As I said in my list of 5 FAVORITE SUPERMAN STORIES, I consider Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s epic 12-issue series to be one of the best Superman stories ever written (& drawn). The love and reverence that Morrison feels for this character can be felt on every page. As noted, I’ve bought this series in 3 formats. First, I bought each printed issue as they were released, even though it was extremely frustrating waiting for each next issue, as it took almost 3 years for the series to finish. But, y’know, 5 years later, now that I can read the complete series all together, it such a good complete story, that that’s all that matters. Then I also bought the two softcover trade paperbacks that collected the 12 issues. Then last year I bought this Absolute edition. At this point all I’m missing are the digital versions, which I probably will buy eventually, just so I can have them on my ipad.
Anyway, about this Absolute edition. A big thick hardcover book. About 9″ x 2″ x 16″, weighing almost 5 lbs. This is not a version you use to take with you to read on the toilet. It opens with a forward by Chip Kidd, who designed the All-Star Superman logo. And then onto the story, with chapter listed as an “Episode”.
EPISODE 1/”FASTER”: Opening with a 1-page, 4-panel recap of Superman’s original and then right into the action. Superman has to rescue a team of scientists who are on a special mission to the sun, when their spaceship begins to break down and one of the crew is revealed to be “a genetically modified suicide bomb in human form” sent by Lex Luthor to kill them. Superman stops the bomb, and saves the rest of crew, thanks to a new power he’s developed, thanks to the extra solar radiation he’s absorbed, where he creates a force field around the ship.We also see Lex Luthor, originally in his a lab. We learn that he’s been working for the Government, designing weapons, but he tricked them to build the human suicide bomb to kill Superman, and so he gets arrested again. The thing I love most about this series (if I had to pick just one) is the multiple high-concepts Morrison introduces to the Superman mythos within. Some are introduced as almost throw-away ideas, only seen for a few pages, but still you can tell that there’s so much untapped potential to be explored. You’re given just enough info so that you can follow the story, and you’re satisfied with what you see, while still wishing for more. The best new addition, IMO, is Leo Quintum, the scientist who was leading the sun mission. He’s like a high-tech Willy Wonka. He leads an organization called P.R.O.J.E.C.T. (what the acronym stands for is never revealed), with headquarters on the moon, where he employs a legion of special clones to work on his scientific experiments. After the mission, he runs tests on Superman, revealed that while his powers have tripled, the solar radiation in his body is going to overload an kill him. Superman’s immediate reaction is that he will find a way to survive. But, if not, the first thing he wants to do is go to Lois, and reveal his secret ID to her.
EPISODE 2/”SUPERMAN’S FORBIDDEN ROOM”: Superman has revealed his ID to Lois, but she doesn’t believe him. She’s convinced that this is some practical joke that Superman and Clark are playing on her, trying to make her think that they’re the same person. Superman takes her to his Fortress of Solitude in the North Pole for dinner, and to show her around. In the Fortress we can see the Bottle City of Kandor, Superman’s got the Space Shuttle Columbia, and the Titanic there, we see where Superman keeps a baby sun-eater, which he feeds with miniature suns which he creates with a “cosmic anvil” he got from “New Olympus”. Like I said there’s lots of great little high concepts thrown in here. And in the Forbidden room Superman reveals that he created a special serum to give Lois Lane superpowers for 24 hours.
EPISODE 3/”SWEET DREAMS, SUPERWOMAN”: With her own special costume, Superman and Lois Lane fly back to Metropolis, just in time for Superman to stop a rampaging humanoid dinosaur called Krull, and his dinosaur army, who are from an ancient kingdom at the center of the Earth. Then we the time-traveling supermen called SAMSON and ATLAS, from mythical New Elysium. They’re a couple of boorish oafs, who try to challenge Superman for Lois’ affection (eventually he beats them both in a double arm-wrestling contest), and Superman saves Lois from the threat of a being called the Ultra Sphinx, by answering the unanswerable question: What happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object? I won’t spoil it, you’ll have to read the book to find out. Then he and Lois have a brief trip to the underwater city of Poseidonis, then fly to the moon to share a kiss in the shadow of the Earth, before Lois’ powers wear off and she falls asleep in his arms.
EPISODE 4/”THE SUPERMAN/JIMMY OLSEN WAR”: Leo Quintum goes off to meet a new alien race, and leaves Jimmy Olsen in charge of P.R.O.J.E.C.T. for a day. And he discovers a new form of Kryptonite, Black Kryptonite, that when Superman is exposed to he turns angry and mean, and goes on a rampage in Metropolis, so Jimmy has to use the resources of P.R.O.J.E.C.T. to stop him, even if that means injecting himself with a serum that turns him into a version of Doomsday, so he can fight Superman.
EPISODE 5/”THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LEX LUTHOR”: Lex Luthor is convict of multiple crimes and sentenced to death. Clark Kent goes to the prison to interview Lex. So we get a nice insight into how this version of Lex’s mind works. He acts as if he wants to destroy Superman for the good of humanity, because Superman’s existence is somehow holding us back. But it’s clearly all B.S., with Lex just using that as an excuse for his own failure to live up to Superman’s ideal. A prison riot breaks out when the Parasite, who is also in the prison, feeds on Clarks powers and goes on a rampage. What’s interesting is that in this issue, Superman never once appears in costume, he’s Clark Kent the whole time. And you don’t even really notice it until it’s over! That’s how good the story is.
EPISODE 6/”FUNERAL IN SMALLVILLE”: A very heartwarming story, set in the past, when Clark was still a teenager living in Smallville, operating as Superboy. He’s at a crossroads, as he’s just graduated High School and is trying to figure out what to do next. He’s been to Metropolis, but isn’t sure if he’ll move there yet. We see him in the local malt shop having lunch with Pete Ross and Lana Lane. Then, as Superboy, we see him playing catch in space with Krypto, his superdog. Then he meets three of his descendants from the future, who take him on an adventure, but while he’s away, Johnathan dies of a heart attack.
EPISODE 7, and EPISODE 8/”BEING BIZARRO” and “US DO OPPOSITE”: This is a two-part. Firs there’s an invasion from Bizarro Earth, with a new take on the Bizarro Superman concept, re-imagining Bizarros as like movie zombies (or Star Trek’s The Borg), trying to infect humans, turning them all into Bizarros. Superman manages to stop the Bizarros on our world, but ends up finding himself stranded on the Cube-shaped Bizarro Earth, which is in another dimension, where he desperately tries to escape from before it’s too late. While there, in additions to Bizarro versions of The Flash and Green Lantern, he meets Zibarro, the one normal being on that planet, who comes off a bit of a tragic hero in this story.
EPISODE 9/”CURSE OF THE REPLACEMENT SUPERMEN”: Superman returns to Earth, but it’s two months later. And during that time, some Kryptonian space travelers, Bar-El and Lilo, have arrive and made Metropolis their home. @ first Superman is happy, thinking they can take over as Earth’s protectors after he’s dead, but it quickly becomes apparent that they’re more interested in taking over the world, remaking it in the image of Krypton, starting with Metropolis (yes, that does sound similar to the plot of the Man of Steel film). So Superman has to stop them (and he never considers killing them).
EPISODE 10:/”NEVERENDING”: This individual story was my favorite issue of the series, and could probably stand on it’s own as the greatest Superman story ever. Superman writes is last will and testament, using a special machine that transfers his thoughts via laser onto a wall in the Fortress. He asks Leo Quintum to help him figure out to do with the Bottle City of Kandor, which Superman has been unable to re-enlarge (the solution is genius). He fights a senile old villain who has a giant robot suit and has captured Lois. He tries one last time to convince Lex Luthor, who is still on Death Row, to repent and use his brilliant mind for the good of humanity while he still can (Lex just spits in his face). He even creates an artificial miniature Earth (implied to be our world) so that he can see how humanity will survive without him. And, my favorite scene ever. Superman stops a trouble young woman from committing suicide.
EPISODE 11/”RED SUN DAY”: The day of Lex Luthor’s execution. He gets the electric chair, but manages to escape thanks to a secret serum he invented to give him Superman’s powers for 24 hours (“Thanks to a serum only I could have invented” he brags. Unaware that Superman created a similar serum earlier in the series). He goes on a rampage, with the help of his crazy niece, Nathalia. He’s also unleashed Solaris, the living Sun. Creating a red sun effect on Earth, which robs Superman of his powers, so Superman has to wear a special space suit to go fight Solaris in space, alongside his legion of super-robots, and that baby Sun-eater from issue #2. Then he rushes back to the Daily Planet as Clark Kent, to write the story of Superman’s death, before dropping dead himself. And then Super-powered Lex Luthor appears.
EPISODE 12/”SUPERMAN IN EXCELSIS”: The final battle, and Superman’s last adventure. I won’t spoil any further, but it’s an extremely satisfying ending, that feel complete, but nevertheless leaves it open-ended, for further adventures in this continuity. That seems unlikely now, but you never know…
One of the best things about this edition is that the large size gives you the ability to really experience and appreciate Quietly’s artwork. He’ll add little Easter eggs in the background, in the form of people reacting to things. Specifically in the scenes with Superman as Clark Kent, pretending to be clumsy, you’ll see him tripping over and bumping into things, but while doing so he’s often secretly helping people, like pushing a man out of the way of an oncoming car in the street. The Extras in this book include early sketches from Quietly along with notes from Morrison about the development of this series, how many ideas were taking from his aborted SUPERMAN 2000 pitch. He also gives details into the backgrounds of the new characters he created, like Leo Quintum, The Ultra-Sphinx, Krull, and others, even ideas that were just barely touched on, such as what New Olympus would be like. It’s a fascinating looking into Morrison’s creative process. Overall I give this edition a grade of:
You can buy this edition on Amazon. It’s expensive, but worth every penny!