Superman Earth One by JMS and Shane Davis

Reviewed by Stephen Aryan

This is a new independent Superman comic book that is aimed at a new generation of comic readers and fans. It is the first volume of hopefully many and they will build into an epic ongoing story. You don’t need to have read any Superman comics ever before to read this, and it doesn’t connect to any others out there, past or present. But it does assume you have a vague idea of who Superman is and what he can do. Rather than starting with the traditional destruction of his planet as a baby, the story begins with Clark Kent as a young man coming to Metropolis in search of something. The story is told in a non-linear fashion and it moves back and forth at times, dipping into his childhood and then back to the present. We witness his birth parents and all that they did for him, and there are also several important and defining moments with his human parents, Martha and Jonathan Kent. So even if you only knew the name of Superman, you can read this and still follow the story without any difficulty.

Clark is special and always has been, not just because of his powers but because he genuinely wants to help people. The tagline most commonly associated with Superman is Truth, Justice and the American Way. In this first volume it takes the character more time than you might expect to get to that place in his mind. He is still a good person, but certain events in this new version of the story are slightly different to the original. The result is a young man whose priorities are the same, but without spoiling it, he feels more responsible for certain people in his life and he has a duty of care to look after them and see that they are well provided for. It also means that his path in life is not as clear as before. He explores different options that are open to him and goes for a series of interesting interviews which hint at his vast potential. Some of which I actually forgot about because 99% of Superman stories focus on his physical attributes and what he can accomplish with them. I also tend to forget who his parents were and how he was actually saved as a child.

Most often I associate Superman with big battles, saving the world from intergalactic super villains and fighting his nemesis, Lex Luthor. Of course that’s only half of the story. As Clark Kent he also fulfils the red, white and blue tagline, by relentlessly tracking down the truth as a reporter, exposing criminals and seeking out those who think they are above the law and immune. No one is beyond his notice and because he is someone who cannot be bought off or manipulated into burying a story, this often gets him into trouble. Being invulnerable at this point obviously helps, as they can’t silence him by giving him concrete shoes and putting him at the bottom of the river. This makes for a dangerous and implacable person and the kind of reporter that criminals grow to hate.

JMS, the writer, used to be a reporter himself so he knows first hand about the job and he knows newspaper photographers and how ferocious they can be. We’ve all seen the tabloid photographers shoving giant cameras into people’s faces, chasing them down the street and even running after cars to try and get the best shot. Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s best pal, is usually painted as bit of a damp rag and someone who needs to be saved on a regular basis. In this story we have someone who is perhaps a little closer to reality. Jim is a bit of a daredevil. Someone who will do almost anything to get that brilliant photo, because he knows what it’s worth and that pictures are often more powerful than the text printed beside them. He and Lois Lane are a good team and we see them in action during the course of the story.

Another point worth mentioning, but I’ll dodge around the details a little so as not to spoil it, is that it would be easy to stick to the usual formula and have Lex Luthor show up early as the villain and main antagonist. There is no sign of him at all in this first volume, and in fact there is a brand new villain who is tied into Superman’s home planet of Krypton. JMS suggests a different cause for something that until fairly recently was usually glossed over, because it was a trigger that led to other things that were more exciting. Here, JMS goes right back to the very beginning before Clark was even born and pokes at his origin. He offers an alternative cause for this cataclysmic event and then twenty-something years later, we see the repercussions on Earth when Clark comes to Metropolis.

Apart from this, there are a few other mysteries that have been set up, including shadowy figures lurking in the background and pulling strings. There is a new antagonist as well, someone who doesn’t believe that someone can be so powerful and yet just wants to help other people out of the goodness of their heart and doesn’t want something in return. I believe people in general are a lot more cynical than when Superman was first created. We’re far less trusting and a lot more suspicious. So, in some ways this new doubting character is the voice of the everyman in 2010 and that makes it both realistic and kind of depressing. If someone were to turn up now that claimed to have superpowers we would wait for it to be debunked, look for the CGI, strings, or wait for the masked magician to reveal how it was done.

I doubt there are many people, besides children, who would stare up at a man who could fly with open mouthed wonder and just marvel at the sight of it. Some of this attitude of the twenty first century has trickled into Clark, but he was still raised by the Kents, who are the solid foundation on which his personality was built. In some ways he’s Superman because he can see the potential in human beings and he is able to rise above the cynical attitude of others. Some people want to end the world. He wants to give us, as a species, the opportunity to become something greater and the symbol on his chest has become synonymous with hope, or more specifically, hope for the future. As you can probably tell, reading this first volume stirred a lot of old feelings that stretch all the way back to my childhood.

By the end of this first volume Clark is still finding his way, but he is now on the right path. His voice is still one that is heavily guided by his father’s wisdom, Jonathan Kent, so he is still a little unsure of himself, which is common in young men, but a little strange to see in Clark Kent who is normally so self assured when he is not playing a bumbling boob. But we all have to start somewhere. There were a couple of times when I felt as if JMS strayed and it pulled me out of the story a little. I felt that it was him telling me these things and not Clark or Jonathan, but that is my only criticism and it is not a major one.

Overall I found the writing to be solid and interesting because of the unexpected changes to the story. For once I didn’t feel as if I knew exactly what was going to happen next and what each character would say or do, like I do with films I’ve seen dozens of times before. Clark, Jim Olsen, and Chief Perry White all surprised me, it was only Lois that seemed no different. The art throughout the book is excellent, it reminds me of Gary Frank at times, and there are really some great artistic touches. All of the characters look like real people as well. Not every single man has a six pack and all of them are not the same height and build. The colourist, Barbara Ciardo really makes the art pop right of the page. It’s so bright, so vibrant and so wonderfully Superman. A great read, I am going to go back and read it again now, look at the artwork and eagerly await the next one which is probably going to be due out towards the tail end of this year.

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