May 10th 2009

All Star Superman (Vols 1 & 2)

Review written by Eamonn O'Reilly

Is there a more famous or iconic comic-book hero than Superman? In print for over 70 years with literally thousands of stories told about him he is no longer so much a comic book character than he is a cultural icon. He’s up there with Mickey and that burger clown as one of those characters that transcend their medium. Surely there’s nothing left to be written about him? Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely have taken this character and created a story that encapsulates who Superman is and what he stands for better than any story I have read in over 20 years. It’s almost as if they’ve condensed everything ever written about him into one story.

The story is about the 12 labours Superman must complete before succumbing to a fatal solar radiation overdose. Along the way this involves Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Krypto the superdog, the Fortress of Solitude, Ma and Pa Kent, a baby Suneater, lots of Bizarros, a Zibarro (an intelligent Bizarro), the Phantom Zone, a couple of other Kryptonians, a sort-of Doomsday and Jimmy Olsen to name a few. This story certainly doesn’t shy away from using the supporting cast that has built up over the years, flying dogs and all.

The author appears to have selected certain aspects of the character and his supporting cast in order to set him in a timeless era. We have a strong willed and fiery tempered Lois who is dating Superman but doesn’t know he is Clark. 

There’s a classic, bald evil genius version of Lex Luthor and a bumbling, almost oafish Clark Kent. There are lots of different takes on the Olsen character and in this Jimmy is at his smuggest and most irritating which is always when the character appears to have been rewarded a watch with which he can call on the muscled one when he’s in trouble.

I’ve never liked this watch, Supes relies on hearing when Lois is in trouble but gives an emergency beacon to smug boy, seriously? At least one of these characters and how they’re presented should be familiar to almost anyone that has ever picked up a superman comic which makes this story a lot more accessible than it first appears.

Readers new or not terribly familiar with the character shouldn’t be put off by the volume of history and myth contained here, with a willingness to accept that Clark is a convincing disguise and that suns can have brains you can be swept along for the ride. The details as to why things are like they are don’t matter.

For fans this story is a must read, there is a crisp, clear art and ink style that captures the classic look of Superman in a way very few books do. Not only does it look great, have some truly momentous fights and some wonderfully amusing comedy moments it also encompasses what makes Superman such a timeless character – his powers aren’t what make him super, it’s his unshakable belief in mankind.

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