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Mild Mannered Reviews - "Superman: Earth One" Comics

Superman: Earth One - Vol 3

Superman: Earth One - Vol. 3

Scheduled to arrive in stores: February 4, 2015


Writer: Michael Straczynski
Penciller: Ardian Syaf
Inker: Sandra Hope
Colors: Barbara Ciardo
Cover: Ardian Syaf and Sandra Hope

Reviewed by: T.A. Ewart (aka liheibao), James Lantz, and Keith Samra

Click to enlarge

The recollection of his parents sending him away, makes a vivid dream for Clark Kent, who awakens to damage he has unconsciously caused yet again in his apartment. Clark later spends time with Lisa Lasalle, and speaks with Jimmy Olsen regarding Lois investigating him; all the while, unbeknownst to Clark, a United Nations panel is looking into ways to contain and, if necessary, destroy him. Alexa and Lex Luthor have reasoned on a way to stop Superman, and are given the green light to make it so. Unbeknownst to all, a vessel of Kryptonian appearance enters Earth's atmosphere. Lois creates a Superman-Signal in order to attract and talk with him. She addresses his recent actions, the damage they have caused, and the perception that he is creating among people. Superman is defensive and the conversation doesn't end with any consensus. Elsewhere, the vessel has landed and its lone occupant, when attacked by a military team, lays waste to them with powers exactly the same as Superman's. Lisa inadvertently learns that Clark is Superman, while Lex questions the morality of killing Superman, simply because the world is afraid of him. A bridge collapsing throws Superman into action, but when he cannot be in two places at once, he receives the surprise aid of the vessel's lone occupant, Zod-El.

Zod tells Superman the story of Krypton's destruction and how he is connected to Superman, as he is his uncle. Superman welcomes the connection, but still wants to verify Zod's story. They part ways and Zod visits the United Nations, offering to fix their Superman problem. The panel accepts Zod's offer. Lois has discovered that someone tampered with the bridge that collapsed and that it was Zod. She tries to warn Superman, but he leaves with Zod to learn more about his history before she's able. Zod springs a Kryptonite trap on Superman, but Superman is able to fight through the trap and escape. Superman is weakened and asks for aid of soldiers he comes upon, but soon learns that he will not receive assistance from any nation; a deal that was made with Zod. Superman returns to his budding Fortress of Solitude, and accesses files on Zod. Zod, Superman learns, is responsible for Krypton's destruction, having made an arrangement with the people of Dheron, Krypton's enemies. Zod seeks the death of all Kryptonians, and there is only one left.

Superman engages Zod again, but is hit by Lex Luthor's creation: a red solar radiation ray, that neutralizes his powers. Superman takes a brutal beating from Zod, who wishes him to bow down and beg for a merciful death. Superman is defiant despite the torture Zod inflicts upon him. Lex watches the scene and is disgusted. Lex rushes to the scene with the weapon, while Superman calls his mother to say goodbye. He steadies himself for a last stand against Zod, which seems hopeless, until Zod realizes that Superman's powers are slowly returning. Zod is about to kill Superman, when Lisa drives a cement mixer into him. Superman tries to put distance between him and Zod, and does just enough that Lex is able to fire the weapon, depowering Zod, though not as much as Superman. Superman and Zod battle further, but Lex preps another blast and hits Zod again. However, Zod kills Lex, but is killed in turn slain by Alexa, who fires multiple bullets into his chest. Alexa blames Superman, and fires on him, but Superman is powerful enough to resist the bullets. He takes Lex's weapon and flies off, leaving Alexa to grieve.

Clark later visits Lisa who had to be hospitalized, and she expresses her love for him, though heavily on drugs. Alexa vows to destroy Superman, saying that she died and now, only "Lex" remains. Superman addresses the UN and admonishes them for siding with Zod. He admits to his error in deposing the dictator of Borada, but warns the UN that anyone powerful enough to kill him, would still remain a threat to the world. He also demands that they never attempt to murder him again. Superman speaks with Lois again, admitting that he went too far too fast, which he will not do again in the future. Later, Clark takes Lisa to meet his mother and decompress over dinner. He doesn't mention that Lisa knows his secret. Superman returns to Zod's vessel, but the Kryptonite is gone, and Superman quickly reasons why, how, and who. Clark and Lisa enjoy some television, but Clark spies something that calls him to action. He flies to the Super-Signal, where a trench-coat wearing Lois Lane awaits him.

T.A. Ewart's Review:

3Story - 3: The time between volumes necessitated re-reading the first two, which is recommended for any reader who truly wants to have the full feel of this installment. Superman is still young, and not much time has passed from the invasion of Dheron, and the debacle of Borada. He makes questionable decisions, has awful dialogues, and seems to be ill-equipped to deal with the public at large. Straczynski has a great deal of love for the character, which allows what is largely a mess to still be enjoyed and embraced from the shoulders up. However, after three volumes, Superman has yet to be Superman. This prompts another question: Who is Superman to Straczynski? Who is Superman to those that read and enjoy this series? Superman: Earth One began with a Clark Kent that lived an isolated life; who was given a directive, of sorts, from his father; who was ready to quit until forced to act. That was followed by a Superman who acted in manner no rational individual would, by deposing a head of state. This volume has Superman somewhere in the middle of his being from Vol. 1 & 2. He understands that he wasn't right, but he still doesn't seem to be cognizant of what the right thing is, and that is a very troubling thought for Superman, and, no, he doesn't get a pass for being young and inexperienced. He's Superman. He doesn't get a pass just because one may agree with his actions. He's Superman. If this was a series of Superboy adventures, it would do a lot to salve the rawness of what happens, but it's Superman, and Superman needs to be ready from Day One on Earth One or any other.

It's not the fighting, resiliency, or even his intelligence; all of those are in solid and ample supply. For those who believe that Kryptonite is an automatic win, especially with prep-time, this is logical response to that meme. However, what this Superman has in determination, and rich, raw, red-blooded action, he lacks in concern and compassion. That Superman can fight Zod to a stand still is one thing; that he leaves his dead body and flies away is another. That Superman fights off the Dheron is one thing, but that he doesn't help with the restoration is another. The Bronze Age Superman, an age this Superman reflects the most, did not just destroy in his never-ending battle, but he constructed, he created. Morrison's run on Action Comics is the last time that Superman has been seen building anything or restoring what has broken. It's as if the destruction caused in his defense of the people is beneath him, or perhaps, readers just aren't concerned with it. Superman's speech to the UN was unabashedly ridiculous. The last way to reassure people who are afraid of you, that they've nothing to worry about, is to yell loud enough to shake the room. The veiled threat that he makes is juvenile, and as much as he states that he understands he went too far, he doesn't seem to understand how his attempted murder is much of his doing. He lacks charm, appeal, and the ability to be friendly on the most basic of levels. He doesn't know how to look into men's hearts, and see what is there and what they need from him. In that much, he's a man like any other, and if Straczynski is going for relatable claptrap, then he's nailed it. However, while that may make him a man, it doesn't make him a Super, man.

While he can roughhouse and wreckshop, there's nothing inspirational about this Superman, and that is a shame, because for all of the aforesaid, Straczynski's direction is where Superman needs to go. Straczynski has Superman at a level of competency that the rest of his books do not display. He's intelligent, resilient, resourceful, and imposing in the right way. Straczynski shows that a change of outfit isn't what is called for, but a tack towards strengthening Superman in terms of ability and fighting spirit; this much is made right. He does weaken that resolve by having Superman be saved by Lisa in an almost identical manner akin to how he was saved by Lois in Vol. 1, not to mention having the same exact weapon being used, but through it all, Superman doesn't come across as weak or unheroic. What is left out of the picture is the Boy Scout qualities that Superman is derided for by those who don't know better. Superman's confidence allows him a patience and precision that few heroes can match or afford. He doesn't need to threaten or berate, as he's Superman. His word is enough to move mountains. Literally. He has the awareness of self to know with his power comes the appearance of a god or a bully, and he needs to be a friend more than anything else. That being said, is that what readers want from Superman?

It seems enough for those who follow this series and others for Superman to be a bruising bull, who has doubts, and the ever wanted "flaws" because... well, yes, why because? Some readers will say that they want a flawed hero, which has to be challenged at some point with an excellent one. Is that what people want in their friends? Partners? Parents? Children? Flawed individuals? There is a great difference between being flawed and being mucked up. A defect in character is one thing, while a mistake is another. No one wants a friend who is consistently in error, even if you love them. We want consistency and at the end of the day, to have known an excellent person who genuinely cared about us. It's not that we overlook the errors, but that we are compelled by the quality of the person's character and integrity. Is this something that readers no longer want? If so, then we need a Superman of great heart and compassion all the more, one who has the drive to get it right because he cares that much. There is little more humanizing a feature than that.

In re-reading Vol. 1, I was surprised at how much it resembled Man of Steel, Snyder and Goyer's film that produced just a little bit of discussion here and there. I wondered why the film garnered such a reaction from some including myself, while Superman: Earth One has been tolerated, if not full-on embraced. Familiarity and discernibility. The outfit, the Daily Planet, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Jon and Martha Kent, Clark Kent. Earth One makes a lot of changes in the classic story of Superman, but leaves enough of the story intact... at least for me to not be done with it all together. If Straczynski can finally add the aspects of Superman's core that have remained absent, then Vol. 4 will be a pleasant and appetizing read, especially with the dearth of consumables for Superman currently available.

James Lantz's Review:

5Story - 5: Please read all "Earth One" books together. The whole arc works better that way. Although you can read each book separately if you wish. That said, I am a huge fan of JMS even if his "Grounded" story in the main Superman comic was a bit of a sluggish mess. This third chapter of his look at the Man of Steel's early days on Earth is the exact opposite of "Grounded". It, like the previous two outings, is an entertaining and fast paced thrill ride.

JMS also excelled in some great character moments in this tale. From Clark's scenes with Lisa to Superman's meeting Zod, we really get some incredible looks at how Earth One's Last Son of Krypton is defined. He's not the Post-Crisis Kal-El or the one from the New 52, but this Superman has proven that there's always room for another interpretation of his universe.

Do I want a fourth "Earth One" book? That might turn into a case of milking the cow dry as Volume 3 has rounded out the trilogy with a satisfying ending. Sure, it could lead to more Earth One sagas of the Man of Tomorrow. However, I'm satisfied with how JMS ended these tomes. He's crafted a series of graphic novels that could possibly be remembered sometime down the road alongside Byrne's "Man of Steel" and "The Death of Superman".

5Art - 5: While it isn't Shane Davis' work, I found the art to be the perfect companion to what Davis did in books one and two. It also reminded me a bit of Leinil Francis Yu's style. Ardian Syaf provided great visuals in Volume Three, and I hope DC uses him for more comics featuring Superman.

5Cover Art - 5: This image was interesting in that it made readers wonder if Clark would give up being Superman or if he was just changing suits. That kind of curiosity for the pages within is what I look for in a cover. It made me impatient to read the book.

Keith Samra's Review:

5Story - 5: Let me start off by saying that this is by far the best Superman story I have read in the last few years. I'm not bashing on the New 52, or anything that may have come before that even. I just hadn't read a Superman story that really got me excited, and made me stop and think "This is Awesome". That's how I felt when I read this... "This is Awesome"!

I was a fan of the previous 2 books in this series. I enjoyed Vol. 1, and thought Vol. 2 was a good follow up. But this book elevated my thoughts on the previous two books as well as giving me an awesome new story in the series. This to me was the "Empire Strikes Back", "The Dark Knight" and "Terminator 2" of this series... Did I mention I thought it was awesome?

As with the previous two books, the story had a very cinematic feel to it. This seemed like a "Book 3" of a larger story. This book is so very well written, in its science, characterization and scope, I couldn't help but want more. Even though we live in such a fast paced world, I'm glad that DC is allowing JMS to take his time with these books, anything less than that would be a disservice to JMS's talents as a writer, the fans and also to Superman as a character.

One thing I particularly enjoyed was that this tale is somewhat grounded in "our" world, or the "real world," I particularly liked the Darpa and Facebook references. And as I mentioned above, this felt like a third part in a larger story, and that was more evident when Superman has to deal with the consequences of his actions from the last book, when he helped overthrow the government of a foreign country.

Now there are obvious similarities to the 2013 "Man of Steel" film, that's for sure. Such as Zod being the main antagonist, Metropolis becoming a battlefield, Superman bashing Zod when he threatens Ma Kent, etc. However before we crucify JMS for stealing ideas from the film, just remember that he's been working on these books long before the film came out. So any similarities could just be coincidence or even an editorial mandate by DC themselves. This is a point I'd really like to stress to the fans.

I mentioned earlier that there was some really strong characterization in this book, none more so than that of our hero Clark. This book continues the trend of exploring Clark's world and his dual life as Superman. How is this any different from any other Superman comic currently being published? Well, for starters this young Superman is not all angst-ridden and brooding. He follows his heart, is courages as he is strong and isn't quite as naïve. As seen when he first meet's Zod, though he is happy to have another Kryptonian on Earth, he is not quick to trust him 100%, and wants to confirm Zod's story with his ship in the Arctic. Another example is that he doesn't give up when he's fighting Zod, even though he has been depowered by Lex Luthor, his first and only thought when he feels he is about to die, is to call Ma Kent and say goodbye... I'm not ashamed to say that I welled up a little during that scene. This may still be a new and inexperienced Superman, but he has all the classic qualities that still make Superman the greatest Superhero of them all.

Superman isn't the only character that had his classic traits, Lois was another. She's still tough as nails and unapologetic. But her heart still beats for uncovering the truth, and protecting those she loves. This is most evident when she explains to Clark that she researched him for the sake of the Daily Planet's reputation as well as Perry White's. This reminded me why I love Lois as a character so much, and when she is written right, she's more than just a love interest, but an integral part of Superman's world.

JMS does a great job of creating new spins on old establishments. Take Zod for example. He may not be the traditional "General" as we are accustomed to, but he still is a war monger and usurper of power. A question that was left wide open from the first book was, who was it that put the proverbial "hit" on the whole planet Krypton. It's still astonishing that it turned out to be Zod, one who was sworn to protect it in almost all versions that came before. But that wasn't all that was mind blowing. Zod is now a member of the house of EL. So he is of Superman's bloodline, making the final battle between the two on even higher stakes. Superman not only fights a fellow Kryptonian, but one that belongs to his own family.

Two characters that were introduced at the end of book 2 were the Luthor's. Lex and his wife Alexandra. Though they did play an antagonistic type of role in the book, they were simply "private contractors for hire". Lex Luthor's genius in this book was only over shadowed by his nobility. As he risked his life to right a wrong he realized he had done to Superman. Though ultimately it did cost him his life, I think it showed Superman, that a Luthor is capable of great goodness, something he will look for possibly in the future with the now widowed Alexandra Luthor, redubbed simply as Lex.

Just like the Luthors, another character that carried on from the last book was Lisa Lisalle, Clark Kent's neighbor and friend. It's always nice to see new original characters introduced into the Superman lore. It's even better to see them earn their spot in the larger Superman history. In the past we have had such characters like Cat Grant, Inspector Maggie Sawyer, Chloe Sullivan, Dr Emil Hamilton, John Henry Irons, Ron Troupe, Bibbo Bibbowski, Lionel Luthor and many more. I feel that Lisa Lasalle is now on her way to earning a spot amongst such characters. She may have some grey areas in her life, such as her profession, but she, like many others, has fallen in love with Clark and what he stands for. Proving she is even willing to risk life and limb to help keep him safe. Lisa is a great addition to the story, and I'm eager to see what happens with her in the future.

Some characters that were established in the previous two books simply had very minor roles, Jimmy, Perry and Ma Kent. But all served a purpose in the story, and were handled very well, and didn't seem like they were there just for fan service.

The subtle "Gotham" undertones between Lois and Superman, and their Batman and Commissioner Gordon like relationship, as well as the "Super Signal," I found quite charming. Again, before we hang JMS in effigy, let me remind you that maybe he has a larger plan in mind, and is using this as a building block to any number of possible future storylines/plot points between the two characters, and maybe even be a starting point for a future romance between Lois and Superman/Clark. Who knows, the "Super Signal" may lead to the Signal Watch idea down the road.

I remember reading many years ago, that JMS stated, that he would crawl through a pile of broken glass and monkey vomit to get a chance to write Superman. And when he first got his chance, back in the year 2010 with the much maligned "Grounded" storyline, many fans wrote him off as ever being able to write a decent Superman story. I'm proud to say that I think he finally redeemed himself with these three books. (This book being the best of the trilogy). JMS is a fantastic writer, and it's clear that he has a deep love and understands the character of Superman and his supporting cast.

Lastly there's also some great foreshadowing for possible future stories, along with some unanswered questions. Will Lex come back? Why was his body in some sort of chamber at the end of the book? What happened to Zod's body? And is Superman just going to leave Zod's ship where it landed? And of course, what are Lex (Alexandra's) plans for the Kryptonite from Zod's ship?

If I were to sum up this story in one word, it would simply be... Awesome!

5Art - 5: Replacing an artist on a series, be it a monthly on going, or in a case such as this, with the first two volumes drawn by Shane Davis, can feel like a movie or TV series replacing all the actors in its production. I feel that Ardian Syaf had a lot of pressure on him. Shane Davis left some big shoes to fill. This was a popular series, and Shane Davis' art was thrust into the limelight, making him a fan favorite. So I iterate again, Ardian Syaf had his work cut out for him, but he stepped up to the plate, and knocked it right out of the park. The art was simply fantastic!

Syaf was a good choice as Davis' successor. He kept many of Davis' features for the characters of the series, which made it easy to identify them. For example Jimmy's fashion sense and side burns, Lois' mole and hairstyle, Clark's look and Superman's costume detail. It wasn't just the features though, it's evident that Syaf studied Davis' art, and emulated as much of his art as he could, while staying true to his own unique style.

I had previously come across Syaf's work on the Pre New 52, "Superman/Batman" title. He also pencilled the "Blackest Night" Batman mini-series. I noticed that he had a similar style to that of Andy and Adam Kubert. A lot of young and upcoming artists in the industry are influenced by industry legends, and that's what I feel when I see Syaf's work. Certain characteristics also reminded me of Jim Lee as well. This enhanced my reading pleasure, as it really helped with the cinematic feel to the story.

One thing that really stuck out for me was that Syaf made Superman look more grown up. He still looks younger, without looking like a youth. And had a little more "beef" to him, than that of how Davis drew him.

I should really comment on Syaf's design work. Specifically that of Zod. Now there have been many iterations of Zod in the last 15 or so years, mostly in the comics, but it's been well established that Zod is very militaristic. Syaf here gave us a Zod that seemed more Super Villain like, with a comic book like traditional skin tight costume and a hooded cape. Hoods are all the rage these days, and I can see the reasoning behind this particular design aspect, but Zod looks more like a Wildstorm character than he does a Kryptonian power monger. I did like how the hood hid his eyes in shadow, making him look all the more sinister. Another design aspect worth mentioning are the shoulder talon/spikes. They remind me of the Azreal/Batman's costume from the "Knightfall" storyline of the 90s. Lastly, Zod is also illustrated a lot younger than previous iterations. Whether this is part of Syaf's design, or JMS's, it's an interesting take.

Finally, Shane Davis who did the initial design work in Vol. 1 of this series, established that Superman's boots do not have the traditional "V" cut to them and point straight upward muck like Batman's. I feel Syaf took this aspect and made them look more like buccaneer boots, similar to Captain America's. This is a minor nit-pick, but thought I'd mention it.

That said and done, I still think the art deserves a solid 5 in the ratings. I look forward to Ardian Syaf's future work and hopefully he gets to work on Vol. 4 of this series.

Sandra Hope did a good job on the inks also. She has done great work in the past on some big name pencillers, and doesn't disappoint here either. Her inks complimented Syaf's pencil work really well, and don't seem over powering, like some inkers can be.

Barbara Ciardo's coloring is also worth mentioning, as it really helped tie the art for all three books in this series together. As I mentioned earlier, Syaf did a good job keeping Davis' characteristics on the book, and that was only heightened by Ciardo's coloring, as she stuck to the same color palette that was used in the last two books, which helped smoothen the transition to a new artist. One thing in particular that stood out to me was the use of earthy tones in the Lois and Clark scene at the Daily Planet. They really made the scene much more intimate.

All in all, the art was superb, and I was very pleased with it. I did have some trepidations toward the art when I first got this issue, but I'm happy to say that they were for naught.

4Cover Art - 4: The image itself is misleading, as if it's a "Superman No-More" type of story, which this story is not. However, I feel I understand what the reasoning is behind the composition, and it is very well drawn and colored. Not enough for a 5, but definitely a 4.

Mild Mannered Reviews


Note: Except for digital first releases, the month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

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