Today on FUNNYBOOKS OFFLINE, the much-hyped and publicized Superman: Earth One, from J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis. There’s been a lot of press on the book, calling it “Superman for the Twilight generation,” and of course the polarizing opinions on the art, ranging from people saying it’s amazing stuff, to others completely writing it off due to the lightboxing, specifically of Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter) for Lois Lane.
But you know we here at Ideology of Madness and Funnybooks will give it to you straight. Is Superman: Earth One worth a damn? Full review after the jump.
Honestly, JMS’s Superman: Earth One has the same issues that his run on the monthly Superman has – the preachiness, and unusual random quotes, dialogue that people wouldn’t generally use, and a bit of cockiness to Supes. However, what doesn’t work in the regular DCU Superman, because it seems out of character, isn’t quite as distracting in this reboot of the Superman legend. While a little of the preachiness is still annoying, the cockiness and, quite frankly, jerkiness of his Superman works a little bit.
JMS really does write more of a modern day Superman. Despite his powers, Clark Kent is lost, unsure of what he wants to do with his life. He can be a star athlete and scientist, but doesn’t feel fulfilled when he tried either role. However, when an alien invasion calls him to be a hero, he finds fulfillment like nothing else gives him.
There are some drastic changes to the Superman origin story, not the least of which is that the “S” symbol is no longer the symbol for the house of El, but rather something created by Jonathan and Martha Kent who, in this tale, are fully supportive of Kent becoming Superman. Other changes include just how Krypton gets destroyed, and of course the modernizing of all the characters – Perry White and Lois Lane are essentially the same, but Jimmy Olsen gets a makeover as a badass, and the transition for him is a good one. He becomes a standout character in the book.
The first half of Superman: Earth One, before Kent dons the Superman costume, is pretty stellar. Like I said, you get the cockiness that may have turned you off of JMS’ interpretation of the regular DCU Supes, but it absolutely works here, and it’s fantastic stuff. I enjoyed seeing Clark trying to find his way, and it’s a different interpretation than we got in Birthright or Secret Origin. And the alien invasion is pretty fantastic looking – it’s definitely something that would make for an amazing Hollywood movie. But as soon as Clark dons the Superman costume, the book feels like it’s rushing towards it’s conclusion, and the change in pace is just too rapid. Despite it’s extended length, the book feels like we’re getting two books worth of story jammed into it.
Clark’s acceptance of his role as Superman, and his introduction to the Daily Planet and its staff seem too sudden, and not earned, and it’s a complete contradiction to the excellent pacing the first half of the book sets up. Not only that, other than Jimmy, you’re not given much to care about with the rest of the supporting cast because, practically as soon as they’re introduced, you get nothing but action and explosions. It doesn’t make sense why Clark feels like journalism is a fulfilling profession, nor does his profession of interest in Lois Lane really feel genuine. The book could have benefited from some breathing room, instead of focusing so hard on trying to bring in action that, really, the book would have been better without. To a certain extent, it’s kind of like JMS’ “Grounded” storyline in Superman, where a story about Superman “connecting” with the American people seems to constantly get interrupted with fights with aliens and alternate dimension beings.
JMS decided to completely forgo using existing villains like Lex Luthor and Braniac which, while thankful and bold, unfortunately led him to create “Tyrel,” a brand new villain that ultimately doesn’t feel like anything new (or interesting). To be honest, I’d almost have preferred seeing Darkseid in the role, as the two share very similar back stories, and an Earth One Darkseid could have been something truly interesting. Instead, we get a pale guy with Robert Pattinson hair who just happens to be as strong as Superman and tied into his origin. Ultimately, it doesn’t work.
The Shane Davis art has the potential to be breathtaking, and I’ve seen the guy put out some great stuff, but I can say that, overall, there are some genuine flaws to his faces and emotions. Luckily, there’s plenty of action that makes the book spectacular. But when the writing is at it’s best, the art is at it’s weakest.
Does the book as a whole work? To a certain extent – it’s definitely worth a read, and it seems like it’s been successful in bringing folks into comic shops (mostly from the media attention, and not from actual positive reviews). But I’d venture to say that book two of the series won’t bring as many repeat readers as book one had new readers, because, sadly, as original and new-reader friendly as this take on Superman was, I don’t feel like it was as new comic-reader friendly as it should have been. Here’s hoping that Batman: Year One (which seems like it won’t be out until Summer of next year), from Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, will succeed where this book had its faults.