J. Michael Straczynski is a great writer, no doubt about it. However, like every great writer, including Mark Millar and Grant Morrison, he’s also been going in some unpopular and not-so-great detours as of late. His Wonder Woman revamp (including memory loss and new costume) and Superman overhaul (including putting Kal-el down to earth as he walks across America encountering average folks) in their respective series is less than awe inspiring. They’re brave choices, but not entertaining ones, and that’s exactly where this sits.
Earth One is a series of new OGNs starring DC’s most well-known characters (Batman is next) which will hopefully appeal to the more casual reader who wants a done-in-one tale that isn’t tied to confusing continuity and doesn’t require weekly visits to the comic shop. It’s a good idea for sure, but an unnecessary one in this case. The problem is that it’s such an underwhelming story, existing fans will find no inspiration, while curious newbies won’t see why they should bother reading comics.
It looks good and is presented well, with its hard cover and embossed sections. It’s worthy of a bookshelf and may leap out at the bookstores. The mainstream press have covered this book like it’s some amazing reinterpretation of the Man of Steel, but it’s not despite their generous use of “hoodie” and “brooding” in their headlines.
As the preview released a while ago showed, it begins with Clark leaving Smallville for the first time and arriving in Metropolis with no idea of how long he’ll be staying or what exactly he’s supposed to be doing with his life. The first few pages are basically a set up showing how strong and fast and smart Clark is. He’s revealed as the perfect man who can play any position in football and solve complex scientific dilemmas. However, what he really wants to do is be a journalist. JMS wisely doesn’t allow Clark to be portrayed as a know-it-all show off, but he doesn’t come across as a hero either, until he’s forced to about halfway through the book.
Most of this is stuff we’ve seen before, such as the fast talking introductions in the Daily Planet, and a deceased Jonathan Kent offering advice and guidance through flashbacks, but it does work, though at times seems rushed so he can hurry up and put Clark in the red and blue outfit to save the day.
Some good ideas do exist here, such as the Kents finding the crashed Kryptonian vessel while hiking and the ship’s user manual written on its atoms, but there’s more ideas that just seem awkward, such as baby Kal with a spit curl, Jimmy Olsen’s 20mb photos crashing the Daily Planet mainframe and the biggest one of all-the invasion that’s the centrepiece of this story.
The premise of the book is that Krypton’s destruction was not an accident, as the alien Tyrell reveals when he lands on Earth looking for the last survivor of his planet’s enemy race. Tyrell, who resembles a goth Joker with wings, goes on a planet wide rampage with his army to draw Kal-el out into the open. Of course, Clark eventually reveals himself to the world, battles the baddies and puts on a slightly altered costume to accept his destiny and all that.
The main problem with this first entry in the Earth One series is that it’s bland, which is a shame as JMS knows how to get to the essence of characters, as his work on the Brave and the Bold team-up series revealed. Superman: Earth One mixes familiar elements from alien invasion films, and even has the bad guy explaining his weakness through exposition.
There are some ideas that could be expanded more, such as the female Major Lee, and the mostly negative reaction of the man on the street upon Superman’s arrival, including a Dan DiDio cameo, but it’s not enough to make this story work as it could’ve.
Artist Shane Davis does a great job in showing expressions and action scenes with ease though and the 3 page sketchbook and bonus 4 page article written by Clark Kent are nice little extras.
If you want a more traditional and more enthralling Superman, avoid this and pick up the collection of the 6 issue Secret Origin mini-series. Certainly Earth One is far more streamlined and may appeal to those unfamiliar with DC lore, but DC should know by now that Clark and co. are timeless characters. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely showed in All-Star Superman that when the Man of Steel is done right, he embraces his past while still being the Man of Tomorrow.