In a time when countless comic book writers have attempted to give dark twists to the characters we know and love, All-Star Superman stands out and demonstrates that this isn’t necessary, and certainly shouldn’t be done to the Man Of Steel.
Superman’s personality has been altered time and time again by various authors, all trying to put his or her touch on the Man Of Steel. Still, there are absolute values the character possesses that should never be changed. Not only does All-Star Superman tell the story of a character with these ideals, but it gives one of the purest interpretations of them we have seen in years.
By the time I began reading comic books, decades had passed since the golden and silver ages. For most of us, this was the case. We never got to experience the classic tales of heroism written for children, nor the bright and hopeful storylines of those times. Long before I was introduced to the medium, writers were already looking for ways to darken the iconic characters. Frank Miller published his amazing The Dark Knight Returns, and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons gave us a gritty satire of the superhero genre in the acclaimed maxiseries Watchmen. While I thoroughly enjoy gritty and dark tales, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely demonstrate to us in their superb 12-issue series All-Star Superman that dark isn’t the way to handle the last son of Krypton.
In All-Star Superman, Morrison tells the story of the final days of the Man Of Steel after Lex Luthor successfully overloaded his cells by drawing him too close to the sun. In the final year that Superman has to live, he tells Lois his identity, fights some of his most iconic villains one last time, and reaches closure on things he never thought he would. It is a heart-warming and fantastic tale that, despite the sad knowledge that the Man Of Tomorrow will never see it, could not be a more hopeful telling of the Superman story.
With help from the art of Quitely, Morrison creates a beautiful contrast from the works of Miller and Moore, demonstrating that the darkness from the real world does not necessarily need to seep onto the panels. His eternal optimism most strongly characterizes Morrison’s pure interpretation of Superman. Even when it seems there is no possible way to solve a problem, when you are backed into a corner, Superman will always find away. Superman doesn’t win all of his battles by merely punching the bad guy, in many ways the Man of Steel sees his nemeses not as villains, but as people. It doesn’t matter if Lex killed Superman; Superman will never return the favor because it is never right to take a life. Do not misunderstand me; I recognize that this may not be the case in everyday life. A police officer or a member of the military could not go into battle with the goal of zero casualties, because it would result in his or her death. But Superman is not human. He is an alien superhero with the powers of a god. Superman can save thousands without putting his own life in danger nearly all of the time. The times the invulnerable Kryptonian is forced to endanger his own life do not affect Superman either, which is highlighted with stories such as All-Star Superman. They show us that in Superman’s constant devotion to the values of truth, justice, and the American way, he will never bend his principles, even when knocking at death’s door.
Under typical circumstances, All-Star Superman wouldn’t have changed my concept of what a comic could be, because it merely embodies everything I want from a Superman book. It reads like another Superman story; only this is one of the beautiful comics that understands the character. What caused this particular comic to have such a substantial impact on me was its release date. I’ve read boxes worth of comics in my time as a fan of the medium, but this was the first recent one that seemed to understand how comics could be an escape from the real world. I’ve read so many comics that assert that humans and heroes are naturally corrupt beings and that the idea that Superman would be so close to a flawless being is complete lunacy. I do not understand what caused people to lose their faith in humanity, but I don’t believe it. All-Star Superman showed me during a time when dark superhero stories saturated the market, that they don’t have to be dark. None of us will indeed be as good as the Superman immortalized on the pages we read each month, but there’s a reason he’s known as the Man Of Tomorrow. Superman stands as a beacon of what we can be, an ideal of what the future could be like if we only showed a bit more empathy and tried to do more good. I don’t believe that the heroes of the world would be corrupt and indistinguishable from the villains of the world, such as in Garth Ennis’ The Boys. In a world where superheroes exist, there would be enough good people to save the world every time. That may sound too hopeful, but All-Star Superman gives me hope.
What’s everyone’s favorite Superman comic? Leave your answer in the comments below!