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Graphic Novel Review

Book Cover

Earth One (Hardback)


Author: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist: Shane Davis
Titan Books
RRP: £14.99, US $19.99
ISBN: 978 0 85768 003 7
Available 28 January 2011

Clark Kent is different. He can fly. He can see through walls, burn objects with his gaze. He is a god among mortals - but he is alone and without a purpose. Like most 20-year-olds he doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. He can choose from anything: sports, science, finance or media. The sky is the limit... if he conceals his powers and true identity from the world. However, when the skies darken with ships from distant planets, and the existence of Earth itself is threatened, Clark must make the most important decision of his life: to reveal himself to the world, sacrificing his chance for a normal life... or let the world die around him...

In Superman: Earth One, writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Shane Davis take all (well, most of) the familiar elements of Superman’s origin story and put a modern, darker spin on them.

With the notable exception of Lex Luthor, all the major supporting characters appear: Jor-El and Lara, Jonathan and Martha Kent, Perry White, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen. All of them are instantly recognisable, especially Perry (who gets some of the best lines in the book), though Straczynski’s version of Jimmy is markedly more confident than we’re used to, playfully challenging Perry’s authority and repeatedly putting himself in danger in order to get the perfect picture (which is somewhat different from the “Chief, I didn’t have my camera” Jimmy of Superman III).

However, in this new, grittier version of the myth, the young Clark is more uncertain than ever about what he wants to do with his life. Areas of the once-gleaming Metropolis are now crumbling. The Daily Planet is in trouble, threatened, as with all print media, by plummeting sales (a factor, incidentally, that is similarly affecting comic books, which has been cited as a reason why Straczynski quit working on the monthly Superman and Wonder Woman titles to focus on graphic novels such as this one).

The writer offers convincing explanations for a whole lot of “why”s concerning Superman’s origins: why his home planet Krypton blew up; why he doesn’t wear a mask; why he uses his powers to help people; why he chose to be a reporter when he could have earned millions exploiting his abilities as a sportsman or a scientist. This Clark isn’t just physically strong, but intellectually so as well, able to solve within seconds an equation that Earth scientists had been working on for years.

In realising the characters and locations, Davis cherry-picks elements from various interpretations of the myth over the years. The look of Krypton owes much to John Byrne’s The Man of Steel (though Lara and Jor-El’s dialogue is more reminiscent of the first movie). Jonathan and Martha Kent resemble Smallville’s John Schneider and Annette O’Toole. The artist’s slight redesign of Superman’s costume appears to be inspired by tweaks carried out in Superman Returns.

The art is dominated by photorealistic detail in the foregrounds and great depth of field for the backgrounds. Though they aren’t credited on the cover, let’s not forget the contributions made by Sandra Hope, whose inks put the clean lines on Davis’s pencil work, and Barbara Ciardo, who provides the vivid colours. Their work is generally highly impressive, with some great visual effects, especially when rendering alien technology and Clark’s glowing eyes - though the new character of Major Sandra Lee doesn’t look old enough to have been in the army for (it is implied) twenty years (maybe it is only the project she is attached to that has been operating for twenty years).

It has to be said that the alien invasion is over rather quickly. Take out the flashbacks and it lasts for less than half the book. However, the lingering threat of future attacks from space offers intriguing potential for continuation.

I’ve still got a soft spot for Byrne’s 1986 reboot, and probably always will, but Superman: Earth One is similarly essential reading.


Richard McGinlay

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