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Book Review: Superman: Earth One by J. Michael Straczynski

Genre: Graphic Novel, Superhero
Hardcover: 136 pages
Publisher: DC Comics
Publication Date: October 27, 2010
ISBN-10: 1401224687
ISBN-13: 978-1401224684

Superman: Earth One revamps the iconic hero for a new generation. A graphic novel scripted by J. Michael Straczynski, pencilled by Shane Davis, and inked by Sandra Hope, Superman: Earth One reinvents the origin story for the Man of Steel while retaining beloved particulars of the story, and giving the narrative new character motivations and villains.

In this reimagining, Straczynski’s Clark Kent is a small-town boy who is determined to make his way in the world without the aid of his unique gifts. Clark just wants to be normal, to fit in, to be one of the crowd. Unlike the original Superman, who performed feats of heroism out of some internal morality, Stracynski’s Superman doesn’t feel any obligation to his adopted planet. This ethos of “not my responsibility” is put to the test when a mysterious space fleet takes up residence in the skies above major urban centers, including Metropolis. Will Clark own up to his powers? And what is the relationship the strange aliens have to him?

Like many a modern teenager, Clark Kent leaves Smallville feeling bereft of purpose, unwilling to fulfill the destiny his adoptive parents see for him. It is only in the face of overwhelming adversity that Clark leaves off the mild-mannered persona and becomes Superman. This new Superman is a good man, but he does not exude the same inherent moral goodness of other Superman stories.

Lois Lane is here, though she does not provide any romantic element. In this vision, Superman’s father is dead, but his mother remains alive. However, Lex Luthor is nowhere to be found, instead being replaced with a villain of powers on par with Superman’s. Tyrell is the polar opposite in character, powers, and morality of this new Superman. It is evil that forces the self-involved Kent to realize his debt to Earth.

Straczynski weaves the theme into the story well. Though it is obvious that the author is exploring certain ideas about heroism, nobility and human nature, it is never prescriptive. Straczynski intertwines the theme seamlessly into the plot, and includes several exciting fight scenes beautifully rendered by Davis.

Superman: Earth One is a good save-the-world tale. Like many epic fantasies, it is primarily about a boy finding his destiny, a theme that will excite many a reader. I enjoyed watching as Straczynski forced Kent to own up to his powers, along the way showing that it is only through the use of all of them, as a god-like heroic being full of moral righteousness, that he can really find life satisfaction. In other words, people can only find happiness by being themselves. It is a bit trite, but Straczynski’s tone keeps from reading that way.

The mood conveyed in the art is of a twenty-year old boy unsure of himself. Clark dresses in dull tones, and curves inward on himself with hunched shoulders and hands in pockets. He wears a shapeless trenchcoat to hide is godlike features, though the standard glasses do not appear until the very end of the book. In the initial stages of his character, he is a humble All-American but as Clark begins to feel the call of his destiny, the colors Davis uses become more and more vibrant.

Superman’s costume retains the red, blue, and yellow of tradition as well as the cape, retaining the classic look of Superman with Davis own twist, but with less wearing of underwear on the outside of his pants. The bright costume is more like a protective bodysuit (its creation is a feature of the plot) made all the more striking by stark black and white skin color and clothes of Tyrell, transmitting the idea of Superman’s bright goodness to Tyrell’s black evil.

Davis renders Superman as having the body of a skinny twenty year old, not visualizing him as a V-shaped Hercules, but more like neo-classical statue. Beautiful, but not overly muscular. The renderings of people are more natural than most comics and even Lois is not drop dead gorgeous, merely pretty.

I recommend Superman: Earth One for those readers unafraid of a reimagining, or who have no vested interest in the continuity of the Superman storyline.