Never Super-er

Frank Quitely

All-Star Superman features comic illustrations of the quality today's adult audiences expect.

Columbus Alive | November 24, 2005
Everybody seems to love comic book superheroes these days, just check out the nearest DVD shelf or flip through your cable listings. But while the characters are re-approaching the popularity of their 1940s and ’50s heyday, ironically the medium of comics isn’t winning over too many converts.

It turns out that people enjoy spending time with Spider-Man, Batman and the Justice League, but they don’t necessarily care to know all the complicated trivia that comes from following 60 years’ worth of monthly serials.

Marvel Comics’ solution was to follow the success of their X-Men and Spider-Man movies with a new “Ultimate” line, which basically re-started the heroes’ stories with modern sensibilities and contemporary settings.

DC’s answer is the “All-Star” line, which takes a filmic approach to the heroes—turning out comics that are like little paper blockbusters. For their first, All-Star Batman and Robin, they paired the most popular Batman writer with the most popular Batman artist. For their second, DC went with two immensely talented creators relatively new to their subject, and the results are simply mind-blowing.

After previously relaunching the X-Men franchise together and pushing the boundaries of storytelling in the miniseries We3, the team of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely tackle the original superhero in All-Star Superman. It’s the first Superman story to successfully blend the spirit of the Silver Age adventures with the quality expected by today’s adult audiences, picking up on some elements that worked well in Superman’s TV and film incarnations.

In this issue, we meet Superman as he’s rescuing a group of “helionauts” on a mission to map the sun. Superman saves the day, but he gets so close to the sun (the source of his powers) that he gets a potentially lethal dose of power and starts developing new ones.

Morrison and Quitely do a wonderful job of re-inventing the Superman/Clark Kent/Lois Lane love triangle, with their Clark Kent looking like a big, goofy lummox rather than simply Superman wearing glasses (the shift between the two personalities takes its cue from Christopher Reeves’ Jekyll/Hyde performance). Jimmy Olsen is similarly re-invented; rather than a bow-tied square, he’s now a nerdy hipster who rides a jetpack to work, and Lex Luthor takes on elements from his various pop culture incarnations—crook, mad scientist, smarmy CEO type.

As the Adam at the root of the superhero family tree, Superman has been adapted, reinvented and reinterpreted more times than any other comic book character, but All-Star Superman seems to be one of most compelling versions to date.

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