Friday, May 4, 2012

Superman: Earth One (comics)

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist: Shane Davis
Original Graphic Novel

Seems like everyone judged this one before it ever came out. I guess hoodies are an immediate sign of awful. To be fair, people took a dump on it after release too. But was it warrented?

This was a step I'd ultimately expected earlier than this. A line of original graphic novels - continuity free - with star talent on board to give an accessible take on long standing superheroes. Given how the trade market has grown, it seems like a no-brainer; but then, the realities of OGNs don't exactly work the way we imagine they do*. Regardless, DC finally got around to it, with Superman the first to get the treatment**.

This book got some flack from Snarky Comic Bloggers for its portrayal of Superman. Obviously, a lot of folks have some strong opinions on Superman. The SCB's were ultimately right with their points, but there was a difference they seemed to overlook; they were talking about the iconic one we know best.

This was meant to be a different Superman starting out his career in a different manner. The pre-Flashpoint Superman was essentially the same character no matter what part of his career you go to. This Superman is a different animal. He's not the Christ-like figure meant to inspire us and lift humanity though example.

What JMS does is give us a Clark Kent who is recognizable as a young man, not an immediate messiah. This Clark Kent is going through the difficult transition into manhood. He has all this power, but what should he do with it? His parents wish he would protect the world, but is that what he wants to do? It feels like his destiny. Does any young man want to choose a path they feel has been laid out for them? This Clark Kent wants to help the people of the world, but he wants to live a normal life as well; he wants to see if he can use his powers in another way to help the people of mankind, whether it's as a scientist or otherwise.

The whole world is ahead of him, with possibilities galore. But what does he want to do with it? What is right for him?

So, right off the bat, this is a Clark Kent who is not the same one we usually know. We've all been there; our whole life ahead of us, but no real idea what we want to do with it. It's all a big question mark. A time of self-discovery. A time period we could imagine being all the more confusing with super-powers of the sort he carries.

It's very relatable in a way that Superman typically isn't. Not saying that is a problem with vanilla Superman late in his career; by that point he knows what he wants to do and how to do it. He's not supposed to be relatable. But early on, he's a young man fresh off the farm he lived on his entire life headed to the big city, not to mention a young man with powers and an alien nature. Of course he's going to be confused. Of course he's going to need to find his way.

It's an opening that feels proper. Superman as a character is one that has always wanted nothing more than to be one of us. Here, despite being an alien, he feels like one. We all know he'll get to where he's going, but in seeing this journey it feels just a bit more natural.

So, obviously I thought it was a pretty respectable story. It's not perfect though. It has it's moments were it tries to get a bit cute. Jimmy Olsen in particular has a nice role in the story, but JMS tries a bit too hard to convince us he's cool.

Then there's the villain that coaxes Clark to his destiny. Tyrell is, frankly, the most forgettable new villain in the past decade of comic books. He's only there because the book needed a villain; not even a link to the destruction of Krypton - a dumb and entirely unnecessary twist - could make this character interesting. While I appreciate that JMS didn't go to the Lex Luthor well right away, he whiffed hard with Tyrell. Hopefully volume two will use a recognizable villain.

My Opinion: Read It

It's far from perfect, but this is a nice start to the Earth One line. It's a take that I think was worth exploring and it redeemed JMS a bit in my eyes after the mess that was Grounded. If you're a new reader, you may get even more out of it; it's a pretty good continuity-free foot in the Superman door.

* Several pros have mentioned that OGN's are longer term sellers, assuming they're a hit. They take money and time to put together; when they do get out the door, they're not the immediate cash the monthlies represent, which obviously a company needs for day to day operation. A lot of people fantasized about comics going "all OGN", but they've long been kidding themselves. It's nothing more than that; a fantasy.

** The second project is Batman: Earth One by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. It was horribly off schedule at the time of this writing - it was supposed to hit in the fall the same year Superman did - but eventually it managed to see release. The review can be found here.

*** Some people were actually pissed about this because it adds "revenge" as the motive for Supermans interference. Only... it doesn't. By the time Clark finds out this dudes connection, he's already decided to put on the suit and help people. The reason to be pissed is because it's a worthless addition and adds nothing to the story. Definitely a misfire.


  1. I loved Superman: Earth One, and I'm glad you liked it too; I've never understood the hate. Looking back at the controversy over the OGN format now, it all seems so trivial -- especially given how much more serious the issues facing the industry today seem. With those in mind, it's pretty hard to believe that this is the kind of thing people were arguing about less than two years ago.

  2. I think the hate stems from Snarky Comic Bloggers writing off JMS completely after Grounded and looking for reasons to be pissed off about the book. If you go into something with a negative mindset, you're going to hate it because that's what you are predisposed to.

    JMS comes off as impossibly arrogant - and the first half of Grounded was indeed pretty cruddy - but that doesn't mean he can't write at all. After this book I'm a bit more inclined to believe that revealing something was up with Grounded Superman was the plan all along with JMS, because the tone of this take does not match up with Groundeds being a hundred percent legit as how JMS believed Supes should act. That doesn't make volume one any less of a mess, mind you.

    As for the comic industry, it certainly has its problems, but I think it may be doing better than we give it credit for. Sales are up currently, but even if they weren't, it's not just down to the monthlies anymore. DC alone has gone day and date with digital; it's in no shape to take over as the main model anytime soon, but it seems to be growing well. That plus trades gives them a couple different revenue streams to work with, which is a much more balanced deal than relying on just one.

    That said, once I saw it explained, I can understand why all OGN's would never be viable; if they even tried it every project would be a huge, huge gamble.

    Anyways, back on point; I thought Superman: Earth One was pretty good overall, yeah. For me - a guy who has been reading comics for years now - it presented a different take that I found I could appreciate. It's a bit harder to judge it as new reader friendly, but it seemed to me like there was next to nothing in the way of wink wink nudge nudge in jokes. It seemed perfectly accessible, which, along with the marketing, may well account for how well it did.

    Long story short, yeah, the SCB's hated it... but lately, it seems like the SCB's are mad about everything, so I don't know anymore. All I know is I thought it was pretty good. Far from perfect, yes. But still, I can see why it's popular.