Ambidextrous: This is Why (All-Star Superman)
By Brandon Thomas posted: 2008-10-09 06:05:00 ET
I love comic books, and that’s what the “This Is Why” series is all about...
I’m going to take a completed creative run of a comic and methodically/obsessively identify just why it should be regarded by all clear-thinking individuals as a “new classic” that everyone should have in their personal libraries. It might be an entire issue, a cool moment or image, or maybe even be a single, solitary line, but together these elements comprise a work that embodies the very best the medium is capable of, and provides fuel for all those that want to join the creative ranks. Only works that perpetuate this vibe will be discussed here, and to get things started, I wanted to examine a series most of us have just finished reading. That series ladies and gentlemen---one destined for an eventual Absolute treatment by DC’s trade department, is Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman.
This feature is planned as the first of many, so please let me know what you think of its overall effectiveness and anything I might’ve missed. Let’s get it goin’...
Eight Words, Four Panels, One Origin- (Episode One)
When I reviewed this issue way back when, here’s what I said about this---
“Effectively sets the tone for the entire issue, as Morrison starts the clock, and dares us to keep up with him. Genius and obvious in the same breath, as Superman has one of THE most recognized beginnings in comics, making him the perfect candidate for this “collage” approach, and giving us all the same reference point from jump. Neither time nor space wasted...”
Replace the word “issue” with “series” and this still applies. Really the perfect first page resting beneath the perfect first cover of what would become a consistently perfect comic book.
“Only nothing is impossible, Flora”- (Episode One)
Realize Grant probably wasn’t the first person to ever put this sentence into print, but it certainly was the first time I’d encountered it, and I was instantly in love with the line and its implications. Would’ve made a perfect tagline for Miranda Mercury if I’d thought of it first, but now all I can do is gaze upon it with sufficient admiration---this idea is really what makes comics the vibrant, exciting place that others want to imitate.
Clark Kent is Superman...No, Really- (Various)
This began in the first issue, but really came into play during the frantic fifth, where Superman has to save the day, yet simply cannot be seen doing so. Quitely is probably owed more credit for this, since it’s the strength and clarity of his storytelling that effectively turns Clark Kent and Superman into two separate entities. Where Superman’s overall posture is all about projecting confidence and strength, Clark’s style of dress and his mannerisms are about projecting weakness and uncertainty. And it works brilliantly every time it’s done. Making the effect of a bumbling Clark “accidentally” saving lives all the more effective.
The ruse is so pervading that even while standing right next to him, you can believe that not even the great Lex Luthor can see the truth. Though that might say more about Luthor than anything Clark is doing really. When he finally tells Lois the truth, even she can’t believe they’re the same two guys. Nevertheless, it’s one of several fantastic little touches that Grant successfully weaves throughout the entire run---taking the idea that glasses and a stutter could be enough to consistently fool people, and giving it a gentle nudge toward reality. And that reality is that Clark Kent is always Superman, even when he’s wearing clothes that are two sizes too big for him.
The Reveal- (Episode One)
Great moment and cliffhanger, with a superb alternate take on “the reaction shot.” Again, what makes this so effective is Quitely, who subtly alters Clark’s body language, while Morrison alters his dialogue, to deliver the announcement fans are always waiting for. Lois could’ve found out accidentally, or by some other alarmingly contrived plot twist, but Morrison had Clark man up and just rip open the shirt.
“Lois. Please stop talking for just one second. I have something to tell you.”
Superman’s Forbidden Room- (Episode Two)-
No surprise that Morrison excels when his version of the Fortress of Solitude is unveiled. It starts with the key under the mat that weighs half a million tons, and continues throughout Lois’s grand tour with things like the Joker penny, the chess set, the Sun-Eater, dinner on the Titanic, the mirror of truth, etc. Every inch is just packed with the next impossible thing, and it’s cool to look around and see items in the background that show up in future installments. And to see Lois under the influence of alien hallucinogens, armed with a Kryptonite laser to defend herself against a crazed Superman that’s really brought her to his secret hideaway to mother a race of deformed superhuman horrors. Or so we’re led to believe until we’re hit with the next great ending, which involves a super sewing machine, and probably the best birthday gift anyone’s ever gotten.
The Gospel According to Lex Luthor- (Episode Five)
This is Lex Luthor, stripped down to bare essentials. Another example that sometimes the basics can ultimately prove the most compelling; as it’s been proven that there are more than a few ways to portray Superman’s very classic archenemy. Playing him as both shrewd businessman and obsessed super villain works to varying effects, but there’s something really refreshing about seeing him as straight-up mad genius, without all the extra nonsense and pretense. He’s jealous and he’s petty, and he wants Superman dead, and doesn’t care who knows about it. Every once in a while, the heroes should just act like heroes, and the villains like villains, just to keep us all guessing.
This story works as a highly effective character study, exposing and examining everything that makes Lex so brilliant, and yet so flawed. His ego and sheer arrogance is so overpowering, that he doesn’t even begin to consider (until the climax of episode twelve) that the man he’s delivering his manifesto to is actually Superman. He actually believes that Supes is the reason he hasn’t saved the world, or cured cancer, or done any of the things he’s more than capable of doing. The truth of it is delivered after Superman puts him down in the final episode with a hard right to the jaw.
“You could have saved the world years ago if it mattered to you, Luthor.”
Superman and Krypto in space- (Episode Six)
Didn’t have a dog when this first released, so I didn’t really appreciate this quick little scene back then, but having a puppy now makes it my favorite from the entire issue. That Grant Morrison is a sensitive man---he just doesn’t want any of us to know it.
Attack of the Clones- (Episode Seven)
Hate Bizarro stuff---hate it, hate it, hate it. Think once we’ve heard this failed clone talk backwards a few times, the novelty completely wears off and there’s nothing else interesting to come of it. Unless of course someone thinks it a good idea to have a cube-shaped Bizarro Earth appear in our atmosphere, and begin firing Bizarros at the planet capable of spreading their backwards talk and bad skin by mere touch. If this threat could only be stopped by Superman re-arranging the oceans on this strange Bizarro planet, in order to reflect deadly sunlight across the real Earth’s night hemisphere, that might be cool as well. But the best thing would be for Superman to end up marooned on this Bizarro Earth, with fading super powers, and dependent on a guy named Zibarro to help him escape. This Zibarro character being the one in five billion copies to be born sensitive and self-aware, suffering in a world of confusion where everyone talks funny.
Unless stuff like that happens, I officially don’t care if I ever see Bizarro again...
“You’ve broken the moon.”- (Episode Nine)
Eventually, mad Kryptonians will be set loose on planet Earth, and when they do, it’s a good bet Superman will end up fighting them off. What I loved about this particular inevitable confrontation was the pacing and choreography of the actual fight---Supes getting blasted in the face with heat vision, punched in the gut, head-butted, and then kicked in the nuts, while a bunch of degenerates from the Phantom Zone laugh and cheer in the background. Then dragged into space, thrown to the Moon’s surface, only to be picked up and tossed back down to Earth in a highly impressive display of extreme violence. This is the type of damage and spectacle possible when superheroes fight, which I imagine is why we enjoy watching the stuff so much.
All hail New Krypton!
Neverending- (Episode Ten)
If there’s one single issue that embodies everything notable about this series, and really, the character of Superman in general, it’s the superbly written tenth episode. Using his last will and a testament as a framing device, Morrison touches on every single element that makes him an enduring icon through a barrage of classic scenes. Obviously, the highlight is Superman talking a suicidal girl down from a ledge with a few wisely placed sentences, but the final fate of Kandor, the Earth Q bit, and a confrontation with Lex are close behind. Grant has some perfectly written comics on his record, and this is yet another, serving as the ultimate mission statement for the book. What Superman does here is both amazing and inspiring, and really provides a bar for how big and encompassing his stories can (and really should) be. He’s even able to demonstrate that a world without a Superman will eventually create one. Not bad for twenty-two pages...
Tyrant Sun Meet Sun-Eater- (Episode Eleven)
I admit the deck was pretty stacked on this one. You have Superman, hours from death, closing up the Fortress one last time and leading a squad of robots into battle with Solaris, an angry, tyrant sun. You have the aforementioned Man of Steel wearing a cool new costume to protect him from the effects of red sun radiation. You have Solaris screaming at Supes things like, “COME, SUPERMAN. COME DIE! I KILL YOUR SUN! AND YOU!” You have the Sun-Eater from the second and seventh episode making a final stand before ultimately being killed and sparking Superman’s violent revenge. And like a cherry on top, you have the broken and defeated Solaris ask for mercy before Supes knocks the ___ out of him with a cool, dispassionate, “You’ll live.”
There was literally no way this wouldn’t make for an incredibly cool sequence and I’m pretty sure Morrison knew that before he even wrote it. Haven’t read DC One Million in quite a while, but I’m assuming this is somewhat of a thematic precursor to that, especially considering the end of episode twelve...but now I’m drifting. In short, superheroes fighting talking suns? Works every time.
“This? This is a gravity gun.”- (Episode Twelve)
Just straight action movie right here---the hero rises again after terrible near defeat and absolute destruction to turn the tide---but not before doing and saying something really cool first.
Until the End of Time- (Episode Twelve)
“Strange. If he hadn’t fatally overdosed me with sunlight, I wouldn’t have the power to attempt this final feat.
No one but me can repair the sun, Lois. My cells are converting to pure energy, pure information. And I only have moments to save the world.”
“That’s more than you ever needed.”
“I love you, Lois Lane. Until the end of time.”
Some of this will get lost in the trades, but I loved how the actual credits were incorporated into the books, really giving you the feeling you had just (or were about to) experience a little Superman movie. The great touch here---Pulse-Pounding, Rip-Roaring Action To Be Enjoyed By All---rated DC. Maybe they can incorporate this onto the slipcase or on the title page as it seems a shame that it won’t be included in the final format for this.
The covers were also routinely excellent, beginning with the very first shot of a smirking Superman, chillin’ on a cloud, with the distant sun falling across him.
Favorite Issues- (in order of preference)
Episode Ten- Neverending Episode Five- The Gospel According to Lex Luthor Episode Eleven- Red Sun Day Episode Two- Superman’s Forbidden Room Episode One- ...Faster... Episode Four- The Superman/Jimmy Olsen War!
All-Star Superman, by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, and Jaime Grant---this is why I love comics.
Feel free to leave your own thoughts about the series, including personal highlights, favorite lines, etc. on the board below. Thanks.