A Beautiful Gory Display

A Beautiful Gory Display: All-Star Superman

In South Park’s “Imaginationland Trilogy”(That’s right, I’m linking to my own pieces now.), Kyle argues that some imaginary characters have more influence on our lives than real people. One of those characters he references is Superman, and as usual, Kyle and I are in complete agreement. In my life, I’ve read literally hundreds of Superman stories, and last week, I read my favorite.

All-Star Superman launched two years ago with a simple premise. Strip Superman of 70 years (!) of continuity, and break the mythos down to those elements that everybody in the world can recognize. Clark Kent. The Daily Planet. Lois Lane. Lex Luthor. Smallville. Bizarro. Kryptonite. And that’s it. Simply as a result of being an American citizen in this day and age, you know what all these things are. It’s completely accessible to anyone.

Writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely craft powerful, almost mythological tales of America’s greatest icon with every issue. At the beginning of the series, Superman absorbs a massive dose of solar radiation which multiplies his power exponentially, but drastically shortens his lifespan. With issue ten, a dying Superman prepares his last will and testament. And the result is an incredibly powerful story, and what may well be the perfect portrayal of the character.

In an issue that is, aside from a two-page interlude involving a giant robot, entirely free of violence, Superman sets out to fix as much as he possibly can with the time he has left, and to make sure that the people who rely on him are provided for after he’s gone. He helps an alien civilization reach their potential, visits sick children, tries to make amends with old enemies, maps his DNA sequence, and fixes all the bridges in the world. And in between, he takes time to create an artificial universe without a Superman, to see if mankind can thrive without his protection. It captures just about every phase of Superman’s existence, from his early days as a social progressive, to Morrison’s own mind-bending science fiction tales of recent years.
Page 12 of the issue is possibly the greatest page of a Superman story ever. After tearing the head off of the aforementioned giant robot, Superman stops a scared goth teenager from killing herself. She’s on a ledge, ready to jump, and Superman comes up behind her and saves her with a hug. “It’s never as bad as it seems. You’re much stronger than you think you are. Trust me.” And he hugs her, and it’s a beautiful, perfect moment, and it absolutely made me cry.

That alone would have made the issue, but it’s just one of many throughout the story. There’s Superman’s creative solution to rescuing a Kryptonian city in a bottle. There’s the time capsule from the year 2312. And there is a single page which encapsulates the character of Lex Luthor better than anybody has done in the character’s history. All of his brilliance and pettiness are on display, and all without his speaking a single word.

What really stands out about the issue for me is that so many of Superman’s actions are attainable. Sure, there’s the trip to Mars and the giant robot and the microscopic Kandorian super-doctors, but the rest of it, those are things we can do. We can visit sick kids in the hospital. We can challenge the powerful to use their resources to make a difference. We can take some time out just to show somebody who’s having a hard time that we care. It’s just possible that the world would be a better place if we occasionally asked ourselves ‘What Would Superman Do?’

Right here, in All-Star Superman 10, is everything that makes Superman resonant and important. It’s near-perfect storytelling that gets to the core of the most universally recognized character in fiction. And it’s accessible and enjoyable whether you know the character only from the movies or lunchboxes, or whether you can name every known type of Kryptonite and its effects. (White Kryptonite kills all plant life, you know.) This is the issue that will prove that Kyle was right, and that Superman matters.

Score: Five Beans

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