Grant Morrison’s comic-book writing is known for the density and fecundity of its ideas, some of which have been mined for other comics, TV series, and movies. But none of Morrison’s actual work has been officially adapted prior to All-Star Superman, an animated feature released as part of the Warner Bros./DC Universe line. Based on a 12-issue collaboration between Morrison and artist Frank Quitely, All-Star Superman follows The Man Of Steel in the aftermath of an encounter with the sun that leaves him more powerful than ever, but on the verge of death by radiation poisoning. The original series sought to revive the bright tone and anything-can-happen craziness of the Silver-Age Superman, in a series of short adventures yoked together by the overarching story of how the hero spends his last months on Earth. The movie—produced by DC animation stalwart Bruce Timm, directed by Sam Liu, and written by the late Dwayne McDuffie—retains the book’s episodic structure, albeit with far fewer episodes. The movie retains Morrison’s tone, too, to the extent that this is the first DC Universe feature to be rated PG instead of PG-13. (Though it earns that PG with some rough language, horrifyingly grotesque villains, and light sexual innuendo.)
The animation in All-Star Superman is good enough, though it lacks the eccentric shapes and thin lines of Quitely’s art. And given how popular Morrison’s sprawling original story has been in comic-book and collected form, this might’ve been an ideal time to break free of the standard DC Universe 75-minute format, and maybe push for two hours—or even two separate movies. As it is, All-Star Superman feels choppy, and skips past some of the better stories from the series. But at least the creative team was smart enough not to try to shoehorn everything into the space allotted. Instead, they let the handful of issues they chose to adapt hew closely to Morrison’s original scripts, allowing room for such Morrison-y touches as Superman forging tiny suns to feed his sun-eating plant, and Lex Luthor constructing a robot that reads Moby Dick at such a high frequency that it functions as a sonic drill. Timm, McDuffie, and company also understand what made All-Star Superman so special: the perspective of its hero, who’s so delighted by his own capabilities that he works great wonders, with an imagination rivaled only by an especially clever comic-book writer.
Key features: Bonus cartoons from the ’90s Superman series, a commentary track by Timm and Morrison, and multiple interviews with Morrison in which he traces All-Star Superman back to an encounter with a laid-back fan in a homemade Superman costume, which led Morrison to realize that if you knew nothing could hurt you, “you’d be the most relaxed guy on Earth.”