By Marty Mulrooney
Superman: Earth One is a graphic novel written by J. Michael Straczynski and pencilled by Shane Davis. The first in a new series of original DC Universe graphic novels featuring top writers’ and illustrators’ unique takes on DC characters, Superman: Earth One offers a bold new origin story for the iconic Man of Steel.
Set during the present day, Superman: Earth One takes the reader back to the very beginning. Clark Kent is not yet Superman, merely a young man with his entire life ahead of him, on a train to Metropolis. Like many guys his age, he is weighing up his options. He wants to do something worthwhile with his life and support his adoptive mother at the same time. Immediately, the book has your attention.
Clark tries out for an American football team and knocks the opposition flat. He then visits a science research facility comprised of the brightest minds from Harvard, Yale and Princeton, who have worked non-stop for three years on perfecting a method to derive electricity directly from salt water… before solving the equation instantly. He even hits a home run when he tries his hand at baseball. The sky’s the limit. Yet, for some reason, Clark is instead drawn towards a low-level reporting job at the Daily Planet newspaper…
Those concerned by the image of Superman in a hoody on the book’s front cover needn’t worry. Although he is certainly carrying a lot of baggage, Clark Kent isn’t portrayed here as your typical moody teenager, at least for the most part. Lois Lane is introduced very early on as a fearless reporter, but thankfully, her limited interactions with Kent are kept realistic and romance is only a far-off possibility at best.
Although this is a reboot and rebirth for the character of Superman, it also serves as a reinvention of Clark. Perhaps most pleasingly of all, Superman is treated as the real identity, with Clark Kent as the disguise. Which is how it should be.
Of course, it isn’t long before the tight-wearing hero we all know and love emerges. Kent’s mother has sewn him a red and blue outfit made from the Kryptonian cloth he was wrapped in as an infant when he crash-landed on earth. It waits for him in his closet, his destiny folded into a neat little pile, waiting.
Sadly, the one major misstep Superman: Earth One makes is introducing a villain that seems far too ‘comic-book’ in a reimagining that up until that point feels grounded and realistic. Alien invader Tyrell lacks character as a villain, feeling two-dimensional and hastily introduced. His appearance ushers Kent into his new role as Superman, defender of planet Earth, but it is a real shame that he couldn’t have had a less trite foe to contend with.
Overall, Superman: Earth One is a bold new vision of a well-known superhero. It isn’t perfect, but the strong artwork and writing go hand-in-hand towards making this very different approach mostly a successful one. Somewhat surprisingly, it isn’t even the epic final battle that impacts most. Instead, it is Superman himself, presented for the first time in a long time as a believable human being. If this series does continue in the future, I can’t wait to see what bold new direction Straczynski, Davis and Superman take next.
8 OUT OF 10