Monday, June 10, 2013

Supermarathon: All-Star Superman

Thanks to what's looking to be a busy week, this is the last installment of the Supermarathon as I'm booked pretty solid until Thursday night.  I hope I did us proud.

All-Star Superman adapts the 12 issue series that ran unevenly for years back when DC was playing havoc with schedules and you never really knew when a comic was coming out.  The art and story were worth it, and both were savaged at the time of the series' start, with the usual complaints about Morrison's writing drawing confusion and fans of the Jim Lee or Kubert school of illustration baffled by the stylized work of Frank Quitely.

You can view the film at Netflix Streaming.

No sooner than the series ended than word leaked that this comic was truly something unique, and - in what I've since come to simply expect when it comes to Superman - be it this comic or early reactions to Man of Steel, its fascinating to see the audience react to the core of the character and ask "why isn't the character usually like this?" or "where did this come from?" to ideas that were 40-50 years old at the time of the comic's publication.

That said, it took Morrison's storytelling and the voice he imbued in Superman and Luthor to make the series shine.  And, I'd argue, it took the clear, concise, character-driven storytelling of Dwayne McDuffie to take the comic and turn it into a movie that works despite the strange, episodic nature of the narrative.

For those who haven't read the comic, I won't bore you with what was cut to make the movie.  The DC Animation team managed to keep most of the story in place to keep the relevant bits intact and maintain the core of the story, even if its heart-breaking to know what might have been.  They also managed to keep much of the look of the comic, something I thought impossible, even if the 16x9 dimensions occasionally lose the impact of Quitely's page design.

One of the curious challenges of Superman fandom over the years has been the insistence of the person who feels obligated to inform you (sometimes repeatedly) why the fictional construct of Superman is a fraud.  It's not just confined to comic shops, it pops up in articles in odd places whenever Superman gets a little media exposure, and it happens in a way that no other superhero really brings down on their fictional head.  Nobody waits for a Batman movie to come out to begin criticizing Batman's self-appointed mission of vigilante justice to preserve a world that's safer for billionaire children, but anyone who read a comic since 1982 pops up pointing out that Superman didn't earn his powers (because the X-Men, Captain America, Spider-Man, Hulk, Thor did?  And Batman earned his billions?) and that he's too good - which is supposed to be a little revolting.

The movie, which opens with Lex Luthor attempting to murder Superman, is a long game between Lex Luthor and Superman as Lex attempts to kill Superman even as Superman tries, clear through the end of the film, to reach Lex Luthor and ask him to be the man he claims he could be if Superman were not in the world stifling the place for man's potential.

It's not an overt swipe at the arguments made by pop columnists trying to make a buck with a catchy column, but it does pit the perspective of Luthor's cynicism directly against the idealism of Superman's worldview, leading to the film's climax and resolution.  Like all good villains, its not impossible to see Lex's viewpoint, and even take a shine to Morrison's take on the character which feels better thought out than most of what passed for Lex during the first ten years of "tycoon Luthor" combined.

It's a movie that actually takes joy in looking at how different Superman's worldview might be, from his portrayal of Clark Kent and how that fits in with his life, to the epic scale of his everyday life within the Fortress of Solitude to how he sees...  everything (literally).

The Superman of this movie isn't one to force his viewpoint on anyone, he's here to give everyone the chance to see the world differently and provide an opportunity for change.

It's also, likely, the most romantic take on Superman since Superman: The Movie insisted on a musical number half-way through.  It makes you wonder what would have become of the Lois of the Superman comics had Mark Waid and Morrison's pitch for Superman Now been accepted (the work Morrison cannibalized for All-Star) as the Lois of the film (voiced with the right amount of pep by the lovely-even-when-you-can't-see-her Christina Hendricks) is a worthy object of interest for Superman and clearly the best journalist at The Daily Planet.  She even writes the headlines before the story finishes unfolding, determining the outcome before the story wraps up.  This is a Lois who can do what others can't and see the world through Superman's eyes and not be entirely surprised by what he sees that informs his character.

We do get the whole cast of the Planet, from a Perry White voiced by Ed Asner to Jimmy, Cat Grant and Steve Lombard, all firing on all cylinders.

The movie is comprised of shorts stories culled from the 12 issue series, and its only in the gestalt of all of the ideas combined that we get to step back and appreciate both the clockwork of the storytelling, but also the ideas and impact leading to a complete story and the ideas about Superman that the team was trying to convey.  It makes you really miss Dwayne McDuffie.

To me, the film and comic marks the end of an era of Superman that never really existed - perhaps an epilogue to what we thought ended with Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?   It's one more look at a closing chapter for The Man of Steel, and perhaps a fitting way to wrap things up in preparation for what may be the new conception of Superman with this summer's Man of Steel.

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