Summary: Forget everything you know about The Man of Steel and brace yourself for a staggering new take on the world’s most popular Super Hero.Best-selling, Hugo Award-winning writer J. Michael Straczynski (BRAVE AND THE BOLD, Thor, Babylon 5) and red-hot rising star artist Shane Davis (GREEN LANTERN, SUPERMAN/BATMAN) team up for this exciting launch of the EARTH ONE graphic novel series. Set in an all-new continuity re-imagining DC’s top heroes, EARTH ONE is a new wave of original, stand-alone graphic novels produced by the top writers and artists in the industry. The groundbreaking new line rockets into effect right here with the Super Hero who started it all – Superman!What would happen if the origin of The Man of Tomorrow were introduced today for the very first time? Return to Smallville and experience the journey of Earth’s favorite adopted son as he grows from boy to Superman like you’ve never seen before!
Superman: Earth One, vol. 1, by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis 7.75
‘Superman: Earth One’ is basically a reiteration of the origin of Superman (I know, I know… been there, done that!). What this one attempts to do is to modernize Superman by bringing him into this era, turning him into an angst-ridden Generation Y young man. Don’t roll your eyes… the new movie will likely be like this too.
I picked up this book, not just because I’m a Superman fan (after all, how many origin books of the same character can one read in a lifetime?), but because I had stumbled upon a Wonder Woman book that Straczynski has written. It intrigued me, so I decided to request it and a selection of his other works from the library.
This one came in first.
I can see how appealing it would be for a writer to take on the challenge of rewriting an iconic character such as Superman in a more “realistic” fashion: it allows for liberties otherwise unavailable when confined by conventions, stirring the imagination in new ways. But it doesn’t mean that it’s always a good thing.
For instance, the afore-mentioned Gen Y angst is more “realistic”, but it’s completely out-of-character for Superman. Some may argue that making him more modern is refreshing, but I think that there are plenty of angsty characters out there and that there needs to be a remaining beacon of light in the seemingly omnipresent greyness and darkness.
What Superman brought to us, with his whole do-gooder, Big Blue Boy Scout, shtick, is to embody aspirations to greatness, something that is obviously rooted in the United States post-war era, where America felt on top and wanted to do good for goodness’ sake. One might brand the sentiment as naïve, but I firmly believe that there is a place, if not a need, for it.
And Superman is the only one who can sustain this demeanour: he was born and bred with strong ideals, and is a hero because he believes deeply in those ideals. He doesn’t do it out of necessity, doesn’t act out in reaction to threats, but does it because he believes that he can use his gifts to benefit his community. And his community extends even beyond humanity.
So to make him brood and worry about petty things, simply does not fit the bill. It’s an interesting approach, yes, but it’s incorrect. It would be like making Batman happy-go-lucky. Try imagining the Dark Knight as the Big Black Boy Scout for fun to see if it works. It doesn’t: it’s simply not part of his psychological make-up.
I must admit that I really enjoyed a lot of the book’s touches about responsibility and the dilemmas between doing what is easy and what is right. Clark ponders all that his parents have taught him (I loved all the rationalizations that Ma Kent came up with, as well as her overall tutelage) and struggles with his desire to buy into “the dream”, to make it rich/be a superstar, or to be a hero for the sake of doing what’s right. It’s something to think about.
Even though one commentary correctly criticized that Kent only becomes Superman when he’s forced to, when he’s completely pushed to the wall, not because he felt compelled to, I felt that Straczynski explored that angle admirably well. I disagree with the approach, but he did it in a way that would make sense if Clark Kent was just your average kid.
However, I hated that Davis penciled him that way, because it further chipped away at the icon. Seeing an average kid in the guide of Clark Kent, and later Superman, really didn’t do anything for me. Granted, it’s more “realistic”, but Superman should have the physique of someone super – he should not look like a scrawny kid (for crissakes, he doesn’t even have the strong jaw!).
And that first that first time that we see him in his official Clark Kent disguise…? That full-page spread makes him look so dorky that it make you want to smack him senseless. Let’s just say that, in ‘Earth One’ he’s more nerd than intellectual – and it’s still not even convincing as a disguise! Le sigh…
As for the piece’s villain, other than to force Clark Kent’s hand and give him no other recourse than to become Superman, he’s completely and utterly forgettable: he’s an alien called Tyrell. Yes, Tyrell. And he has sought out Superman for decades: being the last of Krypton, his death is the key to Tyrell’s civilization’s survival. Contrived, mundane, forgotten.
But, on the whole, ‘Superman: Earth One’ is a well-crafted book. Beyond my disagreements with its core approach, it’s well-thought out and it does offer a certain number of pleasing elements. I may even be tempted to read Straczynski’s follow-up to it, someday, if it happens to fall into my hands. That is, if Zack Snyder’s ‘Man of Steel’ doesn’t make me turn my back on the modern age of Superman once and for all, of course.