To say the first volume of J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis’ Superman: Earth One was divisive is an understatement. There are two well defined camps, the ones that enjoyed this different take on Superman in a long format book. Then the ones that hate it with a passion for numerous reasons with the main one being the changes it makes to Superman’s origins. This second volume moves away from making big changes to Superman’s well trodden story and instead decides to focus on the very Straczynskian (yes I just made Straczynskianism a thing, deal with it) idea of looking at what makes the main character who they are. Straczynski has done this with pretty much every character he has touched over the years to varying degrees of success and this is his second attempt at making this kind of examination of the Man of Steel (with Grounded being the first and very unsuccessful attempt) and you know what? It works.
Now before you start throwing nerd rage rocks at me let me explain.
Straczynski and Davis have decided to take this version of Superman to some uncomfortable places for both the character and a lot of the potential readers. Many who read both volumes of Superman: Earth One and do not like it tend to do one thing. Immediately point out that Superman would not do “X” thing because that is not in the nature of the character. Firstly, that is a weird thing to say about a new and different version of character that the whole point of is being different to the main DCU version of Superman. Secondly, it ties into that whole placing Superman on an incredibly high pedestal that makes it hard for the character to be anything apart from boring thing that I have mentioned in the past. The first thing I would say to people reading this book is to ignore your preconceptions of what makes Superman, Superman and what his motivations are. We do not get the usual good guy protector who wants to help everyone in this volume. Instead we get a Clark Kent suffering with feelings of alienation and detachment from humanity. He struggles with it throughout the length of the book and his conflict with Parasite is heavily tied into this theme. By the end of volume two Clark has learned multiple things about himself and as a result will be a better hero because it, despite doing some very morally grey things in the process of getting there. He experiences character development which can be a jarring experience for the long time Superman fan as seen by constant resistant to change shown in Earth One and the main Superman comics.
Despite my feelings towards the book and it being a good read, it is not for everyone. Unlike Geoff Johns’ Batman: Earth One Straczynski embraces the long format. Instead of getting the feeling of it being a collected version of a miniseries with it being broken up into distinct chapters this feels like one long, consistant issue. More akin to film in structure than a TV show. The book has a steady pace but it is very steady. Everything happens systematically once the setup of the first third of the book. So while the ideas and themes explored are interesting and thought provoking the execution of the wider arc is predictable. Superman faces an enemy that can hurt him. He faces what the fragility of being human is like. He then proceeds to beat the unbeatable enemy. It is something we have seen many times before and will again. The setup for the next volume is interesting though as it turns one of Superman’s most well known and iconic characters into an double act with a heck of a lot of potential.
The supporting cast and its new additions are interesting. Lisa Lasalle is an intriguing potential love interest for Clark and her past mistakes make her all the more interesting and it speaks volumes about Clark that he can look past it to see the fun loving woman beneath. Parasite also gets some interesting characterisation with his greed becoming his own undoing by the end of the book. Then we have Lois investigating who Clark Kent is and stopping just short of twigging that he and Superman are one in the same (which is something that will probably happen in a later volume). Also Shane Davis’ Lois Lane look so much like Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter that it makes we want to see her play the character in a film or TV show. She is a perfect fit!
Speaking of Shane Davis, his art is what makes this book. He is one of those artists that can do big action and smaller character moments effortlessly. His character expressions really help tell the story and set the mood for any given scene. He can also switch Superman from friendly looking bloke to scary god like figure without it being jaring. He puts a lot of detail into every panel and it pays off big time as you pour over every gorgeous looking page. Even if you are not planning on buying or reading the book pick it up next time your are in your local comic book store or Waterstones, flick through it and admire Davis’ skill, expression and detail.
If you are a fan of seeing something different being done with a long established character with mixed results check out Superman: Earth One Volume Two. If you like your Superman by way of Jesus and Santa Claus stay clear because this will only anger you by its questioning of who Superman is and what he stands for. Overall it is a good and entertaining read that improves on the first volume in many ways. I find myself eagerly looking forward to volume three and what questions it will raise about the Earth One Superman and its rich and growing cast of characters.