Review: Superman Earth One: Volume Two By J. Michael Straczynski & Shane Davis

Review:  Superman Earth One: Volume Two

Published by DC Comics

Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Art by Shane Davis

This is a graphic novel review so it’ll be a bit longer than usual.  I heard some negative things about the first volume so I was a bit hesitant to read this book.  However, nothing ventured is nothing gained…mind you, this can go the other way too sometimes.

The Plot

Clark is in the Daily Planet with Perry while looking at his first published story, which is behind a glass frame.  Perry provides some insight as to what his views are on stories and reporters, which is countered by Clark’s humorous retorts.  Meanwhile Lois and Jim(my) are discussing Clark.  Lois is suspicious (and jealous) of Clark because he got the scoop of the century with Superman.  Clark moves into an apartment that’s not high end and not at the bottom end, but one that’s “right down the middle.”  His possessions include and are limited to…a duffle bag.  The next scene shows a criminal named Ray who has been involved in a series of murders.  His soon to be former accomplice, Willy, is wired to a large amount of explosives because he broke their agreement by making creating proof of Ray committing crimes rather than erasing his involvement with them.  Clark then meets a man outside of his apartment named Eddie who enjoys singing old Bob Dylan tunes.  Next up for Clark is Lisa Lasalle who is very forward with her carnal desires for Clark (Writer’s note:  I completely understand this problem of having women throw themselves at you while trying to move into an apartment…okay not really).  At the same time, Ray is now at S.T.A.R. labs trying to locate and erase any information Willy has on him and his crimes.  However, an accident turns him into the Parasite.  Clark is with Lisa at the theater to catch a midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, but has to leave when news of a Tsunami hitting the island of Borada takes precedence (kind of a blessing in disguise if you ask me, I don’t think that movie is horrible…but it’s not my cup of tea).

Superman is on the scene in Borada, but his efforts are thwarted by General Samsa who has political motivations for allowing people to die there as well as preventing Superman from intruding on their sovereignty.  Media commentators are continuing to mock Superman who is imagining taking vengeance upon General Samsa.  Lois is gathering information on Clark such as school marks, personal info, and an interview with one of his junior high teachers, Mrs. Massie.  She paints a picture of someone that could not or would not connect with the rest of the world around him.  Parasite is starting to kill people by leeching their energy while remembering his own dark past with his sister, Theresa, being the one bright spot.  While this is happening, Colonel Lee is facing questions from Congress about Superman and she discusses her views on how to deal with him.  Outside of his apartment, Clark talks to Eddie, but leaves him alone after seeing evidence of him shooting up some drugs.  Clark then imagines Mr. Mackey stating that drugs…drugs are bad…okay, that last part doesn’t really happen.  Inside, Lisa invites Clark over for dinner and just before she gets to desert, Clark tells her a nice story about his cat, Fuzzball.  Just after that the Parasite attacks Metropolis, which brings out Superman who is defeated.  He retreats to the fortress and starts devising a new plan of attack.  Colonel Lee is overseeing an attack on Parasite, which is joined by Superman again…but is defeated yet again.  This time his powers are severely impaired and he is cared for by Lisa.  Lois and co. at the Daily Planet are threatened, which delays Superman’s recovery and this time Parasite goes down after accidentally killing his sister, Theresa.  Superman talks to his mom about humanity and then learns more about Lisa’s background.  Nonetheless, they both remain friends and then he devises a plan to deal with General Samsa.  Afterwards, Clark finds a tragic accident at home much to his regret.  Colonel Lee finds a possible solution to dealing with Superman and also employs Lex Squared (Dr. Lex Luthor and Dr. Alexandra Luthor) to look into finding more solutions.  Clark is then alerted to Lois’ efforts to find out more about him.  They could’ve stopped while they were ahead, but then there’s some Postscript stuff with Lex and his wife.

The Breakdown

I wasn’t expecting anything as I did not read the first volume.  The beginning of the book with Perry and Clark I liked and it set the tone for me.  I enjoyed the conversation as Perry was very candid and Clark was a real smartass.  I also enjoyed how they set the atmosphere for his neighbourhood.  Eddie sits on the stoop and was looking for something more than just simple conversation.  Lisa looked to be really annoying at first, but there was something about her immediate presence that swayed me rather quickly.  She showed us that Clark is a red-blooded male and “the Talk” between him and his father was hilarious as well.

His attraction to her was believable because he kept himself so isolated from people and her upfront sexuality was something that he did not have experience with.  Her reaction to the Fuzzball story also showed that she wasn’t just a one-note character as she genuinely wanted to learn more about Clark.  The Fuzzball story was emotional and poetic and it showed Clark’s ongoing struggles with humanity.  It was one of my favorite parts of this book.  The heart of this story was Clark Kent.  Even the parts with Superman were really just part of the life journey for Clark Kent.  The repercussions of his battle with Parasite provided him with the human experience necessary for him to become the hero.  He gained just as much awe for humanity that humanity has for him.  I also enjoyed how Clark/Superman was really conflicted about how to deal with General Samsa.  His thoughts and emotions about the whole situation were genuinely human.  He wasn’t completely above everything morally nor was he willing to sink himself to very low levels.  He was morally conflicted in this book.  The tragic incident at the end of the book may be the catalyst for him realizing that no problem is too big and none are too small.  This was all about growth and experience for him.  He was raised as a human among humans and he wasn’t some matured, near-omniscient being, which made him more interesting to read as a character.  Even his professional journey was interesting because he wrote a very poignant piece at the end of the book, but in reality it wasn’t enough to be a story in Perry’s eyes.  He experienced success at the beginning and some mild rejection at the end, which made his journey as a reporter interesting because he needs to show staying power as stated by Perry himself earlier on.  I liked the inclusion of Parasite because he was the only villain with the powerset necessary to provide Superman with lessons about humanity.  I also loved that something other than Kryptonite could possibly do long-term damage to Superman.  The struggle alone there made me wonder how he was going to get out of the situation.  The Parasite’s background was shown and I don’t think the intent was to make him sympathetic.  He was a troubled individual who just happened to care for his sister.  While he fought on her behalf sometimes, more often than not he caused a lot more pain for a lot of other people.  He had a violent streak that was exacerbated when he became the Parasite.  The alternate look to him was good as well.

I didn’t mind the slowburn on Lois learning about Clark/Superman.  Superman doesn’t have an intimate relationship with Lois yet (even in a reporter/interviewee sense). He has indescribable power so why would he hide amongst them?  This subplot was introduced, but it’s obvious that it will pick up steam in a subsequent volume.  The miltary’s breakdown of how Superman could annihilate the planet in a week was efficient at highlighting their concerns.  It is a tired story about how they don’t trust Superman because it’s been tackled before, but the aforementioned idea as well as how devastating his power could be in someone else’s hands (Parasite) gave their paranoia some credence.  The art was excellent in this book.  The quiet scenes (dinner with Lisa), the emotional scenes (with Fuzzball), and the action scenes (Parasite, military) were all brilliantly executed.  Shane Davis was a damn rock star with how he handled the art duties in this book.

The art was so good that it made this book seem more important.  There were literally only a handful of panels that I didn’t completely like.  I must seek out some more of his work.  His Superman is the kind of Superman that should’ve been available in the New 52.  I seriously enjoyed this book.

BUT…

I really didn’t enjoy the Postscript part.  This book could easily serve as a vehicle for introducing a Superman for younger readers.  Well that gets damaged with the near nude scenes.  I wasn’t saying like, “By Gawd!” while closing my eyes, but it just didn’t do anything to move the story forward.  This was unnecessary and it just felt tacked on.  It was also a chore to read after the main story was already over.  It could’ve just as well been in the next volume.  Also, the military only had a hypothesis about Superman and solar radiation, but how did Lex Squared find out so much information about Krypton and the red sun? I know they’re supposed to be super scientists, but it just came out of nowhere how they knew so much.  Perhaps it will be explained further so I won’t let it become too much of an issue for me.  I’m not sure how I feel about a fully haired and bearded Lex Luthor that doesn’t hate Superman.  I’m on the fence about it because on the one hand, it didn’t seem like Lex.  On the other hand, it would be refreshing to see an alternate take on his relationship with Superman.  Perhaps it’s part of a bigger story that will result in him doing a complete 180 and starting to hate Superman.  I’m willing to see where this goes.  It is a chore to read about how people (military, media people) don’t trust Superman, it’s a necessary part of the story and it was kept to a minimum…but it’s tedious because it has been a story told many times.  Further, the part with the media people laughing on air about Superman seemed really exaggerated as I couldn’t see people having that reaction in real life.  I prefer Lois with darker hair.  I still don’t get the need to modernize Jimmy Olsen.  Like I said in a prior review, he could be that link to innocence that is an integral part of the Superman-verse.  The shift to making edgier characters doesn’t have to be a change made right across the board.  I always thought the Jimmy’s personality before is what made him compatible enough to be considered “Superman’s Pal.”  The part with Superman dropping a not-so-nice guy off in Alaska…or Siberia…had some dialogue that I enjoyed at first, but wasn’t sure about afterwards.  I enjoyed the humorous Superman, but it also didn’t really seem Superman-like.  If I was trying to hide a secret identity I wouldn’t talk in a way that could give away my age or tendencies such as humor, especially if the guy was potentially from somewhere nearby where I lived.  If it was him being funny and edgy just for the sake of being funny and edgy I’m a bit leery about that.  However, if it’s a part of his growing pains of learning how to reconcile his secret identity with his heroic one then I’m okay with it.  Superman and Clark cannot be the same type of character:  one either has to be unequivocally heroic or the other one has to be clumsy in order to throw off everyone else.  I will reserve my judgment after reading more of this story down the road because this is only one part of his journey.  I wasn’t totally on board with Lisa early on and I could see how she could be off-putting to some people.  There’s being a temptress and there’s being…well, easy.  I wish there could’ve been an extra line or so added near the end about the power of addiction.  It’s very powerful and it takes more than superpowers to stop it.  Clark thought all it would’ve taken was some extra attention to handle it and he was wrong.  Lisa’s final statement about it shouldn’t have been the final statement on the subject.

Buy It, Borrow It, Shelf Read It, or Ignore It?

Buy it.  People I talked to didn’t like volume one, but without having read it I do think that this has to be a step up from it.  I do wish some of the elements of this Superman were introduced in the New(ish) 52 Superman.  It seemed like they were going a bit in this direction at first, but it stalled a bit (in the New[ish] 52).  His handling of the General Samsa situation was something that I really liked.  He didn’t break all of his moral codes, but it wasn’t something that the pre-52 Superman would’ve done.  When the problem was initially introduced I honestly wasn’t sure how he was going to handle the situation.  Then it hit me what I’m enjoying about this book and some of the New(ish) 52 Superman and what I was starting to tire of with relation to the old Superman.  The old Superman was predictable.  You knew he was always going to take the high ground.  You knew he was always going to do the right thing.  These are not bad traits by any means, but it does affect reading his books.  His physical vulnerability is always more interesting to read as well in any universe.  This Superman was still moral and just, but he wasn’t a perfect and flawless individual.  Also on a side note, it was a nice guest appearance made by the red underwear…but I’m still fine with them being gone for the most part.  This wasn’t perfect by any means as there were some flaws.  However, I do have to recommend this book (it isn’t easy to recommend someone to spend a little over 20 bucks on a book and I wouldn’t do so lightly), it may prove to be a refreshing take on the character especially for people that have trouble getting interested in Superman.

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