Rockstar Superman, Rock On!
All-Star Superman #12
Superman In Excelsis by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely
Superman is my all-time favorite comic character. Reading his adventures as a young boy taught me how to be a hero. Whether or not I actually live up to those ideals regularly is debatable, but I think I end up in the mostly heroic column more often than not. A lot of people criticize Superman for several different reasons. Some say he's overpowered. He's unrelatable. He and his supporting cast are boring. I think the people that criticize him don't understand all of the potential that he really holds.
I think most of the criticisms are the true strengths of Superman. For everyone who says he's overpowered, that just brings up more of a challange for the writers. How do you take a guy who can pretty much withstand anything and make him interesting? What sort of challenges do you have to come up with that will both be believable and entertaining? The writers that have tried to answer those questions over the years are the ones that have been able to dream up the larger-than-life stories that Superman deserves.
These writers typically stay further away from the "Super" and focus fare more on the "man." This is what makes him relatable. He has desires and dreams of his own and has to balance that with his other responsibilities. How is that not relatable? It's exploring those relationships and individual dynamics that create stories that could never be considered boring.
I'm not going to try to convince you that every Superman story ever is worthwhile. Yes, some of the people that have worked with him over the years should be boiled in a vat of guano (I particularly feel that way about Chuck Austen). But some guys really get the influence and majesty that the character can embody.
One of these guys is Grant Morrison. That's another name in comics that very often conjures controversy. He came to fame working on some lesser-known books, mostly by Vertigo. His stories are way out there, even taxing my superior comic analysis powers. That early stuff led to some higher-profile work on superhero books, including Batman, The Authority, and X-Men. Some people love him, some people hate him. I have simultaneously loved and hated him, wanting to cook him in hot oil, but then sprinkle him with powdered sugar like a donut hole.
I saw an interview with Morrison from Comic-Con '08 where he was talking about how he approaches writing Superman. He views Superman as a god who thinks he's a man, whereas Lex Luthor, his polar opposite, is a man who thinks he's a god. He starts with that premise and uses the people around Superman to define and shape him.
With All-Star Superman, Morrison did a bit of a reboot with Superman. The project was meant to be something that anyone with a basic knowledge of Superman could just pick up and start reading, thus avoiding having to read 70 years of continuity. The series ended with #12, which came out this week. You can find collections of the first six issues already, and there will probably be a hardcover collection of the whole thing in the next few months.
If you were ever thinking of reading a Superman story, this should be it. For one, it stands on its own, like I said, so you don't have to worry about what came before or anything after. Two, it really examines several different facets of the character. Three, it has cool art. Some people might disagree with that, as they think that Frank Quitely's drawings are gross. He does have a tendency to make everyone a little too frumpy and big-chinned, but I consider it distinctive. Anyone who thinks differently is obviously not as smart or as handsome as me. I think more people agree with me than don't, as the title received an Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series. The Eisners are the comic industry equivalent of the Academy Award, but without the taint of Hollywood douchebaggery.
Who should read this book:
People who like their superheroes to be larger than life.
People who want to read a new take on a classic character.
People who have on more than one occasion stuffed jalapeño poppers with crab-stuffed mushrooms.