Sunday, January 10, 2016

Superman: Earth One vol. 3 (comics)

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist: Ardian Syaf
Original Graphic Novel

I get the feeling JMS realized he screwed up.

When I reviewed Volume 2 of Superman: Earth One, I mentioned a bunch of story points that, to be blunt, destroyed the work and anything it was trying to do. New supporting character Lisa Lassalle working escort on the side - because of course - was one. Lois Lane going full stalker was another. Even if you could excuse that, Superman incited a full on revolution in a Middle Eastern country, one that was heavily implied to be violent. I know I've taken a sarcastic shot or two at people who have a rigid, immovable idea of Superman in the past, but there are some things you just don't do with him.

Volume 3 feels almost like an apology tour at times. The book goes out of its way to deal with the Lois Lane situation up top, addressing how screwed up her actions were - with Clark himself calling her out - while also attempting to give her some legitimate reasons for her paranoia without throwing her under the bus. I'm not sure it entirely works, but it does a fair job of letting us move on, especially considering Lois feels more like herself for the entire volume. Lisa's time as a hooker on the side is mentioned offhand at only one point and implied to be over, with any future reference relegated to vague mentions of things she regrets doing. Supermans actions in the foreign country are also central to the conflict of the book. I'm not sure that salvages what he did - that ending felt kind of sinister and acknowledged or not it's something that should not be done with the character - but addressing it goes a long way to making it easier to move forward from it, especially when Superman himself admits a couple times that while trying to do what he felt was right, he just wasn't thinking. At the very, very least, it can come off more like an impulsive action by a young adult prone to making mistakes on the way to figuring this out.

I don't think everything landed there, but at least we can try to move on.

Moving on seems like a decent idea anyway, because this book is far easier to enjoy than the last. Make no mistake, this story hits some pretty familiar beats. Zod is the main villain and the Luthors - yes, more than one - come into play. Obviously, we've seen this kind of thing before. I think the same basic Zod story has been told a solid six times now. But it works out fairly well, especially as Zods plan plays heavily into the worlds growing fear of Superman, which rightfully results in a "what the hell" from Superman himself. The odds are pretty believably stacked against Superman - and, as is acknowledged, it's kind of his own fault - but it does so without throwing humanity under the bus or undermining Supermans faith in it.

The big speech to the UN might not work for everyone - I'm sure some won't like that Superman appeals to the worlds sense of self interest rather than its more positive traits to convince them never to pull this kind of crap again - but it works in the context of the series and allows Superman to make some pretty salient points about what happens if he ever loses.

Regarding the Luthors, it's not the most amazingly different spin I've ever seen, but sometimes even the simple tweaks make for the best ones. Here, the usual, male Lex Luthor has a different set of values than we're used to seeing; while cautious regarding Superman, see's himself as purely a scientist and not a man interested in killing another being, even an alien. His wife is the one who is a bit more down with the idea, even if she has nothing against him for ninety percent of the volume. If nothing else, it plays into the climax well, with what I think might be the first time one of Supermans primary villains actually does something for selfless reasons. It didn't rock my world, but I liked it.

Ardian Syaf takes over for Shane Davis as the penciller. I'm not sure why the switch was made - maybe Shane Davis just got busy - but the book is in capable hands. I might even like Syafs work a little bit better than Davis. He's very, very good with character expressions and his sense of comic storytelling is pretty spot on. I also feel like he has a bit more varied a take on some characters and their fashion choices; Lisa Lassalle isn't always wearing form fitting clothing this time, for one. For an extra bonus, I didn't spy any panels or poses with Clark/Superman that felt... off, or sinister, as occasionally happened previously. I liked the art on previous volumes, but if Syaf's going to be the regular going forward, I'm cool with it.

All told, volume three is a marked improvement over the second, even if it doesn't necessarily redeem it, and is worth giving the series a second chance.

My Opinion: Read It

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