J. Michael Straczynski, writer; Shane Davis, artist
Superman is one of my favorite superheroes. For a long time, he was THE favorite. For a long, long time. And he’s still in the top five, rotating between the second, third, and fourth places.
But there has always been one problem: his comic books never appealed to me. Ever. Never ever. I never collected Action Comics or Superman comics. I read them, on occasion. But the ongoing comic book adventures of Superman just never grabbed me.
However, I am a huge fan of “Elseworlds” or “What If?” styled stories. These are self-contained comics that use the iconography of the character, but skip the arcane details of the long and winding backstory that hundreds and hundreds of issues of comic books will bring.
I also, two years ago, watched through the entirety of Babylon Five. Why does this matter?
Because of Superman Earth One, a graphic novel written by the creator/caretaker/writer of Babylon Five. It’s a Superman graphic novel, self-contained, using the character but rebooting the story from the beginning (and therefore, losing the complicated backstory), written by a guy that I had come to seriously respect as a storyteller.
So does the graphic novel hold up? And why am I reviewing it now?
To answer the first question: I really enjoyed Superman Earth One. When it came out, it got a lot of criticism because the cover made it look like it was trying to bring in the Twilight type of audience. And truth be told, they were using the cover to bring in the Twilight type of audience. But the story is not an “emo”, navel gazing Superman. Not entirely.
The story follows young Kal-el, last survivor of Krypton, leaving his adopted home in Smallville to find his place on earth. He is not Superman yet, and he has not developed the persona Clark Kent yet. This is an origin story that goes beyond just the exploding planet and explains the Superman costume and the Clark Kent mask. It’s the beginning of a superpowered man from another world who is becoming a hero.
It also updates the story for the “new millennium.” I’m okay with this, mainly because the story does not feel like updating the character is the most important thing. Story and character are the important elements here, and the rest just falls in line behind that.
This is also a sci-fi action story, with a threat from another world using different parts of the Superman mythology in some clever ways.
And there are some thought provoking moments. Reading it, I recognized JMS’s touches. He is a writer who likes to find the thematic core of a story and draw that out as the characters drive the story, and this story is not exception.
The artwork is astounding. I am not familiar with Shane Davis, outside of Superman Earth One, but he manages to portray both the quiet personal moments and the big, earth shattering action beats with energy and a realistic style.
Now, why am I reviewing this now? Well, first of all, I had reviewed this when it originally came out, but it was erased from the website I posted it on, so I thought I’d do a new review. And secondly, in July there is a Batman Earth One graphic novel coming, written by Geoff Johns (who made Aquaman cool again) and, in November, a second volume of Superman Earth One. Both of these excite me, so I wanted to make sure I talked about this one before those came out. And finally, Marvel has been doing its own version of “Earth One”, with their “Season One” graphic novels, which also take their most popular characters and do something of a self-contained reboot. I have read these, and will also be reviewing them: Fantastic Four, X-Men, Daredevil, and Spider-Man.
So, finishing my review of Superman Earth One, I do recommend this for people who are fans of the character and just want to read a good Superman story. The art is fantastic, and the story is clever and engaging.
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