I literally just put down the new graphic novel from DC Comics Earth 1 line and I have to say that I have been enjo
ying the three that have come out thus far. There is, obviously, Superman Earth 1 Volume 1 which has some general issues with its KISS-like super-baddie but overall between the two Superman tomes and the Batman one I think that DC has an interesting approach to the “Ultimate Marvel” revamp style. The thing that I really appreciate about the line is that it is released direct to graphic novel format—and hardcover at that—meaning that the stories themselves are not regularly serialized (which we like around here as a rule), but rather sporadically added to at a rate of about one a year so far.
Looking at Superman Earth 1 Volume 2 (warning spoilers be here), the story picks up at a point somewhat close to the end of the first volume but far enough away that the DC equivalent of Damage Inc. has come through town cleaning up the mess left behind by the comic cosmic Gene Simmons from the Rao System at the end of the last book. Clark Kent has found himself making a little bit of money as a bona fide reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper and moves up from living in a crappy room to living in a crappy apartment. The building has a cast of characters including a tattooed bombshell red head with a thang for Mr. Kent with the initials “LL”…though it isn’t Lana Lang as I thought she might be but rather Lisa Lasalle… and a 1995 era long haired junkie who sits on a stoop quote Bob Dylan. I’m not sure why writer J. Michael Straczyinski did that…but I’ll be honest he was never a favorite writer of mine and I’m not sure why he’s done lots of things though characters owning monogrammed towels displaying LL initials is a staple of Superman lore, so I can’t knock that generally.
Some things happen rather abruptly, at they are wont to do in JMS stories, and flippant comments are made by all the characters who are seemingly all very confident and have nothing in their hearts to question—except of course for Superman who traditionally should not. There are many things in this story that, traditionally speaking, Superman would not do. Having a rather complex fantasy about killing a head of state, or leading the rebels in that state to a cache of weapons to hold an “election”, or even saying “crap” and his vernacular speech in dealing with sentient Kryptonian tech seems a little off balance.
But remember, I said I enjoyed the story. The reason for this is because this is a place and a venue for some of these traditions to be loosened, shaken, or even eschewed. “Earth 1” is not “Earth Prime” where…well…even more extreme traditions are currently being balked with The New 52…but rather is a place where this kind of experimentation is not only allowable but also, in my opinion, permissible. For this reason the somewhat emo and whiney Superman who talks like a Buffy character with a splash of Bendis Spider-Man is a refreshing approach. The hardcore journalist buried under the businessman impetus of Perry White is spun well, and even a very confident and sans-bowtie Jimmy Olsen is nice to see. Lois is Lois…and while she has evolved beyond the damsel in distress looking to wed the Man of Steel that core piece of intrepid journalism and moxie is still apparent.
The art is also quite good in my opinion. It has a cartoony feel to it but is realistic and high quality enough that Shane Davis makes his own mark on the mythos while still evoking a sense of, what for me is classic, Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding style Superman feel. The costume design on Superman is far more appealing than Jim Lee’s high collared monstrosity evoking the sense of Shuster and Siegel’s circus strongman outfit, but having enough detailing and texture to look like it might be actual clothes (stopping just short of the X-Men movies biker leather gas station attendant suits). Overall he does a good job—even if his “energy absorbing pouches” on Parasite are distracting and disgusting. The renderings are really quite good.
At a little under 200 pages the story is a quick read—even for a graphic novel—and can at times be super preachy (pun intended) and heavy handed. However, looking at it through the prism of a novice, early 20s Superman I think JMS and Davis capture the spirit of the times and update the characters rigidity just enough to make him reasonably relatable. While some might say that it makes Big Blue come off dickish and snide at times (and ostensibly misses a huge character trait at the center of decades of precedent and development), we can all be that way and almost any incarnation of Superman would be glad to be related to by the humans he so admires and tries endlessly to protect and emulate. If you are prepared to leave some of your preconceptions at the door and be slightly preached to with a megaphone I suggest giving this book a try (provided of course you read Volume 1 First).
Written by Brandon Melendez