In an amusing twist, the title of this issue is "...Faster..." - an special message for the artist?
All Star Superman #1
Hey, this is a good superhero comic. Who’d have guessed?
Stunning newsflashes like that don’t really get to the Tootsie Roll center, though; this is a very different beast from All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder (and thus a collective sigh of relief rises), although it shares a definite energy, a particular drive inherent to talented writers let loose to do as they please in tiny, private universes with big, public icons. Just as the Batman book is pure Frank Miller (for better and worse) this is indeed raw Morrison. And yet - there’s scrupulous attention paid to how the book will be received by both established and inexperienced readers; contrast that with the damn-the-torpedoes self-referentiality of Miller’s book, a disquieting (but often genuinely entertaining) goulash of personal tics and storied individual tropes. This one takes the alleged ‘new readers friendly’ mandate of the All Star line a bit more seriously.
Perhaps my very favorite part of this issue is the obligatory origin sequence, mostly because it’s over in one page. Four panels. Eight words. It’s practically a small manifesto: “Ok. I know this. You know this. Even if you’ve never actually read a Superman comic you know this, because it’s engrained in our cultural psyche. We all know this stuff. So let’s get on with the storytelling.” Perfect. The characters are at their most recognizable: Lois is smart and ambitious and not entirely friendly to everyone. Jimmy is youthfully gregarious and enjoys all the perks of being Superman’s Pal, looking up helpful data on his Super-Watch, after having apparently ridden a personal rocket into work. Lex Luthor is a cunning, wicked mad scientist. And Clark Kent (my personal favorite) is a big clumsy oaf, ambling through life and placing a bit too much stock in his personal sense of humor; one has to wonder if Superman is deriving a certain bit of naughty amusement from bumping into people and knocking things over all the time. It’s certainly a thorough disguise - Morrison has mentioned in interviews that penciler Frank Quitely had devised a method of distinguishing Clark Kent and Superman via posture as well as dress, and I’d say it’s working quite nicely: with Kent’s shoulders slumped, making his build resemble mere bulk, his hair unkempt, his face usually tilted downward, he really does seem like his own person, and it’s fun to watch Quitely play around with such things.
So we’ve got a stripped-down, easily recognizable Superman cast. The trick is, Morrison simultaneously toys with the expectations of both old and new readers. Surely those much-vaunted (and hopefully not outright mythological) New Readers will be amused by the ‘twist’ on the final page, something seasoned fans have been used to for a while. But even they will be caught off guard by Our Hero’s sudden manifestation of new powers (a secondary mutation of sorts), even if they ultimately relate them back to the sort of thing expected from Blueberry Ice Superman in the pages of Morrison’s JLA (and while we’re playing ‘name that reference,’ I especially enjoyed Quitely drawing the doggie Superman rescues to look exactly like Bandit from We3, sans armor). It’s good for throwing folks off, and the references never distract; both classes of readers are serviced, and nobody is left behind.
As for the plot, well, there’s both some action and some set-up for future adventures. Basically, Supes appears to foil a pleasantly complex Lex Luthor plan, although since the scheme is moving in at least three different directions at once, Our Hero can’t cover all of the fallout. Scary monsters are fought, and quips are traded (it's a particularly Morrisonian treat that, after making a number of interview statements on how Superman should never kill, within 12 pages we see Our Hero more or less aiding an artificial being's suicide). Then, he visits a laboratory out in space, which is headed by a gently sinister dandy with a walking stick and a rainbow-hued jacket who somehow reminds me of Willy Wonka - thus, the character shall henceforth be known as Space Wonka. Superman and Space Wonka discuss many things, see some amazing sights, and revelations come out that will doubtlessly reverberate throughout this entire twelve-issue storyline. Meanwhile, back on Earth, the Daily Planet prepares to become the only media source in America willing to stand up to the lies and rampant greed of the US Military-backed Luthor; whether any political comment can be read into this is perhaps dependant upon the disposition of the individual reader.
All in good fun. There’s some very nice lines (“We have a warrant for your arrest on charges of attempted murder and also crimes against humanity.”) and a great sense of fun to the whole affair. Those expecting the crystalline action design madness of We3 from Quitely will be disappointed, though he (and digital inker/colorist Jamie Grant) does some great work with small details. I didn’t even notice a tiny Superman flying toward the Daily Planet in several panels on a certain page until my second go-through. I enjoyed how Jimmy’s socks matched his fantastically tacky sweater, and the baseball bat Luthor uses to gesture with during his interstellar speech. It makes this story feel lived-in, which is nice for a new book. This probably isn’t going to change your view of Superman forever, or provide any sort of scale-dropping revelations for those who just don’t see the appeal of the Superman cast; you have to be willing to meet Morrison and Quitely partway. But for those itching for good, witty superhero comics, this is a great pick; and as a first issue, it wouldn’t make a bad model for those many soon-to-relaunch DCU books to base themselves off of.