Thinking about relentless positivity reminded me of Superman. And remembering Superman reminded me of All-Star Superman, the mid-2000’s comic mini-series by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Because if it isn’t the best Superman story ever, it’s up there.
I have a bit of a mixed relationship to Superman. He’s the indisputable centre of the DC universe, but I’ve never been that much of a fan.
(Yeah, I’m a Batman kid on the DC side and a Spider-Man kid on the Marvel side, and we’ll ignore for the moment that I’m a grown man in his mid-forties no you shut up).
I’ve always fallen for the unimaginative fallacy that Superman is boring because he’s more powerful than anyone else and can’t be hurt except by the most ridiculous contrivances. To name just a few: magic, a veritable rainbow of kryptonite varietals, and the surprisingly large population of psychopathic other survivors of Superman’s doomed home planet Krypton.
Over the years I’ve grown to realise that Superman is a wonderful character not because he always wins, but because he always makes the choice to do the right thing, no matter how hard the choice is. He always puts others before himself. He never gives up hope.
All-Star Superman is a story about Superman’s death, and Lex Luthor’s victory, and how both characters choose to confront the inevitability of a world after he is gone. Superman chooses to face the end with grace and generosity, even giving his arch-enemy (and the architect of his demise) the opportunity to be as great as he always claimed he was.
(It’s as much a story about Luthor, and definitely one of the best for understanding what makes him a great villain).
Luthor reaches for an apotheosis he doesn’t deserve and cannot hold onto; he falls, of course. And Superman, though he falls – sort of – also ascends in grace and dignity, having lived as well as he can.
(It’s kind of a sad story, but to be clear, it’s not nearly as sad as the highlights make it sound. It’s also clever, and funny, the love story between Lois and Superman is touching and sweet, and the plot is full of bonkers nonsense with time travel, mad scientists and pet sun-eating monsters).
And then there’s this page, where Superman comes to a sad kid’s rescue:
…and for that page alone, All-Star Superman is what I’m going to reread this week.