Brandon Thomas writes for Bleeding Cool
For my money, All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely is the most potent, enduring portrayal of Superman that comics has ever produced.
Everything anyone needs to know and understand about the character is explored in great depth somewhere in its twelve issues, and as storytellers, Morrison and Quitely produced some of the finest work of their long careers. And that work comes together most perfectly in the brilliantly executed tenth issue, "Neverending."
Using his last will and testament as a framing device allows Morrison to hit every single aspect one needs to truly understand and appreciate Superman. The narrative essentially covers a "day in the life" of Superman, effectively raising the bar for how epic and all encompassing his stories can (and often should) be. It is THE Superman story, an argument that can be made possible by a critical sequence at its heart that probably anyone who's ever read it can recall instantly. You know the one—
Where Superman is able to talk a suicidal girl down from a high ledge with a few wisely placed sentences, a thread that's foreshadowed in two earlier scenes with a typical Morrison flourish. His work always rewards multiple readings, or an extremely methodical first, to absorb everything that's being conveyed. The stories are always moving forward on several levels, and one of the most interesting things he did with Superman is to truly make his powers a living extension of his character. Even when he's using them, it's not always clear visually that he's using them, which is a trick that works particularly well when dealing with super-hearing. We don't necessarily "see" him overhearing an intense conversation between a man and a woman named Regan after a rescue, but when he hears the name again a few pages later, it jumps out at all of us in bolded text. And in seconds, he's right where he needs to be—
"Your doctor really did get held up, Regan. It's never as bad as it seems.
You're much stronger than you think you are. Trust me."
Classic, classic scene, and exactly what Superman is all about. Hope. Strength. Compassion. Dignity.
Talk about one scene making everything else well worth it, but there are a number of other gems, including an almost final confrontation with Lex Luthor that proves that his internal reserve of spite and hatred simply cannot be measured. And in a very clever piece of meta-commentary comes the revelation that a world without Superman will inevitably create one to protect it and inspire it.
The entire package is glorious stuff, and even a little bit intimidating, because it gets everything right and doesn't even work up a sweat doing it. It's the greatest story in a collection of great stories, and like a lot of my favorite single issues, it distills the full essence of a character into one 22-page frame, which is a tall order, no matter how easy it looks here.
More thoughts on this seminal run can be found over at my personal blog.
Hope you enjoyed this piece, and should be many more coming soon…
Brandon Thomas writes comics and writes about comics. He's written stories for Dynamite, Marvel, DC, and Arcade Comics, and co-created The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury, with artist Lee Ferguson, which is available right now from Archaia in OGN format.