Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist: Shane Davis
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)
SUPERMAN is a character who seems to incite the same black and white feelings in the real world as he does within his stories. Just as Good and Evil doesn’t cross boundaries in the comic universe, hate and love leave no room for gray when it comes to audience response for the world’s first superhero. I know very few who are ambivalent to Supes like say GREEN ARROW, no real take-it-or leavers.
SUPERMAN EARTH ONE (SE1) Vol. 2 won’t entice the haters. While it’s a great retelling of SUPERMAN’S first encounter with the energy siphoning villain PARASITE and a teaser into a very famous villain for Volume 3, make no mistake, despite this being EARTH ONE, this is SUPERMAN through-and-through.
I would say Volume 2 is far more SUPERMAN than even Volume 1, and waaaayyyyy more traditional SUPERMAN than anything happening in the New 52. Clark, Lois, Jimmy and the city of Metropolis are truer to their origins than any other offerings on the shelves. Especially if you are a Gen Xer who still adheres to a Post-Crisis model of what SUPERMAN should be.
I was adamant when Volume One came out that anyone who wanted to get into comics for the first time should look no further than Earth 1. Despite this prophecy coming before a time when the New 52 was even a glimmer in the eyes of Didio, Johns and Lee, my stance remains the same. From a continuity perspective EARTH ONE is as pure as Clark’s virginity (which gets tested nicely in Vol. 2) and as simple as it can get. Volume 1 presented us a world untouched by the fantastic. No other heroes and no advances in science beyond our own gave true feelings of fear when SUPERMAN was attacked on earth and came to the rescue for the first time. It was palpable, akin to all of the fears and uncertainty we felt on 9/11. EARTH ONE has the affordability of not having to support other lines of business like toys, cartoons and other ancillaries that are DC branded, but have little to do with comics. It doesn’t have to carry the lives of all the ancillary characters that cropped up in the DC universe over the years. When a world can create a character like Cyborg and people have already donned masks as the JUSTICE LEAGUE is just forming, ones’ willing suspension of disbelief has to be non-existent for the world to feel anything like our own.
I’m also a big believer in the graphic novel format of this book. We have entered the age of instant gratification, making trades and graphic novels THE comic source for all but the true stalwarts of the hobby. Also, every book is written for trade distribution these days anyways, leaving the monthlies sorely lacking in full story potential especially as page counts continue to dwindle each year. With EARTH ONE, you get a full Freytag as opposed to partial lines on the story pyramid. I’m not faulting monthlies, I still buy them. But I also live in a major metropolitan area making a jaunt to the comic shop a 5 minute affair, people in the hinterlands of America or other countries are not so lucky and as such live and die by the trade. It’s more complete, more portable and can easily be carried by global distributors as opposed to the anemic reach of say Diamond.
The biggest gripe amongst SUPERMAN purists from the first volume was the introduction of a race that destroyed Krypton as opposed to the planet naturally devouring itself or their star going supernova. Personally, I liked this approach. I don’t feel a damn thing was lost from the standpoint of SUPERMAN feeling alone in the universe and I liked the potential for a new nemesis with a Kryptonian bloodlust on the same power scale as the man of steel. It took what could have been a by the book origin and gave it a new twist for tomorrow. Volume 2 has no such twists. There is a new element which I’ll get to in a second, but for the most part this new installment stays on par with all the things we expect from SUPERMAN, but told with the humanizing voice that has made JMS a staple in comics for decades.
Vol. 2 is about relationships. The relationships between Clark and his life as Superman; the game of cat and mouse between Lois and Clark; his kinship with Jimmy Olsen; and last but certainly not least, his relationship with a world that so desperately needs a miracle like Big Blue.
I’m going to utter a verboten word in SUPERMAN circles: grounded. While the phrase brings back a reminiscence of the less than spectacular SUPERMAN story that occurred before the New 52, the spirit of what those stories should have been should not be forgotten. I think those stories failed for one overarching reason, basically the rest of the DC universe. SUPERMAN seemed like kind of dick forsaking the rest of the cataclysmic shenanigans occurring throughout the universe in favor of a hippy beatnik soul searching across the US. It was a literal representation of a spiritual journey that could only work outside of continuity.
In SE1 Vol. 2 JMS was able to start fresh without the noise coming from other titles and other events in the DC Universe – and it all feels very grounded. Take Parasite for instance, the big baddie of Volume 2. In main DC continuity, I’m sure he once had an origin, but fuck if I can remember what it ever was. JMS humanizes this creature’s thirst for power by giving him an emotional base for his transformation and lust for more energy. Basically he wants power to compensate for a childhood of abuse, where he and his sister were powerless children against an abusive upbringing. If you weren’t an abused kid you won’t get this wanton lust for control and the need to never feel inferior, but you can’t deny this text book response that most children of abuse follow.
Another area that feels very grounded is the relationship between Lois and Clark. Here is where things are akin to the days before the two were married, a time when Lois knows something is not quite right with this kid from Kansas, but just can’t figure out what it is. What made the new approach unique isn’t the ham-fisted “oh here’s a disaster, where oh where is Clark.” Instead JMS takes a true journalistic approach having Lois delve into Clark’s past. What she covers is an exceptional person (mainly SUPERMAN’S PR mouthpiece) living a very unexceptional life until he came to Metropolis. Of course this was Clark not trying to show his Superness at the behest of Pa Kent, but this less than exceptional life is a red flag in light of his newfound success at the Daily Planet.
Last, but far from least is the very grounded approach JMS took towards Clark’s relationship with the citizens of Metropolis. Namely a junkie that occupies his front stoop and a hot to trot neighbor that has set her pheromones in old CK’s direction. Both characters show just how powerless he is at times to thwart the problems of the real world where everything can’t be solved with a punch or heat vision. This was also a time to address Clark’s inability to have relations with earth women taking the old Birds and Bees conversation in a whole new direction when the Bee has a stinger that could destroy the flower. JMS captures the awkwardness of this conversation in a flashback with Pa Kent and further explores the notion when Clark is powered down from tussling with the Parasite.
The Onion AV Club called this book an exercise in soap opera writing, if I were JMS I would take that as a compliment even though it wasn’t meant to be. I counted page upon page of action that has never occurred on Days of Our Lives, but I guess the reviewer missed those moments that encompass over half of the book. As for the quieter moments, this comment comes across as downright stupid and obtuse. Soap operas examine the human condition through the hyperbolic lens of truncated time. When two humans are interacting with one another under intense drama of course it will sound like a soap opera, since you know soap operas try to emulate real life in less than 45 minutes. Comics are soap operas with a Sci-Fi bend plain and simple and JMS is the master in my opinion of making comic moments feel as real as possible.
As for tomorrow, JMS is already busy on Volume 3 as I uncovered in my interview with the boys a few weeks ago. We get a taste of the next villain at the end of Volume 2 and I’m sure these scant pages will be the most talked about amongst fans. Its Lex Luthor kids, but not a Lex you would ever imagine. Instead of one we get two, in the form of Mr. & Mrs. Luthor. When the government needs to find a way to control SUPERMAN should he ever go off the rails, they turn to this wedded think-tank to do the job. We don’t get a huge taste of their relationship, but it’s safe to say they will be on very different ends of the ideological spectrum on what the final solution should be.
If you hate SUPERMAN, move right along. Everything that makes him the person he is will be found on EARTH ONE, but coated with modern sensibilities. If you love SUPERMAN like I do and have found recent offerings lacking as I have, SUPERMAN EARTH ONE is your salvation to an unfettered story that focus on the Man of Steel instead of the universe that doesn’t know what to do with him.