Comic Thoughts: Superman Earth One

Superman: Earth One
Superman: Earth One

If you had cornered the 12-year-old me and asked him if he liked Superman, he would have likely responded with a derisive laugh.  For what it is worth back then I certainly enjoyed the spectacle of the Death of Superman and the following Reign of the Supermen, but I never would ever in a million years would ever have called myself a Superman fan.  Cut forward 15 years, and enter New Krypton.  Suddenly I was sold.  All of a sudden I’m buying not one Super title but three, religiously following the exploits of Supes and his family as the sudden appearance of Kandor, rescued from its bottle city, opened up a fascinating new element in the Superman mythos.  While that arc ended with War of the Supermen, and I’m still on board for J. Michael Straczynski’s “Grounded” arc happening in Superman.  However, “Grounded” is a far cry from sci-fi tinged action of New Krypton and War of the Supermen so, just I was starting to miss the big action of the last few years of Superman titles the JMS penned graphic novel Superman: Earth One was released last week.

Superman: Earth One, taking place in a separate continuity from the main DCU, is a revamp and refresh of Superman.  Taking elements from Smallville, classic Superman continuity, and mixing in some whole new ideas to Superman: Earth One is something familiar, something new, and something filled with an absolutely infectious energy.  JMS centers his story around a youthful Clark Kent who just graduated from Junior College, and has left to make a name for himself in the big city.  All sounds familiar enough, but this is a Clark Kent we haven’t really seen before (outside of Smallville, anyway), a little bit lost and somewhat desperate to just fit in to the world.  Bucking the Smallville trend this is also a Clark Kent whose knowledge of his own past and origin is incomplete.

While I had been enjoying my time with the graphic novel as Clark arrives in Metropolis and tries his hand at various jobs what sold me on this world, this different take on Clark and Metropolis, is his arrival at the Daily Planet and the interaction between the characters there.  In particular the interplay between Lois, Jimmy, and Perry.  The dialogue was fresh and fast-paced and Lois and Perry never strayed far from anything I remember from screen or print.  But Jimmy, now Jimmy was something completely new.  Jimmy Olsen has been, for me at least, a character I’ve always sort of just written off.  I never really saw his tie to modern Superman comics his penchant for getting into trouble no longer an amusing shtick .  In my head I’ve always imagined Jimmy Olsen as a character that somehow got confused on his way home from Riverdale.  For me Superman: Earth One changes that view.  The evens of the graphic reveal a brash, young, talented photographer willing to risk his own neck for a shot at capturing the truth.

Superman: Earth One isn’t the fastest of comics.  It is a bit ponderous.  But, taken alongside the glacial pace and somewhat wearying introspection of “Grounded” this graphic moves at a lightning pace.  Shane Davis does a rather fantastic job on art.  Davis crafts an excellent action scene, able to convey motion and excitement with ease, while at the same time equally competent at fine detail work and the ability to serve an iconic image of familiar hero made new again.  This graphic novel serves as the launching point of the Earth One line, something similar to Marvel’s Ultimate line, though I sort of wish I found the old Elseworlds logo tucked somewhere on the book.  I should also admit that I was not a huge fan of the artistic design of villains in this book, they look like something out of a bad 80s sci-fi flick, but the concept behind their origin and motivation is fascinating and provides an interesting impetus for Superman’s further adventures.

So far as I can tell this has been a fairly polarizing book that many critics seem to think is an attempt to pitch a new concept for the upcoming reboot of the Superman film franchise.  I say so what?  I could think of worse ways to reboot Superman, but thankfully Joe Quesada doesn’t work for DC (yes I’m still bitter, shut up).   Superman: Earth One won’t make the rabid Superman-hater a fan, the core values of the character (you know the ones: truth, justice, etc.) are still there.  Clark hasn’t suddenly become a take-no-prisoner’s badass, there is nothing grim or gritty in this tale.  That isn’t to say it doesn’t abandon cliche, but the cliche’s it does employ make sense in the context they are portrayed.  Superman has never been a “cool” character and Superman: Earth One will not change that.  What it does do well is unburden Superman from the tangle of continuity.   I’m excited to see where the rest of this line goes and DC decided to freshen up the rest of its heroes.

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