Reign of the Supermen #35: Superman of Earth-One

Source: Superman: Earth-One GN (2010)
Type: ReimaginingWhen I started Reign, I (only slightly) jokingly said it was because of JMS' Grounded storyline, that we needed real Superman content for the year. As most of you know by now, JMS has already quit Superman and is leaving I, Zombie's Chris Roberson to finish his story. His last issue is already on the stands and he's sent the appropriate cocktail napkins to Mr. Roberson. Things may be looking up, or the flawed premise behind Grounded may keep even a talent like Roberson from making Superman Superman again. There have been enough pixels spent on this issue already, so I won't talk about work ethic, spin doctoring and all that jazz except to say that DC's official reason for replacing JMS on Superman and Wonder Woman is so he can work on a sequel to the apparently already acclaimed Superman: Earth-One graphic novel.

Superman for the Twilight generation, some called it, but I don't really know what that means. Lip-biting heroines? Superman glitters when exposed to otherwise harmless kryptonite? And isn't Smallville already the Superman for the Twilight generation? So I read it.

It's not a bad reimagining of the Superman legend, actually. It's a sort of Superman Year One as if that year was 2010, and in that sense Earth-One feels a lot like Ultimate Marvel. I especially liked the Daily Planet scenes, with Perry critiquing Lois' writing and Jimmy overloading the server with huge digital images. Just how Clark decided to become a journalist is well handled too. Some props given for not using Luthor, though I'm not sure about the original alien menace in the Joker make-up. There is some awkwardness to the book as it attempts on the one hand to be more "realistic" (the government sweeps in to nab the Kryptonian rocket, the public is mostly untrusting of this alien on their shores, Clark's job hunt), but also has kooky Silver Age ideas like metal and cloth that are indestructible "under a yellow sun".

So what changes were made to the Superman story? Krypton now shares its system with another advanced world, and they caused its destruction (with the help of an unknown ally, which may turn out to be Brainiac... or Star Trek's Nero, judging by the M.O.). Superman's a lot younger - Lois seems older than he is and Jimmy about the same age. He's seems a bit more emo too, but not to the point where I'd compare Earth-One to Twilight. To Claremont's X-Men, maybe. Let's call it angst. Maybe it's just Clark's hoodie. Or that his mission now includes "avenging" his homeworld. He didn't go to University. The costume has some leathery black patches on it, but is otherwise close to the classic design. His rocket looks very different and has some measure of sentience; he stores it in the Arctic. That's it really.

As a graphic novel, it's quite readable, with strong character scenes and a fair mix of reflection and action. The alien invasion plot and lack of recognizable villains is perhaps bold, but somewhat unmemorable. The art is nice enough. To me, it reads like a Superman tv series would look like today, i.e. in the style of Heroes, V, Lost, etc. It has that look, that feel and even the same kind of special effects. Good enough to pull JMS right off his other projects? No, but it is head and shoulders above his monthly work. I guess it's where he actually spent most of his energy. Not that writing a Superman origin is that difficult - a lot of the work's been done by, you know, Siegel and Shuster.

But I'm interested in finding out what YOU thought of Earth-One. While you're thinking about heading to the comments section, here's the obligatory sortof kindof homage to Action Comics #1:


Craig Oxbrow said...

Definitely needs more guys freaking out, who may or may not be caricatures of members of the creative team.

Siskoid said...

Ooh, Craig. This is one I hadn't seen before!

Matthew Turnage said...

I enjoyed Earth One. I too liked that JMS avoided Luthor, and was bold enough to provide a different take on the reason why Krypton exploded. As you say, much better than his monthly work. I never cared for what I read of his Spider-Man (his only other regular work I tried), so perhaps he works best when operating with his own separate continuity. I wouldn't say that I await the sequel with bated breath, but I am looking forward to it.

Austin Gorton said...

He's seems a bit more emo too, but not to the point where I'd compare Earth-One to Twilight. To Claremont's X-Men, maybe. Let's call it angst.

Good point. There is, after all, a long standing tradition of angst in comic books that predates the Twilight craze by decades.

I haven't had a chance to read this yet. I've heard mixed things, so it's probably something I'll keep an eye out for used and pick it up on the cheap.

Siskoid said...

Matt: Criticism levied againt him re: Spider-Man, Superman and Wonder Woman is that he changed the characters too much, ignoring many of the things readers felt were integral to the characters or showing a deep misunderstanding of the character's under-pinnings. So yes, I think he works better outside continuity.

Craig Oxbrow said...

My work here is done!

(It's from the Buffy Season Eight story Buffy Has F#@$ing Super Powers!)

Anonymous said...

I'll go a step further and say JMS isn't happy unless he's going off in a new unexplored direction. Sometimes it works out, but sometimes the path less traveled is so for a reason.

Siskoid said...

Is that Frost reference a pun about Grounded?

Anonymous said...

I wish I were that clever!

My preferred joke about "Grounded" is: "You will believe a man can walk".

Radagast said...

Haven't seen anything of this beyond this blog post, but going by that first image they seem to be channelling Brandon Routh for his face.

Which isn't really the best model to pick, is it?

Siskoid said...

I dunno, overall looks like "comic book handsome".

Anonymous said...

Colin at wrote a 4 part piece criticizing Superman Earth One. He did so by comparing Superman's character in Earth One to his character in All-Star Superman. Seeing Earth One provoke such differing reactions from reviewers and bloggers make me want to check it out, although I probably won't until I see it at the library.

- Mike Loughlin

Anonymous said...

Wait, am I to understand that this is a Superman who doesn't believe his powers oblige him to serve others? That's like a Batman who only fights crime when there's nothing on TV. Whatever else is going on in "Superman: Earth One", if he doesn't start off with a sense of duty to his community, it's a swing and a miss. (Ma Kent's "I just want you to be happy whatever you're doing" stance is a travesty.)

And Perry ... ? Changing the position of phrases in a sentence doesn't flip the voice from "passive" to "active". No wonder nobody respects your newspaper.

Siskoid said...

Well though he's aimless at the beginning, he does end up choosing the low-paying job where he could "do good". So I think that's his instinct, though he still applied all those other places. We're seeing the events that made him realize who he was.

As for Perry's "passive voice", it's not the right term, but he is right about which is the better phrasing for a newspaper.

Anonymous said...

I have to admit I haven't actually read "Superman: Year One", I'm just going off what I've read in reviews and in sample panels online. So I may be missing major nuances.

But I haven't seen much to make me think that Clark has a strong instinct to help those in need. An alien invasion forced him into action, and he decided he liked the idea of being a journalist. Which would be fine for any number of heroes ... but Superman doesn't really have the luxury of considering public service "optional", not without losing something core to the character anyway. Kind of like you couldn't do a Captain America who was an isolationist in early 1941, and who only slowly grew to realize the Nazis were a big problem.

Basically, the fact that there is a Superman who takes duty to community that seriously, allows for the creation of other heroes who don't achieve the gold standard of civic responsibility. Take that away from Superman and you diminish the character and leave a void in the DC Universe.

Now a Clark Kent who initially eschewed costumed heroics because he felt it wasn't the right way to help others ... that might work. It might even explain Clark's various high-paying jobs (where he gives 95% of his earnings away to charities).

Eh, I'm doing a lot of griping over a comic I haven't actually read.

Siskoid said...

I don't think you're necessarily wrong, and I can't believe I'm defending a JMS story. Basically, it's only awful to JMS haters and it's only really good to JMS lovers. So if you thought JMS was overrated, or the book was too pricey, you could pick it apart. But I don't think it's bad enough for that. Just middle of the road. If this were that kind of review, I'd say it's a Rental, not a Buy. It may even be a Wait for it to turn up on TBS.

As for Superman's altruism, it's not that he didn't want to help humanity, it's that he didn't know how. The journalism bit is not chosen lightly (it's not even one of his super-talents like all those other jobs). He decides to work at the Planet because Jimmy and Lois showed bravery, valor and ethics during the crisis.

Yes, he's closer to a Spider-Man who learns responsibility of power, rather than a pure-hearted boyscout who would uphold the good even without powers. He's not your eternally 30 Superman, he's maybe 22. He didn't become Superboy, putting on the tights is not second nature. You do have a case, I just mean to show that it can be seen another way.

Also, it's an Elseworlds in everything but name. We wouldn't be bothered if Superman turned out to be, say, a fascist in an Elseworld.

Anonymous said...

You have a good point about the Peter Parkerness, and in time maybe JMS will show us a Clark who has really internalized responsibility. Martha Kent disappoints me the most, though, by telling Clark it'd be okay if he chose just to be the world's best banjo player ... no. Just no.

I guess I can accept fascist Elseworlds Superman more readily because Earth One is also going to feature a Batman, and probably more and more heroes if sales are good. You can have a broken Wonder Woman or even a broken Batman, but if yer Superman's broken the entire universe is broken.


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