Shiny Shelf

All-Star Superman #1

By Mark Clapham on 25 November 2005

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

Unsurprisingly, this is a comic that gets it almost entirely right.

Grant Morrison’s writing has shown all the key features of a creator born to handle Superman, combining as it does a spiritual and cultural understanding of the importance of iconography and deities with an underlying optimism and embracing of the new. Morrison’s desire to write for the first superhero has been publicly restated down the years, and in his ‘Flex Metallo’/‘New X-Men’/‘We3’ collaborator Frank Quitely he has a perfect artistic partner.

The results are exactly what you’d want from a Superman story. In the same week as the ‘Superman Returns’ trailer managed to evoke the spirit of Siegel and Shuster’s creation with a Marlon Brando voiceover and a few choice images, Morrison has gone one further, recapping the origin of Superman in four two word couplets on a single page. Where Frank Miller and Jim Lee’s under-written and over-drawn ‘All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder’ failed to capture the timeless heart of Batman, ‘All-Star Superman’ has succeeded, digging down through decades of continuity and convolution and finding the simple appeal that has allowed these characters to maintain their strength down the decades.

Morrison takes the very familiar basics of Superman – his secret identity, the character dynamic between Clark Kent and Lois Lane, Lex Luthor’s determination to destroy Superman – and combines it with contemporary pop science to create a wildly imaginative science fantasy adventure. Morrison has always thought big – here he has Superman flying into the depths of the sun, for instance – and Quitely has always been there to realise these images in the necessary way. While the aforementioned trip into the sun is the kind of thing Quitely is famous for, he’s no less gifted at the smaller moments – a time lapse of Clark Kent stumbling his way into Perry White’s office, dropping and catching his papers as he does so, or Lois’ reaction to Clark’s final page revelation.

That final page is the killer for anyone worried that Morrison was, as rumoured, going to mire himself in a Silver Age neverland of ‘the love triangle with two people’: instead, just as ‘All-Star Batman blah etc’ revisits the initiation of Robin, so Morrison and Quitely are retelling an important moment in Superman’s history, the revelation of his secret identity to Lois Lane. Considering that back when that revelation was first told, the writing talent at work on the Super-books was less than stellar, it’s well worth doing again with some grace and subtlety. Who cares whether this matches current DC continuity? They’re about to blow the timeline up again anyway, so everything’s up for grabs. It certainly suggests this series will have a romantic focus not just in its attitude to an idealised fantasy world, but in terms of the relationship between the leads. In a genre that shies away from anything too emotional, and in as skilled hands as these, that’s no bad thing.

With a tasty looking new movie on the way, Superman’s comic book adventures needed one of those periodic kicks that all comics franchises require now and again. This is it – a great bimonthly read that’ll make an even better collection for more casual comics readers to pick up for years to come. If there’s one dud note, it’s that ‘Superman fights some stupid bio-engineered Image/Geiger thing’ is a bit too reminiscent of other recent comics, including Azzarello and Lee’s Superman story ‘For Tomorrow’. But that’s a very minor criticism to hold against an intelligent, pleasurable and lovingly executed incarnation of comics’ single most iconic character.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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