J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis’ Superman: Earth One has been getting quite a bit of buzz since it came out over a month ago. In a sense it was a bit of an experiment, to see how the hardcover trade format would do in launching new titles, and it did sufficiently well so that Straczynski could announce that he was taking a step back from doing monthlies, taking a 75% pay cut, and solely working on graphic novels. The question I have is – while the comic might have sold like gangbusters, was all this really warranted?
Told over around 130 pages, Superman: Earth One is described as Superman for a new generation, with a whole new re-imagining and retelling of his origin tale done by master scribe JMS himself. There’s really no need to introduce someone as creatively fruitful as JMS, from his work on Babylon 5, to his first work in comics for Image, Rising Stars and Midnight Nation, both amazing books that have to be read and finally his work for DC today. JMS is no stranger to creative relaunches, having rebooted the Squadron Supreme into Supreme Power, working on the Wonder Woman makeover, and before that his epic run on Spider-Man (ending with the sad One More Day) where he brought in a strong supernatural influence on the Spidey mythos.
Sadly, while reading this, it’s hard to feel the same kind of awe I felt when I read his first issue of Spidey. It’s not to do with not being a hardcore Superman fan – new titles like Midnight Nation and The Twelve had me riveted from issue one. It also has nothing to do with hating Superman in general too – I don’t, and I definitely fondly look back at Superman: Secret Identity and even the early seasons of Smallville. So for some reason I’m left feeling very cold while reading this book.
There are some positives. JMS’ bit about etching hidden messages on atoms and molecules was rather interesting (but not quite groundbreaking), and well, things explode, if you’re into that. But the general feeling is that we’ve just read it all before. A modern Superman, struggling to come to grasp with the world, finding out about his ancestry, and then becoming a news reporter and hiding from plain sight with glasses? We get a brand new villain, sure, but colour me unimpressed especially since Superman already took them out quite so simply. It doesn’t feel like a Ultimate Spidey relaunch, where we get some fresh looks at things, this time Superman feels ultimately cursed to follow his mainstream counterpart, except he’s more emo, and he wears a hoodie, and has less spitcurl.
What doesn’t help is Shane Davis’ art. While he’s done quite a lot of great work, the work here feels rushed. It might be the inking, but looking at the cover even the way Superman’s jacket looks throws me off – he has no bodyshape under that jacket, fine. But what’s with his left pocket and they rest of the jacket? Boggles the mind and the eyes.
The bottom line is this. If you want a modern retelling of the Superman origin story, look towards Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen’s Superman: Secret Identity, and for something that’s a total re-imagining, have a gander at Mark Millar and Dave Johnson’s Elseworlds tale, Superman: Red Son (Elseworlds). Superman: Earth One offers nothing new – perhaps it’s time to see JMS back on his creator owned stuff.