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Grant Morrison describes coming up with what would become All-Star Superman as a shamanic experience. Supposedly, outside of San Diego Comic-Con, while trying to rethink the character, Morrison saw a man dressed as Superman sitting on a bench, perfectly at ease. It clicked.
He would go on to write All-Star Superman, the tale of a dying Superman working to prepare the world for his “departure”. Of course, there is more to it. Much more. It’s a simple sort of casual ticking clock to frame a kind of meditation of Superman.
The book uses what most people would consider an incredibly “boring” version of Superman. A Superman of unmatched power and strength. A Superman whose power outranks even other versions of Superman. Superman. However, to gauge this story on the physical stakes of our hero is a mistake. This isn’t a tale of a superhuman foiling a villainous scheme. Not entirely. This is a myth about a compassionate god laboring to help even the worst of us before ascending into the heavens.
I think the true strength of All-Star Superman lies not in Superman himself, but the world around him. Morrison distills each of the characters to — I’m sure what he believes — is the essence of their history. Lois Lane is the eternal intrepid reporter, loving girlfriend, confidant, hardass, everything she’s ever been. Jimmy Olsen is a dork with a heart of gold, ladies man, and Superman’s Pal. The Kents are salt-of-the-earth farmers in the romanticized version of the American Heartland, toiling at vague harvests and farm-ish amongst amber waves of grain and mosaic sunsets.
Frank Quitely’s art does a great job of bringing the golden/silver age vibe back in a way that doesn’t feel too dated. Like the distilled characterization, the art creates the timeless essence of the people and locals. The Fortress of Solitude is a timeless “default” version, the same with Metropolis and the Kent’s farm.
The biggest throw back to the silver age would be its antagonists. There’s smaller classics like Parasite, but for the most part they’re the kind of insane problems missing from the more “grounded” modern age. They’re huge problems! Super problems. He fights lizard men from the center of the Earth, a planet of Bizarros, a time eating hyper-dimensional monster from the future. And yet, they still find time for smaller, more personal moments.
So this all begs the question. Or maybe it doesn’t, I dunno, I’m just going to ask anyway. Is this the definitive version of Superman? The one that we all more-or-less think of when someone pictures the character? I don’t think so.
See, I think that was one of the larger points of the comic . Without getting cult-y about it, Superman is whatever he needs to be for you. Sometimes he’s a reassuring voice, the person to keep you from falling, a savior, a boyfriend, or just a pal. All-Star Superman is only the definitive Superman if you need it to be.