Just when you think Grant Morrison can’t get any more metatextual – and this is the man who wrote Flex Mentallo and Animal Man, lest we forget – he gives us a Superman story in which the Man of Steel creates a microscopic, time-accelerated replica of Earth in order to observe the human race’s development in a world without him… and in said world, in a dingy Cleveland apartment, an artist’s hand draws Superman – the original, 1930s Superman – on a blank page. “Bravura” doesn’t cover the half of it.
This is just one of the reasons why All Star Superman wins Eisners. Why it’s the best superhero comic in years. Why it’s a comic that, hell, makes you realise why you read the damned things in the first place – that swoops down once every three months to pluck you from the despair of an industry in which Jeph Loeb can get regular work. This is, basically, what it’s all about.
And apologies for spoiling one of the best aspects of this issue, but quite frankly, I had to tell someone about it. And it’s far from the only thing that happens in it, anyway. In fact, events rattle along at breakneck pace, as the series’ underlying arc finally begins to pay off – and as Superman’s (apparent) impending death draws closer, he steps up his efforts to ensure the world will be adequately protected in his absence while still attempting to keep up with the day-to-day business of saving lives (from battling giant robots to talking down the suicidal).
One of the biggest successes of All Star Superman has been in attracting a readership that includes those who don’t usually care for the character. I wonder, though, what they’ll make of this issue – as it goes further than any before it in elevating its lead to both literal and figurative godlike status. While I’m not someone whom this would necessarily irk – as a massive fan of the character myself – where I think Morrison succeeds in making the idea fly (sorry) is that everything is done in such customarily charming fashion. And he creates a palpable sense of sorrow over the loss that the world is going to suffer – for arguably the first time, we’re really made to care, to realise that the world will be a poorer place after Superman dies.
The melancholy is made all the more powerful, too, by the sheer sense of wit and fun that has run through the increasingly far-out, “anything is possible” sci-fi concepts that drive the series. This issue sees perhaps the purest concentration so far of Morrison’s imagination pouring out onto the page, each successive idea trumping the last until, yes – we actually see a believable homage to the infamous “little Supermen shooting out of his hands” power from the ‘50s that Mozza spoke of in interviews back when the series started.
There isn’t really a lot left to say about All Star Superman as a series without endlessly retreading the same ground. It’s the product of a near limitless imagination working at the peak of its powers, allied to a sense of aesthetic wonder unmatched by any other title going (indeed, the only reason I haven’t really mentioned Frank Quitely so far is that, again, I’m not sure if there’s anything new I can say about him; save to reiterate my view that he’s the most gifted artist currently working in the industry). Even by the high standards of this series, though, the current issue is an absolute masterpiece. If you’re any sort of comics fan, you simply owe it to yourself to be reading this – how often, after all, do you get to contemporaneously experience something that people will be talking about for decades to come? Because that’s what All Star Superman is – as an advert for the craft in its current form, it has no peer. It is, quite simply, magical.