All-Star Superman, the comic, not the movie, is one of the best comics done in recent years. Not just superhero comics, but comics in general. Okay, sure, that’s an entirely subjective opinion, but we aren’t here for the facts. Part of the equation is surely Grant Morrison, but equally important is Frank Quitely’s art, which always has his unique touch, something that looks mainstreamy, but is still a little bit off. Not everyone loves it, but I do.
So, how went the translation from a 12-issues series to a short movie with a running time of a little over an hour?
Not bad, although I was worried for the first half hour. The aspect that has survived the least is Quitely’s art. Sure, they really tried and most of the panel design is easily recognizable, but it just doesn’t look like Quitely’s art in motion. It’s halfway there, but not completely. Apart from that, whole chunks of the comic series are missing, but that was to be expected. What remains is the most thoughtful, non-violent superhero movies I’ve seen in years. Sure, there’s a big fight at the end, but even that one feels restrained.
The brilliance of Morrison’s comic, which survived the translation to the movie format mostly intact, is that he told a comic about superheroes, a genre as far removed from reality as possible, and managed to make it feel relevant even here in baseline reality. All-Star Superman is as much a character study of Superman as of Lex Luthor, and Morrison captures them perfectly. I think my favorite scene is when Lex Luthor deplores Superman to give him the serum once more, to save humanity, to which Superman has the best reply ever uttered in such a context. Enlightenment followed by even more enlightenment. Whatever Morrison drinks, it’s powerful stuff.
I do wonder how people who haven’t read the original series will react. All-Star Superman is something of an outlier, a superhero movie low on action and high on contemplation. I don’t think this will go over well with a general audience, because it’s just not what you expect when you go to see this kind of movie. Also, despite being a more than an adequate translation of the source material, I wished there had been a unique touch. The best translations from one medium to another aren’t those that try to adhere too much to the source material, but those that manage to take its essence and transform it into its own thing. It’s a good movie, but not a great one.