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‘Absolute All-Star Superman’ Gets a New Cover and a Chip Kidd Intro

In honor of Wednesday’s release of “Superman” #700, the DC Universe Blog is celebrating a week devoted entirely to the Man of Steel, and today, they’re taking a look at what is probably — and by that I mean definitely — the best Superman story of the past 20 years: Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s “All-Star Superman.”

The twelve-issue series gets the deluxe Absolute format treatment this fall, and in addition to showing off a super-huge version of Quitely’s new cover, they’ve also given us an early look at the fantastic introduction by designer Chip Kidd, who created the “All Star” series’ logos and trade dress:

NO TIME TO LOSE.

A journey into the heart of the Sun. A devastating diagnosis. A kiss on the Moon. Twelve mythic labors. The ultimate sacrifice.

Superman.

What if The Man of Steel were dying? Really, truly dying-and not in the rock’em-sock’em Doomsday fight-to-the-death manner-but slowly and privately, as you or I might, from what amounts to a fatal cancer. What does the most powerful being on the planet do with the precious little time he has left?

This is the question that master comics writer Grant Morrison, illustrator Frank Quitely and digital artist Jamie Grant explore in this book. And the unforgettable answer is glorious four-color proof that with enough talent, skill and ingenuity even one of the most familiar and endlessly chronicled folk heroes of the last seven decades can be reinvented to make readers fall in love with him and his world all over again.

And yet “reinvent” really isn’t the right term. Yes, all of the familiar tropes (along with the obscure, delightfully geeky ones) are here: The Daily Planet, Lois Lane, Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, Bizarro, Ma and Pa Kent, the Fortress of Solitude, Krypto the Superdog, and of course, the fiendish Lex Luthor.

But here they seem reawakened, as if Morrison and Co. have somehow snapped their fingers and presto: all of the characters are now the very essence of what makes them great, without becoming clichés. Perry, every bit the crank, is also the epitome of integrity in journalism; Jimmy is a goofball, but nonetheless a paragon of loyalty, enthusiasm and especially quick thinking; Lois is as independent and unattainable to Clark as ever, but as Superman’s girlfriend she’s living proof that Wonder Woman doesn’t stand a chance. And Lex is pure evil, but with great swaggering style and a thoroughly reasoned rationale for what he’s doing-we don’t really root for him, but we understand all too well where he’s coming from. And then there is the book’s original creation, Professor Leo Quintum. With his P.R.O.J.E.C.T.S. laboratory complex on the moon, he is the comics’ Silver Age incarnate, his intellect exploding with science-fictional inventions such as the Anaerobic Meganthropes, Nanonauts and the Infinitesimal Yoctosphere. Leo is the Virgil to Superman’s Dante, his guide to the fatal underworld of Apoptosis (solar radiation poisoning) he now inhabits. For it is in saving Leo’s manned mission to the sun at the very start of the story that all that follows is set in motion.

Much has already been written about the work you hold in your hands, and certainly there will be more. Chapter (issue) ten alone is worthy of a doctoral Lit thesis on narrative construction and causal connectivity in fiction. The entire series is so carefully constructed that even after dozens of readings I still find new connections that I hadn’t noticed-for example, Superman casually refers to something in panel one of page 21 of issue two that’s actually incredibly important and isn’t mentioned again until panel three of page 12, issue 12, and with devastating effect.

Some more of my favorite details:
• When at rest, Superman’s spit-curl makes a perfect “S” shape to complement his chest symbol.
• In the first chapter, when Professor Quintum’s assistant Agatha the Sensitive places her hand on Superman’s forehead to read his DNA, she swoons: “Oh, it’s like Bach.”
• In the Bizarro World (a cube!), the continents and oceans are reversed from ours, and backward (hold pages TK and TK up to a mirror to see it). Very cool.
• More than once, Clark’s glasses are knocked off his face, but because of the way he’s altered his posture and bearing, he’s not exposed as Superman. Not even to Lex Luthor! (The mere fact that I’m giving the credit to Clark and not Frank Quitely is yet another testament to Mr. Quitely’s extraordinary talent.)
• And, of course, the already legendary moment at the end of Chapter Ten when Superman creates-wait for it-Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, so that they in turn can create him here on our Earth Q.

So, what does it say that this treatment of one of the most iconic of American myths is the product of three, ahem, Scotsmen? Perhaps it’s some sort of Pict Bizarro coincidence, but it’s also tempting to posit that Glaswegians seem keenly equipped to make one fully appreciate and render the Man of Steel. Or more to the point: sometimes it takes an outsider to fully appreciate what we have in our own back yard. Morrison has said that his Superman is a metaphor for America at its best. He is the embodiment of basic human goodness despite the fact (or perhaps because of it?) that he isn’t even human. So: outsiders to America apply their talents to an American icon who is an outsider to Earth.

At this point I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying that the truly extraordinary thing about this story of Superman’s mortality is that at the end of it . . . he dies. True, there is the promise of a second coming, but the Kal-El we have known and loved is gone.

But that can’t be, can it? Finishing the last issue, what I suddenly realized to my great relief, is: no, it can’t. Even if DC were right now to stop publishing any more Superman stories for the rest of eternity (oh, as if), Superman would live forever, and not just because he is a masterful design of red, yellow and blue. He is an Idea, and a truly great one: the ultimate superpower who wants to serve the world, not rule it. What better lesson to teach our children for generations to come?

Towards the end of the last chapter, our hero uses the thwarted villain’s very words against him: “Brain beats Brawn every time!” Indeed, but to that I would add that pure Heart can trump them both.

As it does here. And so:
A brilliant writer. A master draughtsman. A magical color-artist. The last son of Krypton. A kiss goodbye. An enthralling triumph.

-Chip Kidd, super-fan
(and proud logo designer for All-Star Superman)

For those of you wondering, here are the panels Kidd was referring to above:


Panel 1, Page 21, Issue 2


Panel 3, Page 12, Issue 12

The whole book’s full of great little threads like that, and that’s one of the many reasons we love it so much, and we’re glad to see DC pushing it to the forefront.

“Absolute All-Star Superman” hits shelves on October 20 with a cover price of $99.99.

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