Review: Superman: Earth One (Volume 1) by J Michael Straczynski & Shane Davis

Superman: Earth One, Volume 1
Written by J Michael Straczynski
Art by Shane Davis

DC Comics
Released Nov. 2, 2010
136 pages
Superheroes / Comics

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J. Michael Straczynski, the creator of Babylon 5, joins forces with rising star artist Shane Davis (SUPERMAN/BATMAN: THE SEARCH FOR KRYPTONITE) to create this original graphic novel that gives new insight into Clark Kent’s transformation into Superman and his first year as The Man of Steel. This is the first in a new wave of original DC Universe graphic novels, featuring top writers’ and illustrators’ unique takes on DC characters.

A few weeks ago, Fernando reviewed an early edition of Volume 2 in the Superman: Earth One series and really enjoyed it. I thought that meant it was time for me to pick up our hard copy edition of the first graphic novel in this Superman retelling. The idea is a very interesting one that might not be so interesting had I ever watched Smallville, but I didn’t, so transporting Clark Kent and telling his Superman origin story in modern day sounds like a fun idea.

I’ve never been a huge Superman fan, a fact that does not please Fernando. I just never found anything interesting about a near indestructible boy scout alien and I could not get beyond the idea that somehow, just by wearing glasses, nobody could put two and two together to get that Clark Kent = Superman with glasses and less spandex. I prefer the more vulnerable Batman, who has no superpowers other than a massive ton of money and gizmos aplenty. But I thought a modern version could be just the thing to get me more interested in the Man of Steel. It was partially successful.

Shane Davis is an awesome artist, who brought a very kinetic story to life in a vivid manner. The art didn’t knock me off my feet like Gabriel Rodriguez with Locke & Key or JH Williams III with Batwoman, but it was really good superhero art. The backdrops were intricate and the robots both alien and familiar. There were a few moments when the blocking of a two page spread took me a few seconds to figure out, but for the most part Davis’ artwork flows really well. Plus he drew Lois Lane so she could easily be played by the actress on Dexter who plays his sister.

The reason this was more of a 3.5 out of 5 instead of higher is my continued disinterest in Superman as a superhero. Not only is he still this indestructible alien boy scout, but now he’s the most emotastic indestructible alien boy scout that has ever existed. He wanders around, occasionally with the saddest puppy dog face I’ve seen this side of Sam Winchester, despite the fact that he is awesome at everything he does (except write, apparently). I was pushed out of the story early on when Clark Kent is going around trying to find a job after newly arriving in Metropolis. He goes from one place to the next being extremely awesome at everything he tries, whether it be football or baseball, scientist or businessman. Everyone wants to throw money at his feet and he is very sad. He is so conflicted about helping the world or being normal and I continued to just feel disinterested.

Then the bad guy shows up and I started wondering if a member of KISS had broken out of an insane asylum. Said bad guy is around to spout off exposition about Clark’s home world and how he ended up on Earth while sending massive robots to kill the world. It’s very over the top because anything beyond Earth-shattering isn’t really worth Superman’s time. That’s just how Superman’s world works.

So Straczynski and Davis didn’t win over decades of personal ambivalence towards Superman and Metropolis. It was really an up-hill battle, but the story is solid and the artwork provides a great medium for the action. And there is a lot of action, plenty of flying and even a bit of alien gore. It could have done without nearly so much emo-ness, especially considering the end then seems like he’s totally faking enjoying life at all. That just made me kind of sad.