Monday, November 12, 2012

Signal Reads: Superman - Earth One Volume 2


I wasn't much of a fan of the first volume of the Superman: Earth One concept when announced or when I read it.  In fact, I was more than mildly annoyed when I finished reading the first volume.

Then, of course, we've had the New 52, which made the Earth One reboot equal parts moot, confusing, and a reminder of Dan Didio's flailing of the past decade as Batman: Earth One and this volume found their way to the shelf.

After a year of rotating writers on Superman (somehow deciding that Scott Lobdell was going to solve somebody's problems), and Grant Morrison's non-linear approach to Action Comics, neither book has done much to establish a real status quo for Superman, give readers a sense of background or origin, or not just completely depend on readers knowing everything about Superman from the pre-New 52 reboot in order to function.

So, at least the Earth One books strive to take on the tricky task of starting at the beginning and standing on their own two feet.

While the basic structure of the book is unusual and admirable for DC these days in that it tells a story with a beginning, middle and end (with a bit of a teaser for the next book), JMS's writing is a bit all over the place and trying desperately to humanize Superman to the point that he winds up like every other "origin story" young adult character, not just in comics but across written media.  The not-too-harsh self-criticism, the dialog that seems to just flail about trying to sound clever and timely for the youths, but it sounds like a middl-eaged guy trying to write the kids...  But I'm not sure it's just limited to young Superman and friends.  The conversations between other characters feel as canned and stilted as Claremont at his 80's finest, and you sort of wish the editor would just take JMS by the hand and tell him "you're trying too hard to fill space.  Try reading this aloud and see if your characters sound like they're on the CW.  Because they do.".

Does Clark seem out of character?  Well, that's a matter that's up for debate.  This is JMS's Earth One, not  a Superman fitting into Silver Age continuity of Morrison's JLA-era fearless core of the team.  In truth, he sounds more or less like the attempts at the younger, hipper Clark over in the New 52 line.

What JMS does is take some pretty bold steps in new directions Superman has never gone.  The Superman of Paul Dini's Superman: Peace on Earth is missing altogether in this book that, instead, lets Superman take direct action in international affairs - which, frankly, I'm eager to see someone take on after all the kerfuffle around Action Comics 900 and the varying reactions to a story in which Superman gives up US citizenship to avoid international conflict - sure, why not?  Let's do the story simulator.  It's not anything I recognize as Superman, but I think we're sort of passed that issue at this point.  DC clearly doesn't want their Superman to be the one we all knew for 74 years, so this is an option, I guess.

There's just a lot going on in this book, and sometimes its too much.  JMS takes on the old Larry Niven chestnut, Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex, and manages to tapdance around Clark and his neighbor's flirtations (the neighbor and Clark have some of the cheesiest dialog in the book.  Really, its painful.).  There's a neighbor with a smack problem, a country that needs saving, a guy turning into Parasite for reasons, his sister who has "victim" written on her forehead from the moment she's mentioned, and awkward scenes between Superman and the device becoming the Fortress of Solitude, a prying Lois Lane, a Jimmy Olsen who looks ten years older than everyone else, and a Perry White who seems like a lost old man.  And we have the blonde ice-queen military officer who seems to boss everyone around her up and down the chain of command, taking the place of General Lane in his Quixotic mission to take on Superman in prior volumes of DC books and ongoing in Action Comics.

Oh, and we get a terribly mangled introduction for Lex Luthor.  Just awful.

In many ways, nothing about this feels like Superman, but I'd argue nothing in DC's output has felt like Superman except for occasional issues of Action Comics since August 2011.  At least DC let them use the classic suit.

I don't know.  It's definitely not worth the cover price in hardback (I paid a decent discount), and if you don't think too hard about it, it IS better than most of the New 52 Superman.  It just isn't outstanding and feels like a mid-tier comic at best.

The Shane Davis art is fine.  It just feels wasted on this book.

All in all, it just feels like a Superman that audiences won't find too alien or decide isn't relatable because he doesn't say "crap" enough, and this one says it all the time.  It's a Superman for today's audience that has to be reassured that even aliens with laser-eyes are lovable losers like themselves, and maybe there's something to that.  I guess.  It certainly has seemed that the idea of Superman has become increasingly difficult for audiences to swallow.

In truth, Superman isn't flawless, and I did appreciate the fact that JMS explored Superman's consideration of what would happen if he flexed his muscles in a frustrating situation.  It's the sort of thing that can humanize the character a bit, and, especially as he's learning his place, everything is a teaching moment.  And, truthfully, none of its as painful as any given "learning to be Superman" moment from TV's Smallville.

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