Monday, January 31, 2011

Superman: Earth One

Title: Superman: Earth One
Author: J. Michael Straczynski
Art: Shane Davis
Published: 2010

Am I allowed to do graphic novels as a part of my 2011 Reading List? I don't see why not. I mean, they're stories written by legitimate writers. Just because the words are accompanied by lots of pictures, I don't think that makes them any less relevant. You know what? It's my reading list, I can do whatever I want to!

Anyway, I picked this one up a couple months ago. At first I wasn't going to. I mean, at the time, I looked at it as an over-sized, over-priced, and over-hyped comic book. Not that there's anything wrong with that. A few years ago, I would have just bought it simply because it's a Superman story. But money's tighter than it used to be, now that I'm balancing a budget and paying bills. So I held off. Until I saw all the reviews.

Okay, I was just reading the reviews of other comic book geeks, but a lot of people seemed to like it. At that point, I got it. But I just never opened it to read it. Again, it's because I had some fairly pre-conceived notions about what it would be. It's another Superman origin story. How many different ways can you tell the story of the infant Kal-El being rocketed away from the doomed planet Krypton to land on Earth and become the hero known as Superman? Apparently, there are a lot of ways you can tell that story.

It's been done over and over again. Most recently, writer Geoff Johns did it in a mini-series called Superman: Secret Origin. And then the new Earth One came out. Side note: Johns is doing a Batman: Earth One graphic novel that's due out this year. That's right, another Batman origin story.

Anyway, I finally picked this up and read it. May as well, it cost me $17 to get it. But I tried to go into it by not thinking of this as the Superman I've grown up knowing and reading about. The few complaints I'd heard about this book were about how this just isn't the same Superman we've all known and loved for years. But that's sort of the point of this "Earth One" series. DC Comics wants to take this world that's outside of it's 75 year continuity and start with something fresh. This is supposed to be the Superman for the 21st Century. Does it succeed?

I read that one reviewer referred to this Superman as a "Marvel-ized" Superman. I'm not exactly sure what all that description implies. Mostly because I've never read Marvel Comics. Most people like to point out that Marvel's heroes are more flawed and more human than DC's heroes. I guess I can buy that. Does that mean that this version of Superman is more flawed or human than the standard issue? I'm not so sure.

I will say that this is definitely not Superman as we've always known him. This Superman is young and he's full of all kinds of angst. He's in his early 20s and he's just left Smallville for the first time. We get the sense that he doesn't really know what he wants to do with his life. We also get the impression that his adopted father, Jonathan, has recently passed away. So, despite moving to Metropolis after graduation from a junior college, he feels the heavy burden of wanting to take care of his mom, Martha Kent.

Clark soon goes job hunting. But it isn't like a typical 20-something pounding the pavement. This is a guy that can do anything. Literally. He tries out for professional sports teams. We get a glimpse of a Superman who has a super-intelligence as well as super-strength. But through it all, he's not able to find a career path that makes him happy. At this point, you want to stop feeling sorry for him.

I get it. I'm 30 years old and I still don't know what I want to do with my life. Well, I know what I want to do, I'm just not sure how to really get there. So I understand what it would feel like to be in a new place, not knowing how to find happiness. Maybe it's a more realistic take on what a kid with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men would be feeling. But I'm not so sure. I mean, yeah, he's the last of his kind, so there's that sense that he feels alone. But he was raised by the Kents. These are salt-of-the-earth kind of people who treated Clark as if he was their own flesh and blood. With the love that he was raised with, Clark Kent never had a reason to feel alone.

That's my only real complaint about this new take on an old story. Aside from that, we see a lot of action and an overall great introduction of a hero to the world. Superman is forced to battle an alien named Tyrell, who apparently comes from the same solar system as Superman. Tyrell's people come from a planet that is a neighbor to Krypton, and apparently these races were at war with each other off and on for centuries. Eventually, Tyrell's people were given the capability to destroy Krypton by an unknown benefactor. I smell a sequel, especially since this benefactor was never revealed to the reader.

Superman saves the day. Clark gets a job working for the Daily Planet. We meet Lois and Jimmy and Perry. Everything else sort of falls into place.

All told, it's a pretty decent story. And the artwork by Shane Davis is pretty awesome as well. I'm not sure if I'll be reading any more graphic novels as a part of my goal of 50 books this year. But if I do, try not to judge me.

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