By Al Kratina
January 15, 2007 - 15:02
This is the best single issue of a comic book I've read all year. Granted, it's the 10th of January as I write this, but keep in mind that I've already read the new Powers, and the February issue of Duck Tales. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All Star Superman more than makes up for the chaotic fiasco that is All Star Batman And Robin. This issue in particular showcases the strengths of the two creators, with Morrison again proving that it is indeed possible to write on 4 bumps of Ketamine, and Quitely demonstrating that even Superman looks good drawn as a disfigured dwarf.
When unfettered by editorial constraints, Grant Morrison tells the kind of stories you'd hear from Stephen Hawking if he had the DTs. Mixing complex scientific concepts with ancient mythological tropes with probably a few shots of absinthe, Morrison always provides new insights into classic characters and familiar plot progressions, like watching a sitcom through a kaleidoscope. This issue, Funeral In Smallville, tells the story of the death of Jonathan Kent, or rather the alternate universe Jonathan Kent. In an obvious imitation of Marvel's Ultimate line, the DC All-Star series exists outside of regular continuity, allowing creators to do as they please with some of DC's most iconic characters. The potential here is enormous, and Morrison is using it to the fullest. Only he could tell a tale of time travel and tragedy, stick Krypto the Superdog in it, and still succeed. A group of strange farmhands arrive at the Kent household, just as Clark is looking for direction in life, and the Kents are thinking of moving on. The addition of a time eating monster, dueling concepts of fatalism and temporal paradoxes, and the aforementioned Krypto help create a chaotic story that barely holds together. But in its delicacy lies a certain poetry. It's an insane poetry, beat rhymes from a hallucination, but it's a poetry nonetheless, one that creates an impressive emotional impact by the last panel. The pacing, and in particular the way in which information is disseminated to the reader, is masterful, always just on the verge of being confusing, but still on the right side of the line separating nonsense from mystery. It all builds to such a complex pinnacle it seems impossible for the story to be contained in just one issue. But that's to be expected from Morrison, and sure enough, everything ties together just when it seems it's about to collapse.
Of course, in comic books, the writing cannot stand on its own, and here Grant Morrison enjoys the full support of penciler Frank Quitely. Having previously worked together on X-Men, the two are clearly aware of how well they complement each other, probably because Quitely's art is as weird as Morrison's writing. Everyone he draws looks like those short little gnome guys from Phantasm that got crushed by off-world gravity, which is mildly disconcerting. And despite the bright, sunny look of All Star Superman, Quitely's depiction of this issue's Chronovore, as a spinning ball of blood-colored eyeballs and teeth somehow suspended by disembodied Baba Yaga chicken legs, is enough to furrow even a disinterested reader's brow with a combination of fear and confusion. The panels are mainly long, extended rectangles, recalling widescreen film frames, and presented geometrically. This helps makes the final funeral scene, in which the layout expands into a 2-page spread, a perfect respite from the thundering pace of the rest of the book. In Quitely's hands, Morrison's storytelling reaches a new level of barely contained insanity, and sets a high standard for the comics of 2007, one that Powers and Duck Tales both would be hard-pressed to meet.
Rating: 9 /10