11/27/2012

Superman: Earth One Vol. 2


Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Penciled by Shane Davis
Inked by Sandra Hope
Colored by Barbara Ciardo
Lettered by Rob Leigh

Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

Superman: Earth One was a largely uninspired effort - a tweaking of Superman's origin story that didn't really do anything to improve on it. The move to make the destruction of Krypton a result of an act of war added no pathos to Clark Kent/Superman. The book's villain was pretty generic. And the pieces of journalistic writing from Clark and Lois Lane wouldn't have passed muster at a school newsletter, let alone a major metropolitan newspaper. The most notable contribution to the mythos by writer J. Michael Straczynski was the more "emo" interpretation of Clark's personality, something  further explored in Superman: Earth One Volume 2.

In many ways, Straczynski's Clark is a variation of Mark Milton/Hyperion from an earlier Marvel series he penned, Supreme Power. Clark is essentially how Mark would have grown up had he avoided capture by the U.S. military and been raised by the kindly Kents. He still feels emotionally isolated from the rest of humanity because of his superhuman status, even though he decides to help others. The world's governments and ordinary citizens don't trust him. This is the "realism" in Supreme Power that makes it's way to Earth One. It mixes uneasily with Superman's more traditional idealism, resulting in an often passive and unsure protagonist. The visuals also reflect this trend. Artist Shane Davis is no Gary Frank, but his gritty pages look like something that would be more at home in a Batman comic. The color scheme is fairly muted and ugly. Clark with his glasses on looks more nebbish than geek chic. And Superman's physical appearance is closer to the lean athletic type than to the more conventionally bulky bodybuilder ideal.


Where vol. 2 surpasses vol. 1 is in having to no longer retell Superman's well-worn origins. Straczynski instead gets to develop the character by tossing around several familiar tropes. While Superman uneasily settles into his role as superhero and world figure, the U.S. military is researching methods to kill him if he ever goes rogue. A suspicious Lois begins to snoop into Clark's background. And Superman finally gets to fight his first Earth-based supervillain, a monstrously creepy re-imagining of the Parasite. These threads don't quite cohere, which makes the story feel more like a serial squeezed into the book format. Superman's eventual solution to a punitive island dictator's rule is closer to the extreme measures of the Authority, and would give everyone else more reason to distrust him. His battle with the Parasite exudes a "monster of the week" vibe. And Lois' investigation peters out as if Straczynski simply ran out of pages for her.

And then there's the issue of how a super strong alien can mate with fragile mere mortals. Clark is given a a new supporting cast as he moves into a new apartment and becomes acquainted with the building's other residents, the most conspicuous being his attractive and flirtatious neighbor Lisa Lasalle. The whole subplot is a not so subtle shout-out to Larry Niven's "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex", but not as funny as the original. Highlighting Clark's own frustration at his inability to do the nasty is certainly one way to make his alienation more relatable to the reader. Lisa however is still a one-note character at this point, and the resolution to the sexual tension between them feels way too much like an easy out.


So while the book is a slight improvement over its predecessor, it doesn't quite rise to the level that makes it stand out from the already massive pile of preexisting Superman material. It ends with the promise of a newer, shinier version his greatest arch-enemy about to make his life very miserable. Will this make "Superman: Earth One" much better on its third installment? I'm a little skeptical.