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Bookends: The Life and “Death” of the Man of Steel March 6, 2012

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: The Life and “Death” of the Man of Steel

By Dan Davidson

January 25, 2012

Star, Jan. 27/12

– 820 words –

All Star Superman

Story by Grant Morrison

Art by Frank Quitely & Jamie Grant

DC Comics

Two volumes

156 pages each

$14.99 and $15.99

There have been many incarnations of Superman, the Man of Steel, ranging from the original creation by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster back in 1938 to the variation that recently ended a 10-year run on television in the series called Smallville. That was the fourth television incarnation of the character and each time there were changes in the basic story.

The most drastic changes of all have recently taken place in the entire stable of DC characters, with last fall’s introduction of what they’ve been calling “the new 52”.  DC has revamped its lineup of magazines and changed its continuity a number of times over the years, the biggest single change prior to this having been the Crisis on Infinite Earths series back in the 1980s. This seemed to lead the publisher into the habit of having major company wide, world-shaking events that changed both time and space every few years.

The most recent was something called Flashpoint, and it was the lead up to the company’s decision to cancel every one of its existing books and start all over with 52 new titles. This meant big changes for Superman, in particular.

In Action Comics, we are now following the adventures of what I’m thinking of as “Superman Lite”, a young version Clark Kent/Kal-el who is not fully powered. He has ablities pretty close to what Siegel and Shuster originally gave him. He jumps rather than flies, and can be bruised.

In the main Superman comic we are following the same fellow, but a decade or so later, when he has the full set of abilities we are used to seeing. For the last 15 years of publication, Clark has been married to Lois Lane. In this rebooted version of his life that never happened.

The events of the 12 issues of All Star Superman never happened either, though, to be fair, they must have taken place in some alternate, pre-Crisis universe to begin with. The story that Morrison chose to tell in these tales is very much a homage to the Silver Age Superman of the 1950s and 1960s and has a lot of those features.

Morrison does a number of interesting things in this mini-series. Unlike the soap opera continuity that dominates most comics these days, each issue is a discrete adventure in itself, while still contributing to a larger arc.

In the very first issue Lex Luthor carries out a scheme that he believes will ultimately result in Superman’s death. At the end of the series it does result in his having to leave Earth, but by the time we get there Morrison has tied this development into events and characters that were featured in the DC One Million event back in 1998, so long time readers will realize it’s not a permanent problem.

The pattern for the series is the 12 Labours of Hercules, and each issue features a different challenge for the Man of Steel during what he believes will be the last year of his life.

The series, which began its run in 2006, won the Eisner Award for “Best New Series” in that year, as well as “Best Continuing Series” in both 2007and 2009. It also won the Harvey Awards for “Best Artist” and “Best Single Issue” in 2008. In 2006 it won the British Eagle Award for “Favourite New Comic book” and “Favourite Comics Cover” (for the first issue), as well as the 2007 “Favourite Colour Comicbook – American” Eagle.

The Silver Age Superman is not my favorite incarnation of the character. I personally enjoy the John Byrne revision of 1986, which led to some eight years of interesting stories about a somewhat less powerful character and focussed more on Clark Kent and less on the man in the tights. Be that as it may, however, this particular mini-series was uncomplicated and fun, which is something that often cannot be said of current material.

Their setting outside any established continuity allowed Morrison to play with the character in ways that did not need to be explained and would have no permanent implications. In other words, the overall story was more like that of a stand-alone novel with a beginning, middle and end, and no concerns about having to leave space for something to happen in the next installment. There’s something satisfying about that approach.

As for the current batch of Superman comics, my internal jury is still out. I’m annoyed that my rather large collection of back issues is suddenly irrelevant, but if I could enjoy (mostly) ten years of Smallville, with all its changes to the established story, perhaps I can get to like these new books as well.




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