TITLE: Superman: Earth One, Volume Two
AUTHOR: J. Michael Straczynski
PENCILLER: Shane Davis
FORMAT: Hardcover
PRICE: $22.99
RELEASED: October 31, 2012

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Superman: Earth One, Volume Two was the first of these Earth One books that actually lived up to some of the hype surrounding it.

These books are supposed to be fresh new looks at these iconic characters. But Batman: Earth One was borderline offensive because of how inept its Dark Knight was. It was as if they’d cast Wile E. Coyote as Batman. Meanwhile, despite having fantastic art by Shane Davis, Superman: Earth One was simply J. Michael Stracznski’s spin on a story that has been trampled to death time and time again in the last 10 years alone. Plus, at the end of the day, it wasn’t nearly as good as all the critics harped.

But if Straczynski had given us a little bit of the character work we see in Volume Two, I might have been a more receptive to the whole Earth One thing from the start. As Clark Kent struggles with his reluctance to allow people to get close to him, we see the Earth One debut of the Parasite, who is determined to feed his insatiable hunger for power. And who has more power than Superman? All the while, the American government is preparing its contingency plans in the event the Man of Steel ever goes rogue.

What I enjoyed the most about Volume Two was that it gave us some solid reasons as to why hoodie-clad Clark Kent was so moody and broody in the first book. This book shows us that he’s had to suppress himself in almost every way since high school so as not to draw attention to himself. Despite having an extraordinary IQ, he intentionally got average grades. Though he could obviously overcome any kind of human attacker, he constantly allowed bullies to pound on him. We see he’s very trepidatious about sexual contact, which implies he’s never had a romantic relationship. Clark Kent has intentionally repressed a portionof his emotional growth because he’s afraid his abilities will either hurt others, or put the ones he cares about in danger. The book shows a tear jerker of a scene where we see that one of Clark’s only childhood friends was his pet cat. At one point, we also see a furious Superman fantasize about incinerating a tyrant with his heat vision.

Over the years, Superman writers have tried to play up the isolation angle by talking about how’s from another planet, and how he’ll never really be human. That idea has never held much water with me. Clark Kent looks human, he was raised by humans, and he more or less identifies himself as a human. In truth, the only apparent difference between humans and Kryptonians is on a cellular level. The whole “you’re not really human!” thing seems far too black and white. The idea that Clark is the one isolating himself from humanity, and not the other way around, seems to make more sense. Humans don’t like things that are different, and Superman is different to say the very least.

The book sets the stage for a Clark Kent/Lois Lane romance in an interesting way. After Clark grabs the first interview with Superman (wink wink), Lois becomes suspicious of Clark and his squeaky clean records. This leaves us with a dynamic we’re not used to seeing. Traditionally, Lois is so fascinated with Superman she barely notices Clark. That gets turned on its head here. It opens the door for even more character work if Lois continues to poke around in Clark’s life.

Straczynski gives us the government vs. Superman angle here, and does it pretty well. Outside of the American government feeling paranoid about this godly figure seemingly popping up and doing as he pleases, Straczynski also floats an idea about Superman not being welcome in foreign countries, and every nation having the right to solve its own problems. That concept is played with here, but I get the impression it could have its own book down the line.

From a writing standpoint, the only major issue I have with Volume Two is the Lisa Lasalle character (Lana Lang, Lois Lane…see the pattern?), who upon meeting Clark for the first time is so flirtatious and outright sexually charged its almost irritating. Obviously, her purpose in the story is to test the walls Clark has placed around himself. And in all fairness we are given a reason she’s so sexual later in the story. The problem I have with the scenario is that she seems to want to sleep with him after knowing him for only two minutes. Clark says he’s a writer, and she replies: “I think it’s sexy…You get to touch people with what you write, and it comes from deep-deep-deep inside.” C’mon JMS, porno flicks have better dialogue than that.

Shane Davis reinvents the Parasite for this go-around, and I’m not displeased with what I see. Davis’ version looks more alien and scary than what we usually see from this character. The irony in the Parasite being the villain here is that while Clark is afraid he’ll hurt people if they get close, Raymond Jensen is a character that literally sucks the life from anyone within close proximity. In that sense, the Parasite is a twisted mirror image of Superman.

Still, Davis makes it easy to fall for Lisa Lasalle. He gives her a dirty girl next door look that perfectly fits her purpose in the story. Davis’ stylish Clark Kent, i.e. the trendier 20-something reporter with thick glasses and cute hair, is obviously back here. I didn’t mind him as much this time around, and I think that’s because we had more time to get used to him. We only saw him briefly at the end of the first book, and I got a bad first impression of him. For the life of me I couldn’t get that stupid grin out of my head. The look is more tolerable now that it’s broken in a bit more.

Traditionally, the first act of a play sets everything up. It introduces the characters, the conflict, the setting, etc. Then in the second act, the conflict shifts into high gear. When you take this into account, it’s no surprise that comic book movie sequels like The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2 and X2: X-Men United are often considered better than their predecessors. Even though without the first film, the second film wouldn’t have been possible. It’s the same principle here. I resented Superman: Earth One for being yet another rehash of a story that has been done to death. In truth, I still find the Earth One concept to be needless and redundant. But after Volume Two, I’m inclined to go easier on the whole thing. Or at the very least, less apprehensive about opening the next book.

RATING: 7.5/10

For more Superman, check out Superman and the Men of Steel and Superman: Grounded, Vol. 1.
Front page image from dccomics.com. Image 2 from scans-daily.dreamwidth.org. Image 3 from comicbookresources.com. Image 4 from insidepulse.com. Clark Kent image from comicvine.com.
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