Monday, 21 March 2011

Superman: Earth One

Superman: Earth One- By J. Michael Straczynski

In 2009 award winning writer J. Michael Straczynski left Marvel Comics, for whom he had been writing since 2001, and began working for rival company DC. Straczynski’s stint at Marvel was highly successful, his long run on Spiderman is considered by some fans, including myself, to be one of the best Spiderman runs ever and the same can be said for his Thor run, which in my own humble opinion is one of the best runs on any ongoing series in the last decade.

And what of Straczynski’s work at DC? Well, between leaving Marvel and coming to DC something appears to have happened to Straczynski, as if a part of himself were lost along the way. Straczynski took over writing duties for both Superman and Wonder Woman’s monthly ongoings and by god was the comic community excited. Then they came out.

Straczynski’s Superman and Wonder Woman stories have, thus far, been absolutely wretched. I’ve read my fair share of bad comics and I struggle to think of much that I can genuinely call worse. But you don’t have to take my word for it, if you aren’t one of them yourself find the nearest person who’s been reading Superman and ask them what they think of ‘Grounded’. You’d best bring along a swear jar.

But all was not lost, for a graphic novel was also in the works, the first in DC’s new Earth One line which would re-tell the origins of DC’s most famous heroes for a modern audience. Superman: Earth One, is the biggest single release from DC in years and all eyes were on Straczynski, who, after the disasters of his DC monthly offerings, needed to prove himself.

You might have noticed that I’m taking my time in actually starting to talk about the book itself, mostly because I’m taking my time intentionally. Why? Because Superman: Earth One is the biggest pile of bland nothingness I’ve come across in a long time. It is taking me significant effort to type every word of this review and I’m struggling to find the enthusiasm to continue. The only reason I’m bothering is because this is a big release and DC has been short on them lately.

Even as I write I’m pouring through the book in an effort to find something that left any kind of impression on me and I’m failing to find anything.

The story is predictable enough, it’s just Superman’s origin, a story that everyone already knows. A baby sent from dying planet Krypton to earth, there his is found by a married couple who decide to take him in and raise him as their son. He grows up and develops super powers, goes to the city of Metropolis blah blah blah, capes and Lois Lane. What does this do differently? Well for one thing the destruction of Krypton is made rather less tragic, being destroyed now as a result of war rather than exploding due to age and an unstable core. This makes the planet’s end less of a tragic disaster and more back-story for a standard revenge tale.

The story ultimately feels bland and hollow, it feels like Clark Kent doesn’t become Superman out a desire to do good or help people, but rather because the plot demands it. That’s the main problem with this book; Straczynski appears to be utterly incapable of capturing the essence of Superman as a character. Superman isn’t just some goody two-shoes man-child in a cape, he’s a living embodiment of goodness, he’s what all other heroes aspire to be and Straczynski’s Superman isn’t that. Straczynski’s Superman has none of the weight or power that Superman should have, ultimately Straczynski tries to make Superman human and believable but takes it too far to the point where the man we’re reading isn’t a ‘super’ man any more.

There are some good character moments early on, mostly between Clark and his adoptive parents, and they start off the story well. Unfortunately all of the well done character moments in the world won’t help if the story doesn’t work and it most definitely doesn’t.

The villain of the story is a new character called Tyrell, and by the gods he is bland. Nothing about Tyrell makes him memorable, his motivation borders on nonexistent, he wants to kill Superman because someone we never get to see asked him to for reasons we never learn, in exchange for a reward we never find out about. Tyrell doesn’t even seem that interested, as if even appearing in the story at all is a chore, and that doesn’t make for an engaging villain. Tyrell never seems all that threatening, he consistently gets slapped around by Superman and has to resort de-powering him to stand a chance, and then he doesn’t have the sense to kill the enemy he’s been hunting for years, instead opting to stroll off to dick about in his ship instead of maybe SHOOTING HIM IN THE FACE OR SOMETHING.

Yeah, Tyrell is one of those villains who completely deserves to lose.

The art by Shane Davis is nicely detailed but also bland. And that word really does sum up Superman: Earth One, bland.

Oh god I’m bored just thinking about it.

In short this is a largely inoffensive but also very boring and bland story, and it can count itself among Straczynski’s recent failures. There are many better Superman stories and several better Superman origin stories. Avoid unless you have an awful lot of time and money to waste.


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