All Star Superman
Volume 1 (Hardback)

Author: Grant Morrison
Artists: Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant
Titan Books
RRP: 11.99, US $19.99
ISBN-13: 978 1 84576 326 8
ISBN-10: 1 84576 326 2
Available 25 May 2007

During a desperate mission to rescue a team of astronauts from annihilation near the sun, Superman's entire body is supercharged with solar power - to the point where a fatal chain reaction in his cells leaves him with only a year to live. Now the world's greatest superhero must set his affairs in order, beginning by telling Lois Lane the truth about his secret identity. He also has to face a superpowered Jimmy Olsen, a vengeful Lex Luthor and a team of supermen from the future...

DC Comics boasts that this new series, from a star team of comics creators, will "strip down the Man of Steel to his timeless, essential elements." What this means in less flowery language is that the stories told in these pages are not tied to the continuity of the mainstream DC Universe.

However, this does not mean that no prior knowledge of Superman is necessary or that new readers can simply jump straight in. Taking a rather pick-'n'-mix approach, writer Grant Morrison throws in characters and other elements from throughout the Man of Steel's history - including Parasite, Krypto the Superdog and the Fortress of Solitude - with little or no explanation for the benefit of less savvy readers. Unlike the regular continuity, Clark Kent is not married to Lois, and he does not reveal his dual identity to her until he realises that his days are numbered. The Luthor depicted here is the scientist of old, rather than the businessman of the post-John Byrne era. Yet this is not simply a tale set back in the Bronze Age of comics or in the world of the movies (though the artists' renditions of a petite Lois do look a little like Kate Bosworth from Superman Returns). This graphic novel takes place in the 21st century (quite possibly the near future, given some of the genetic technologies depicted - more on those in a moment). Morrison also cherry-picks some more recent characters and concepts, such as references to Doomsday and the fact that Superman's abilities are becoming increasingly powerful and sophisticated, rather as they are doing in the current mainstream series.

Many of the episodes in this collection (reprinted from issues 1-6 of the All Star Superman comic book) focus on a particular character or set of characters, such as Lois, Jimmy, Luthor and the inhabitants of Smallville.

Penciller Frank Quitely and digital inker/colourist Jamie Grant create deceptively simple-looking but beautiful art, which leads the eye effortlessly across the page. Their renderings of female faces are not unlike the style of Milo Manara (with whom Quitely worked on Sandman: Endless Nights), with a bit of Steve Dillon thrown in for the male characters. Like Dillon and Garth Ennis in Preacher, the creative team send up their bald villain - by showing that Luthor also lacks hair on his eyebrows, which are shown to be drawn on with a pencil. The artists also manage to make the stooped, clumsy, almost oafish Clark a believable secret identity for Superman: owing to his posture, he seems overweight rather than muscle-bound.

Some of the more bizarre plot turns did leave me a little perplexed, though. For instance, it seems that genetic modification of human beings is commonplace in this universe, and no one seems to have any moral objections to it, despite this being such a controversial topic in the real world. Perhaps things are different in a universe already populated by superhuman heroes. I also found it hard to rationalise a communication from a bandaged Superman of the future during Episode 2, "Superman's Forbidden Room", with later revelations about this character.

On the other hand, the notion of the Man of Steel being damaged by an overdose of the solar energy that usually powers him makes perfect sense. It is not unlike the theory of free radicals: though we need oxygen to survive, it is also gradually killing us because of the aging effects of oxidation (which is why we are encouraged to consume antioxidants).

In artistic terms, All Star Superman is both free and radical in its interpretation of the Superman myth - a most intriguing spin on a familiar character.

Richard McGinlay

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