No, DC Comics’ All-Star Superman is not canon. In other words, all the events that happened across the comic book series’ 12 issues do not fit into the normal DC continuity.
But the series is widely considered to be one of the most influential and beloved Superman stories of DC Comics’ history. In this post, we’ll go explore what All-Star Superman is all about and how it continues to make an impact almost two decades after it was released.
What Is All-Star Superman About?
All-Star Superman tells the story of a version of Superman who is dying. At the beginning of the series, he rescues a team of scientists going on a research mission to the sun. As it turned out, that mission was sabotaged by none other than the Man of Steel’s greatest enemy, Lex Luthor.
Luthor has an ulterior motive, of course. He knew Superman would come to the aid of the research team. So he masterminds the space disaster to expose Superman’s body to immeasurable amounts of radiation from the sun.
The overexposure grants Superman increased levels of power. But it’s also harmful to his body. After consulting with one of the scientists he saves, he learns that he’s got one year before he bites the dust. However, he decides to keep this fact a secret.
But he does reveal another secret to Lois Lane: his true identity. Along the way, he completes the so-called Twelve Labors of Superman (we’ll discuss these in detail later), which not only benefit humans but also his fellow surviving Kryptonians as well.
The All-Star Superman comic book concludes with Superman’s eventual “death.” Near its end, the series shows a hint of an immediate future where Lois Lane and the entire Planet Earth are mourning and honoring a Superman that sacrificed his life to save his adopted home.
The Legacy of All-Star Superman Comics
The All-Star Superman comic book series was brought to life by Scottish writer Grant Morrison (of Arkham Asylum and Wonder Woman: Earth One fame) and his frequent collaborator, artist and fellow Scot Frank Quitely (known for We3 and Jupiter’s Legacy).
The series began its run in November 2005 and published its 12th issue by October 2008. Its success would spur DC comics to publish later collections, including All-Star Superman Volume 1 (the first six issues), All-Star Superman Volume 2 (issues #7 to #12), and Absolute All-Star Superman (all 12 issues, plus a sketchbook).
Throughout its publication run, the All-Star Superman comic book series would garner several awards including a couple of Eisner Awards, two Harvey Awards, and three Eagle Awards.
The ensuing years would see several adaptations of the critically-acclaimed series. In 2011, DC would release the animated movie All-Star Superman. Two years later, Zack Snyder would debut Man of Steel (with a star-studded cast that includes Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, and Michael Shannon), which would incorporate dialogue spoken by Jor-El (Superman’s dad) lifted nearly word-for-word from the All-Star Superman comic book.
Then in early 2023, DC Studios chief James Gunn strongly hinted that the Superman reboot he’s working on (titled Superman: Legacy) will be partly inspired by events in All-Star Superman.
What Are the 12 Labors of Superman In the All-Star Superman Comics?
If you consider yourself a fan of Superman or DC comics in general, you might already be familiar with the dozen “labors” accomplished by the Last Son of Krypton in the All-Star Superman comic book series.
But if you haven’t read All-Star Superman or seen the animated film adaptation yet, then you might want to skip this part.
S P O I L E R S A H E A D .
We already mentioned a few of the 12 great labors earlier in this post, but because they’re all epic and essential to the story of the All-Star Superman comic book series, they’re worth repeating.
Labor #1 - Saving the research mission to the sun. A team of scientists led by the brilliant Dr. Leo Quintum goes on an exploratory expedition to the Sun. But one of the researchers turns out to be a clone created by Lex Luthor. Superman arrives to subdue the clone and rescue the team. But in the process, he exposes himself to massive amounts of the sun’s radiation (which was Luthor’s plan all along).
Labor #2 - Brewing the Super-Serum. This is an interesting feat because it’s proof that Superman isn’t just a man of brawn but also brains. As a birthday present for Lois Lane, Superman gifts her with her own super-suit and the Super-Serum (or Super-Elixir), which he himself created. He synthesized it by copying a DNA strand (consisting of some six million components) of his superpowers. The serum gives Lois all of Supes’ powers and abilities for a full 24 hours.
Labor #3 - Answering the Unanswerable Question. Lois Lane has been gifted with the Jewels of Atom-Hotep. It turns out, they were stolen from the Ultrasphinx, a powerful being who hails from the 80th century B.C. Naturally, he’s not too happy seeing his crown jewels worn by a feisty reporter from the Daily Planet. He takes Lois and throws a riddle (the unanswerable question) to Superman: “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an unmovable object?” The Man of Steel answers with a couple of words: “They surrender.” But his short reply is deemed acceptable by the Ultrasphinx who then proceeds to let Lois go.
Labor #4 - Chaining the Chronovore. What is the Chronovore? To the naked eye, it looks like a gigantic mass of eyes, mouths, and arms (you have to see it to believe it). Plus, it has the ability to eat time off living things’ lives and age any person or object that comes in contact with it. Superman manages to chain the thing, which is quite an achievement when several Supermen from the future were struggling to contain the abomination. But alas, the Chronovore steals three minutes from his life. In those precious 180 seconds, his adoptive father, Jonathan Kent, dies of a heart attack.
Labor #5 - Saving the world from htraE and Bizarro. Clones from the cube-shaped world htraE (it’s just “Earth” spelled backwards) led by Bizarro (an “inverted” version of Superman) lays siege to planet Earth’s inhabitants. But Superman arrives in time to save the day. He flies off to htraE and just barely escapes before all the Bizarro-Home clones and their planet sink towards another dimension called the Underverse.
Labor #6 - Escaping from the Underverse. While in htraE, Superman convinces people from Bizarro-Home to help him build a ship. He accomplishes this by speaking in Bizarro-speak (talking using the negative tense). He manages to escape htraE just at sinks towards the Underverse dimension.
Labor #7 - Creating life in a new world. Superman wonders if Earth might survive without a savior like him. So he creates a new world to observe and find out if that’s the case. He takes pure energy from the sun and conducts a nano-optical transfusion of that energy into the Infant Universe of Qwewq. As a result, he created Earth Q, a planet without Superman or any superheroes. That could be us – the real-world Earth.
Labor #8 - Liberating Kandor while finding a cure for cancer. Kandor used to be a city on Planet Krypton, but it was shrunk by Brainiac and placed inside a glass jar. It was subsequently rescued by Superman. Before he dies, he restores the city to its normal size and relocates it to Mars. In gratitude, a number of micro-sized Kandorian physicians try to help Superman by attempting to cure his solar radiation sickness by entering his bloodstream to fix him from within. The effort ultimately fails, but Superman asks them instead to try the same method on cancer patients, which they agree to do.
Labor #9 - Stopping Solaris. Also known as the Tyrant Sun, Solaris is an artificial sun that happens to be sentient and malevolent. And Lex Luthor (that guy again) just summoned the entity to Earth. With the help of Supermen and a solar suit, Superman defeats Solaris by targeting its center eye.
Labor #10 - Defeating Death. Having just beaten Solaris and seemingly dying from the effort, Superman’s consciousness journeys to the realm between life and death. He gets a vision reuniting him with his father, Jor-El. His dad gives him the big speech (which directly inspired an important line in Snyder’s film Man of Steel) and tells him he has a choice to make: To remain dead or go back one last time to stop evil (who else but Luthor, who stole Supes’ Super-Serum). Superman makes his choice – he conquers death and gets back to the realm of the living.
Labor #11 - Creating a new artificial heart for the dying sun. Yes, Superman had won against Solaris, but the evil sun had already damaged the Solar System’s sun. As his body is turning into pure solar energy, Superman gives Lois one last kiss before flying into the sun’s core. His mission: To build an artificial heart for the sun and repair it from within no matter how long it takes (possibly tens and thousands of years).
Labor #12 - Sharing the formula for creating a new Superman. Before it ends, the All-Star Superman comic book series shows a world still mourning Superman’s death and honoring his ultimate sacrifice one year later. But there’s hope – it’s also revealed that before he flew into the sun, Superman had left Dr. Quintum a parting gift: The genetic formula needed to produce a new protector of Earth.
S P O I L E R S O V E R .
The so-called 12 labors of Superman, of course, are a nice reference to the 12 labors of one other super strong guy – Hercules of Greek mythology.
Quite literally, Superman’s 12 labors would become the stuff of legend – something that would inspire future versions and generations of Supermen and superheroes.
Interesting bit of trivia: Other superheroes have done their versions of mythical 12 labors. For instance, in the mid-1970s, Wonder Woman had to complete a dozen impossible tasks to prove her worthiness to join the Justice League of America (JLA). And of course, there’s Marvel Comics’ Hercules, who accomplished a modern version of the labors for a reality TV program back in the mid-2000s.
How Strong Is All-Star Superman?
Quite strong, actually. It’s safe to say that after exposing himself to massive amounts of solar radiation, Superman has increased his powers, including his super-strength.
In the All-Star Superman comic book series, this enhanced strength is displayed on more than one occasion. For example, he wrestles two super-strong time travelers (Samson and Atlas) at the same time. The over-the-top sequence ends with both strongmen getting handed a lesson in humility and in the case of Samson, a broken elbow.
If you want to be technical, you can hear it from Dr. Quintum himself. According to the scientist, Superman can push against a weight equivalent to 200 quintillion (that would be 200,000,000,000,000,000,000) tons. The scary part is neither Superman nor Dr. Quintum knows Supes’ upper limit yet.
He gains new powers too. For instance, the All-Star Superman version has the ability to expand his bio-electric field. Being the nice guy that he is, Supes uses this newfound power to protect regular folks.
And in one scene, it’s suggested that the Man of Steel can project energy through his hands. As he puts his hand on the table, he burns and imprints his logo on its surface.
In another scene, he is shown to be generating lightning from his hands (like a Sith Lord can) and hurling it towards Bizarro.
And his genes have become so powerful that when properly synthesized and made potable, it can grant anybody who drinks it superpowers. This is what happens to Lois Lane and later, to Lex Luthor.
What Happened to All-Star Superman?
The All-Star Superman comic books not only paint a version of Superman that’s stronger and more powerful, but also one that’s pensive, melancholic, and even vulnerable. After all, he knows fate has given him one year to live.
But with the limited time he had, All-Star Superman was able to accomplish things that are mythical (see the 12 Labors of Superman above), deeply profound (saving a depressed girl who’s about to jump off a skyscraper), and immeasurably kind (carrying a bus full of sick kids to see the pyramids of Egypt).
He was supposed to die (and he did, before conquering death itself), but he transcended his physical body to be one with solar energy.
So in a way, the ending of the All-Star Superman comic book series makes perfect sense. What better way to repair a dying sun than to have somebody made of pure solar energy and armed with indomitable will fix it from within? For as long as it takes.
And that’s what All-Star Superman did.
Is All-Star Superman Superman Prime?
Yes, but there’s gonna be a lot of explaining ahead, so brace yourself.
First, we need to mention that in DC comics, the title Superman Prime can refer to Superboy Prime (who becomes a man after absorbing the energy of a Guardian of the Universe he defeated) and the golden guy Superman Prime (who is wrapped in the sun’s golden energy).
Superman Prime/Superboy Prime is canon. But golden guy Superman Prime is not.
As told in the DC One Million crossover sage, the golden Superman Prime comes from a possible future, specifically the 853rd century. That would be about 83,000 years from now.
His body looks that way because he’s made of pure solar energy. That’s what happens if you live inside the sun for tens of thousands of years. He stayed in the star for so long that he basically became a living extension of the sun.
He goes on to roam the entire universe and create the Superman Dynasty, Supermen descendants who carry on his legacy of truth and justice.
This version of Superman happens to be created by Grant Morrison, the same guy who wrote the All-Star Superman comic book series.
Morrison makes no secret of his intention to supply some form of continuity in his non-canon Superman work. And yup -- he originally planned for All-Star Superman and Superman Prime in DC One Million to be the same guy.
As we mentioned earlier, the story in the All-Star Superman comic book series is non-canon. So it fits nicely into the DC One Million story without ruining the regular DC comics continuity.
If you don’t buy all of this, that’s perfectly okay. You can enjoy both the All-Star Superman and DC One Million comic books even if you don’t necessarily accept their connection or their canon status.
After all, stories don’t need to be canon to be great. Take the classic Batman: Killing Joke comic book, for instance. Debate raged across the decades over whether it’s canon or not (although the 2011 New 52 relaunch would later suggest strongly that it is indeed canon).
But there’s no debate that All-Star Superman is one of the greatest all-time superman stories. It may not be canon, but it sure is epic in every sense of the word. So if you haven’t read the All-Star Superman comic book series yet, what are you waiting for?
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