DC is launching a new line of continuity in the form of hardcovers, effectively collecting an entire story arc at once. The first is out, written by J. Michael Straczynski with Shane Davis on pencils.
Title: Superman Earth One
Author: J. Michael Straczynski
Illustrator(s): Shane Davis (pencils), Sandra Hope (inks), Barbara Ciardo (colours)
Cover Price: $19.99 USA, $23.99 Can
Clark Kent isn’t like other men, but he wants to be quite badly. He’s trying to find his place in the world when Earth is attacked by aliens who have come to finish a job they started twenty years ago.
The Daily Planet. These days, Superman wouldn’t need to work at a newspaper to gain quick access to information about who needs his help. He would need much better reasons to work there, and this story provides them. I’m particularly impressed with the way Jim Olsen is handled. He’s not a punk kid with big dreams, he’s a somewhat obsessed and slightly unstable adult with big dreams. (They guy gets himself into more trouble than Lois!)
Every discussion of the Superman costume/uniform makes a big deal about how bright the colours are. However, that’s not how they look on the page. Shane Davis’ sketch work shows that he was thinking of a two tone blue, with an incredibly vivid blue in the centre, and an equally vivid S-shield. This is the version that characters react to in the script. Looking at the finished art, the pencils for the seams between the two blue tones are clearly there. However, that’s not what the final coloring is like. It’s a muted blue throughout, with only the single blue tone. I don’t know if that was Barbara Ciardo’s decision alone (though I doubt it), but it created something of a disconnect for me while reading. If I hadn’t come to the sketches at the end, I wouldn’t have even noticed the seams in the outfit. Even if they decided to use a single tone of blue, it was clearly written for the vivid blue, and not this muted blue.
It’s hard to be original when you are retelling Superman’s origin. It was first told in 1938, and has been rewritten in comic form at least once in every decade from that point on. In addition, there are all of the various retellings on small and large screens to date. Even Straczynski has written it in a roundabout way before, when he retold the origin of Superman’s analogue Mark Milton for Supreme Power. He’s taken the iconic elements and left them alone, while also taking the less iconic elements and changing (or outright fixing) them for today’s world. He also created an entirely new villain, who can easily go toe-to-toe with Superman when the need arises. I give it 3 out of 6, which is about the highest score one can give to the origin of Superman these days.
The artwork at the pencil and ink levels are excellent. Emotions are clear, and the action is right there. We also have new looks for the characters. When we look at the new Clark Kent, we know it’s Clark Kent, but he won’t be confused with that of the main DC continuity character. The colour choices don’t seem to work with the script, though. I give it 4 out of 6.
The story is well written. Straczynski has clearly put a lot of thought into the Superman mythos. Some of the changes surprised me at first, but in retrospect, they are necessary. There are elements in the Superman mythos that worked in 1938 that don’t work today. I haven’t though critically about it before because I grew up on the movie mythos. I saw the Richard Donner film for the first time shortly before my third birthday, and simply accepted the origin story as told for the rest of my life. This fixes the broken pieces, while adding in at least one aspect to the destruction of Krypton that I haven’t seen in any other version, and which makes the idea of returning to this universe a very exciting one. That’s a huge achievement for the thousandth (or so) retelling of Superman’s origin. I give it 6 out of 6.
The characterization shines. Straczynski seems to approach all of his stories from the characters first. He has built versions of Superman, Jonathan Kent, Martha Kent, Lois Lane, Jim Olsen and Perry White who would choose to be exactly where we expect them to be in Superman’s life. I give it 6 out of 6.
The emotional response is stronger than it should be. Once again, it’s hindered by the fact that we’ve seen the core elements of the story so often they feel as repetitive as this comment in this review, but from the moment the reasons for the alien attack are explained, we’ve got something new and exciting to latch onto. I give it 4 out of 6.
The flow is very smooth. The story has a flashback structure to reveal Clark’s origins and childhood, which allows the “live” elements of the story to take place in the span of a few days. Most of the story takes place in a matter of minutes, and the flashbacks are placed at moments that are appropriate to the story. I give it 5 out of 6.
Overall, this is a promising start to a new version of Superman. New and old fans should both be able to pick it up and enjoy it, and old fans have elements to look forward to that haven’t been seen before. I give it 5 out of 6.
In total, Superman: Earth One receives 33 out of 42.
Additional Notes and Comments
I also plan to pick up and review Batman: Earth One by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank when it becomes available.