DC’s brief-lived All Star line of comics was, in theory, a very sound and interesting idea: assemble teams of the industry’s best (again, theoretically) writers and artists, set them free from the constraints of continuity and let them tell the stories they want to tell about DC’s top characters. What could go wrong?
Except one of the writers in question was Frank Miller, who kicked off the All Star line with one of the most universally reviled comics in the history of the medium: All Star Batman and Robin: The Boy Wonder. For a while it looked like the All Star line was doomed, and would be remembered only in the same light as Miller’s own disastrous Dark Knight Returns sequel from years earlier.
But then a gaunt figure appeared in the doorway, and a deep, reassuring brogue rang out saying “There now, lads. I’m here now, and I’ve a nice Superman story to make it all better. Nary you worry, mean uncle Frank canna hurt you no more.” and Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman came into our lives.
Teaming with frequent collaborator Frank Quitely, Morrison delivered a twelve part epic that pays tribute to Superman stories of the Silver Age, a time it seems more and more that the modern comics industry would rather forget. While other stories before and since tried to update Superman for a modern age, All Star Superman, in typical Morrison fashion, is enamored with the wild, weird days of Silver Age comics, and unflinchingly brings the “anything can go” attitude that defined them to modern readers.
In the second issue, Superman reveals his identity to Lois Lane during a trip to the Fortress of Solitude, once again practically a museum of trophies and wonders including the Titanic, a Columbia space shuttle and staffed by Superman Robots, who do indeed wear capes, because shouldn’t they? Issue 3 sees Superman squaring off against rivals Atlas and Samson (yes, the guy from the bible), who arrive in a time machine that looks equal parts Alfa Romeo and Willie Wonka. Morrison’s monstrous levels of creativity seemingly find their perfect playground here, in a book paying tribute to a time in comics when their were no rules. All Star Superman is a love letter to classic comics, a love letter written in fluorescent ink and sealed with fifth-dimensional quantum adhesive.
But perhaps more important than the Silver Age craziness is the book’s ability to cut to the heart of what fans love about Superman. This is a book, after all, that recaps Superman’s well-worn origin in four panels and four sentence fragments. Morrison is able to deftly cut away the layers of “grit” and “edge” that have been forced on the character by years of writing and restore him to what Siegel and Schuster intended him to be: good. Simply, impossibly good. A hero who can talk a hopeless suicide off a ledge merely by looking them in the eyes and saying “It’s never as bad as it seems. You’re much stronger than you think you are”, and meaning it with every fiber of his being. One who always, always finds a way to stand true to his beliefs and save the people he cares about, even when presented with a situation where the two options seem mutually exclusive. One who can overcome any challenge and save the day. Because that’s what Superman does. He saves the day. Superman is that part of all of us that wishes we had the strength to live every moment according to what we know to be true and right, and really be the people we wish we could be. Morrison, more than almost any other writer alive, understands that. All Star Superman is proof.