Superman Earth One – The 2015 Weekly Writer Challenge: J. Michael Straczynski (Part 1)
52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
J. Michael Straczynski
J. Michael Stracyznski has essentially done it all in the world of writing, helping to create television shows, movies, and comics. Straczynski has been writing comics since the late ’80’s, catching his big break when he signed an exclusive contract with Marvel Comics in 2001. Following the completion of that contract, Straczynski moved over to DC Comics where he was given the creative reigns of the Superman title at the time, as well as an out-of-continuity Superman original graphic novel titled “Superman: Earth One”. Working with Shane Davis, Straczynski gave a modern gloss to the Kryptonian hero, making him accessible for a whole new generation of readers.
Superman Earth One – Volume 1
Years ago, an alien ship crashed high in the mountains while the Kents were hiking, setting the forest around them ablaze. Inside this ship was a small boy, whom the Kents took and raised as their own child. As this young boy, given the name Clark, grew older he was revealed to have super human skills, gifted with abilities like super human strength, speed, flight, and laser vision amongst other things. Following the death of his adoptive father, Clark Kent moves out to Metropolis to find a job that will help him comfortably provide for his mother. Clark is a gifted athlete, has a brilliant scientific mind, and has numerous avenues to pursue employment in but Clark struggles with the choice to just lead an ordinary life, knowing that he is fully capable of so much more than just the mundane. When a sudden alien invasion occurs all around the world, Clark is forced to choose whether to remain in silence or answer his true calling as the hero the Earth needs. Short on time and answers, Clark must decide if he wants to save mankind by becoming the very thing he was meant to be his entire life; a hero.
J. Michael Straczynski (or JMS for short) introduces the world to a perfect jumping on point for the Man Of Steel with Superman: Earth One. From the word go, JMS gives the reader a launch pad for learning all about this modern update on Clark Kent a.k.a. Superman, giving readers new and old a whole new set of reasons to fall in love with this character for the first time or all over again. This is a modern take on the character, meant to resonate with the state of comics in today’s market, which it surely does, towing the line somewhere between realistic and over-the-top all at the same time. It’s a whirlwind of a story from start to finish as once the story starts to gain its legs, it never pauses nor slows down until it has completed the desired tale that JMS set out to tell.
From the top, JMS makes you care about this version of Clark Kent/Superman in ways that writers haven’t been able to for quite some time. The Clark we’re shown is fairly young, suggested to have just completed high school but the way he looks and feels isn’t reminiscent of that of someone in their late teenage years but instead in their early twenties. Nonetheless, the point is put across that Clark is entering that pivotal stage where he must decide what he wants to do with his life. JMS reflects on just how “super” Clark Kent really is by demonstrating the characters incredible levels of physicality as well as how he is teeming with intelligence. Shortly after arriving in Metropolis, Kent has a plethora of jobs to choose from, all of which would afford him opportunities most people would kill for in life. These jobs that he has a choice at taking are more than enough to provide for himself as well as his mother, Martha, located back in his “home” town of Smallville. JMS carries on his brilliant characterization by highlighting scenes where Clark shows his desire to be more than just a regular individual, regardless of how much the mundane beckons for him. Even with avenues that are considered exceptional, avenues in which he could help people, Clark elects to be extraordinary by taking on a calling in which he can help the entire world as Superman.
As far as the cast goes, JMS keeps it on the small side with only a handful of secondary characters and a single antagonist who leaves a lot to be desired. You get a run down of your standard Superman supporting characters, seeing the likes of Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, and Lois Lane all featured in some capacity. These supporting members don’t do much in the way of paving new ground, as they feel surprisingly substandard in comparison to the fantastic portrayal of Clark/Superman. It’s not just because they’re regular humans in comparison to Superman, it’s just that these characters feel as though they are re-treading already visited grounds instead of paving ways for dynamic, new, and exciting takes on these well-known characters. Perry White is your typical head honcho for one of the biggest news sources in Metropolis, Daily Bugle, and has the typical “print is dead” penchant. Lois is strong and Jimmy is goofy, with both of these characters being brave when it comes to their respective roles as a journalist and photographer. They aren’t afraid to get into the thick of the action, doing so without hesitation the second an alien invasion occurs. With these simple character breakdowns, it’s easy to see how they fit into the roles that we’ve already come to expect of these characters which is disappointing because it can’t be hidden underneath the modern stylization of the story.
Coming back round to that antagonist I mentioned earlier, JMS falters in the execution of creating a villain that, as a reader, we can be compelled towards. If there’s one thing surprising about the lead villain, who is so forgettable that I can’t even remember his name as I write out this article, it’s the level of indifference you’ll feel towards the characters inclusion into the story. There is nothing to make you love to hate the character, nor is there anything making you feel like you hate to love him either. You’re just left with this hollow feeling of “oh, that’s it?”, instead of feeling terrorized or sympathetic or any form of emotion that helps to hammer home what creates a multi-layered villain. As far as this villain goes, he too treads familiar ground as his soul purpose is the annihilation of the last surviving member of the planet Krypton i.e. Superman. It’s a believable motivation after JMS explains to the reader why he is so hellbent on wiping out Superman but it’s a facet to a character who feels largely unnecessary and uninteresting.
A lot of the best parts of this story bubble down to the plot JMS has designed, cleanly executing an introduction to the character as well as giving him purpose. I’ll say it again in that this is recommended reading for anyone who has ever hated the character of Superman for whatever plethora of reasons you can muster up. It’s a great modernized take on the character that gives you just about everything you’d want for a good Superman story. The page count to the story is really one of the biggest struggles JMS faces as he has so much story but limited space to tell it. With a compelling introduction and a satisfying conclusion, everything in the middle just feels rushed. You hardly see Clark getting his feet wet in a new city before being thrust into the greatest challenge he has ever faced. You feel like the story almost loses its entire second act in favour of giving the readers a first and third act, introducing you to a premise and wrapping it all up rather quickly without much rising tension. It becomes an issue in pacing but the opening of the book is so much fun that you can largely forgive its uneven nature at times. You have to take Superman: Earth One for what it really is: a modern launching pad for new readers who want to get their first good taste of Superman. In that regard, Superman: Earth One is a rousing success as it gives a reader everything it needs to enjoy a fun Superman story.
Collects: Superman: Earth One Volume 1
Best Character: Clark Kent
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “It’s on my desk. SO’S THE LUSITANIA, THE TITANIC, AMELIA AIRHEART’S PLANE AND EVERYTHING ELSE THAT’S GONE MISSING IN THE LAST HUNDRED YEARS!” – Perry White
Best Scene/Moment: Clark Kent tries out for every position on the football team
Best Issue: Well, what is it with Superman and Original Graphic Novels? In nearly as many posts as I’ve done on Superman, we end up with another comic story that technically is told all across one issue. With that in mind, I’ll say that your first 30-40 pages are definitely the most entertaining part of the book. Clark Kent never even dons the usual red cape for this section of the book, with JMS instead taking some time to build up the character in awesome and hilarious ways. We get a clean introduction to Clark and come to truly grasp what it is that makes him tick. These first 30 odd some pages are a must read for anyone who ever has said things like “Superman is boring. He sucks!” because these pages are sure to change their mind.
Why You Should Read It: Superman: Earth One is exactly what I’ve said time and time again throughout this post – an excellent jumping on point for anyone even remotely interested (or even those who couldn’t be less interested) in Superman. JMS gives a definitive modern take on the alien who finds home amongst humans and it’s a delightful comic to watch unfold. JMS’ Clark Kent isn’t the usual oafish man we’ve seen him portrayed as before. This is an excellent Superman story that will have you saying “wow!” instead of groaning over another “boring” Superman story where he is “too powerful” and “unexciting”. Trust me, you’ll read this and be pleasantly surprised by what you take away from this story.