All-Star Superman #10, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
Gorgeous cover, isn't it? And given Grant Morrison's customary interest in radical variations of scale (if this were a Wire post, I would've titled it with a certain Van-Zee quote), it comes very close to being a literal representation of this issue, where Superman plays God (in a good way!) with not one but two pocket worlds.
The interior is even better. The image of Superman's face smiling beneficently over Kandor (you can see a sample here) is one of Quitely's finest, especially the way he breaks it over two panels--as if we have to pan up to see it all, as if it's too big to take it all in at once. The kind, patient expression sums up Morrison and Quitely's take on Superman at least as well as the cloud cover that opened the series.
That's only one reason why All-Star Superman was much-anticipated and sorely missed after a long drought. I'm with Jog, more or less--I loved the Zibarro issue (pretty much the best Fourth of July comic ever), but the follow-up with the Kryptonian astronauts didn't seem to bring anything new to its well-worn story. And I say this as someone who deeply appreciated that Morrison finally gave us the Steve Lombard stumblebum routine I'd been begging for. It's been nearly nine months since this series was firing on all cylinders, and even longer since it devoted significant attention to the story of Superman's mortality, but this latest issue returns to the plotline that gave the early ones so much of their melancholy appeal.
Among the other features that make this issue so rewarding are the patterns of allusion--and the multiple levels of allusion--that run throughout it. There's this series' standard palimpsest of Superman history, condensing and combining the most interesting elements from seventy years of comics. We get Superman writing his last will and testament on a slab of metal, Leo Quintum in a Flamebird costume, Luthor biding his time in prison, even a reworking of that story where Superman shoots a little Superman out of his hand that so captivated Morrison (note that Van-Zee, leader of the Superman Emergency Squad, is by tradition an exact double for his cousin Kal-El). We get Superman rushing, with a little help from his friends, to complete his unfinished business and expose a secret to the world (prematurely?), both of which come straight from "The Last Days of Superman." But it's not all Silver Age nostalgia; properly speaking, it's not nostalgia at all.
That's most visible in the Kandorian council, which makes a nice visual metaphor for this series' signature move. Their clothing ranges from classic Silver Age headbands and emblems to an ornate Byrne-like headdress to Quitely's own hypermodernist designs. The council is tasked with preserving the last remnants of Kryptonian culture, and their appearance encapsulates just about all of it, much as All-Star Superman tries to preserve all the different eras of Superman--but not under glass, where it can only grow old and die. This is a living history.
Then you have all the references to Morrison's own work. You've got the infant universe of Qwewq, where our own planet dwells--only this time it's created by Superman, as one of his twelve super-labors. (I would love that gimmick a lot more if Morrison gave us a scorecard--it's impossible to tell what the labors are!) You've got the radical variations in scale from The Filth. You've got several other callbacks to Morrison's run on JLA, from ominous rumblings about Solaris to a Superman who tells Lex Luthor "I know there's good in you" to maybe, just maybe, a reference to that JSA crossover where Green Lantern artificially accelerated time on that microscopic civilization that was built on top of the Spectre.
I'm not so sure about that last one--I think Morrison is really just playing around with that old idea that if the history of planet Earth were fit into a single day, all of human civilization would unfold in its final second. A tad more cerebral than the JLA plot, but they both stem from his interest in narrative compressions of time and space. And boy, do I love Morrison's endpoint for his pocket history of the human race--something that speaks to why he thinks this comic is important in the first place, why All-Star Superman and superheroes in general are, for Morrison, a lot more than just a paycheck.
Finally, because Morrison is Morrison--or because I am me?--I see we have a surprising number of references to Alan Moore. Watchmen references abound, with a godlike hero who creates life at the culmination of his ascension and plants a city of delicate spires in the soil of Mars, in the shadow of Olympus Mons. I'll charitably assume the Nietzsche quote originates with Nietzsche, but it does happen to be the same line that opened Miracleman. An obvious place to go if you're looking to give the superhero a (spurious) historical pedigree, sure, but Moore got there first.
There's no overlooking the parallels with "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" though--not when we meet a messenger from an idyllic future, who shows up in a transparent bubble, no less, and who isn't supposed to share information with Superman but manages to provide a hint about an upcoming menace. It's the Legion of Super-Heroes cameo updated for the age of text messaging. And it calls attention to all the ways the larger plot structure of All-Star Superman as a whole--a grand tour of all the elements of the Superman myth, in the face of his impending death--owes a little something to Moore's big, serious, heartfelt, slobbery kiss of a Superman story from twenty-three years ago.
But it's gentle references this time, knowing winks to the reader. No commentary or anxiety, as befits this most serene of series. Just another nod to the past as this comic walks, square jaw held bravely up, into the future.