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Reconstructing the Icon - All-Star Superman

Written by Keb Ellis on Saturday, October 11 2008 and posted in Features

Superman comes from the Golden Age, right? He was created in 1938, making him 70 years old. Over those seventy years he's become an American pop culture icon. If you see the big red S on someone's chest you think Superman.

So when DC released All Star Superman, it was without a doubt that it was going to have to push limits and barriers and redefine what Superman stands for. Does it? I'm not entirely sure, but I know one thing: it's a new way of looking at a 70 year old idea.

When I heard Grant Morrison was on board, I had no doubts that it would be something cool. There's something about Morrison writing Superman that just ultimately clicks. I learned that from Morrison's run on JLA. He understands Superman's icon status and plays to the Superman mythos. He's uber-powerful and can do just about anything. But what's most important is that Morrison knows how much fun the character was originally supposed to be.

When you take Superman out of the DCU Universe, take him away from his responsibilities to the JLA, remove him from all the continuity-fucking that has been DC for the last however many years, you get at the core, a very fun way of seeing and age-old icon.

When it comes to Superman stories, I can't say there are any that I absolutely love. There are a few I've read and enjoyed, but given my dislike for escapism in literature, I naturally loathe Superman. Face it, the character is old, he represents morals from a previous generation. That generation was proven to be wrong just like every generation before it. We (or at least I) don't need the didactics and the simplistic black and white morals that come with Golden Age comics. I want to see human ethics challenged and characters make decisions that will destroy their minds. I want hardcore realism!

But there's something about reading All Star Superman that really kills everything about what I want. The thing is it doesn't burn me like one might expect it to. I like it.

When I open up an issue, there's a perverse escapism that leaps out as I read each panel. Quitely's art, Morrison's stories, they don't create hyper-realism. The art is bright and cartoon-like, it's (dare I say) fun! All the action in the story leaps out at me and my eyes devour each panel of the story like Greedy Gustave eating birthday cake. It's like I'm a kid again, but not a kid from the late eighties/early nineties, reading his brother's comics. No, it's more like I'm a kid in 1938 picking up Action Comics number one and reading it at school, at home, on the bus, where ever, marveling in awe at the images and the words that are jumping out of the page and into my brain. It's not reliving the moment, but rather a feeling of cyclical experience, things happening over again, and with the medium, the narrative evolves. I like to think it's like a human collective of experience, and Morrison and Quitely manage to reach down deep into it and pull out all those old elements of the fantastical with All Star Superman.

While All Star Superman takes us back to a much more innocent age, and re-installs an old icon in his basic roots, I find it does a fantastic job of progressing science-fiction with the character. Superman is at his most powerful, and at the same time, his weakest and most vulnerable. There are no real cliff-hangers to any of the issues, they're all self-contained but the overall plot and the zany creations really keep readers on their toes with "What's going to happen next?" and "What new device will Superman think of now?" It's a really interesting way to reconstruct the icon.

All Star Superman will be remembered because Morrison makes it fun! He's brought Superman back to a time when comics were innocent and we could all enjoy them for what they were: an escape from reality.

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