I remember hearing about All-Star Superman years ago on io9 or a similar site. Then I learned that the series had picked up an Eisner. And finally – and most recently – I watched a Thought Slime video on the series (and the broader topics it covers) and thought, fine, let's pick this up and see what the hype is about.
I'm glad I did. I thought this was a solid and subtly different idea for a Superman story with some excellent art and one of the best portrayals of Clark Kent I've ever seen, in print or otherwise. The authors mention this in the "behind the scenes" style final few pages, but their decision to make Clark more of a bumbling klutz, someone who is always a bit too big for the space he finds himself in, it's a neat idea and makes the whole secret identity so much more realistic than it normally is. Even his demeanour is changed considerably, making him look pudgy and hunched, rather than muscular and tall. It's clever and I liked it a lot.
Unfortunately, I think this is probably the high point of the series. Each part focuses on a slightly different piece of Superman's life, from his relationship with Lois, his rivalry with Luthor, his friendship with Jimmy Olsen, his Kryptonian heritage, and even his thoughts on his legacy. The overarching framework is a simple one: Superman is dying. He doesn't know how long he has left, but (in a slightly morbid twist) he can literally see his cells ageing, so at any given point he has some idea. In principle, this is a clever idea with plenty of breathing room, but for some reason they still throw in a lot of additional guff which gets in the way of the plot and means that they never, really, dive too deep into how a seemingly immortal hero like Superman, who shoulders so much of the weight of the world, would react to his own mortality becoming a stark reality.
There are moments, of course, where it works really nicely. And then there are others which feel like they needed to add drama, rather than serve the story. Lois' reaction is a prime example: she tries to kill him. To be fair, she doesn't know he is dying, only that he picks her up, reveals his secret identity, and lets her into his fortress (the key for which, by the way, was another very clever touch 👍), things he's never done before (even though they are clearly dating at this point). But still, her reaction doesn't make a lot of sense and also doesn't really go anywhere, because wouldn't you know it, the same thing that's killing him has made him impervious to Kryptonite (of the Green kind, at least). The way that particular arc concludes is really nice and feels heartfelt and coherent, but they waste most of the run time on the whole misconception arc instead, rather the far more interesting "what if Lois had Superman's powers" concept.
We get another similar issue in Jimmy Olsen's story, which is otherwise really interesting and then Superman goes berserk thanks to some new Black Kryptonite that they discover. It gives Jimmy an interesting few moments, but it means Superman never tells him about his oncoming demise. In fact, given that the whole point of his personal arc is to tie up loose ends and spend time with the people he loves, he never visits his mum (his dad is shown as having already died) or tells anyone, even Lois who finds out by herself. So he doesn't actually get to say goodbye, and neither do the people closest to him. Feels like a missed opportunity.
And then there's Lex, who just feels like a 2D version of his normal character. He's a mad man obsessed with the "threat" of Superman, which is obvious to everyone except Superman. He could be banished to the Phantom Realm, never to cause chaos again, but apparently Clark still thinks there's some good in him. Normally, I'd agree, but this version of the character is so off-the-wall he's beyond help. I dunno, it's an okay version, but not my favourite, and that's a shame because the Clark Kent we get to spend time with in this "episode" is really interesting.
Finally, you have all the other things that are going on. I'm not big into the Superman lore; I've never even watched any of the Superman-specific TV shows and maybe only a couple of the films. I have watched all of Justice League (both versions) and Young Justice, as well as more broadly dipped in and out of DC, but I've got to say, I was lost at times in the story. The Bizarro World was probably the most outright confusing and I'm still not sure I understand what the first third was actually about; this is not helped by the consistent inclusion of P.R.O.J.E.C.T and their "Bizarro clones", where I'm unclear if the two are related? I get the concept of the Cube World and I'm aware of Bizarro Superman as a character, but I don't really get what this version was about or the importance of Zibarro 🤷♂️ Similarly, the whole inclusion of Atlas and Samson was just a bit pointless, and whilst the Supermen of the Future arc with his father was fun, I'm not sure the earlier gag about J-Lo paid off in the way intended. Lois just leaves a future war from being settled because she forgets to reply? What‽ 😂
The result is a mish-mash of good ideas that often feel rushed, confusing ideas that seem to go on too long, and a central premise that is often sidelined. We get hints of the whole "12 feats of Superman" but it isn't until the latter half that they're clear what is going on, and it's never certain when he's accomplished one. The ending is equally muddled, with a star-eating something and a possible computer, possible monster/villain/something else, and Lex with superpowers... it's all a bit much and there doesn't seem to be time to explain anything, so instead we just get lines of exposition and then Superman isn't dead but just inside the sun... somehow?
It's an enjoyable ride, but be warned that it's obviously designed for "true fans" and anyone else may get a little lost in the weeds 😉