Written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Frank Quietly
Published by DC Comics
It’s a special week for Superman, as the big man celebrates his 75th birthday, and the trailer for the Man of Steel gets the Internet all worked up (and rightly so, it’s epic). For once I seem to be timing my interest in a character with that of the world around me and as luck would have it it’s time for me to review the best Superman comic I’ve read.
Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely are one of the best creative combinations in modern comics history, from Flex Mentallo, WE3, through to Batman & Robin they have combined to make some of the best looking and best written books around. Along with colourist Jamie Grant and with their Scottish powers combined they form like Voltron on this look at the last son of Krypton. They start things off below with the most succinct retelling of any origin story ever.
I will admit to not being a huge Superman fan, if I had to choose, then I will always choose Batman. I found the only times I enjoyed Supes were in Batman or Justice League books, in his own stuff he was…dull and predictable. The problem is he’s too powerful, no one can ever beat him, and he will always do the right thing, there never seemed to be any nuance to his character. I could appreciate him more as an archetype than in his own comics.
Lucky for me Grant Morrison had been biding his time and reading a shit ton of Superman comics. Following a plot by Lex Luthor where Superman saves an expedition to the sun, the exposure to so much solar energy has pushed his cells over the edge and they will soon begin to shut down. The story then follows Kal-El as he goes about the business of being Superman while preparing to die. He gives Lois superpowers for 24 hours as a birthday present, struggles with preparing a will, saves the world multiple times and manages to not blow his cover as Clark Kent.
Morrison gleefully throws around all the crack pot comic book science terms and ideas that Superman has accumulated over the years; Black Kryptonite, the Underverse, Solaris the Tyrant Sun. But underneath all this flash beats a strong heart, amidst the usual world saving are poignant character moments with his Dad and Lois and a beautiful page with a young Goth kid who is thinking about throwing himself off a building.
There are certain touch stones in the history of Superman, Lois, Lex Luthor, the Kents, Perry, the Daily Planet, everything gets a run here and they all ring true. Jimmy Olsen gets his own issue and he’s the bungling playboy journalist we all hoped he’d become. There are so many references to various eras of Superman, everything seems to be considered and much like he would do later with his Batman run, Morrison seems to keep all aspects of the characters’ history as part of continuity.
There is a lovely, soft, organicness to Frank Quitely’s work. How he draws Superman is magic, and the way he holds himself when posing as Clark Kent is perfect. It seems he can draw just about anything and make it look good, and the colouring is exceptional. All the bright tones make it seem like a childhood daydream. The simplicity of the panel structure plays a large part; defined borders, low panel counts and strong white gutters make the artwork pop and keep the storytelling clean and easy to follow.
It’s a struggle to even write about this one it’s that good. There are a few ways to get your hand on the 12 issues of this book, you could track down the originals, get two hardcovers like me or there is now a larger volume that collects all twelve issues, it doesn’t really matter how, just do it.
Should I buy it? If you only ever buy or read one Superman comic, this is that book. It encapsulates all the that is great and good about this iconic character, the art is amazing and the story a delight.
Next time: This week will be hard to top, and I have to keep it DC till the end of April so I will cast my eye back onto another recent favourite with amazing art. Batwoman:Elegy by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III.