It's that time of the season!

All Star Superman #6

I’m sure DC is thrilled to finally have enough material ready for a collected edition (I believe the first hardcover is due in April), and this wouldn’t be a bad story to wrap a bookshelf edition on. Besides the expected callbacks to writer Grant Morrison’s own Superman works -- DC One Million most evidently -- a lot of this issue is a compliment to earlier issues in this very series, with various events from Superman’s past setting up the themes and events of his All Star future.

This is the obligatory ‘Superman as a boy’ story, complete with All Star Krypto and All Star Lana Lang, among other personalities, and there’s intentionally not a ton of suspense as to where the plot winds up. After all, the cover sees Superman brooding at Pa Kent’s grave, the title of the issue is Funeral in Smallville, and Morrison even throws in a whopper of a chest-grabbing bit of foreshadowing on page 3. There’s an inevitability to the death seen in this issue, but it serves mainly to reinforce the series ongoing ‘Superman faces death’ theme. After all, if the promise of death is to spark major changes in Superman’s adult life, it makes sense to depict an earlier death changing him initially, prompting his move to Metropolis and the all-important transition from a boy to a man, complete with the adult realization that one is never as infallible as you think.

Accordingly, various bits and pieces of later stories on the timeline (as many as there are in five issues) are also shadowed, from Clark’s polar-opposite yet oddly similar relationship with Lana (whom penciller Frank Quitely draws in an extremely similar fashion to Lois) to the series’ second trip to the moon, though here rather than an adult kiss the young Superman is only playing with his dog. Nothing can stay the same for long in the face of mortality, though, as the contemporary Superman is forced to review upon taking stock of his own past.

But while all of this fits in very well with Morrison’s plan, the particulars of the plot seem a bit more awkward than usual. The whole mystery aspect of the story involves a trio of characters arriving on the Kent farm, actually chasing a menace from across the span of time (fittingly, a monster that literally devours the time we have on Earth). It’s essentially Morrison’s spin on the old Legion of Super-Heroes encounters with Superboy, and while I tend to give time-travel stories the benefits of the doubt when it comes to suspension of disbelief, the motivational consistency of this one seems lacking.

Basically, one of the trio genuinely seems to be trying to warn young Superman away from the mortality that surrounds his life, while you’d presume that another critical, bandaged member of the trio would oppose his actions, or at least be aware that he’s doomed to failure or talk to him beforehand or something, though he remains silent. It’s later mentioned that tragedy in Superman’s past is what made him who he is today, which you’d think would raise some conflict between the various parties as to how to go about their business, but it doesn’t - by the end, everything seems ok without any further explanation. I really don't know why a critical bit of info couldn't be given to young Clark more than three seconds before the big battle starts, unless the helpful member of the trio is only pretending to be helpful, which begs the question as to why there's even a fight sequence, aside from simply to have a fight sequence. Maybe he's really distracting Clark to keep the future from changing for the worse? Then that stuff probably should have been filled in better, because the character interactions come off as clumsy. Actually, a lot of motivation here seems barely sketched in, seemingly for the purposes of adding a bit of artificial drama, which is especially odd considering that there otherwise isn’t a lot of suspense as to what happens. It’s one of the few moments in this series where Morrison’s shorthand characterizations could have used some more filling in, so it wouldn’t seem like the characters are just bumping one another along for the purposes of hitting Morrison’s plot beats.

But there remains a devotion in this book to the silly, romantic aspects of Superman, even as death is considered, which sets it apart from all the others. Quitely’s pencils and Jamie Grant’s digital inks/colors offer a wide-open vision for the farmlands outside Smallville, seemingly everything glimpsed from a ways off (even the issue’s menace is seen only from a distance). It's enough it make the past seem to ache a bit, which is important for both this particular story and the series as a whole, so devoted to evoking older things for tomorrow's purposes.