Sunday, May 22, 2011

Grant Morrison's "All Star Superman" (Steak Knives)

Superman is boring.  Deadly boring.  Sure, I enjoyed the first two Christopher Reeve films as a kid in the 80's, but even in my youthful comic book reading days, there didn't seem to be much done with this archetypal character that hadn't already been done 1000 times before.

In short: where do you take a character that is essentially all powerful (kryptonite not withstanding)?  What story can you tell that will take us beyond feats that have already been exhaustively played out too many times, with only the detail of the plot providing a patina of novelty?

Morrison was given some creative breathing space to re-imagine this archetype in writing All Star Superman, an initiative by DC Comics to explore characters without being constrained by continuity with the character within the DC universe.  That's a 'specific' way of saying this story is an attempt to explore the character of Superman and his world in a fresh way, with the hope of bringing new vigor to what is, in essence,  a timeless hero archetype ready made for the early 20th Century.  Think Campbell's The Hero With 1000 Faces...

Morrison does a fantastic job.  This effort, in two volumes, has a dying Superman perform a series of 12 feats that establish his legacy and plumb the depths of his place in the world as saviour, and as a force in the personal lives of those around him (i.e. his relationship with Lois, Luther and Olsen, parents, etc.) in really novel ways.

Superman comes across as a character the reader can really, actually empathize with - *not* a solid, unapproachable caricature of the comic book hero.  This itself is no small feat.  Morrison manages to make Superman *not* boring.

This is graphic novel storytelling at its best.  You feel you've engaged the archetype in all its implications, and unpacked its place in pop culture at a time when the archetype seems to be too stale to resonate in a meaningful and properly 'fantastic' way.

Quitley's art adds much to the iconic and bold feel of the storytelling.  I wont linger on it, but he captures the Clark/Superman roles masterfully, making it possible to believe that the ruse of his alter ego could go undiscovered by those around him.  To give him his due, Reeve also managed to pull this off on film, playing Clark as an oaf in a way that was bodily opposite to the proud and tall Superman.

Seeing Luther get the electric chair (no spoilers here), and seeing Superman struggle with his own mortality provide character portraits that I wish I'd seen dealt with earlier.  This is the kind of re-boot that Batman received in the late 80's/early 90's with The Dark Knight Returns, Year One, and The Killing Joke.  Too bad it's a stand alone story arc.

A very fine set of steak knives here...

No comments: