Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Chronic Review: Superman Earth One!

Superman Earth One HC
DC Comics

Script: J. Michael Straczynski
Pencils: Shane Davis
136 pages for $19.99

This is an "Ultimate Superman" origin story, and a pretty darned good one. JMS has made no secret that tackling the Man of Steel has been a lifelong dream project for him, and if you weren't aware, he'll tell you himself in the "dedications" section at the front of the book.

In terms of plot, the action begins with a young (but adult) Clark Kent making an odyssey to Metropolis in order to carve out his own destiny. If you can do anything, be anything, how do you choose? Sometimes the only thing worse than being limited is to be forced to allocate an embarrassment of riches. When everything is available, it's difficult to choose from the list - and the opportunity costs are staggering. When one is capable of all, take the wrong path and what has the world lost?

Don't be alarmed, there is no intolerable emo whinging, or at least none that I could detect. But there is a sadness about him, and why wouldn't there be? He's alone in every meaningful way, and outing his true nature threatens to make him even more alone.

So the internal component is about how Clark will connect to the outside world, and how he finds a home at the Daily Planet with Lois, Jimmy, and Perry. The external component is a twist on his Kryptonian origins, and how trouble has followed him to his adopted home in the form of Tyrell.

He's a worthy adversary. Tyrell comes from a planet next door to Krypton. His technology and scientific knowledge are roughly equivalent to Krypton's, and the yellow sun bestows a similar power set.

Without ruining all of the plot points, it's Tyrell's job to wipe out all Kryptonians, and Clark is the last item to cross off the list. He's got a fleet behind him covering all of earth's major cities, and threatens to wipe out millions if Clark doesn't surrender to him. Hinjinx ensue!

Superman introduces himself to the world defending the planet from this global threat, getting by with a little help from his friends Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. And that supporting cast is one of the strongest elements of the book. Jimmy in particular stands out as a complete nut job who will dare anything for his shots. Perry White is the consummate (and hilarious) old pro desperately trying to stay afloat in a world trying very hard to pass him by. And Lois is every bit the driven career woman (which most writers get right) that you could absolutely fall for. (most writers fail miserably here)

As a modern reboot, Superman Earth one is precariously next to perfect. Straczynski can be proud of the fact that he's created a contemporary origin story that conveys every important truth about the character and his world in a way that makes perfect intuitive sense. When you're done with Superman Earth One, you've got a clear indication of the character's values, motivations, and abilities. The costume is explained, his decision not to wear a mask is covered, and it makes emotional sense that Clark would choose the Daily Planet as his home when the story is finished.

There are a few items I could nitpick. Could Martha really unravel those indestructible Kryptonian blankets and weave them into an outfit? Probably not. Does it make sense for Tyrell to announce to the world that he'll likely just kill a few million of them and then move on if Superman doesn't show up? I can't imagine it. Even if that was the plan, you wouldn't say that. You'd threaten to kill everybody.

Sandra Lee and company come to some very odd conclusions about Clark's decision to dismantle those drills at the end. How does it follow exactly that he expects another visit from these jerkwads because he shuts the equipment down? Occam's Razor says they were a threat, he shut down the threat, end of story. And much like his work over on the regular Superman title, much of the "messiah" talk out of Superman's mouth falls flat.

"I am blinded by the light that burns inside every one of you?" No, that just doesn't land for me. I give Straczynski credit for having the brass balls to try it, though. Trying to put iconic words into Superman's mouth is almost like trying to write a sequel to the Gospels. Not for the feint of heart. So it's not a deal-breaker that these lines don't really work for me.

It's possible that the colors on this book are too washed out, but then again, this isn't a glitzy four-color punch fest. I guess it fits. Shane Davis is able to communicate a lot of reserved pain in Clark's face as well. I like the art in this book, and I enjoyed the format as well. This is about six issues worth of story in a hardcover format, and that comes out to about $3.33 an issue if you were to be purchasing this in floppy form. Not a bargain for a TPB, but forgivable in HC form. Of course I got mine from DCB Service for something just over $2 and issue's worth, and that is a bargain.

Don't know if DC's plan is to release more of this, and if they do, whether it will be in more hardcovers or floppies. Whatever form it comes in, I think it's a buy because this is right in Straczynski's wheelhouse and he's producing really nice work on this project.

- Ryan

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