Comics are above all a visual medium and how they look is a matter of no small importance. Lapses in writing can to some extent be redeemed by very strong artwork, but a badly drawn comic is much more difficult to forgive. Thankfully, Frank Quitely draws very well indeed and is once again working with Grant Morrison, whose writing is often rather good. Quitely’s previous collaborations with Morrison, on New X-Men and We3, are among the finer examples of the comic book form. Their latest collaboration, All-Star Superman, lends subtlety and charm to what is, for me, an otherwise tedious character. Quitely and Morrison manage to give the well-meaning man of steel a measure of personality, and mortality, and pleasing emphasis is placed on how the central characters relate. The overall tone is one of affectionate nostalgia, with small character details set against amusing spectacle.
The most recent instalment finds our hero usurped by a pair of long-lost Kryptonian astronauts, Bar-El and Lilo, whose detachment from the “squalor” around them is refreshing in its candour and logic. (We also learn that the influence of Earth’s new champions extends to fashion, with Jimmy Olsen taking inordinate pride in his new Krypton-style “overpants”.) The inevitable tussle between Superman and his replacements is brief and visually witty, not least when Superman is hurled into the Moon, cracking it rather badly and prompting a hasty repair job involving several national landmarks. It’s a moment of pure visual whimsy, one of many. All-Star Superman doesn’t have the psychological grit of New X-Men or the emotive edge of We3, but Quitely and Morrison spin an engaging yarn that’s always a pleasure to look at and that even makes Superman an interesting character. Which is something Bryan Singer failed to do, armed with $200,000,000.