There’s a wonderful moment in the midst of what, for all its huge wide screen action and spectacle, is really just a prologue for the final issue of Morrison and Quitely’s run on this book. Superman has gathered a small army of his Superman Robots to battle Solaris, The Tyrant Sun, who is gearing up to help Luthor conquer Metropolis and the rest of the Planet. Superman has spent the opening pages of this issue touring his Fortress, walking wistfully among artifacts that call back nearly every issue of the series. Charmingly disfigured animal victims of the Bizarro effect, the photo he took with Lana and Pete in Smallville, Superwoman’s costume. He knows that this is to be his final adventure, that he will never return to the Fortress, and that all these precious items must be taken care of.
As Superman sets off to do battle in his special new costume with all of his mechanical friends by his side, Morrison and Quitely shift focus, just for a panel, on the lone remaining Superman Robot, in the dark, left to care for the Fortress in Superman’s stead.
It’s yet another testament to the almost superhuman skill with which all eleven issues of this book so far have been meticulously delivered. For every spectacular moment of gravity defying action, there’s another moment of detailed tranquility. I couldn’t really tell you what kind of thematic significance any of that might have, but it’s clear that the scope of the storytelling is always helped immensely by the choices Morrison and Quitely make when it comes to the focus of their respective cameras.
As I stated earlier, this issue has some of the most (literally) Earth Shattering action in the entire series to date (Luthor Evaporates Clergyman, Superman Punches Sun, Goth Girl Lays Waste To Downtown Metropolis) and yet it feels like little more than a prologue for the inevitably gargantuan donnybrook between Luthor and Superman. Of course, even a setup issue of “All Star Superman” is better than a lot of other comics’ most significant.
It almost goes without saying at this point, but Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant’s work on this title is award winning for a reason. Quitely is nearly unparalleled in his medium when it comes to his ability to meld a wildly imaginative cartoon style with a near-molecular level eye for detail. (To the point where the reader familiar with computer imagery programs will recognize that Clark’s monitor on the cover is actually modeled after a Wacom tablet, that the pen in his hand is a Wacom stylus, and slightly behind the monitor is the stylus holder.) Another of Quitely’s many gifts is his capability as a visual storyteller. As fantastic an idea as sending a rogue Sun skittering across the streets of Metropolis is, the artwork makes you almost hear and feel every calamitous bounce in the concrete. It’s yet another example of how well suited these collaborators are to each other’s sensibilities. Another key tenet of sequential art, of course, is the rhythm of panel transition, and one need look no further than the transition from Superman lining up his final punch against Solaris right to a wide shot of a mushroom cloud ballooning over the squat buildings of downtown for an almost perfect example of it.
Last issue, which saw Superman rescuing a suicidal girl and then in turn being greatly and surprisingly assisted by her descendant hundreds of years in the future, cemented this run as one of comics’ all time best. So it’s certainly difficult to expect a follow up issue of the same weight and resonance. After all, Superman cured cancer in the final panel! While “Red Sun Day” might not reach those heights, it still stands comfortably among the other ten issues of this series as a sterling example of this medium’s visual potential, and the superhero genre’s ability to outstretch and surpass the limits of the imaginary.