Superman: Earth One
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Penciled by Shane Davis
Inked by Sandra Hope
Colored by Barbara Ciardo
Lettered by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
If you’ve been reading my ramblings for a while now, you’ve noticed that despite my general indifference to superhero comics, I’m a big nut for Superman. There’s something very inspiring and exciting about the character, something I’ve never found in the derivatives who’ve followed his creation. So understand that I looked forward to Superman: Earth One and only felt more thrilled when the sales numbers took off, the critical word came back strong. And perhaps I got a little too excited.
Now, let me say up front, I enjoyed Superman: Earth One. It’s solidly written, with passable insights into the characters and plenty of great action. I enjoyed it, and I’m in for the sequel when it arrives. In Superman: Earth One, if you missed the hype, writer J. Michael Straczynski reinterprets Superman for the modern era. Forget what you know: Clark Kent is twenty-ish years old, he’s just arrived in Metropolis, and he’s like most of us at that age – full of promise, but unsure how to apply himself.
What surprised me most in reading Superman: Earth One is how traditional it is. Certain standards I expected, the costume, Lois, Krypton, probably the Daily Planet. But it’s pretty much all there, the kindly foster parents who raised him right, Olsen and Perry White. Straczynski does a fine job exploring the dynamic, but at this point, I’ve read literally thousands of Superman comics. So while the dialogue works and the narration has intent, the insights aren’t anything I haven’t read hundreds of times already.
The plot, the destruction of Krypton (the rationale behind it, that is), it’s a neat twist, well done, but it’s more a surface idea than something at the core of who Clark is. Fortunately, I like the character and I’m okay with a solid plot twist and good (if not revolutionary) character work. I’d like to see it go farther, push a little beyond the traditional boundaries of the Superman mythos. And I’d like to see Jim Olsen be a little less hardcore idealistic; I couldn’t buy into a guy who’d willingly be killed by a giant robot to get “the truth” in a photograph. Idealism is one thing; suicidal impulses are another.
Fortunately, with the origin out of the way, the groundwork is now laid for Straczynski to take things in new directions. He’s clearly given the future of the series some thought, as Earth One introduces not only government interest in Clark’s arrival and powers, but one strong page of man-on-the-street reactions to the world’s first superpowered being. Put it this way: even if he’s saved us all, most of us would be freaked out to find somebody with those abilities living among us. The singularity of Superman as the only one of his kind, the only superhero, gives this series room to go in all kinds of directions, and I hope they keep this tact for a while. Superman: Earth One doesn’t need to coexist with, and certainly doesn’t need to cross over with, other Earth One reimaginings.
The art’s passable, though a little stiff and over-rendered, laid out clumsily in a few places, and the color palette oddly muted considering how often the script talks about how bright the costume is. But even if it’s not the best artwork you’ll ever see, Shane Davis captures the scope of all the crazy action, and he’s clearly put some effort into Clark and the cast’s personalities and individual fashions.
Superman: Earth One isn’t my favorite Superman story, not by a long shot. But it’s a solid one, and Straczynski’s definitely left room to go in some interesting and hopefully surprising directions. Superman’s been a legend for so long that it’s going to be different and strange to see him establishing that status again. I’m looking forward to the ride and hoping it gets better each step of the way. If it doesn’t improve, I’m not sure that there’s much need to continue exploring Earth One. I have thousands of “passable” Superman comics already, and there’s not much in this story that couldn’t have been explored in the standard Superman comic.