The penultimate issue of All-Star Superman begins with Lex Luthor’s execution, and it ends with Luthor bursting through the wall of the Daily Planet as Clark Kent collapses dead over the headline that Superman has died. In between those two events are a few twists that only really surprise the people who are inside the story; Luthor stole the formula for twenty-four hour superpowers that Superman made way back in issue #2 for Lois Lane’s birthday, and he created and drank it in prison just before he was scheduled to be executed. Solaris the Tyrant Sun, a giant sentient solar computer, arrives and casts Earth in perpetual red sunlight, which should neutralize Superman’s powers. Superman, anticipating that this is his last adventure, finishes putting everything in order and goes to meet his fate.
What we get here is an issue that is long on setup for the finale, and short on much else. It’s been obvious since the beginning that Luthor had a plan in place that would allow him to escape prison whenever he wanted (issue #5 was built on the premise that Luthor could walk out at any time, but he was adhering to his own schedule), and so the fact that he survives his own electrocution isn’t particularly surprising for the reader. It’s a nice set piece; watching Luthor ambush the prison guards is a lot of fun; it just isn’t surprising.
Slightly more resonant are the brief scenes of Superman closing up shop in his fortress. He leaves behind a lot of things for his robot assistants to care for, including a lot of mementos of his adventures during this brief series. We catch a glimpse of the Phantom Zone mirror where Bar-El and Lilo are rampaging through the hordes of Kryptonian criminals; Superman arranges to have a page of Zibarro’s poetry that he brought back from the Underverse preserved in superlaminate; there’s an entire zoo of animals who were mutated by contact with the Bizarro world that now have special needs. Beyond those things that we recognize just from reading the most recent adventures of this Superman, there are many other things strewn about in the background that highlight just how full this hero’s life has been. Quitely goes above and beyond to make this world lived in by its two central figures; just as we see so much of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and the history preserved there, we also get a glimpse in this issue of one of Luthor’s hideouts where he’s stowed an impressive number of costumes and battle suits over the years (many in his signature purple and green color scheme). We’re getting ready to say goodbye to these versions of the DC characters, and Morrison wants to take a moment to acknowledge all the history he’s been playing with before getting on with the action.
And that’s really the long and short of this issue. It’s mostly setup for the big finale, and that’s perfectly okay.