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Superman: Earth One

Graphic novel by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis

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Mature Depth and Childhood Wonder in This Re-telling of the Story of the Last Son of Krypton!

  • Dec 13, 2010
Rating:
+4
Superman reboots and re-tellings. God, seems like DC just keeps on going on and on with this as they find reason after reason (Zero Hour, Crisis, Elseworlds etc.) to do this. After John Byrne’s reboot in the 80’s and the more recent re-imagining of this character under Stan Lee, I thought I may have seen it all. Well, let me tell you J. Michael Straczynski is one of my favorite comic book writers. He had worked wonders with Thor, Midnight Nation, The Twelve, Amazing Spider-man and the moment he re-imagined Marvel’s “Hyperion” (Marvel’s spoof of Superman) under the Max logo, I knew DC would use its unlimited resources to lure this writer to work on a few projects for them. It was rumored that Straczynski had proposed that the “Hyperion” story (which I will review later) as a story about Superman but DC rejected the idea. You know why, it was realistic, dark and very intense. Of course, DC doesn’t want to taint the Boy scout’s image do they?

Anyway, enough rant. I have had enough of comic book politics. “Superman: Earth One” is story that pays tribute to the original story told by Shuster and Siegel. This time around, it portrays a young Clark Kent wearing a hoodie, in a leather jacket as he ponders his future in Metropolis. As with most twenty year olds, he is uncertain as to what he wants to do with his life. He has powers that no one else has. He can choose to be an athlete, be a physicist or be a banker. He has the brains and capacity to become wealthy and famous as long as he conceals his abilities from the world. But when the skies darken and the Earth falls under attack by an Alien force; Clark must either choose to reveal himself to the world and give up his chances at a good life or he can watch the world burn and remain in hiding.

     

                                        

                        

There are a few simple rules when it comes to re-telling a classic as a modern story. A) it must remain a tribute to the original material. B) it must maintain the tone and spirit of the said material. C) It must play safe to keep older fans happy as well as gain new fans. D) it must expand on the material and adapt to modern times. Yes, I can respect that, but the problems with letters A and B is that it tends to bring lifetime readers to a ground so familiar that it offers nothing new. I love Staczynski’s writing and for “Earth One”, it feels that it is not the writer who fought to keep a teen alter-ego away from a certain god of thunder, not the writer who introduced “Morlun” and portrayed the tragic events in Spider-man’s life. This is definitely not the amazing writer who wrote the movie “Changeling” and gave us the dark re-imagining of “Squadron Supreme” as well as the now classic “Rising Stars”.

Now don’t get me wrong, ‘Superman: Earth One” is well-written but it just barely felt like a work by Straczynski. At least with Stan Lee’s “Imagine” series in the early 2000‘s, it had his fingerprints all over it. “Earth One“, as good as it was, felt very “DC” and it barely feels like the work of the ambitious, bold writer that I’ve known since “Babylon 5”. Now, please don’t take these comments as negative ones, since I am merely stating an observation.

                    

                             

                                                 


“Earth One” does do things right for a re-telling of the original story. You see a young Clark Kent as he appears torn as to what to do with his life. He is an alien with powers of a god. You see him meeting with football and baseball coaches, business men and pharmaceutical companies; Clark wants to make money, not out of greed but to help out his adoptive mother, Martha. Straczynski remains true to the original story, “Pa Kent” died when he was very young and left with a responsibility. The story also expands on the meaning of the big red ‘S” on his chest, why the red and blue as it becomes a tribute to his parents. The graphic novel also improves on who exactly named him “Superman” (It wasn’t Lois Lane this time). The story keeps the spaceship subplot intact and how Clark didn’t know where he came from until he unknowingly gets the info on his heritage. I loved the way the writing defined why Clark needed to show his face and why his civilian life is his actual disguise. It was a nice touch for the writing to define the need to associate a real, visible face to the powers of Superman. These are good elements for sure; but there were times that I almost felt that this was a re-telling of Byrne's "Man Of Steel", albeit a bit darker.


  

                                            

                 

The history of Krypton is somewhat expanded on. They are a race that is dedicated to science and they have made advancements that put them at odds with another planet and they were occasionally at war. This time around, the darkness in plotting that I have grown to love from J. Michael Straczynski shows its face as Krypton is not a planet that just blew up and it was a planet that was murdered. I loved the change that Clark didn’t feel like he actually chose to help the world but rather that he found his true calling and identity when he realizes he cannot flee from it. Clark wants to be normal, but fate won’t let him. He is the more stronger for standing up to destiny rather than being a goodie-goodie boy scout raised by a farmer and his wonderful wife. Clark is also a little meaner too, and not the dorky young man we're familiar with in the 60's and 70's.

                                        


I would also like to commend the writing since “Earth One” departs from the “hero-worshipping” elements alive in its titles. The people in this re-telling are suspicious, afraid and are uneasy about someone that powerful. This is the new trend that DC seemed to have injected in their stories (recent stories in TV’s “Smallvile” even took ideas from Marvel’s “Civil War”). Straczynski’s story feels more grounded to reality and the art by Shane Davis (Green Lantern) just complemented this tone and mood. The art had a lot of character and I really enjoyed the changes made in Lois, Jimmy and even Martha and Jonathan Kent. The art gave off that cinematic feeling that I enjoyed, but I did not like the suit carrying similarities to the one in "Superman Returns". But as with most books these days, the panels are huge to show more detail and less graphic storytelling and dialogue.

“Superman: Earth One” is a graphic novel that feels like a Superman comic. It does have mature themes that I appreciated but in all honesty, for someone who has read comic books since 1978 ; it feels rather unnecessary. It just expanded on ideas already established before and while it’s good to have nostalgia, I felt that it held back and shied away from a true knock out punch much like Straczynski did with his other works. Now, if only DC bought the story that made Hyperion who he is today under Marvel’s Max Comics label, I wonder….

Recommended! [3 ½+ Out of 5 Stars]

This review is exclusive to Reality Inked and to Cafe Libri communities in Lunch.com


                               
Mature Depth and Childhood Wonder in This Re-telling of the Story of the Last Son of Krypton! Mature Depth and Childhood Wonder in This Re-telling of the Story of the Last Son of Krypton!

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December 20, 2010
Great review, William. I liked the list of rules recreations need to follow. And I agree with Alex--very well-written first paragraph to this piece.
December 22, 2010
Thanks, Adri. Coming from you that means a lot! Got your message I am working on it!
December 22, 2010
Aw, thanks Woo! And, if you have any suggestions for future badge endeavors, let me know! I got a list of the top 10 zombie reads, so I'm going to edit that list and maybe make a QT badge for zombie related reads for next year. :)
December 30, 2010
speaking of zombies... ;)
January 05, 2011
LOL! Yay for zombies! :)
 
December 13, 2010
Can you imagine what it would have been if he was given free range and creative control to write it the way he really wanted? Excellent review WP, and so well said in that first paragraph.
December 13, 2010
I know what you mean. I understand but I just wonder what would happen if the sky's the limit for Straczynski....
 
December 13, 2010
Great job on this one. I have to admit that I love the artwork, but again I am tired of DC and Marvel reinventing their characters without really doing anything revolutionary with them or coming up with new scenarios. Plus, Donnie Darko as Superman? LOL! So much for mild-mannered Clark Kent.
December 13, 2010
The artwork is pretty good. If you want to see something inventive as to re-tellings, check out THE ULTIMATES--really expands on the AVENGERS, with drastic changes in characterization and with more realism. However, the book went downhill after Millar and Finch left. I'll see if I can review some of Straczynski's other works sooner...there's one I've been itching to share since I already told Nick about it.
December 13, 2010
See, that's just it, though. These characters are iconic and beloved because they are archetypes and screwing with their characteristics only tarnishes their legacy and longevity. I want to see someone tell either new stories with new ideas and characters or see them tell classic stories with the characters intact, but tell it in a new way.
December 13, 2010
I am telling yah though, Millar made it work. He added new twists to the established material in characterization and made them more believable. Personally, I want them to stop reviving old villains--think of something new.

As for 'Earth One", I loved the origins of the death of Krypton--but I highly doubt it can go further since I know DC.  It'll be real hard to develop the idea further...
December 13, 2010
At least DC is trying to return to a darker, more serious tone. The '90s weren't a good time for them. : p
December 13, 2010
the 90's was not good for anyone. I dunno about returning to a serious tone--I know they're ripping off a lot of elements from Marvel. Example: "Return of Bruce Wayne"....
December 13, 2010
I wish DC would hire me to reinvent their big characters (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, and Green Lantern). I've actually got some ideas that would blow away all the current crud.
December 13, 2010
The issue with them is--they have a great idea and then w/out warning, they'll change the tone and the mood. It seems like they don't want to lose 'kids' as their #1 target audience. It hold them back. They grabbed me with Meltzer and Benes in Justice League with a mature approach (granted they ripped off some of Busiek and Davis' elements in Avengers a year ago) then they change back to juvenile fiction.It was weird. I think even I can qualify as a writer given all the crud published these days...
December 13, 2010
Oh, you could do some awesome stuff if you wrote comics. You'd just have to avoid turning them into Japanese Pink characters. LOL! Imagine the possibilities. ; )
December 13, 2010
Hhmmm..that is interesting since certain manga titles do have elements of pink around it....LOL! the possibilities--Black Canary and Huntress, Scarlet Witch was married to an android, ...oh-oh you opened a can of worms LOL!
December 13, 2010
so can you resend those Stacy photos?
December 13, 2010
I did. Did it not work again?
December 13, 2010
Taken care of. I started a much-needed discussion thread in Movie Hype and posted them there as well as the link.
 
December 13, 2010
Beautiful review, this. I especially like your addressing the seemingly endless need to reboot the Superman mythos. If ever there was a franchise one would think would need no reintroductions (much less dozens of them), this would be the one. I suppose though, based on your critique and the captures you've included here, a few modifications to the source material may warrant a purchase. I have to admit that I'm quite fond of the artistic style here. Excellent work William! Man you've been busy!!
December 13, 2010
Thanks, Jason! This was alright and is pretty good. But it just didn't reach that level of greatness I'm used to when it comes to this writer. The art is awesome though!
 
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William ()
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Writer J. Michael Straczynski described the project as a dream come true, as writing Superman was among his intended plans which also included Babylon 5. The project was alluded two years prior when Straczynski announced his contract with DC Comics, as it was obvious he was going to be working on one of DC's "Big Three" that consist of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, but it was unknown to whom he was attached towards. However, before it was announced, he had to keep tight-lipped on the project, while he worked on the Red Circle characters, as well as his run on The Brave and the Bold.


As a journalist, Straczynski placed his past experiences within the environment of the Daily Planet, in order to make it more real. One major example being Jimmy Olsen, who will be known as Jim Olsen in the book, being seen as tougher and smarter than his mainstream counterpart as he will be seen getting himself in harm's way to get the shot. Straczynski wanted to retell the beginnings of Clark Kent coming out as Superman, but bring in the thoughts of what-if Clark thought of becoming something else instead of being a superhero. As Straczynski stated; "he could have been rich as an athlete, researcher, any number of things. There's a flashback scene to when Martha Kent finishes his uniform and gives it to him as a gift, hoping he'll go that way. He looks at it and says, in essence, "Shouldn't there be a mask?" She says no, that "when people...
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Details

Author: J. Michael Straczynski, Shane Davis
Genre: Superheroes, Comics & Graphic Novels
Publisher: DC Comics
Format: Graphic novel

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