Sunday, January 22, 2006

[ comic review ] - All Star Superman #2

What's wrong with comics today? Why aren't they fun anymore? Even though they are more 'real' than they've ever been, they don't evoke any joy.

Granted, there are exceptions, but for the most part, mainstream comics from DC and Marvel aren't fun. It's been such a gradual process, my becoming more cynical, and comics becoming more 'realistic', that I don't even know when the magic went away.

Lest anyone think that this is a negative review, I'm here to say that All Star Superman has more magic and more fun in just its first two issues than the last twenty years of mainstream comics combined.

Its one of those things you don't realize has changed until you rediscover it years and years later. Remember when you found your old Boba Fett action figure from the 70's? Remember how cool it was? It's like that. Except that its comics.

As any of you that follow comics are aware, Marvel comics a few years ago began an imprint called the Ultimate Universe, where they take much beloved Marvel characters like Spider-man and the X-men, and completely recreate them from scratch, in a universe unconnected to any other Marvel comics, and untied to any of the previous decades of Marvel continuity. From all accounts, it's been highly successful, both from a financial standpoint, and from the standpoint of creating a comic where new readers can climb on board and not feel too overwhelmed or lost.

Not to be outdone, DC Comics recently began its own non-continuity, all-ages imprint in the hope that it will attract new (or old) readers who might be put off by having to wade through decades of DC universe continuity. This imprint is called the All Star line, and so far has two comics in its stable; Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, and now Superman.

This isn't a review of All Star Batman, but I will say that it's one of the saddest comic book failures I've ever come across, and almost soured me to the whole All Star comic line. Thankfully I read a short preview of All Star Superman online and was intrugued enough to give it a try, and I'm glad I did.

All Star Superman, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, exists in a universe that somehow manages to restore all of the goofy stuff from the golden and silver ages of comics while putting a modern spin on it. Like "Kurt Busiek's Astro City", there's no deconstruction of comics, or knowing winks to the reader. It's pure, unironic celebration of all that is fun about comic books. If this comparison means anything to you, imagine what it would be like if Superman moved to the world Astro City. It's just like that.

All Star Superman begins in the middle of Superman's story. He's already been Superman for years, he's already had hundreds of adventures, etc. The history of this Superman is both familiar and unknown, and the fun is discovering those details along the way.

The plot is nothing you haven't seen before. The overplot for this first arc is that Superman flew near the sun and absorbed way more 'yellow sun radiation' into his cells than normal, causing him to gain new powers, and increase the ones he already has. This second issue of the comic has Superman revealing his secret identity to Lois Lane and taking her to the Fortress of Solitude.

In true classic Superman/Lois Lane style, she doesn't believe him and actually suspects more sinister motives, and embarks on an issue-long quest to figure out what is going on. It's an incredible synthesis of modern storytelling crossed with golden age sensibilities and style.

Along the way, we are introduced to other classically-inspired bits of joy, like the Time Telescpe (everything has a dramatic name that seeps with history) that allows Superman to communicate with his successors throughout time (some nearly a million years into the future). The Key to the Fortress of Solitude is normal-sized, but it's made from super-dense material meaning noone but him can lift it. He just leaves it right in front of the door.

It's goofy touches like that that make All Star Superman such a delight.

What's more amazing is that I haven't read a Superman comic in nearly twenty years. The last one I read was "Man of Steel", John Byrne's reboot of Superman in the late 80's. Outside of Doom 'killing' Superman a decade or so ago, I have no idea what's going on in the current Superman world (is there still a giant key needed to get in the Fortress of Solitude? For that matter, is there even still a Fortress of Solitude?)

And moreso, it somehow manages to effectively blend in the feel of the Christopher Reeve Superman movies (the good ones, I mean). Just like Astro City mixes together familiar characters and stories from every corner of comic book history to create something new and unique, so too does All Star Superman mix the mythologies of several distinct versions of Superman to create something that evokes all of them.

I can't recommend it highly enough.

1 comment:

Corey Bond said...

You know, the last thing I need is more comics to read, and I had successfully taken a pass on this series, but thanks to your review I may have to go back and read it now. Thanks a lot.