Friday, July 26, 2013

All-Star Superman (DTV) (Sam Liu, 2011)

For a better Superman movie than Man of Steel, check out All-Star Superman, a 2011 direct-to-video animated feature adapted from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's acclaimed 2005-2008 twelve-issue comic book series of the same name. Directed by Sam Liu and with a screenplay by the late Dwayne McDuffie, it is the best of DC and Warner's recent DTV animated movies, as well as one of the most unusual.

Despite being a fairly recent story, the original All-Star Superman comic regularly tops lists of recommended reads starring the most famous of all superheroes. The out-of-continuity story explored how Superman might choose to spend his last days, upon learning that he has absorbed a fatal amount of solar radiation. Drawing elements from the entire publication history of the character, it featured a classically (and cheerily) omnipotent Superman performing some of the greatest and most heroic feats of his life, a different adventure/challenge every issue.

The movie sticks close to the comic, and the episodic format of the source material shows. Whereas the comic originally trickled out as twelve issues released over the course of three years, the animated adaptation is presented as a single very brisk 76-minute tale, the stories of the individual issues now barely held together by the overarching narrative of Superman facing his own mortality (and the perhaps even more compelling parallel narrative of an especially inspired Lex Luthor, who is left to bitterly contemplate mortality simply as a byproduct of being a mere man in a world where Superman exists). There are some uneasy transitions between stories that frankly have nothing whatsoever to do with one another—one moment Superman's dealing with the Parasite, the next he's making the acquaintance of two hostile Kryptonians—yet which follow with such suddenness as to leave one incredulous at the suggestion of coincidence. It's a bit of a disjointed mess, raising questions about the script's suitability for a feature-length film, and yet it kind of works, for a couple reasons.

The jumping from one adventure to the next bestows the movie with a certain "a day in the life" feel, where the life in question happens to be Superman's. For a being so far beyond regular humans, doing the impossible and the unbelievable should be routine. Moreover, I actually find it odd how, in most superhero movies, the hero only has to contend with one primary villain, who usually has a personal connection to the hero. I think it makes more sense that, as someone generally committed to defending the innocent, a superhero should, at least on occasion, have to contend with multiple threats operating independently of one another (if not multiple at the same time, then at least, say, two within the span of a week) and with no connection to the hero himself. And All-Star Superman is, anyway, such a whimsical take on the lore—this is a story where Superman creates miniature suns to feed his pet baby sun-eater—that "anything goes" might as well give way to "everything goes."

It's definitely uneven, as some episodes are less interesting than others, but the result ultimately is one of the more crowd-pleasing and imaginative Superman stories, doing justice to the character's traditional role as an inspiring paragon of what is good, while tapping into the limitless storytelling potential when writing an alien with a cosmic life and perspective. And, even without a brooding tone, All-Star Superman attains a gravity by story's end that far surpasses Man of Steel's contrived reaching. Within this story that has no shortage of clever ideas lies a center that is, like Superman himself at his best, winningly heartfelt and sincere.

No comments: