All Star Superman #12: Superman.....secrets.
It took me kind of a while to decide how I felt about this one. It definitely wasn’t kind of the over-the-top science fiction ending that I expected. In the previous issue we saw a white-suited Superman and an army of robots fight a mad sentient sun in the depths of space. I remember thinking, "How are they going to top this one?" The answer is: they didn’t, at least not in the way I expected. What we got was a weird dream and a brawl between Luthor and Superman. Ultimately, it worked out better than anything I expected because it focused on Superman’s fears and his death.
Superman’s death, while magnificent in scope, is understated by the comic. Superman sacrifices himself and becomes one with the sun, but the actual panel of it happening is only a sliver of a page. Compare this to the double page spread of Superman flying through the sun or Superman and Lois on the moon and it looks particularly insignificant. There are three panels of Superman flying through space and then it just sort of happens. The next page is Lois and Jimmy in a Park one year later, and his death isn’t allowed to sink in at all. There’s no resolution to it until the page after with Superman in the heart of the Sun. I think it’s pretty clear that Superman isn’t coming back that and Lois is really just wishing.
As Brandon pointed out in his review the whole finale isn’t beautiful at all. The tears and the blood look disgusting. There’s smoke everywhere and Quitely makes Superman’s final actions on Earth claustrophobic. Quietly’s art coupled with the layout gives his death a jarring effect. It makes Superman’s final act feel more like a real death. It just sort of happens and it takes a while for it to sink in. When it’s all said and done it’s not it’s not the actual death that we remember, but an amalgam of memories and feelings from their life.
His death is preceded by a dream that outlines his fears and hopes for humanity. At the end of issue 11, Superman is technically already dead. Issue 12 starts with him in the land of radio-consciousness. This is interpreted by Superman as an exploding Krypton where he is Kal-el son of Joe-el. Kal-el is completely oblivious to his current situation and it’s his father that tells him he’s actually dead. Through some strange protests by Kal-el at the end of this sequence it ends up feeling more like a vision than an actual occurrence, and it becomes more of a peak into Superman’s unconscious. He is like a father figure to the world, but struggles with what it means to be a father. The issue implies that one day humans will become super-men just like the Kryptonians, and the exploding Krypton embodies Superman’s fear for the present and future of Earth. In these pages he’s working to save Krypton and worries about losing the people he’s fighting to save. He struggles with the idea of not being able to save everyone, which goes back to issue 6 when he cries out at not being able to save Jonathan Kent from a heart attack.
His ultimate dream is not that the world will be OK without him but that humans will one day ascend to his level. Not the level of super-powers but more like his level of awareness, which Lex seems to attain for a moment when he loses his 24-hour superpowers. His final image and hope is a populist one. He's in the center of the Sun working like in a factory. He wants everyone to be O.K. and to ascend as a race, but his final actions are elitist By leaving the hope for humanity solely in the hands of Professor Quintum puts his trust in science and technology. It's a hopeful, but strange vision for the future. Professor Quintum and his P.R.O.J.E.C.T. team continue to invent new technologies continuing our racial advancement, while Jimmy and Lois remain on Earth and figure out how to deal with it all. A challenge for human ingenuity, indeed.