“Superman’s journal, final entry. My cells are breaking down at an alarming rate. I’m running out of time. I have few regrets. My life has been a wonder. I’ve traveled across space and time, seen and done things beyond imagination. I had parents who loved me. Good friends like Pete, Lana, and Jimmy. I got to help people while living an incredible adventure. I loved a good woman, and she loved me back. I’m tired, but I still have one more job to do …”
We all know the story and its many incarnations. All-Star Superman is one of the more unique stories to be told through Warner Brothers Animation’s DC feature films. It’s not the latest. It was released in 2011 before Warner Brothers started to release their films on UHD. Of course, there was no UHD Blu-ray in 2011. In addition to the recent and upcoming animated features, Warner Brothers is going back to those earlier films, and All-Star Superman is as good a place as any to start.
If you are not familiar with the DC legacy of comics, you could easily mistake the title to mean the film will be loaded down with plenty of other DC characters, at least the big ones. You might expect a kind of Justice League mash-up. In reality the film is sourced from a 12-issue/month run back in 2005 to 2008. It is part of the DC All-Star Comics run. These comics often involved the Justice Society but also took on an anthology kind of format which could tell the story of almost any DC character. In this run it was all about Superman, and you’re not going to see any of his Super Friends in this series. Because of the anthology nature of this story, it appears to play out in a series of vignettes that aren’t necessarily connected completely. Because you only have so much time in the film, many of the stories from the comic run are not included here. I’d say the most significant subtraction was a story involving the Bizzaro characters. The original comic story was created by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. The film screenplay adaption was written by Dwayne McDuffie, who sadly passed away before the film was completed.
“Doomed planet. Desperate scientist. Last hope. Kindly couple. Superman.”
As the film begins, we find Superman (Denton) performing one of those heroic rescues in space. But the rescue was a trap set by Lex Luthor (LaPaglia), and now Superman has absorbed too much of the yellow sun radiation that primarily gives him many of his powers. He’s dying. Breaking it down into real-world elements, Supes has cancer and only about six months to live. He’s told there’s no hope or cure, and now Superman must reflect on how to spend these last months. He starts out on a kind of bucket list.
Bucket list item number one involves Lois Lane (Hendricks). It happens to be her birthday, so he decides to give her a day to remember for the rest of both of their lives. He takes her to his Fortress Of Solitude and for a visit to Atlantis, which isn’t really shown on the film. Most of all he reveals his true identity to Lois. The hits don’t stop there. He’s invented a formula that will give a human superpowers like his for 24 hours, and he presents the serum along with a super “suit” he made specifically for Lois. They spend the rest of this story element romping around doing super stuff. There was a segment in the comics that included his dog Krypto in some super romping, but that was another element cut for time.
“Courtesy of Lex Luthor.”
Lex Luthor is on death row when he’s visited by Clark Kent. While he appears to pretty much run the place complete with experiments and robots to do his bidding, he has not attempted any kind of escape. He claims to have accepted his fate and takes a little joy in knowing that he killed Superman. A kind of now-I-can-die-in-peace sort of thing. Of course, we know better. He has copied Superman’s serum, and so the electric chair really doesn’t frighten him. He has teamed up with a rogue sun entity named Solaris (Downes), who will create an emergency with the sun so that Lex can come to the world’s aid and become the new hero to replace the dying Man of Steel. But there’s no honor among thieves, and Lex has been betrayed while Solaris poisons the Sun. This rogue Sun thing is really a pain in the you-know-where. Fortunately in our visit with Lois to the Fortress Of Solitude, we know Superman conveniently has a sun eater. Go figure. The film ends with Superman making a transformation to go and “fix” the sun, which is what Lois informs us he’s doing while he appears to be gone for a really long time. Superman’s not dead, of course. If you think that’s a spoiler, man, are you new to this kind of thing.
“To truth, justice, and all of the things you can’t weigh or measure. To every abstract notion he personifies.”
Other small unrelated vignettes include a pair of Kryptonians who want to create a new Krypton on Earth, and Supes manages to pretty much talk them out of it. There’s also a point where Samson and Atlas travel to modern days to challenge Supes for Lois’s affections. What’s neat about these little elements is that it’s borrowed heavily from the Silver Age of comics. I have been reading the several Superman titles going back to the 1930’s and am in that late 50’s/early 60’s period of the titles. Today’s audience would find so many of those elements silly, and let’s be honest … they were. But it’s part of the legacy, and if you’re a fan of that age, you’ll love elements like the power serum, invading superpower folks, 24 power serums, the shrunken city in a bottle of Kandor, Jimmy’s signal watch, and his collection of super weapons and artifacts. This is what greeted you every issue if you were reading back then or picking it up for the first time like I am. The age of digital comics makes it so easy to read these old issues. I tend to read a comic or two or three … or four in bed before I go to sleep. Maybe that’s why my wife appears to be playing Manfred Man’s Blinded By The Light lately. I’m not sure.
All-Star Superman is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The ultra-high-definition image presentation is arrived at with an HEVC codec at an average of 60 mbps. This is an upscaled 4K presentation because of the original resolution of the source material. All of that was sourced at 2K, and so we get a fair upconvert here. The biggest flaw I could find is the blurry lines at times. The art doesn’t translate with crisp, vivid lines. That’s an issue with the source, and you’re not going to be able to fix it without re-animating the film, and that pretty much makes it a new film, yeah? Colors are bright and vivid, and you do get average black levels with enough shadow detail to keep you engaged. It’s still a huge improvement over the original Blu-ray release.
It’s identical to the DTS-HD MA audio presentation on the original Blu-ray. A little more bandwidth gives you slightly fuller depth, but it’s all pretty much the same. For the most part that’s fine. Dialog is clear and crisp, and the score has some truly standout moments, like when Superman heads into space with a majestic determination that’s all found in the score.
An All-Star Adaptation: (7:57) The production crew talk a lot about the original comic and how much inspiration is gave them. They take us through key moments of both, and it kind of turns into a Grant Morrison love-fest.
An All-Star Salute To The Silver Age: (7:16) This one looks at all of those elements I mentioned from that era in the comics. It’s so cool that this came as I was reading that stuff.
Creative Flow – Incubating The Idea With Grant Morrison: (9:35) This is an intimate feature with Morrison himself. He guides us through the style and emotional ideas that he evolved with the comic run. We watch him going over sketches and concept art as he evolved the ideas that would become the comic run.
Superman Now: (33:45) Again we join Morrison, and they go through the material in much more detail.
All-Star Comics Digital Comic
You likely have the old Blu-ray release, but you know you have to add it to your collection anyway. It’s nice to have them all together on that UHD shelf, and while it’s far from the best of these films, it’s got a charm that maybe it takes a more seasoned fan to truly appreciate. The ending is a little sad, because these characters don’t know if Superman will ever retur,n and I suspect it was left open to the readers to decide for themselves. But of course, Superman’s not dead. “He’s not dead. He’s up there fixing the sun. And when he’s done, he’ll be back. And I’ll be here waiting for him.”