When Grant Morrison wrote his 12-Issue series All-Star Superman with artist Frank Quitely from 2005-08, he didn’t just set out to tell a Superman story, he set out to tell THE Superman story. The series was not a tale encumbered by continuity or nitpicky details, but instead strove to be a saga about the essence of the Man of Steel, taking the quintessential elements of his mythology and making them feel new again by showing them in just the right light. Like Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie from 1978, Morrison’s take just wants to show exactly why this character is so loved, and then make this character as relatable as possible. Now in trying to adapt this story, Bruce Timm and his team at DC Animation have done an amazing job bringing All-Star Superman to life onscreen, and while having to edit the story down precludes it from being a perfect representation of Morrison’s original work, this film may represent a new standard by which all future projects by the DCA team may be measured.
Much like the ancient myths that were used as framework to construct this tale, the story of All-Star Superman is not a complicated one. Lex Luthor (Anthony LaPaglia), in an effort to kill his super-powered nemesis actually devises a plan that gets results; flooding Superman’s cells with the radiation that gives him his powers to the point where it actually begins to overload his system, essentially giving him a form of cancer. With his time possibly limited, Superman sets out to cement his legacy by performing a series of great feats to benefit humanity, his ultimate test coming in the form of a final battle with Luthor for the fate of everyone on Earth.
While this is story is definitely told on an grand scale, like its source material, what’s really important about All-Star Superman is its depiction of why The Man of Steel is such a great character to begin with. Sure, he’s a being of god-like powers, but what defines him is his humanity and the values passed down to him from his adoptive parents. Big Blue’s compassion is as important as his ability to fly in this story, his love for Lois Lane means more to him than being able to bend steel bars or fight giant creatures. Sure, the epic space fights and battles with rogue Kryptonians are awesome, but the movie’s emotional power really comes from the Supes’ quiet moments with loved ones or even instances of catharsis with those who would possibly seek to destroy him.
A lot of the credit due for the film’s success comes from the hard work put into the picture’s screenplay by the late (and awesome) Dwayne McDuffie. Though some of the best moments from the original books had to be excised for this movie in order to keep this film’s running time from getting out of hand, McDuffie makes the most out of the material still left in the picture’s story. While the cancer storyline gives us an overarching plot, the movie is episodic in nature, filling in this period with various feats by Superman, whether it be defeating intergalactic supervillains, making Lois Lane’s dreams of flying come true, helping the Bottle City of Kandor, or trying to finally understand Lex Luthor’s obsession with destroying him. McDuffie builds the film’s story like a jigsaw puzzle, with each of these subplots filling in the pieces a little at a time until the larger picture comes into focus in time for the film’s epic and moving climax.
Fans of artist Frank Quitely will also be happy, as his style from the original comics is successfully melded here with DC Animation’s traditional design work. The book’s art motif is a sort of coming together of old-school ‘50s sci-fi and a more advanced modern look, which comes across wonderfully in the movie, especially when looking at the fun art direction concerning Superman’s Fortress as well as the cityscapes of Metropolis, almost like if The Jetsons were taken seriously. The movie’s images have a whimsical quality to them, but still manage to never look silly, matching both the fun and the gravity of the film’s story.
Of course, if the movie’s voice acting is subpar, then a lot of this effort would be for nothing. Fortunately, the cast of All-Star Superman is uniformly superb from top to bottom. While Tim Daly will probably always be my favorite voice for the animated version of The Man of Steel, James Denton does exemplary work in this piece, projecting Supes’ power while still coming off as charismatic and quite vulnerable. This is matched by Christina Hendricks’ turn as Lois Lane, able to bring out both her willful strength as well as the softer touch needed to make her a romantic lead without turning the character uneven or unlikeable.
Perhaps the strongest cast member of the bunch ends up being Anthony LaPaglia, who gets to the heart of Lex Luthor as well as any portrayal I’ve ever seen. The distillation of Luthor in this picture shows us a man that is almost understandable when it comes to his obsession with destroying Earth’s champion. Luthor’s body and mind have been honed through years and years of hard work. His rise to power is the result of his own blood, sweat and tears, and while Superman is beloved by the people of Earth, he simply had to be born to attain his status as the most powerful being on the planet.
All of these factors add up to one of the best Superman movies ever produced in any form. Poetic in its simplicity and yet still moving on a very human scale, All-Star Superman is both a great introduction to The Man of Steel and a master class for longtime fans. While modern takes try too often to make the character gritty or “edgy”, this movie manages to make the character relatable and yet still convey his majesty by recalling what we’ve always loved about him. This movie isn’t trying to reinvent the character, but simply shows him in a light that makes you understand just what is so special about The Man of Steel in the first place.
Like all of the previous DC Animation releases, the presentation for All-Star Superman is fantastic. The video print pops with amazing color and detail, while the sound works just as well as it should. The transfer here is pretty magnificent, providing you with the best print possible with which to watch this amazing story.
Audio Commentary – Bruce Timm and his DCA team have always featured great commentary tracks dating back to the original DVD releases of Batman: The Animated Series, and the track here is no exception. In fact, this commentary featuring Timm and Grant Morrison is one of the best tracks to ever be on a DC Animated feature, as the two men describe their thoughts on Superman, the original comic book series and how Morrison feels about the movie as a whole. These two just have such a wonderful fundamental understanding of Supes that it’s fascinating to listen to them speak about the character at such length. The track is so great that it provides almost as much entertainment value for fans of The Man of Steel as the movie itself.
Superman Now – Morrison and DC Comics co-publisher Dan Didio discuss the origins of the All-Star Superman comic series and what it means to the Superman mythology as a whole. If you’ve ever wondered why so many comic fans and critics are so in love with Grant Morrison, then this 34-minute featurette is not to be missed. Morrison simply knows more about Superman and storytelling than perhaps any other comic writer on the planet today and shows you why this series was so successful and lauded. Nearly every aspect of the series is covered here, and if you love Superman or comics at all, I highly suggest you watch this.
The Creative Flow: Incubating the Idea with Grant Morrison – These are sketches and story ideas for the series that Morrison jotted down after he decided to write All-Star Superman.
Virtual Comic: All-Star Superman #1 – The first issue of Morrison’s original series is presented here.
Green Lantern: Emerald Knights Sneak Peek – This is a 12-minute look at the upcoming DCA release, Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, starring Nathan Fillion.
Bruce Timm’s Picks – You get two bonus episodes from Superman: The Animated Series, “”Blast from the Past”, Parts 1 and 2, both featuring Kryptonian villains.
Trailers and Sneak Peeks – You get trailers and sneaks peeks of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, Batman: Under the Red Hood, and others.
For fans of The Man of Steel, superheroes, or comic books in general, All-Star Superman is a must-see film. This is the best DC Animation release so far and represents the best work by Bruce Timm’s team since Justice League: Unlimited went off the air. The Blu-Ray is also packed with extras and gets you right into the mindset of Grant Morrison, which is worth purchasing this disc all on its own.
Warner Brothers presents All-Star Superman. Directed by: Sam Liu. Starring: James Denton, Christina Hendricks, and Anthony LaPaglia. Written by: Dwayne McDuffie. Running time: 76 minutes. Rating: RATING. Released on Blu-Ray: February 22, 2011.
Tags: All-Star Superman, bruce timm, Christina Hendricks, DC Comics, dwayne mcduffie, Superman