Sunday Slugfest - All Star Superman #1

A comic review article by: Keith Dallas, Kevin T. Brown, Ariel Carmona Jr, Kelvin Green, John Hays, Shawn Hill, Shaun Manning, Jason Sacks, Ray Tate

Kevin T. Brown

It's Superman by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely!

It has to be fantastic!

It'll be fabulous!

It's actually average!

Um, wait a sec, average?

Yes, average. At least in terms of the story.

Let me back up a moment. While I am not the biggest of Grant Morrison fans out there, I have enjoyed things that he's done in the past. His JLA run and his most recent mini-series, Seaguy and We3, were extremely well done, but overall I’m not one to fall all over myself just because it’s GRANT MORRISON! So I was going into this story with lowered expectations. Surprisingly enough, I did like it, but it’s still just an average story.

I should warn you now; I’m going to reveal some rather major spoilers. So if you’re the type who prefers not to be spoiled, you may want to just scroll down to where I talk about the art.

Here we go:

I do have to admit, I loved that first page. Superman’s origin in 4 panels and 10 words or less. That was brilliantly done by Morrison. Then I turn the page to an absolutely gorgeous 2-page spread by Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant. Superman flying, the sun “all around” him. Wow. That needs to be a poster.

Then we get into the story. The main part of the story is actually quite simple: Superman is dying due to overexposure to the sun’s radiation after saving a group of scientists/astronauts who are in the midst of attempting to “map the sun” from falling into it. He also begins to exhibit brand new powers because of the overexposure, like being able to expand his bioelectric field in order to pull the space capsule away from the sun and able to “lift” 200 quintillion tons. But I get ahead of myself here.

The reason for having to rescue the scientists is because Lex Luthor, who is directing all of this from Earth, has planted a human bomb aboard. Superman arrives to save the day, disposes of the human bomb, and brings everyone home safely. The rest of the story is mainly set-up.

Morrison does a decent job in re-introducing the key players as he sees them in this particular DCU. Lois Lane is the same driven reporter we know, but seems to have less patience. Jimmy Olsen, in all of 3 panels, appears to be a little more “kooky,” but that's just a first impression. Perry White is essentially the same. The main differences are Clark Kent and Lex Luthor. Luthor is more ruthless, more willing to kill on a whim, just to get to kill Superman. Kent is even more bumbling, but he seems to use it as a way to save people covertly in a rather amusing way. We’re also introduced to new characters such as Leo Quintum and his partner Agatha, as well as Morrison’s new take on Bizarro in the form of worker drones. I am really looking forward to see how Quintum is used in this story.

While all the introductions are a necessary evil in a story as this, part of the problem I had with the story is the dialogue. There are parts in the story where it’s incredibly hokey, especially the dialogue between Superman and this human bomb. I know Morrison is capable of writing far better than this. Perhaps it was his sly homage to the 60s, but it felt flat to me and was distracting. The dialogue by Lex Luthor, however, is truly chilling. For the first time ever, Luthor comes across as pure evil incarnate. I also disliked the reveal on the last page. There’s no way Superman reveals his secret identity to Lois on a public street.

Now for the artwork and for those who scrolled down: This is the best thing about this issue. The art by Frank Quitely, who is teamed with Jamie Grant on colors and digital inks, is a knockout. Their work together is nothing less than gorgeous, and for that reason alone I can easily recommend this book. Quitely draws a Superman you can believe is heroic and his Lois is appropriately sexy looking in her mini-skirt. Yes, Quitely does draw hot women.

Overall, All-Star Superman has me hooked, if only because of the artwork. Morrison has obviously crafted a story with many levels, but so far they’re not all falling into place for me. The next 12 issues can really go either way. The foundation is there for this story to be fantastic or fabulous, especially with Lex Luthor, but so far it’s stuck in average.

Ariel Carmona Jr.

Plot: A scientist’s mission to the sun is sabotaged by Lex Luthor whose obsession with killing Superman prompts him to include a living weapon aboard which threatens the ship’s crew. It’s up to Superman to save the day, but he may end up paying a terrible price if he does.

Comments: First, the artwork. The pencils by Frank Quitely, whose work I wasn’t terribly familiar with are reminiscent of John Cassaday’s style, even though his Superman is a bit off putting at times, resembling Jay Leno more than anyone else with a huge chin. The shots of Supes in profile are okay, but the close ups are somewhat jarring. His Clark Kent is dead on, bumbling with the right amount of oafish, awkward charm and his posture is a tribute to Christopher Reeves’ version made famous on the silver screen. The digital ink and colors are impressive while at the same time restrained. The cover’s idyllic scene is juxtaposed with the frenetic events within the covers, but given the revelation midway through the story, it makes perfect sense. There’s a serene look in the Man of Steel’s eyes which is soothing and comforting.

As for the plot of the book, there have been prior attempts to reboot, re modernize, or re introduce the Man of Steel to the masses with big name artists. Jim Lee’s stint on the main book last year suffered from mediocre storytelling and was more of a bonanza for collectors hording up variant covers than for fans of the character looking to be entertained. DC’s new "All Star" series with Grant Morrison at the helm promises to be different. He doesn’t waste any time introducing the origin that is familiar to most of the world with brief two word captions in the introductory page, but transitions into the heart of the issue, the big guy flying into the sun’s corona. There are some nice elements to this comic, reintroducing us to days before Superman and Lois were blissfully wedded and refocusing Luthor’s main motivation: He is willing to risk everything, even his freedom to see his adversary die. There’s a lot of scientific talk, and talk of DNA re-sequencing and cloning, which is a bit futuristic, almost as though this book is supposed to be set in a future dimension or a future version of the DC universe. Superman doesn’t seem to object to all the tampering with nature which appears to be going on, which is a bit puzzling. I can’t wait to see the fortress of solitude next issue, not the new one in the hero’s core book, but the classic artic one of lore.

Final Word: DC is putting top talent like Morrison and Quitely into their All Star line of iconic characters like Superman and Batman and Robin, but unlike Marvel’s Ultimate books, the new direction doesn’t appeared aimed to be a ploy for writers to rewrite history, but to come at it with a fresh new angle and to gain new readers as a result.

Kelvin Green

Water is almost mundane because it’s so plentiful, but when drought sets in, this most everyday of substances becomes a sought-after commodity, without actually being any different. It’s still just water, but now it’s the most precious thing on Earth.

And that’s true of All Star Superman so far. A quick look at the online reviews sites and comics blogs might give you the impression that it’s the greatest comic book ever produced; the funny thing is that DC haven’t really hyped this comic much, and yet it’s achieved a saturation that Marvel’s frothy-mouthed hype merchants could barely dream of.

This is a good Superman story; Morrison nails the characters perfectly, particularly a wonderful Lex Luthor that should be unrecognisable to those only familiar with the ineffectual main-DCU version(s) ("Ooh, shall I set in motion a Machiavellian scheme to give Superman cellular degeneration without him realising, or should I, very slowly, build some sort of vaguely defined mind-wipe device?") . We also get those amazing big concepts that Superman should always be about. When was the last time you saw him actually rescue people, let alone rescuing scientists from inside the Sun itself? Morrison is being perhaps a little too clever for his own good with the Superman origin recap, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. And of course, Quitely’s art is absolutely wonderful throughout, although he seems to draw Superman’s chin as being a bit too... prominent, and his Jimmy Olsen looks a bit like a demented transvestite on amphetamines. Still, Quitely’s Eerie Potato Women make no appearance here, and that’s always a bonus.

(Oh, and whoever designed the All Star covers must be blind; the logo designs are simply terrible. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them toned down after a few months, as they eventually realise that people can’t bloody read them.)

So, this is a great Superman comic, and while I don’t follow the character particularly closely, this is certainly better than any of the recent Superman titles I have read, and is infinitely better than All Star Goddamn Batman The Child Molester. But it’s not particularly special in any way, and it’s certainly not the best Superman comic ever. To pick just two out of the hat, Alan Moore’s “For The Man Who Has Everything” and the absolutely exemplary Hitman #34, are both better than this.

John Hays

Grant Morrison channels Richard Donner to bring you Superman, the Man of Steel! Lex Luthor has a new plan that he is sure will kill Superman, and this time he may just succeed. Meanwhile, Clark tires of his bumbling routine and decides to come clean with Lois.

This is a good take on Superman. He saves the day even under the direst of circumstances without so much as breaking a sweat. It’s also a good take on Lex Luthor. He’s an evil genius that the government can’t help but release in order to use him for their own ends, only to be hoodwinked once again.

However, I’m not yet sold on Clark or Lois. With Lois, it’s really more of the artistic rendering. From this issue, she looks Hispanic, which has never been the case before. She even tells Clark that they can go over things mañana, which is a Spanish word. With Clark, while it’s amusing to see the bumbling Clark from the Donner days, I think it’s a step backward with the character. I greatly prefer the Byrne Clark that is an intelligent, witty reporter that can keep step with Lois, which drives her nuts. This was portrayed very well in the Lois & Clark television series. Hopefully Clark’s identity reveal to Lois will move him more towards this character type.

The art is on par with Quitely’s previous work, and is very enjoyable throughout. I’m really looking forward to seeing how he handles some of Superman’s other villains. I happened to have the good fortune of picking up the Neal Adams cover, which I really like. The lighting on it is spectacular.

Overall, I enjoyed this issue, much more so than the first issue of All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder. I like Grant’s original idea on how to kill Superman and am interested in seeing what other outrageous surprises he has in store for us as we go along.

Shawn Hill

Plot: The first manned exploration of the Sun. Superman ensures it goes well. Luthor assures it goes awry. Lois still thinks Clark is an idiot.

Comments: Morrison shows the appeal of the All-Star concept at last. Each creator gets to pick and choose his or her own best version of their iconic hero, and then tell or retell whatever story (not necessarily an origin one) they feel will be the most fun. Without any concerns about the current continuity at all.

So here Grant decides to preserve a lot of iconic figures (Lois, Jimmy, Lex), but dispense with the origin almost immediately, in one staccato page with four panels and eight words. Blah blah blah pow! And we’re off immediately to Superman as Earth’s alien lover and guardian. Our hero soars through the sun’s chromosphere itself to foil Luthor's
grudge match yet again.

Luthor's motivation for his enmity to the Man of Might is not that much more advanced from being mad over losing his hair, but Morrison’s gift is to be able to update these old properties for this century without dropping the Silver Age charm that made them popular in the first place.

Quitely is Morrison’s ideal partner for this sort of story, precisely because of his skill at depicting the queasy, lumpen fragility of all-too vulnerable human bodies. He sets the ubermensch in a world of popping corpuscles, and remembers that all that invulnerable might still needs to be sexy, approachable, square-jawed and comforting.

He also impresses with Morrison’s new and old supporting cast: a perfectly all-business Perry White, a diverse bullpen of character types, the intriguing astronaut Leo Quintum (in a Technicolor dreamcoat) and his clone staff of hydroponic assistants.

This latter sci-fi aspect of the story may be the best part, actually, as it’s too easy to forget that Clark is an alien and an astronaut and a miracle of science. That aspect of the character has always been my favorite, and Grant seems intent on exposing that inherent sense of wonder in this title.

Interesting tidbits: Say what you will about Quitely’s faces, he’s intent on drawing them. This issue on one level is page after page of faces, peering and leering eyes, running a full gamut of expressions.

Superman is also manifesting new powers in this story, including some kind of cold vision, and a protective bioelectric field; I've got the feeling biology is going to play an ever-greater role as the death match between Lex and Kal-El unfolds.

Shaun Manning

The great thing about Grant Morrison is he’s willing to just throw wild ideas out there without explanation, and readers want to accept them. Of course, there’s a manned mission to the sun, and of course, the man leading it wears a rainbow-colored jacket. What could be more natural? About the only thing that could go wrong with such a mission is if Lex Luthor were to send a genetically engineered human suicide bomb on board the shuttle, which, of course, he did.

Morrison’s dialogue, too, is fantastically clever, and Lex gets the best lines in both the humor and drama categories. But Superman... there’s not much sense of Superman at all in this issue. He seems to be led around by the hand, reacting to situations not of his making and remaining emotionally distant to matters that should concern him deeply... like the revelation that his trip to the sun has given him cancer.

There is another level of detachment to this book, since it is intended to sit apart from established continuity yet no one quite wants to say where. Unlike All-Star Batman and Robin, this title was never actually billed as an “early years” book, so readers who are up on current Super-events aren’t sure where the characters stand. Case in point: are Clark and Lois married? No, though this is not clear until the epilogue. Are they even dating? Reply: hazy, again based on events of the epilogue. While it is a virtue to have All-Star Superman easily accessible to new readers, it would be a plus to clue in existing fans as to the operative status quo.

Though artist Frank Quitely seems to pick up new fans by the dozen with each project, there is little visual charm to this issue. Superman’s facial expressions seem to fall into two emotions: lusty to the degree that one may want to call the police, and repulsed in such a manner that it looks like the Man of Steel just got a super-whiff of dog feces. Other characters display a similar limited range of feeling. Also, Superman’s build is suggestive of a kegstand master. All this is really a shame, since the brilliance of Jamie Grant’s coloring gives an impression of stunning art.

It would be foolish not to trust Grant Morrison to deliver a momentous story, but this is far from his strongest start.

Jason Sacks

What a goddamn fun comic book. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely deliver a version of Superman and his mythos that is both comfortably familiar and cleverly interesting at the same time. From the wonderfully simple four-panel, eight-word origin panels to the wonderful revelation at the end, this is a great new take on Superman. Everyone who you’d want to see in the comic is here - Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, Perry White, Lex Luthor - and each has a freshness of character that makes them feel both new and familiar again. Better yet, around the edges of the book, Morrison and Quitely deliver enough hooks to keep readers interested for quite some time.

Morrison has a great feel for the characters. There's a great sequence in the epilogue where Superman basically seems to accidentally save a man’s life. It’s a quiet and subtle scene that shows our hero’s real character while also showing the importance of Clark Kent. Similarly, there’s a scene earlier on where Lois has started typing a story about Superman saving the first manned space mission, before the mission is actually saved. Lois knows Superman so well that it’s a given that he’ll save the probe. The only question is how he’ll do so. Jimmy Olsen has a rocket pack and a signal watch - cool! And Morrison is great with Luthor. The core of Luthor is that he’s always been banal and petty, and his explanation of why he hates Superman (“Three months ago, I looked in the mirror at those nasty little spiderwebs of lines around my eyes, and I realized something. I'm getting older, and... and he isn't.”) rings so true to tradition.

At the same time, Morrison brings in some great new pieces. Doc Quintum, the man who launched the solar probe, is also a very strange-looking genius leader of a bizarre research group. He dresses in a very odd technicolor coat and wears glasses lenses without frames. Quintum leads research into space explorer titans and nanonauts and more. Not since Jack Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen run has there been such a spectacular world of pseudo-science in a book.

Frank Quitely art is exactly what you expect it to be. I like Quitely’s work so see this comic as a wonderful tour de force of imagination, energy and intelligence. There are some scenes that are absolutely wonderful and clever: the intensity of Superman's face on page four, the odd lab that Doc Quintum runs, the cleverly awkward Clark. It’s just wonderful.

And to top it off, we get the kind of twist at the end that can’t help but bring a reader back (though it’s ruined somewhat by the next issue blurb).

This is classic Superman with a modern twist. Great stuff.

Ray Tate

How did I feel when reading Superman? I felt the same way I felt upon hearing Zod’s hand snap, crackle and pop when he got his wish for Kal-El to kneel before him. I felt the same way I felt when I heard Superman whisper “Vermin” before with his heat-vision blasting Mongul in “For the Man Who Has Everything.” I felt the same way I felt when I saw the seriously pissed off Superman tear through Lex Luthor’s office to teach the billionaire a lesson about what happens to bald megalomaniacs when they torture innocent redheads. I felt the same way I felt when watching Superman rip through the headquarters of Nick Fury’s mirror universe alter-ego to save Volcana. I felt the same way I felt when Kal-El drew the gravity from the earth and shot into the sky to retrieve the Kryptonian artifact Lex had in his possession.

Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant do not let you down. I don't care how long it takes them to perfect their work. Shut up, and let them take as much time as they need.

Seeing Superman float across the panorama of the sun, seeing him unleash his x-ray vision, seeing him swoop in peripherally to save the day is absolute bliss.

Plot? Yes, Superman is not just pretty. There’s a plot. Morrison adds more ammunition to the duel between Lex Luthor and Superman to trigger a story that touches upon numerous aspects of the myths and makes each of those aspects seem new and cool.

Encyclopedia Morrisonica (In Order of Appearance)

The Convection Zone: super-hot, deep layer of the sun
Mr. Quintum: the character's name is close to the word quantum. This character also wears a Doctorish rainbow coat, which may refer to Cherenkov radiation, which would be an affect if you traveled toward the speed of light.
Corona: hot outer glow of the sun
Solar Battery: science fiction author Otto Binder first proposed that
Superman and Supergirl gain their powers from the yellow sun.
Chromosphere: hydrogen rich layer of the sun below the corona
Steve: Steve Lombard was the sports caster for WGBS and Clark's best friend in Metropolis. He's drawn to resemble Vartox, Superman's Kryptonian pal, who resembled Sean Connery in Zardoz, a terrible film in which rampant nudity did not help one iota.
Superwatch: Jimmy Olsen had a Superman signal watch; this incarnation seems to be a miniature computer wi-fi hookup.
Rocketpacks: a classic pulp science fiction staple; Jimmy also used one as the costumed crimefighter Flamebird in the bottled city of Kandor.
Fascist: term used by sphincters with high opinions of themselves to describe super-heroes in “juvenile” super-hero comic books.
Bioelectric Field: Bronze Age technobabble used to explain why Superman's clothing and uniform are not prone to the physics of his super-feats
Glasses without Frames: one of the fashion signatures of the Julie
Schwartz future
Apoptosis: programmed cell death
DNA P.R.O.J.E.C.T.: a Morrisonian variation on the Cadmus Project which debuted in Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen series
Voyager: name of twin space probes, each of which carrying a gold record of information about our species, culture and our planet; the records are so far our greatest contribution to intergalactic relations.
Anaerobe: organisms that exist without the presence of oxygen; examples include certain species of bacteria; oxygen is in fact lethal to such a creature.
Meganthrope: big man; mega--big; anthropis--man. Big Man.
Liquid Nitrogen: super-cool form of liquid nitrogen often used in cryonics
Yochtosphere: Um....let me get back to you on that.

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