Review: All-Star Superman, Vol. 2

Title: All Star Superman, Vol. 2

Author: Grant Morrison

Illustrator: Frank Quitely

Rating: 

Publisher: DC Comics

Review:

Grant Morrison continues his All Star Superman series in this second collection. I find the premise of the series fascinating, but unfortunately the stories contained in this volume left me a little disappointed.

Superman, due to overexposure to the sun, finds himself with greater powers than he ever had. These super superpowers come at a cost — Superman’s body is deteriorating and he is on a clock until death. Keeping the all star tradition, Superman fights against a variety of common foes who will do anything and everything to succeed before the world is without their man of steel.

In this volume, Superman travels to the Bizarro planet where he meets the alternate reality of himself. But this time, due to a genetic mutation, his altered persona is a genius among dolts. He goes by the name Zibarro and like Superman, longs to get off of the planet whose gravity is too powerful to fly off of.

In another story arc, Superman encounters Bar-El and Lilo, the first astronauts from the planet Krypton. They find themselves on Earth ready to build a new Krypton — the very planet Superman now serves to protect.

The last notable story arc is of Lex Luthor, who before facing the electric chair, formulates a concoction that will give him Superman-like powers. Superman must use his final hours on Earth to protect Earth from its greatest villain.

I’ll admit that my knowledge of Superman is restricted to the movies and a handful of comic books, so there may be some key elements of the story I am missing. I hold Morrison’s comic skills in high regards. The series is definitely worth a read and it brings an enjoyable twist to the famed Superman storyline. Where it fell a little flat for me was with the characters. Lex Luthor is fittingly brought back for a final battle with Superman, but instead of becoming an All Star of wits, he becomes a physical threat. I would have much rather seen Lex’s final attack include a great diabolic scheme including technology or kryptonite than some magic potion that makes him an evil Superman. We were also introduced to his neice, Nasthalthia, who is an intriguing character, but left very little of the spotlight. The thing I liked about this story, however, was that as Lex Luthor’s powers dissipated, he had a epiphany, suddenly understanding the forces that drive Superman’s psyche.

The story of the Bizarro planet is easily the strongest story arc of this volume, even if the strange opposite language is at times difficult to understand. Given the short amount of pages to build up each story, it seemed a little rushed as Superman was thrust onto the cubic planet and then had to seek his escape. I really enjoyed the twist of having a sympathetic character in Zibarro, who seeks to be a part of an enlightened people. Particularly fun was the Unjustice League, returning a Bizarro Green Lantern, Batman, and Flash to assist in Superman’s plan.

Overall, All-Star Superman was an enjoyable read and interesting take on the legendary superhero. It is an absolute essential for Superman fans and despite its flaws, it is a fun comic for the casual reader.

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Review: We3 by Grant Morrison

Title: We3

Author: Grant Morrison

Illustrator: Frank Quitely

Rating: 

Publisher: Vertigo

Review:

Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely are a pair that few can match in comics. Each is brilliant in their art and their collaboration on We3 renders a beautifully crafted story. As one can gather from the cover, We3 is about a trio of animals who have been technologically altered by the military to be covert killing machines. When a fourth generation weaponized dog becomes available, the We3 project is shut down and the animals are ordered to be terminated. Conscious of their demise, a dog (formerly called Bandit and now referred to as #1), cat (Tinker/#2), and rabbit (Pirate/#3) escape in a desperate attempt for their lives.

Morrison is effective in instilling an emotional response in the reader — even when the protagonists are pets in armored mech suits. Through technological advancements, the animals are able to speak in a rudimentary, computerized English that gives them a human quality that gives them greater value than the average family pet. Like Orwell’s Animal Farm, the animals in Morrison’s tale convey a much deeper meaning — the corruption of politics and the effect of war on the individual.

Each animal in We3 has a distinct personality. #1 (dog) always wants to be good, #2 (cat) is distrusting of the others, and #3 (rabbit) is a more finicky creature who often scampers away from the pack. These personalities are not by chance and show that even with the military’s tampering, the true sense of who they are remains intact.

After an escape from the military facility, the animals seek to go home. Each animal was once a stolen pet, but as the story reveals, home for them is not just a physical return to their owner’s house. Going home is as much a quest to biologically restore their former selves. The secret of these animal killing machines will ruin political careers and there is no limit to what the government will do to ensure that their project does not become public.

I absolutely love Frank Quitely’s artwork — he has a great sense of perspective and he makes excellent use of focus in several of his pictures. There is a very subtle sense of emotion that is conveyed even in the eyes of the characters without forcing the pictures to be drawn with realism.

I expect We3 is a comic I will read many times over. There are so many little gems that I remain curious over. I wonder if the reference to Updike’s Rabbit, Run had a deeper meaning than just a clever homage. Rabbit Angstrom and #3 bear similarities in fleeing the life society carved out for them and the heart-wrenching death that surrounds it.

I really don’t have a lot more to say other than Grant and Frank — wonderful work.

Review: All Star Superman #1 by Grant Morrison

Title: All Star Superman

Author: Grant Morrison

Illustrator: Frank Quitely

Rating: 

Publisher: DC Comics

Review:

I was unsure of what to expect when I first picked up this novel. After all, it is Superman, who to me often seems a little too invincible. Add to that the premise of the novel that Superman, in attempting to save a group of astronauts from being scorched by the sun, is overloaded with radiation, giving him magnified powers. Only Lex Luthor knows that secretly his cells are dying inside due to the overexposure.

What attracted me to the novel was Grant Morrison, who really is a brilliant writer. This is a fun series — Lois Lane gets super powers for a day; Superman is exposed to black Kryptonite, making him evil (and a little dim-witted); and as Clark Kent, has an opportunity to interview Lex Luthor in the penitentiary (that predictably goes awry).

Superman is still iconic in the novel, but is not the Christ-like savior depicted in most Superman scripts. His powers are not used to save the world in any point in the novel, but to win Lois’s affection and when turning evil, to attack Jimmy Olsen. I wasn’t particularly fond of the knightly contest with Atlas and Samson to win Lois (it seemed somewhat absurd and dated), but most of the story left a smile on my face.

Frank Quitely’s artwork is truly superb. With very few lines, the emotion of each character leaps out of the page. Lois is truly stunning. The depiction of Clark Kent is brilliant as well — his superhero physique hidden beneath his suit gives him an almost pudgy appearance.

Lex Luthor’s character is (as typical) a bit one-dimensional, focused solely on destroying Superman. He is not able to figure out that Clark Kent is Superman, even though he compares their builds and also notices that they have the same eyebrows. I suppose that just adds to the mythos that is Superman — even Lois Lane was flabbergasted to find out his true identity.

All Star Superman is a fun read for those who want a departure from gritty, dark comics, without being juvenile. I am excited to read the second volume to conclude the series.

 

 

Review: Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison

Title: Arkham Asylum: Serious House on Serious Earth

Author: Grant Morrison

Illustrator: Dave McKean

Rating: 

Publisher: DC Comics

Format: Paperback

Review:

This is my first graphic novel review, so I hope you will bear with me. For those who familiar with the title, I know what you are thinking — are you crazy? This is not the place to start. As far as Batman goes, it is so far from traditional that it might not even be canon.

Well, perhaps you are right, but alas — here is my review anyway.

I have always been drawn to Batman. Even with the earliest representations and quirky gadgets, there was always a dark side of Batman waiting to be unveiled. He was orphaned by a ruthless killer and finds his abode in the confines of a deep cave. He is covered with a mask, hiding his true identity from the world. He dresses in black and has an affinity toward bats. Despite his inner struggle, there is a will to do good — to make a positive mark on the world.

Arkham Asylum takes a different look at Batman than traditional comics. This is not a plot-based adventure story, but rather a psychological nightmare filled with symbolism. The novel begins with an introduction to the journal of Amadeus Arkham, the founder and later, a patient of Arkham Asylum — a mental facility for Gotham’s most deranged criminals.

The scene then shifts to the commissioner’s office, where Batman arrives to receive a telephone call from the Joker. There has been an uprising in the asylum and the patients have now taken control of the facility and are holding the workers hostage. The Joker has one last request — for Batman to come to the madhouse.

The Asylum houses the Joker, Two-Face, the Mad Hatter, Scarecrow, Killer Croc, and Clayface, among others. Batman is not drawn into a battle of fists and bat-weapons, but a battle of the mind. The Joker lures Batman to rediscover his childhood trauma and confront his inner struggles.

Batman is not a superhero in this novel. He is merely the subject of a psychological horror. All of his deepest fears are manifested in the villains he faces. The artwork is disturbingly beautiful and the shadows and abstractness of the characters enhance the dream-like quality of the story.

One of the most intriguing characters is Two-Face. When he arrived at the hospital, he used a two-faced coin to make his decisions. The doctors took away his coin and gave him a six-sided die, then a deck of tarot cards to further broaden his available set of choices, but the therapeutic strategy left him incapable of even deciding to use the toilet to go to the bathroom. When Batman is confronted with Two-Face, he begins to wonder if his actions brought them to this level of insanity. The Mad Hatter Reveals that the asylum is Batman’s head and that the villains are him (figuratively, but did he create them literally in some way too?).

The Joker acts not as the antagonist, but as a discovery character. He leads Batman through the asylum on a journey to uncover the truth of his character. In a brilliant exchange, one of the characters tells the Joker, “I say we take off his mask. I want to see his real face.” The Joker replies, “Oh, don’t be so predictable, for Christ’s sake. That is his real face. And I want to go much deeper than that. I want him to know what it’s like to have sticky fingers pick through the dirty corners of his mind.”

The novel is dark and atypical of most Batman stories, but I found it to be a rewarding read. The subtle nature of the ending is satisfying, where Batman places his trust not on fortune, but on the demons confronting him. The imagery is graphic and Batman fittingly remains in the shadows throughout the novel. Not only does he remain masked, but his face is largely a silhouette in most of the panels. Even the lettering (particularly the Joker’s) contributes to the feel of the macabre madhouse.

Overall, I found this graphic novel to be a haunting, but beautiful portrait. Perhaps it went a bit far in places (likening Batman to Christ as he identifies himself as “just a man” and dwelling on Batman’s mommy issues). But I much prefer experimental works such as this to be overreaching than failing to go for it. Even though the images are gruesome, they must be absorbed to truly understand the story. This is not a novel to race through, but to be partaken slowly — one agonizing bite after the other.