Comic Books are Awesome, But All-Star Superman is Confusing as Hell

To begin, I’ve never really been a Superman fan. It’s hard for me. I try, I really do. And I understand the importance of Superman, both historically and presently, as the flagship of DC Comics. There is no denying that he is the original superhero, and still the most recognizable figure in comics today. That’s not easy to do, and it’s a position I doubt he will ever be relieved from.

So what’s the deal? I grew up in a very rocky time for Superman fans, especially young ones. When I was 11 years old, Superman died. He died! They killed him, and everyone really thought that would be the end. I remember reading those issues, borrowed from friends and libraries. It was sad, it was shocking, it was over.

And then he came back, and there were these alternate Supermen, there were different dimensional story lines, there was that electric blue version, I couldn’t figure it out. Superman has always been a character whose involvement with space and time has perplexed me. And what perplexes me usually turns me off after a while. It’s like DC does these Infinite Earth series, I just can’t wrap my head around it. This is probably why my favorite comic book hero is still, and always will be, Batman. Sorry Supes, you’re just too much hero for me.

So recently, I picked up All-Star Superman, about four years late to be sure, but no one has ever accused me of being timely with these posts. I have enjoyed a lot of writer Grant Morrison’s work, albeit except when he gets all confusing like in Countdown and that nonsense, and I had heard that this was a re-imagining of the character in a timeless and classic sense. So, I figured this was a Superman story I could get into, the classic characters and amazing adventures without all the muck of this or that storyline.

Well, forget all that. All Star Superman is one of the most confusing convoluted comics I have ever come across. It zips around almost incoherently sometimes, and though hints of classic Superman moments exist, they are largely dropped in favor of a plot that introduces elements completely beyond my mere imagination of the character. Let’s look at Volume One (issues 1-6).

We start with a simple, four panel, eight word backstory, my favorite kind. If I have to sit through one more origin story of Superman, I might scream. While Morrison’s writing is precise and direct, Frank Quitely’s art is even more so a clear and dramatic focus of events. Right off the bat, we get maybe one of the best artistic works of Superman ever created.

The art throughout this book is stunning, simplistic yet effective, probably the best part of the series. And with Jamie Grant’s impressive coloring, and Phil Balsman’s elegant lettering, it’s never a chore to look at. Unfortunately, I don’t really know what I’m looking at half the time.

The story begins at the Sun, where Lex Luthor has sabotaged a spacecraft attempting to collect some of the star’s, um, power? Juice? Whatever? Superman saves the day, but the extreme radiation and intensity of the solar rays, which are what gives Supes all these powers in the first place, has sort of overloaded his system. Yikes.

He’s got more powers, and less weaknesses-just what he needed I’m sure- but is said to be dying, slowly and ironically as it were, and this is evidently Luthor’s plan all along. Smart guy. So Superman is dying, the scientist who he saved is trying to figure out how to A) save him, and B) create other super powered beings in case he can’t, Lex is going to jail for crimes against humanity, and Lois Lane’s got a birthday coming up. Busy fucking first issue folks.

Then we get into the most eye rollingly ridiculous plot line I’ve ever come across. Superman once again tells Lois that he’s really Clark Kent (duh!) and she doesn’t believe him! Why are we still going on this track? It was played out in the movies over thirty years ago. They’ve been married in the comics, she’s found out his identity dozens of times. Get over this whole thing please.

They go to his fortress of solitude and he’s acting all weird right? Secret rooms, dwarf star keys (sheesh, he’s strong, we get it) and leaving Lois alone to wander around his new time telescope. ( It lets him talk to his Super successors, those who come after him, like Kal Kent the Man of Steel…of Tomorrow. What original names we have here. )

There’s so much useless junk in this fortress, it’s a wonder he can get around, genetic libraries, phantom zone map rooms, the freakin’ Titanic! There’s even a point where Superman looks at this mirror and  goes “Mirror of truth, huh?” Even he doesn’t believe all the shit Morrison’s stuffed in there!

And not only that, but Superman gives Lois, for her birthday, not the truth about his dying or anything meaningful but a vial of Super soda that grants her his powers for 24 hours. So they can go on a Super date I assume. Aaaand, not only that, but she gets her own Super skimpy suit, so he’s not the only jackass in tights. Look at this.

I swear I almost put the book down at this point. Really. I was laughing at the stupidity of the whole thing to a point where I just couldn’t take it seriously. For me, comics ( and actually any story out there) need to at least have some semblance of a grounded reality to play off of. Even a sliver, even a speck. So when a Super Sphinx comes about or a future version of Superman, the unknown Superman nonetheless, asks who J.Lo was, it kind of destroys the character and story for me.

I mean at this point it’s too much, and we’re only three issues in. There’s no build up to this, no explanations, it’s all hanky. We jump around to different points waaay too quickly, waaay too briefly. For example, we have a single issue story of an Evil Superman, when Superman is exposed to something called Black Kryptonite (which seems kind of racist, no?) and Jimmy Olson injecting himself with something that turns him into Doomsday to fight him?

The Hell is going on? It’s like a bunch of Superman stories that would boggle even the most hyperactive, attention deficit of comic fans. I can’t keep up with this. There’s an underverse, there’s a 5th dimension Superman, there’s bizarro infra-technicians and worker drones, there’s a measurement of 200 quintillion tons, there’s genetically modified suicide bombs in human form. And it’s all just so, I can’t , why did, who’s zit, what’s zit, AAAAUUUGGHH.

My brain just broke. Thanks a lot Superman.

What do you think Batman would have to say about this comic?





Filed under Comic Books Are Awesome

2 responses to “Comic Books are Awesome, But All-Star Superman is Confusing as Hell

  1. Gmo

    good lord, i hope you don’t breed. Your confusion is your brain telling you that.

  2. Jennifer

    Exactly right.

    I wouldn’t call this run successful under Morrison’s terms, of creating “timeless issues” that draw on the best aspects of Superman of all eras. There is just far too much silliness in these stories and as you say, it doesn’t hang together at all well.

    Capable writers naturally cringe at ridiculous Silver Age bullshit… like a time-traveling Superman of the year 85,000 who shows up in the 20th century to chase what appears to be the Flying Spaghetti Monster gone evil.

    But Grant Morrison says “mmmm, yummy bullshit!” and spoons it deliberately into his writing. The more, the better.

    So I can’t call the series brilliant or mythical or any of that. I would sooner call it an effective recreation of Curt Swan’s Superman, but set in the present… as if there had been little change between 1963 and the current era except in shallow ways, like hairstyles or digital technology. It’s an original idea, but let’s not call it satisfying or brilliant. It’s not.

    Actually, I like Frank Quitely’s art a lot more than Morrison’s writing. *That’s* what really seems fresh and original.

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