NY Comic-Con '10: Anticipating "All-Star Superman"

allstarsuperman

If I had to make a list of the best comics of the past decade and the best Superman stories ever published, there would be one title that overlaps both list, and that would be All-Star Superman, the 12-issue mini-series by writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely. So to hear that Bruce Timm and his DC Animated team are making an adaptation of it as the next in their DC animated movies line is both exciting and worrisome. How do you condense such brilliantly conceived twelve issues into a mere 70-some-minute movie? Surely there had to have been a lot of unsatisfying compromise?

At the NYCC panel for the movie, Timm admitted that he shared much of the same worries. All-Star Superman is a favorite of his, too, and when he was describing the comic to those in the audience who hadn't read it, he seemed to understand exactly why the comic was so special. "Magical" and "Wonderment" were the adjectives he used.

The plan was cooked years before, Timm recalled, even as early as the line's conception in 2007. At the time, however, they were determined to highlight the PG-13 rating of these movies to separate them from WB's TV cartoons, which are more kid-friendly (note I didn't say kid-oriented). Hence edgy materials like the bloody violence in Superman: Doomsday or the political content in Justice League: The New Frontier.

All-Star Superman is many things, but dark and edgy are not among them.

When time came that they got interested again in finding good comics to adapt, Timm didn't know how to approach it, so he gave the task to Dwayne McDuffie, who's proven himself to have a great handle of Superman from his days on the Justice League TV show, and had written the movie Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths.

"He did it alone. There was no meeting, no discussion," said Timm. When McDuffie came back with the finished outline, Timm was impressed by how he didn't miss his favorite moments from the comic being gone. In fact, as if to assure the crowd that they're not mucking up this book, he said that Grant Morrison has indeed seen the film and not only liked it, but also exclaimed during a scene that deviated from the source that he'd wished he'd thought of doing it that way, which Timm regards as a huge honor for them to hear.

It is the 10th DC Animated Original Movie they've done for Warner Home Video, but it's only the 5th straight adaptation of an existing comic book story, following Justice League: The New FrontierSuperman/Batman: Public EnemiesBatman: Under the Red Hood and Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. They weren't always successful adaptations, though I admit that New Frontier is the only source material for these that I truly liked. It's the only one that makes sense to make a standalone movie out of, being a unique and classical take. The other three read like decisions made based on commercial appeal, given those three books' popularity.

The plot of All-Star Superman is that Lex Luthor has finally pulled off a death trap that works. A manned space exploration disaster that Luthor engineered leaves Superman dying. With only one year to live, Superman tries to accomplish all the feats of a hero, as well as declare his love for Lois Lane once and for all. Morrison used this framework to tell timeless Superman stories that pay tribute to all the sci-fi silliness of the Silver Age comics, without making fun of any of it.

What the DC Animated team wanted to do was to stay as faithful as they possibly could to that comic, with McDuffie even lifting Morrison's dialogue verbatim whenever possible.

"We wanted to do the comic straight up," said Timm.

At the panel, they brought the first 5 minutes of the film, which really cinched the tone of this adaptation. Superman's origin/raison d'etre is introduced in very quick flashes of stills and one-word descriptions that are very effective. After that, it goes right into the first issue's opening sequence, where an expedition to the sun is sabotaged by a monster clone. Superman (James Denton) arrives to tangle with the creature, battling close to the sun's surface. Back on Earth, we see Luthor (Anthony LaPaglia) remote controlling the monster with his movements. General Sam Lane drops in and question what he's doing, reminding him that the military released him for prison so he can help their projects. "I promised not to build any more death traps," says Luthor, choking the general. "We all die someday... Except him." Luthor doesn't like this, and he's going to change that.

Elsewhere, at the Daily Planet, Lois Lane (Christina Hendricks) is writing an article of Superman's successful rescue. "That hasn't happened yet," her colleague Steve Lombard comments. "I always write Superman's stories early," Lois casually throws. It's great to see Morrison's quirky characterizations intact here: Lombard's weird chauvinism, Cat Grant's sexual innuendos, and even metrosexual Jimmy Olsen's crossdressing.

Suddenly, their editor Perry White (Ed Asner) calls them in. He explains Luthor's doublecrossing plot to them, which surprises no one. "This is our front page tomorrow," he says, holding up a paper with the headline LUTHOR LIED. "This time, we've got the son of a bitch!"

It's a thrilling opening, but we know Timm and his team do action remarkably well. Two more action clips that they brought supported this; but All-Star Superman is not all brawn, as Morrison sought to incorporate all of Superman's defining moments into one package. We see some of this reflected in the film in a clip showing the relationship between Supes and Lois.

Dying, Superman wishes to spend a day with Lois the way he's always fantasized. He concocts a serum that gives a normal human his powers for 24 hours, giving it to Lois for her birthday along with a costume and the name Superwoman. Their wonderful time together is interrupted by Atlas and Samson, both of whom wish to bed Lois. Superman quickly shuts them up with an amusing bout of arm wrestling, after which he and Lois fly off holding hands. "There's something I've always wanted to do with you," Superman tells her. "What's that?" Together, they land on the moon and, with the Earth floating beautifully behind them, they kiss.

It's an iconic image from the comic that they've recreated nicely here.

allstarsuperman-moon

The big question that'd been lingering in my mind since the project's announcement was how they were going to transfer Frank Quitely's distinct, inimitable art into animation. What ends up being in the movie is certainly not quite Quitely, but a marriage of his sense of anatomy and cleaner lines that lend more to movement. You can definitely tell it's based on Quitely's work, but it moves fluidly without calling attention to that fact.

"It took a lot of back-and-forth to figure out how to make it work," Timm sighed, admitting that it was the hardest conversion they've ever done..

They've done these "copies" of a famous artist's art style before, to varying degrees of success. The art styles of Darwin Cooke (New Frontier) and Ed McGuinness (Public Enemies) worked because they were easily translatable to cartooning, but Apocalypse suffered precisely because Michael Turner's art is lankier and stiffer, making the animation style look like half-assed anime. Quitely is on another level entirely.

"I'm a huge fan of Frank Quitely's art," said Timm. "But if you do it wrong, they can look like sacks of mashed potatoes."

They're already starting prep work on another adaptation of a famous comic, Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's Batman: Year One. Being a shorter and more self-contained narrative with a straightforward arc (see: Batman Begins), it should be an easier adaptation, perhaps even better from both a creative and commercial standpoint; but for now, Timm is just looking forward to getting All-Star Superman out, which should hit DVD and Blu-ray sometime around early 2011.

"It's my favorite of all the DC movies we've done so far."

Oct
09
2010
Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for Artboiled.com.

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