and art out of the way now so that I might then continue singing the praises of Morrison and Quitely unhindered.
I don’t know if this is Frank Quitely’s best work ever; I must shamefully admit to not having seen everything he’s ever drawn, and his work on New X-Men was pretty breathtaking. That said, just about every panel in all nine issues published in the past two years has been nothing short of beautiful. He took a bit of time to find his footing in the first issue, but by issue two, the hesitant shading and the age lines on Superman’s face were gone. I think Max Fleischer would have fallen in love with this story based on Quitely’s cartoony, yet very human, style alone.
Another thing. It pains me to say this as a holder of a Bachelor of Arts in English, but too often, today’s comics are—well—too full of words. Cough cough Bendis cough cough Loeb cough cough. Exposition and dialogue go on for days and the art suffers for having to crowd in underneath all the word balloons, and trust me, I’m self-aware enough to know just from looking at what you’re reading this very moment that if I were lucky enough to write comics for a living, I’d be making the same mistake.
Grant Morrison, as a semi-divine entity, is not encumbered by this same mortal propensity. The economy of his words and Quitely’s pictures is simply perfect. Who’s your favorite film director? It doesn’t matter. They couldn’t do a better job of cutting individual moments together into a cohesive, spectacular story than the All-Star Scots (Morrison and Quitely both hail from Glasgow).
As for the story, it’s very similar to the art—simple, iconic, unforgettable. Due to Lex Luthor’s machinations, Superman has absorbed too much solar energy. He’s going to die. In the meantime, he has to use his newly-enhanced powers to set things right (while he can) on his adopted home planet, and with his own personal life, which has for so long come second to him after safeguarding the planet.
He reveals his true feelings for Lois Lane, and invents a serum that lets her duplicate his powers for a day. He travels back in time to defeat a four-dimensional monster, and gets the chance to make peace with his dead father. When a piece of “dark kryptonite” turns him into an Evil Superman, Jimmy Olsen has to save the day—one last great adventure with “Superman’s Pal.” As Clark Kent, he interviews Lex Luthor, who I’m happy to say has never been written as more of an arrogant madman than in this comic. Luthor brags of his own greatness and superiority to “The Alien,” sitting on Death Row for his plan to tamper with the Sun that has (or will, anyway) cost Superman his life. In the middle of a deadly prison riot, Clark saves Lex’s life, twice, and he doesn’t even notice. That’s one of my favorite Easter eggs in the whole series—the half-dozen times that his bumbling, oafish Clark Kent persona saves a person’s life without the other person noticing.
The only misstep—if you can call it that—so far has been making the Planet Bizarro story two issues long, where everything else was pretty much a one-shot, all in a definite order, but leaving no minor conflict unresolved for more than thirty pages at a time.
Morrison and Quitely have called All-Star Superman their “love letter to America,” and honestly, I don’t know if we deserve such a beautiful tribute. It’s slated to end with issue #12, as a sort of “Twelve Labors of Superman” epic. And for those of you who are worried and confused, no, Superman isn’t “really” going to die again—not in continuity. The point of the All-Star line is to tell iconic stories that transcend continuity and attract new readers based on characterization and storytelling, not interconnected plot points and alternate realities and dystopian futures.
Speaking of futures, though, I wouldn’t fear for Clark’s health too much. For one thing, in issue #6 he travels back in time with the “Superman Squad,” a team of time-traveling Supermen from the future, so he at least has to have an heir before he dies, right? And for those of you who remember Morrison’s story DC One Million, the return of Solaris, the Tyrant Sun, has been hinted at twice now… somehow, I think Superman will pull through. Am I any less anxious to see issues 10, 11 and 12 hit the stands, though? Not at all. I’m as psyched as I was when issue #2 was a week away. Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, I am proud to present you with Fermented Media’s first Single Malt Scotch Rating for a comic book series.

Rating: Single Malt Scotch.

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