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Mild Mannered Reviews - Superman Comics

Superman: Earth One

Superman: Earth One

Scheduled to arrive in stores: October 27, 2010

Cover date: December 2010

"Earth One"

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Penciller: Shane Davis
Inker: Sandra Hope

Reviewed by: Ralph Silver with Neal Bailey and Adam Dechanel

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A young Clark Kent, 20 years old and fresh out of Smallville Junior College, sits on a train heading from Smallville to Metropolis. He has a lot to think about as he ponders the life decisions he will be making in the coming days. He gets a room at the Metropolis Hotel, and wanders the streets to begin to get acclimated. A holdup man picks Clark to rob, but is soon sorry. To Clark, it is a minor annoyance as he continues to plan his job hunt.

Clark tries out for the Metropolis pro football team. Because he is much smaller than the other recruits, he is met with extreme skepticism and some derision. But as soon as Clark shows what he can do, the coach is beside himself to get Clark to sign a contract.

Clark has similar experiences at a major scientific research company, a financial services institution, and trying out for the Metropolis Major League Baseball team. Clark realizes he can work anywhere, and earn pretty much whatever he wants. His motivations are altruistic; he wants to earn enough to set his mother up for life. But Martha Kent urges Clark to focus more on his own dreams and aspirations. She says she really has everything she needs. What Martha really wants, and Jonathan wanted too, is to have Clark expose his abilities to the world and make it his mission to help people. Martha has even fabricated a costume for him, should he decide to go down that road. But she emphasizes that it is Clark's decision to make.

Clarks heads to the Daily Planet, and meets Perry, Lois, and Jimmy. Perry tells Clark that the Planet has declined from its glory days. Perry has no opening right now, but expects one to come up because of the high turnover rate. But Clark will have to prove himself, and the starting pay will not be very high.

As Clark flies into space to get some quiet time, the important questions are echoing in his head. "Where did I come from?" "What am I doing here?" "Who am I?" We see flashbacks as Clark remembers earlier times when he asked himself pretty much the same questions. In those flashbacks, we see Clark arrive on Earth, where he is discovered by the Kents. We see the Kents decide to adopt Clark. We see young Clark about age 7, fascinated as his parents tell him as much as they know about Clark's arrival, revealing why Clark is so different. We see Clark having to hold back as he is taunted and manhandled by a schoolyard bully. The flashbacks are interspersed with present day scenes. Clark spends time at Jonathan Kent's grave, talking about these weighty decisions, and discussing the risks of coming out of the closet.

The scene shifts to a US Army base that specializes in advanced technology. We see Major Sandra Lee, and learn that her unit has been holding Kal-El's spaceship for the twenty years since it arrived on Earth. We learn that Sandra and others have been working to decipher its secrets. We learn that the ship can regenerate, growing back the parts that were damaged or lost in the explosion when it arrived on Earth. We watch as Sandra discovers technological wonders, such as Kryptonian symbols written on the very electrons inside every single atom of the ship. Major Lee has made studying the ship her life's work, because she believes the value for mankind will be huge.

Clark discovers that his apartment is on fire, and races up ahead of the firemen to rescue his costume and also a small fragment of his spaceship that he keeps with his belongings. When he discovers that the ship debris is white hot, that may suggest to Clark (as it does to me) that the fragment started the blaze.

Since the fragment seems to be emitting some kind of energy, Clark examines it more closely. With his microscopic vision, he observes the Kryptonian symbols written on the atoms, just as Major Lee did. The ship fragment suddenly gives off an energy burst that seems to target Clark's skull, causing unconsciousness. Since Clark was aloft at the time, unconsciousness leads to free-fall, and an abrupt landing.

The ship fragment, still in Clark's possession, emits computer speech; and emphasizes that it must access primary systems (i.e. the rest of the ship) in order to continue downloading data to Clark.

At this point, an invading force from another world arrives in Metropolis. We see a large mother ship, and hundreds of smaller attack ships. We learn that the invasion is happening simultaneously at major cities around the world, and that Earth weapons are proving ineffective against the superior technology. We see the horrific damage inflicted by the invading ships.

Clark is missing the excitement, because he is still unconscious. His spaceship at the Army base has fully regenerated, and is now synchronizing with the smaller fragment. This allows the downloading of data to Clark's brain to proceed. Still unconscious, Clark sees images of Krypton, and of his parents putting him into the spacecraft and sending him off just as Krypton explodes.

As Clark regains consciousness, he is amazed to see the invasion in progress. The commander, Tyrell, explains that he is prepared to kill millions of people from Earth, in his quest to find one specific individual. He demands that his target must reveal himself and surrender, or else witness the carnage that will follow.

Clark, moving at invisible super speed, takes out several of the attack ships. As Clark hesitates to decide how he can take out the entire invading force, we see a flashback with Jonathan giving Clark a pep talk about coming out, while Martha irons the costume.

Clark realizes that he cannot stay hidden, and must reveal himself and enter the battle. As he dons the costume, he recalls his discussions with his parents about the outfit. In another flashback, Martha tells him why he must never wear a mask to hide his identity.

Finally, Clark confronts Tyrell. We learn that Tyrell is from the planet Dheron, and that his race and the Kryptonians were bitter enemies; and that they fought a war for decades or maybe centuries that prevented both sides from fully developing the capability of star travel. We learn that the explosion of Krypton was no accident, but was an assassination at the hands of the Dheron war machine. We learn that Tyrell's mission is to kill the Last Son of Krypton.

When Clark sees the doomsday weapons being readied in major countries around the globe, he sees red, and prepares to retaliate. But Tyrell catches Superman in a red sun high gravity beam, immobilizing Superman and causing great pain. Jimmy tries to crawl in after him, but is helpless in the crushing gravity beam, and must retreat. Lois gets another idea, and soon Lois and Jimmy are driving a heavy duty cement truck into and out of the gravity beam. They drag Superman to safety. Superman recovers immediately when free of the beam's influence.

Superman resumes his battle with Tyrell, and battles him hard. Meanwhile, Clark's spaceship blasts off from the Army base and heads towards a rendezvous with Superman. Made of indestructible Kryptonian metal, the ship makes an excellent weapon. Soon, Superman is inside of it, and using the ship to inflict extensive damage to the command ship.

Superman again confronts Tyrell, and pummels him convincingly. Their battle takes place inside another red sun beam. Superman vanquishes Tyrell, and then leaps to safety before the command ship explodes. Superman then goes around the globe and destroys the drill units that were intended for use in destroying Earth.

We see Clark do some clothes shopping, and put together his "disguise". With glasses and sweater on, we see a Clark Kent who looks very different from any previous version of the character.

Back at the Daily Planet, Perry is ecstatic because Jimmy got a clear photo of the hero that saved them all, and the other newspapers are going to beg for the rights to use it.

Clark shows up and identifies the new hero as "Superman". He says he has interviewed Superman, and gives Perry a first shot at the scoop before Clark takes his story to other papers in town. Clark is hired immediately.

We see the Planet run out of copies of this special Superman issue. Around the city, we see man-on-the-street interviews, as people share their reactions to the new hero. Those reactions are decidedly mixed.

Superman heads to the arctic, where he begins his training using the spaceship as his teacher.

He then heads back to Metropolis, which is his home now; as Jimmy gets another good photo of Superman.

As an epilogue, we are treated to a reprint of Clark's story about Superman from the pages of the Daily Planet. Lois' story and Jimmy's photo are included too.

Ralph's Review:

5Story - 5: I have been filled with anticipation for this book ever since it was first announced by DC. The premise of this book is fascinating: allow the author to re-imagine Superman, outside of current comic book continuity, and free of established notions about the Man of Steel. Imagine Superman being introduced today for the very first time. Wipe the slate clean, and then tell the story of a fresh new version of Superman.

J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis have taken this premise, and produced a masterpiece. It is a fun book to read, because you know some things will match the established Superman mythos, but other things will be taken in a new direction; inviting the reader to make comparisons and analyze Straczynski's choices.

In this version of the Superman story, Clark Kent arrives in Metropolis at about age 20, having received a two-year degree from Smallville Junior College rather than a bachelors degree from Metropolis University. This Clark Kent is quite introspective, lonely, and sullen. He is struggling with many important life decisions. He wants to pick a career that will be fulfilling and meaningful. He needs to figure out if he should expose his abilities to the world, or just work surreptitiously from the shadows.

I loved the job interviews. Clark tries out for the Metropolis pro football team, and the coaches get very excited when they realize they are watching the greatest player they have ever seen. The coach wants to get a contract in Clark's hands as fast as he can. Clark has a similar experience when he interviews for a major scientific research company, and solves a technical problem on the spot that has eluded the best scientific minds chosen from a pool of PhD graduates from Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. And so on at a financial services institution and at the Metropolis Major League Baseball team. Knowing that he can work *anywhere*, and earn as much as he wants practically without limit, does not seem to be making Clark's career decision any easier.

At the Daily Planet, we see familiar characters, but different just the same. And the differences are fun. Jimmy appears to be a bit older than Clark. This Jimmy is an accomplished photographer, not a cub reporter; and is not afraid to take risks to get the important shots. Perry is a bit more articulate and less blustery than we are used to. Lois looks different, but in many ways is the same assertive, aggressive, defiant Lois Lane we are used to.

In flashbacks, we see young Clark arriving on Earth, growing up, learning about his abilities, but not his origins. We see an image of toddler Clark bending a crowbar into a pretzel shape; thus showing the reader that some of the powers were there from the start (as in the Silver Age) rather than developing later (as interpreted by Byrne).

In this version, as in others, the costume is made from the blankets in the spaceship, and is indestructible because it is Kryptonian cloth. Geoff Johns, in Secret Origins, has embraced this concept, rather than the Byrne explanation of Earth cloth protected by an indestructible aura. I always preferred the blanket explanation, so I am happy to see it here too. I found it amusing that the Kents preferred colors that were not so bright, but were unable to change the colors because the Kryptonian cloth is resistant to being dyed.

One notable change is that in this interpretation, the "S" insignia is not the Kryptonian symbol of the House of El, but is merely a stylized letter "S" added by Martha Kent. When you think about it, this is a bit more logical than accepting that a Kryptonian symbol just happens to conveniently look like an "S" for "Superman".

As a change of pace, I liked that in this version, it is Jonathan Kent, not Lois Lane, who provides the name "Superman" for Clark to use.

You get the feeling that young Clark would almost prefer to keep his abilities a secret, fearing that his life would be changed adversely if he came out of the closet. But when an alien invasion materializes that is so horrific and devastating, Clark really has no choice but to step up to the plate.

The backstory about planet Dheron being in the same solar system as Krypton, and about the ongoing bitter war between the two planets was very intriguing. That the annihilation of Krypton was caused deliberately by the Dherons made this invasion of Earth very personal. When the Dherons began to use the same technology to destroy Earth, it made the invasion seem particularly frightening. When he engaged the commander in battle, Superman's lack of combat experience was overcome by pure grit and determination. The battle scenes were well done.

By the way, the space villain looked like a refugee from a 1970s rock group. Reminded me of the band Kiss; or maybe Alice Cooper.

Things looked bleak when Superman was attacked using the red sun gravity beam. I liked that Lois and Jimmy went way out on a limb to rescue this new hero. But I had some doubts that the truck they used to pull him to safety could actually withstand the high gravity beam without breaking down; or that Lois and Jimmy could survive inside the beam for very long. I guess they were in and out quickly. It was a brave thing to do.

I liked the role that Kal-El's spaceship played. In this version, the spaceship can regenerate, is sentient, helped Superman to defeat the invaders, and in the end is used to educate and train Superman. In this way, it played the same role that the crystals play in normal continuity. A clever twist!

I really loved this book! It was an interesting premise, well executed!

5Art - 5: The artwork is nothing short of spectacular! Just look at the splash when Clark arrives in Metropolis; where he stands at the corner of Donner Pl. and Swan St. and says, "This is real". That is a great image! And the whole book is just as good! Great stuff!

I want to say a few words about the costume. Shane Davis did a great job! I was happy to see that there were no excessive deviations from the standard costume. The minor variations were tasteful, and subtle enough to keep me happy. I liked the thin yellow border around the "S" insignia, the changes in the boots, and the slightly altered shield on the cape. I am always a little disappointed when the shield on the cape is left out. The two-tone shield used here is a nice variation. Don't misunderstand; I prefer the classic costume. But I found the slight variations very tasteful for this one-shot book.

I liked Shane Davis' new versions of the main characters. The new visual interpretations of Superman, Jimmy, Lois, and Perry reinforced the other changes to these characters.

5Cover Art - 5: Clark looking young, serious, and determined. Great artwork! Excellent cover!

Neal's Review:

3Story - 3: This is not a bad story. I think the problem is, it's not a DC Superman story. This is a Marvel Superman story.

The hallmark distinction between DC and Marvel (generally, with exceptions), is that the characters in the DC Universe choose to be heroes because it's the right thing to do, and they do it because they want to, while the Marvel characters have their powers thrust on them, and they use them only because they have to, or because it benefits them personally.

Superman chooses to use his power to do good because it's the right thing to do. Batman makes a solemn vow to essentially defeat evil because his parents were killed, and does so despite having no superpowers. Wonder Woman wants to make the world a better place, so she uses her gifts as an ambassador and a positive role model. Green Arrow, James Robinson's recent stories aside, uses his riches to stand up for the little guy because he cares to. Martian Manhunter, despite losing an entire race, seeks to understand and aid the humans. On and on and on. Sometimes you get a Booster Gold, but it's generally to throw the others into stark perspective.

Wolverine is cursed with his claws, and spends his surly days kind of accidentally falling into doing good. Spider-Man initially wanted to throw his costume away, and has done so many times since, and one of the big storylines he keeps coming back to is why he keeps doing what he does, and if it's worth it. The X-Men run and hide from the public, and cynicism pervades. Most don't want their powers, and many wish for a cure. It's considered almost a curse. The Hulk is constantly on the run, and I can't remember the last time he set out to do good as opposed to dealing with the problems his curse drops on his head.

Superman of Earth One clearly doesn't want to be Superman, and only becomes Superman when it's absolutely essential, after many lost lives and begrudgingly. He's more Spider-Man than Superman. He doesn't look for his opportunity to do good and slip into it like a glove when the opportunity arises, he comes to Metropolis a greedy little emo kid who is pissed off that he can spit fire from his eyes, and he crumples his costume in the closet like it's something to be ashamed of. He tries to make money by cheating at sports, cheating at science, and just generally doing dishonorable, disreputable things. The story resolves this, of course, making him realize his own selfishness and renounce it, but that's not the point, really, the point is that this is a Marvel mentality, not a DC mentality, and when I see a Superman that starts from a point of selfishness, it just never, ever rings true to me.

It seems he takes joy in scorching a robber. The Superman I know and love wishes he could help that robber first, and doesn't burn his face, he takes his gun and drops him at a homeless shelter with a warm meal.

The Superman I care for doesn't stand in an apartment building while it burns, picking up his clothes and running off while leaving the place to burn to the ground. He ignores his clothes, puts the building out, and finds the person who started the fire to bring them to justice.

There are easy, cheap shots I could take at this book. The fact that it's just another retelling of the origin that doesn't offer much new (which it is). The fact that the villain's motivation is rather paper-thin and odd (genocide for... what, exactly? Endless war with no motive?). There's the whole "Is Superman a menace? Should the public trust him?", but then again, in this case it's finally warranted, because I'd be afraid of this guy I see on the cover. I wouldn't want him protecting me. I'd flee from him. Then there's the suit made from barely enough clothes to half-swaddle a baby, but that's neither here nor there.

There are also many beautiful things. Though I disagree with the story design and many of the pieces of dialogue that were too clever for the panel they were in (IE, too many bubbles), the writing itself was exquisitely well paces, well executed, and the mark of a master at work, clearly. From the top to the bottom, this story ticked like a clock in terms of making the beats resonate, and even if I don't like the story, I will take a lot personally as a writer from the good work present in its construction.

There are elements which add to the mythos that I hope will be preserved. The idea of Martha and Jonathan finding Clark in the woods (where there are few people) is brilliant, even if I'm a bit perplexed by mountains in Kansas (as ever). I like the idea of a self-repairing ship to describe how it isn't noticed until it's ready for Clark to need it.

A giant alien invasion was done already, in Birthright, just recently, and though this is a better rendition, it's also repetitive. It also serves up cliché, which is unfortunate.

This is also the first actually supporting-cast Superman story we've seen in YEARS, and in that, I give a lot of the story a pass, in that it's incredible to see Lois, Jimmy, Perry, and Clark interacting again. God, I miss it, and I hope they do more of it in the future. The fact that it's in an alternate universe and only after most of a year's wait, and in one shot, is frustrating as hell, but that doesn't diminish my enjoyment of the fact that it simply is.

All in all, this is a story that is very easy to read, but ultimately, it's just another retelling of an origin that has been so repeatedly retold (and only last year, no less) that there should be a truly compelling reason to do so. I don't find the extra-terrestrial villain or an angsty, reluctant Clark sufficient reason to do so.

He's hip, sexy, and moody, just like Dan DiDio proffered in his misguided attempt at promotion, but he's also reluctant, bitter, and violent. That's not my Superman, sadly, even if the writing was top-notch.

4Art - 4: This is a VERY hard rating to make. I almost went three. While EVERY single panel in this pops with beauty (just like J. Mike's writing speaks of great experience), the design of many of the character elements just really doesn't sit with me well, in particular the center-piece, Superman. He looks like a 22-year-old with very little presence as an adult, a petulant demi-god with power to match his angst. This may appeal to kids, I don't know, but it makes me afraid of my hero, and so it doesn't service the story. I think this guy might come uncocked and crack the world in two. That's not cool to me, it engenders a form of contempt of the sort I often find myself having with the X-Men.

That said, all of the action was very strong, all of the human emotions were compelling as hell, and many of the heaviest beats in this story succeed for the art, so I can't really fault any of that. Ultimately, it balances out... it's half bad for the evil looking Superman, and utterly brilliant for the moments of character, so I went high, to be fair, because I can look at these pages and see great art, even if the story it traces is hurt.

Also, please, please, please, if you lower the shorts, draw a bigger shield. Dear God. It looks so tiny when you make the shorts smaller, and it's a SHIELD, not a little patch you put on the corner of your vest.

1Cover Art - 1: Yes, Superman, I'll give you my wallet. Don't kill me. What made you so angry?

Adam's Review:

4Story - 4: Superman's origin is a very simple story, ask any member of the public and they'll get the basics right. Superman, after all, aside from Mickey Mouse is the most recognized fictional character in the world. The messy parts come along when a 'superstar' writer decides to make Superman HIS or HER creation. I'll quote Lois herself here, "Superman belongs to the world Jimmy"... but each time rather than start with a simple origin Byrne, Waid, Johns all wanted to put their spin on it. Arguably they all worked for a time or for them, not so much for the rest of us... Byrne left many fans bitter, Waid tried a new angle that didn't sit well and Johns went with an angle similar to Bryan Singer with a love letter to the 70s... each one messed with continuity and left some fans with no option but to abandon Superman - until the next reboot. Will the origin be done again? Of course it will because every writer forgets Lois' words and wants to make him THEIR creation...

This time though it's different - J. Michael Straczynski is given an opportunity to write Superman as a reboot but not have it turn up its nose at fans like the other 'superstars' did. This isn't Kal-L as fans remember him from the 1950s - this is a one hundred percent true reboot. The first in a line of graphic novels that will explore a slightly different DCU with a sort of spin that will have Marvel fans sniggering that they 'The House of M' had the idea literally a decade ago, but whatever. What we get is an actual modern Metropolis, with characters firmly set in the present and a Clark Kent that is realistic to the time.

Unfortunately,†JMS spends far too much time creating a modern world around†Clark Kent to make the book feel fresh and engaging. I say unfortunately because his Superman is, sadly, not very interesting. The Smallville style twist that JMS throws in is that Clark Kent wants to help people, but NOT as Superman. He wants to help all mankind using his abilities in productive ways but not being public. It's a great twist and a realistic one because if you did want to help all mankind in the real world - would you really put on a lycra suit?

This part of the book is inspired. How Clark explores different careers being 'super' in each, and in all honesty if it explored that more this book really would have had something, but it's really when Superman comes along that problems arise. What could have been an interesting look at Superman's origin (worthy in fact of being canon instead of the recent Secret Origin) devolves into a cheap story. JMS alters the destruction of Krypton as the evil doing of a neighboring planet. The villain of Earth One's debut?†A cliche psychopath set to finish the job his race started by eradicating all remnants of Krypton. Cue an alien invasion of Earth in search of Kal-El. Prior to this Clark was a civilian but now because of the invaders he is forced to finally don the costume. So what we get in an all new, all expensive hardback format? A typical Superman story that we've seen dozens of times before.

It's not all bad, as I said, it does come across as fresh but that is really due to JMS tailoring objective views of humanity through CHARACTERS. Some people see character driven storytelling as dull in favor of a McGuinness/Loeb style smackdown, but I actually think characters are the heart of Superman and the mythos. It's one reason why Superman: The Movie will always be remembered, why Helen Slater will always be Supergirl, why Lois & Clark was so romantic, why Smallville was on TV for a decade - CHARACTER. In the regular continuity book sadly all the characters have been written out while Superman is on his walk. Earth One however excels where the Grounded storyline fails. Characterization of Clark's supporting cast of Martha Kent, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White make this book a very strong one aside from the cliche finale.

DC gave Gotham Central a go, how many of you would love to have a monthly book on the Daily Planeteers? Jimmy, is actually modern - like Michael Landes/Justin Whalin. Lois is forceful and daring and even a little cocky but not above taking orders from Perry White. Incidentally, not since the Roger Stern helmed run has Perry been more of a Newsman, rather than the cranky old man with the cigars that was JJ Jameson (who came AFTER Perry people!). The cast relationships and their scenes with both Superman and Clark are what kept this book interesting.†If this book had been Secret Origin, how†Clark winds up choosing a life as a reporter above all the careers he could have had (and excelled in) and exploring a more original/realistic reason for donning the suit then JMS would have really had something. It has elements I wish JMS would CROWBAR back into the main books.

I give it a 4/5 because it really did have something new and interesting to offer, the lame sci-fi plot killed the spark of excitement I had, but the character and life of the people kept me hooked. You can really see JMS's love for Superman here, it makes the heartbreak of reading Grounded that much more painful. Is Superman: Earth One worth picking up? Sure, as I said maybe if it had been canon or as the Secret Origin miniseries it would quite possibly have re-energized Superman in a way not done before, but as a hardback 'OGN' well no, it's not, unless you really want it just for that novelty.

4Art - 4: What to say about the art of Shane Davis? His art is beautiful, the visuals are stunning, the character designs are great (except for Clark's Captain America style boots). When a book like this comes along and you see how great Superman can be and look, you wonder - why the hell isn't this guy on the regular book? It's honestly that good you feel a little sad when you flick through some of the artwork over the past few years... The effort all round is definitely evident.

3Cover Art - 3: This image scared a lot of people... for many and because of terribly worded official press releases it was Robert Pattinson in tights - Twilight Superman, for others it was making Superman part of the yob/hoodie culture associated with crime and violence. The reality in the book is very, very different, so the cover is more than a little misleading. That said, with added bonuses like matt print with spot UV coating, the cover really does make the book seem like a real event.

Mild Mannered Reviews


Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

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