Friday, November 19, 2010

Superman Earth One - Review

I’m not a DC kid, everyone knows that, but I got my hands on a copy of Superman Earth One and had to read it just for you. I’ve read very little Superman and so wondered if this new, standalone, reinvention comic book would be up my alley. Hit the jump to see what I think.

Superman Earth One

Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Pencils by Shane Davis
Inks by Sandra Hope
Colours by Barbara Ciardo

This comic is a reinvention. It’s meant to be something new, yet familiar. It’s the equivalent of selling an old product with a new digital clock on it. Or so I feel. But in the spirit of being fair, I won’t complain that it’s not like the Superman we all know. That’s kind of the point, there are differences. We’ll all get over it starting…now.

Okay, I will complain once. It feels like this comic wants to reinvent the stuff it can play with in different ways but then wants to keep the other stuff; which is fine. But it doesn’t seem to completely reveal the other stuff, it just assumes we all know it. Which is unfair because we’re supposed to be coming into this fresh but we’re also supposed to lean on the history that is convenient to keep. It comes across as lazy but that’s all I’m going to say about it. Maybe it's just a preference thing, or a matter of streamlining.

We come into the story with Clark first arriving in Metropolis. He is completely unsure of what he wants to do with his life. So, which comes first, the aimless direction or the hoodie? But I kid. Clark just cannot figure out what is the best thing for him to do. We see a montage, of sorts, of him excelling in many different areas. It feels strange because for him to be doing all that he does, breaking mathematical theorem and knocking them down on the football field, surely someone would piece it all together and realise what an insanely talented individual he is. It doesn’t ring true to the character but it does give us the opportunity to see two mathematicians in the background of a panel jump and high five. It might be telling that this little gag in the background is one of my main highlights of the book.

The montage does also serve another purpose, however out of character it might feel. This constant search for happiness shows us that Clark isn’t going to be happy, no matter what he becomes the best at. There is a desire within him that cannot be sated through pedestrian accomplishments. Clark needs more.

About a third into the book and the alien invasion begins. An interstellar man of many words, named Tyrell, has come to Earth looking for the last son of Krypton. Tyrell has travelled the stars looking for this last vestige of the planet now destroyed so he can add the lone Kryptonian to the disaster toll. Much of his invasion, an act to call out the survivor he seeks, is played out like any number of alien invasions we’ve all seen before. They know to target iconic and instantly identifying cultural features and they wipe out thousands of people without making any of it feel like any true life is lost.

Much has been made of Tyrell, from his look to his name, but I have to admit I like him. He’s got a unique look, like a Tron Archangel put through some sort of techno-organic Joker virus. It’s an intriguing visual and it matches the whole backstory of the character just fine. He explains, at great length, how he and his people relate to Krypton and its demise. In fact, pretty much the whole second half of the book is Tyrell and Superman fighting intercut with a few moments that show Jimmy and Lois Lane as being awesome examples of Earthlings and a lot of moments of Tyrell explaining how he got here, why he’s here, what he wants to do here, and what he’ll do after he’s been here and done what he wants to do here, which all stems from how and why he is here. Got it?

The exposition is laborious at time, but it is helped by being relatively interesting. Tyrell’s back story is a good addition to the Superman mythos – though if this is out of continuity then it’s not really adding, is it? I just wish JMS had found a more organic way to get the tale across.

The tale is a fitting parable about Clark not being happy doing anything and then finally finding his place in the world as Superman. It makes sense and gives the character a round arc, but it feels like one bloated introduction. This could have been more adeptly handled as the first act or else made the Clark story at the start more compelling instead of barraging us with montage moments and little dialogue. Our titular character barely speaks in the first third of the book and this makes it very hard to connect with him in any way.

The coda to the tale is that Superman saves the day but Earth doesn’t quite know if it can trust him. I imagine the second book, which has been fast-tracked by DC much to the detriment of JMS’ monthly work, will play on this idea of Superman as the man both loved and feared and he will slowly win the world over with a wink and a flex.

There are some successes within this book as JMS handles many of the scenes involving the Kents quite well. His flashbacks to the family proper are quite sweet and old school and the moment of Clark at his father’s tombstone is downright touching. These work completely on their own but when juxtaposed against the entire book feel almost anachronistic, which is a shame.

I think Shane Davis does a decent job in the art depicting the fights and physical struggles. He makes the book look like a Superman book, a book of action, a comic for a kid discovering comics. I don’t like that his Clark Kent looks so generic that I’d never be able to pick him out of a line up. He’s got reality tv good looks and it doesn’t fit the character in the slightest.

It was off-putting that Lois was completely swiped from images of Jennifer Carpenter, the sister from Dexter. I don’t mind a little casting but when the images are complete copies it does take me out of the story for just that beat.

There is a great homage to the cover of Action Comics #1 but instead Superman is lifting a tank into the invading alien forces. Makes me wonder if an entire OGN could be made up of swiped cover images. Would be quite the challenge, if anyone wants to take me up on it.

Verdict – Check It. This isn’t Twilight for Supes; not in the slightest really. It’s a decent story, and you’ll have fun in parts of it, but it’s sadly nothing special. Reading a retelling of an origin of a character over seventy years old has to get tiresome at some stage, doesn’t it? How many retreads can we really tolerate? Unless there’s something exceptional on offer, I don’t see the point. It’s like covering The Beatles and playing every chord exactly the same. But wearing a retro-ironic tie/hat ensemble. It’s going to get a few foot taps but it won’t be worth it once the beer bottles come through the chicken wire.

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Ivan said...

Nice review, Ryan. I was gonna get this anyway, being a long time Superman fan an all, but your review makes me feel it will be worth it.

I think that with the financial success that is this OGN, we are finally seeing the birth of DC's "Ultimate" universe, no?

Anonymous said...

Those last few lines of the review are pitch perfect. Bravo, good sir.

Ivan said...

Just to address your conclusion: I agree that we're pretty saturated with Superman origin retellings, but one has to keep in mind that this is out of continuity and has one clear goal: introduce Superman to an audience who has only a passing familiarity to the character. So in this case, I think it was necessary.

THE BEATY said...

didn't they allready do this with birthright? because that was better than this seems

Klep said...

I picked this up and enjoyed it, but I agree that it was nothing terrifically special. The SCIENCE! high five was definitely one of its best moments.

Ivan said...

Birthright was supposed to be in-continuity. But then Geoff Johns' "Secret Origins" retconned it.

brandon said...

Nice review brotha.

You know, I can't get past the name. Is it me or does Earth One make zero sense? Especially to someone coming into this cold. It just smells of DC continuity despite saying it's not.

Dennis N said...

I picked this up because I'm a huge Superman fan, and the hardcover is put together pretty well, so it will look good on my shelf. I flipped through and I think the art looks awesome. I can't comment on the story yet because I haven't read it. My gut feeling is that it's a better deal than the 6 issues of Superman it costs, if those six issues happen to be the Grounded arc. So skip that and pick this up instead, and you get it in a hardcover.

The Gaf said...

It's not worth it. Go back and reread John Byrne's MAN OF STEEL. That imo is the best retelling of Superman. This one added a bunch of weird and uninteresting elements. Will skip book 2.

Rol said...

You almost had me there, Ryan... but this doesn't sound quite special enough to break my Superman (and DC) embargo, much as I enjoyed JMS's Marvel work.

mvdc said...

I agree with the Beaty. Having read both, I can tell you firsthand that Birthright is better.

Better art. Better story. Better everything.

Dean Trippe said...

Remember, kids, when someone really pisses you off, and you hit them, that's being a hero. Just like Pa Kent taught Superman.

If you like Frank Miller's recent Batman work, you'll love JMS's Superman.

Ryan K Lindsay said... all seem to interpret my review in different ways, that either means I wrote it really well, or I didn't.

I see the Check It verdict as a way of saying some people will like it, I didn't hate it, go see for yourself, but be it on your head.

I did not hate htis book, but I doubt I'll ever read it again. But if I can borrow the second book of my mate, as I did this one, then I'd read it, sure. Once.

As for previous Superman origins, I haven't read any of them. I've read Moore's Whatever tale, and Morrison's All Star, and that's really about it. Maybe I should have mentioned that in the review...?

Anyway, shout outs!
@Anon2 - thanks, kind sir, I wasn't sure whether to include these or not but then reread them and realised I had to. It's the entire review in a few lines. Glad you enjoyed.

@Dean Trippe - I have actually enjoyed Miller's All Star - but that's another article entirely because I've liked it for some very crazy reasons :)

Jean Claude said...

I went in really wanting to love the book.
In the end? Some nice moments, but it added nothing to the previously told origins.
I liked Birthright better.
Wonder if one can have a "definitive" Superman origin...
If they were going for the Ultimates feel, the origin of Hyperion in Supreme Power was better in every way.
Check out Alan Moore's Supreme if you want another take on Supes origin. Really fun book.

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