Friday, July 26, 2013

Books in 2013: #20 & 21: All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Red Son by Mark Millar

Almost two months ago, I posted on here that I'd finished my first full-fledged superhero comic book. I said it in the midst of talking about other things, but most of the comments I got after that post were along the lines of, "What book?!" And I didn't want to say, because it would spoil this post. ;) However, as I was writing up my book reviews I realized I'd already read Marvel 1602, which is also a superhero comic, so maybe it wasn't quite my first. But it was my first Superman comic, so that made me happy. And since, as I've said, I'm behind on writing up these book reviews (but quickly catching up!!) I read these right before going to see Man of Steel, which gave me an interesting perspective on the film. (By the way, I should mention that in my graphic novel book club, the June book was to read anything associated with Superman, so these were my two picks.)

All-Star Superman is written by Grant Morrison, the author of the previously mentioned Supergods, which I'd completed just a couple of weeks before. The basic premise is that Superman flew too close to the sun and was poisoned by radiation so bad that his cells are dying, and he has a limited time left in which he must complete 12 labours. Each book in the collected omnibus follows him completing one of these tasks.

The book basically reads as every Superman fan's biggest highlights. Dress up Lois in a Superwoman suit and have her fly along with him. Go to the Bizarro world and stop them trying to take over Earth (by, of course, telling them to do exactly that).  Save Kandor, that tiny little version of Krypton that he's accidentally trapped in a bottle.

But it also moves on to bigger things: If we really had a Superman who could do anything, what would we want him to do as his final task? Cure cancer. Create life. Make the sun indestructible. And not die.

I thought the book was a lot of fun, and it's easy to follow even if you're not someone who grew up reading the Superman comics. I knew enough of it just from knowing the lore, and I enjoyed it a lot.

However, I liked Mark Millar's Red Son even more. The premise is simple: what if Kal-El had landed in Russia instead of Kansas, and grew up to be a stalwart of Communism rather than a saviour of capitalist US of A? It's a brilliant concept, and one that manages to explore the different Superman who emerges without casting any judgement on either side. It's a brilliant alternative universe story, one where Lex Luthor, a scientific genius in the US, sees the emergence of "the Superman" as the not-so-secret weapon of Russia (in Russia, Kal doesn't have to create the Clark Kent secret identity, and is used instead as a government weapon), and thinks to himself, "Dammit, if only the Superman had landed here instead, I have no doubt we'd have been great friends!" Ha!

Beautifully illustrated (I really liked the artwork in All-Star Superman but loved it in Red Son), this is the one I'd recommend more, although both books were a lot of fun to read.


MikeP said...

Nikki!! I'm so glad you read All-Star Supes, it's one of my favorites (Kingdom Come is pretty amazing too). All-Star is pretty much a love letter to what makes Superman fun and cool, pretty much since his inception. It does a great job of covering various eras in Supes history encapsulating exactly what the character is all about.

Red Son is pretty awesome too, a different take on the character, definitely, but another of my favorites.

I would definitely suggest Kingdom Come, and also The Death of Superman.

I think if you read those as well as All-Star, you'd see my point about Man of Steel in a new light.

Graeme said...

It's funny, I can't stand Mark Millar and I didn't think Red Son was all that... but you're not the first non-superhero person who has commented to me that the loved Red Son. There must be a quality to it that really connects with the non-comics reader.

I'm a big Superman fan, but I have to say Red Son and All-Star are the big high watermarks for collected works. If you were to try out the characer again I'd go to the first volume Superman Chronicles and read the original version from 1938.

Dusk said...

I've also heard Superman: Birthright is supposed to be a great take on his origin, even for non-comic book readers. It was written by Mark Waid who tore into Man of Steel calling it "disaster porn". That may give you insight into the side of people who really didn't like the movie.

Dusk said...

Apparently it has the emotional beats and outlook the movie completely missed or deliberately ignored.

C. David Milles said...

I actually read Red Son this summer for the first time, and I really enjoyed it. It was interesting to think about the whole "what if" concept. I especially liked the finale. So often, books end with something that isn't a great payoff, but I felt that Red Son had a great payoff. I'll need to read All Star Superman and Kingdom Come sometime. If you're interested in some of the history behind the character and the creators, check out Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero by Larry Tye. I found it a fascinating, detailed read.

Austin Gorton said...

I've actually never read Red Son. It's been on to-read list for awhile, but I've never gotten around to it.

All Star Superman (or ASS, a perfectly apt abbreviation destined to trigger giggles), on the other hand, I've read and really enjoyed. It's probably the last Morrison comic I read where I enjoyed it as much as the rest of the internet, mainly because there was a strong enough surface level story that you could enjoy it without having to dive in and figure out all the kooky Morrisonian metatextual stuff he puts into all his stories.