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A Schizophrenic Take on All Star Superman

by  in Comic News Comment
A Schizophrenic Take on All Star Superman

All Star Superman is an excellent comic. All Star Superman is an underwhelming comic. All Star Superman is one of the best comics being published today, and I look forward to its sporadic publication. All Star Superman isn’t good enough. All Star Superman is a comic of which I have strong opinions about. I have no idea how I feel about All Star Superman.

So, yeah, I’m pretty conflicted about All Star Superman. I enjoy it, but not with the origiastic glee that some folks seem to. I always have a nagging feeling after I finish each issue that I didn’t like it as much as I wanted to, that I was underwhelmed. And yet, after I’ve had time to let the contets of the issue really sink in (or have a chance to read it again)  I generally like more than I did on first blush. I guess I’m not used to anything less than instant gratification from my favorite comics.

Which is probably why I can’t quite bring myself to think of it as one of my favorites. I don’t get the same exhilirating experience out of it that I do from, say, Casanova or Nextwave or anything else I’ve been enjoying more in single issues lately. But I think it’s a better comic; it has more meat on its bones than Nextwave, which for all its frenticism is pretty shallow (and intentionally so), and it’s just a more polished product than Fraction and Ba are capable of at this stage in their careers, or at least their partnership; after all, Morrison and Quitely have been working together for what, ten years?

I think a big part of my mixed emotions toward the comic come from the creative team involved. If it was anyone else, well, I probably wouldn’t be reading a Superman ongoing. Even Darwyn Cooke and Tim Sale can’t get me to buy Superman Confidential in single issues. But Morrison and Quitely are one of my favorite creative tandems in comics, and are responsible for reawkening my passion for the medium with their run on New X-Men. The first issue of theirs that I read made a huge impression on me; it was one of those “wow, they can make comics like this?” kind of moments. So I’ve had huge, unfair, completely unrealistic expectations for their subsequent collaborations since that issue blew my mind, and neither we3 nor ASS, as good as they are, have been able to meet them, and probably never will, because that was such a once in a life time, revelatory experience (all of this discounts Flex Mentallo, which I don’t plan on reading until I have a full set. I’m lacking one issue. So it could be awhile).

This ramble leads me to the latest issue of ASS (I know there’s a better acronym for this book out there somewhere), #6. It’s probably the best issue so far; since I felt the same way about the last issue, it leads me to believe that Morrison and Quitely may be moving toward fully meeting those damned ridiculous expectations.

This issue exhibits the usual level of craft you would expect from a Morrison/Quitely joint*. All of the nuts and bolts storytelling excellence you’d expect from these two is on display, and as always, there are some truly breathtaking images from Quitely and Jamie Grant. Morrison’s script has the usual combination of strong plotting, absurd humor, and trademark “mad ideas”** you’d come to expect. There’s also some mad nepotistic continuity going on here, but since I liked DC 1,000,000 (and you don’t have to have read it to get what’s going on in this issue), I didn’t mind it. I am a hypocrite on these things, though. But really, how can you not love the 5th Dimension Superman? He’s one of those awesome characters that Morrison creates as an afterthought, which is both one of the main appeals of his work to me and one of the things that can make it frustrating (because he casts off all these killer ideas and does little to nothing with them because he’s on to the next thing).

What made this issue the best of the bunch so far, however, has to be its emotional core. Morrison handles the by now hoary old “Young Superman goes back to Smallville” story by covering all the bases without making it feel tired or perfunctory. I also thought he handled the major “event” of the issue wonderfully; not just the time travelling and other fantastic elements you’d expect him to excell at, but the very real, human scenes at Pa Kent’s funeral. The whole “three minutes out of your life” thing was one of those emotional punches in the gut moments that stays with you, too.

And yet… as much as I enjoyed this issue, I still can’t quite love this comic as wholeheartedly as I’d like to. Without a doubt, it’s beyond good comics, worthy of all the praise it gets; worth reading more than once, up there with the best takes on the character, and its one of the best uses of the single issue format currently being produced. It just can’t entirely overcome the subjective hurdles I’ve placed in front of it, as objectively superlative as it is. That’s my problem, though, not Morrison and Quitely’s, and I’ll be back for the next episode, no matter how long that takes and how much that uncontent feeling keeps nagging me.

*- I wonder if anyone but Spike Lee can legally call their work that if they aren’t a rapper?

**- Has Morrison trademarked that phrase? Because he’s the only comics writer whom it’s used in relation to.

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