Exploring the Elements of Life and Death through All-Star Superman (2011)

We all dream that our favorite heroes would live on forever. Whether if they are real or fiction, we have high expectations that they will always be there for us. While browsing for a good animated movie to watch for Valentines Day, I’ve encountered this gem. Being a long time fan of DC Comics, I was drawn to the storyline and the humanistic level of this movie. It went beyond my expectations not only as a comic book fan, but as a lover of heroic stories.

Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers. If you have not seen the movie, then please read at your own risk.

Synopsis of the Film

Superman contemplates about the news of his inevitable death
Superman contemplates on the big news

In the animated film All-Star Superman (2011), Clark Kent must fight one last battle to save Earth as he prepares for the end of his own life in this animated adventure. With his time running out, the Man of Steel soon learns that his impending death is part of an evil plot by his oldest enemy: Lex Luthor.

The movie is based on the twelve-issued comic book series featuring Superman that ran from November 2005 to October 2008. The series was written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely, digitally inked by Jamie Grant and published by DC Comics.

Tying Up Loose Ends

Superman visits the grave site of Jonathan Kent
Superman visits the grave site of Jonathan Kent

It’s pretty hard to imagine Superman dying. After all, he has battled every single supernatural force that came to existence who tried to threaten Earth. A humble savior of the masses, he was already indoctrinated by his beloved parents who taught him the meaning of morality and what it was like to live as a human being. Coming from Smallville, Clark Kent embraced his way of life and vowed to protect the human race while concealing his identity. Throughout his lifetime, Clark made every sacrifice he could just to protect the ones he loved. He risked it all, even when he was aware of the consequences of his actions.

And yet, when our beloved superhero discovers that he was overexposed by solar radiation after battling a genetically enhanced clone at the beginning of the movie, Superman quietly came to grips of his new found discovery:

Superman: I see it, like tiny fireworks beneath my skin.

Dr. Leo Quintum: Your cells are over-saturated with power. Their bursting from within.

Superman: I’m dying.

Dr. Leo Quintum: I’m sorry, Superman. If I hadn’t tried to steal fire from the sun, none of this would have happened.

Superman: Don’t apologize. You couldn’t have known.

Dr. Leo Quintum: But *he* knew. It was his plan all along. Luthor used me to kill you.

While watching the film, I’ve noticed that Superman did not go in a frenzy on going after Lex Luthor to seek revenge. Instead, he did the complete opposite – he took the time to tie up loose ends. Knowing that his time was near, Superman made every effort to show his appreciation and gratitude for what he’d accomplished.

For the Love of a Woman

Superman and Lois Lane kissing on the Moon
Superman and Lois Lane kissing on the Moon

Knowing that he has a short amount of time to live, Superman revealed to Lois that he is Clark Kent. In an effort to welcome Lois into his life, Superman takes her to the Fortress of Solitude. The shock and confusion was still lingering in Lois’s mind. After all, it was not an everyday coincidence where her closest partner at the Daily Planet was hiding his true identity by impersonating as a reporter.

Of course, she initially doubts his revelation since she was unable to prove his identity during those moments where Clark Kent and Superman appeared at the same time:

Lois Lane: Okay, how about you explain the time Clark was a witness in the Boss Grimaldi trial and you were his bodyguard?

Superman: Batman was standing in for me.

Lois Lane: And then Clark presented you with the key to the city, that was Batman too?

Superman: A robot. Lois, when I misled you, it was for your own protection. But now I’m telling you the truth. Clark Kent and Superman are one in the same.

Lois Lane: If you’re telling me the truth now, doesn’t that mean now you’ve been lying to me for years?

Even with the of best intentions from Superman, Lois still felt that he should’ve had the opportunity to let her know the truth long ago when he first started coming to Metropolis. Given with a series of events of Superman’s unexplained “secretiveness” when visiting the Fortress of Solitude, Lois thought that she was trapped as a result. It turns out that during her visit, she was exposed to a chemical that made her more paranoid.

Thus, she was under this peculiar assumption which I thought was hilarious (and very Lois Lane of her to say):

It all makes sense now. He’s brought me here to be the mother of a race of super-children. Can’t let that happen. They’ll grow up and lie to everybody.

What makes this scene so unique was that it already provided the opportunity to explain Superman’s concealment – he was working on an experimental drug that he eventually gave to Lois as a gift which granted her superhuman powers for 24 hours. Despite his honest background, Superman was trying his hardest not to give any details on releasing Lois’s surprise gift at the beginning. After the misunderstanding, Lois came to appreciate Superman’s gift – he was literally offering a piece of his own strength so that way she can be protected. Superman also wanted Lois to experience what he had to live throughout his lifetime. As the saying goes, “less talk, more action.”

Love Thy Enemy

Clark Kent meets Lex Luthor in prision
Clark Kent meets Lex Luthor in prision

While I was watching the film, I kept asking myself this question – Superman had every opportunity to put Lex Luthor into submission. Why did he choose not to kill him right away since he’s dying? It would’ve been an instant victory! What separates Superman from Lex Luthor was the absence of indignation towards mankind. Superman did not have any need to abuse his power. He understood the consequences and the effects. Even with the overdose of solar radiation which caused Superman to become more powerful than he was (i.e. being immune to kryptonite), it did not give him any reason to seek an opportunity to exert his new abilities towards the human race.

Lex Luthor, on the other hand, wanted to have his moment of glory by wanting to be the ruler of the world. Yes, Lex Luthor did succeed in his revenge against Superman by reprogramming one of the Fortress’ robots to steal the serum that Superman made for Lois’ birthday. Towards the end of the movie, Lex did consume the vial and started to witness the same molecules and atoms that Superman was seeing everyday. Within their last battle, Superman was able to blast the gravity gun towards Lex Luthor which rapidly increase the rate of the powers to burn out. As Lex’s powers were draining, he wished that his experience would continue. He believes he can solve the grand unification theory but when he reaches for his next vial of serum, he realizes that Superman has stolen his supply. Superman then destroys the serum over Lex’s protests:

Lex Luthor: Give it back. I saw everything. I saw how to save the world. I could have made everyone see. If it wasn’t for you, I could have saved the world.

Superman: If it had mattered to you, Luthor, you could have saved the world years ago.

Lex Luthor: You’re right.

Going back to the question that I’ve asked myself earlier, I can clearly see why Superman did not want to take advantage of the opportunity of killing Lex Luthor after the booby-trap setup earlier on the movie. He understood the value of the justice system. Rather than taking the law upon his own hands, Superman decided that Lex Luthor would have to face his own karma after all of the injustice he put Superman through.

Journal containing the genome code to replicate Superman's power
Journal containing the genome code to replicate Superman’s power

At the end of the movie, Quintum paid a visit to Lex Luthor in his cell. Realizing the errors of his ways, Lex explains to Quintum on how he felt after his last battle with Superman:

Lex Luthor: Doomed planet. Desperate scientists. Last hope. Kindly couple. Superman.

Dr. Leo Quintum: We know all the story, Luthor. Why did you ask to see me? If this is an escape attempt…

Lex Luthor: I’d already be free. No, I’ve already accepted my imminent execution. This is a confession. Forgive me, doctor. For have I sinned. A lot.

Dr. Leo Quintum: You killed him.

Lex Luthor: And my deathbed claims that I’ve seen the error of my ways can’t change that. But there is one thing I can do to honor his memory.

Lex presented Quintum a formula to recreate Superman’s genetic structure through a healthy human embryo. In a way, the movie hinted that there could be a possibility that Superman’s legacy could be carried to the next generation by having Lois Lane become the mother of his child. Even though Superman had sacrificed himself to repair the sun from explosion, Lois still remained hopeful that one day he will come back:

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.

A Heartfelt Goodbye

Superman shares his one last kiss with Lois Lane
Superman shares his one last kiss with Lois Lane

After watching All-Star Superman (2011), I found it to be one of the most emotional animated movies from the Superman series. What I love about the movie is that it focused more on Superman’s ability to cope with his death while showing that appreciation for life. In a way, it seems that Superman was not surprised about his outcome and was already prepared from the beginning.

I think one of the most heartfelt scenes during the course of the film was when Superman’s body was starting to give out by slowly becoming pure energy. Despite the fact that he was dying, he made sure that he took the time to appreciate his last moments with the woman he loved. If anything, Lois Lane was the reason why Superman kept fighting to make sure that not only the world was protected, but he needed to find every chance on reminding Lois that he’ll always be there for her after he’s gone. As they shared their last embrace, Lois touches Superman’s face and noticed the sudden change after his final battle with Lex Luthor:

Lois Lane: Oh, your poor face.

Superman: No one can repair the sun but me, Lois. I’m turning into pure energy and I only have one chance to save the world.

Lois Lane: That’s all you’ve ever needed.

Superman: I love you, Lois Lane, until the end of time.

In the end, Superman wasn’t just a hero because of his powers. It was because he learned how to embrace his vulnerabilities when he was at his weakest.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Actually watched this movie on Netflix the other day and I must say that I thought it was well done for someone that didn’t even know about the comic book series done by Grant Morrison. However I kind of compare it to the Death Of Superman series from the 90’s with Doomsday which I liked a lot better but wasn’t done all that great IMO in animation and on dvd. At least in that series you knew he was killed but was brought back to life via Kryptonian technology so it wasn’t open ended so to speak like in this movie. Well I guess you could say he does come back in DC Prime Million (when he comes out of the sun) or whatever the series is named & also in Morrison’s new deal to reboot Action Comics. All in all well done but even though I didn’t shed a tear or anything like that I hated the way it ended!

  2. I haven’t read the comic arc it’s based on, so it may just be a case of it being quite a faithful interpretation of fantastic source material (which is commendable in itself), but this film really did blow me away in terms of its profundity and voice acting.

    I have to confess, I find most Superman films/ cartoons/ tv series terrifically boring, as I never really feel a sense of threat…so to see him fight ideological battles such as he did in this and the more recent Superman vs The Elite is far more compelling.

    • Lawzonz

      Yea I’ve heard unbelievable things about how good the comics were so when I saw this available on Netflix, I hesitated because I thought I owed it to myself ot real the source material; the best material.

      When it was on HBO last month though, I thought “why not”.
      Very glad I did.
      The story was truly interesting and they showed that Lex Luthor is so much more than your average villain.

      More than that, I like that Superman, for all practical purposes, died.
      How about that!

  3. Neal Stanley

    Great writeup. Frank Quietly & Morrison create a very unique universe that completely captivated me when I first read the comics. All things good I have ever heard about the book is really dead on.

  4. Whether Superman is dead or not, he is not dead. But it’s almost like he might as well be – He’s trapped in the sun forever because he’s now pure energy. The last image in the film is him fixing the sun making it an artificial heart to keep burning.

    It’s quite a tragic ending but he’s not dead.

    And on Earth, thanks to Luthor decoding Superman’s genetic DNA, Quintum was able to create Superman’s son using Lois so Superman’s work goes on protecting Earth through his son.

  5. Taylor Ramsey

    While is didn’t enjoy the film as much as the comic, this was an amazing movie.
    Nice article, thanks.

  6. I always recommend my friends to read the Grant Morrison comic. It is the last Superman comic they’ll wish to read, because it’s (imo) the perfect send off of our favourite hero and all he represents.

  7. Wonder Bell

    They need to make these movies LONGER. When the average superhero movie clocks in at over 2 hours, 75 minutes is just not enough time to tell a great story. I guess it works OK, but there’s so much they cut out that could have fit in if they made it as long as a regular Superman movie.

  8. DonKing

    This is one of the best animated series based on comic, happy to see a post about it here, hope more fans watch it.

    • honestly it was decent, I didn’t like the cartoon style much.

  9. Very insightful and well written synopsis!

  10. Definitely need to check this movie out.

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