Superman, the pop culture icon who inspired a generation with truth, justice, and the American way, is too boring and unrealistic for people today. I understand that argument. He solves the world’s problems with an ease that borders on arrogance. It’s hard to relate to this perfect being that has all the answers. DC Comics attempted to make him more relatable in the new 52 by creating a slightly less powerful version of the original that comes across as a punk kid instead of Earth’s greatest hero. Michael Straczynski has brilliantly composed a story about a budding hero who is trying to find his place in the world.
This is a Superman title, but Clark Kent takes center stage in this follow-up to part one released two years ago. Last time, Clark was looking to find his place in the world and felt that a journey with a sense of purpose would be the ticket. Now that he has found his path, his struggle for normalcy has become more difficult. Straczynski’s masterful storytelling goes back and forth between flashbacks and present-day events to carefully craft a more emotionally charged Man of Steel. The Superman most of us grew up on was black and white, while this version is filled with shades of grey, and that enables him to make the decisions the original never would.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, and those same things are constructed with more detail than ever before. Time and time again, we’ve seen how the government feels about Superman. “We can’t trust an alien” is the usual song and dance, but the script takes the simplicity out of the equation. The military is intimidated by this strange visitor because he is from another world. Still, they feel that someone with so much power can only fight on the side of good for so long until absolute power corrupts, absolutely. The script also sheds light on how American’s feel about illegal immigration, which justifies the military’s fears because Superman is the ultimate immigrant.
Parasite is the villain this time around, and they went with the Raymond Maxwell Jensen version. Jensen is a thief who craves power. A lab accident turns him into the purple life force stealing monster that goes on a rampage until an encounter with Superman gives him his most satisfying absorption of power. After this, no other energy source will do; and his insatiable appetite weakens Superman to the point where he could permanently lose his powers. The execution of this was compelling to a fault because Superman always finds a way to beat Parasite, but this time he is weakened to a point where you wonder how he could ever obtain victory. Clark’s struggle weaves its way into this facet of the story because the possibility of a life without powers may give him the normal life he is looking for.
Metropolis’ most popular residents return while the greatest criminal mind of all time rears his ugly head, and a new character named Lisa Lassell shakes up Clark’s love life as his sexy redheaded neighbor. While the usual suspects have a short but lasting impression on the plot, Lisa’s role is significant and touches upon uncharted Superman territory. You know, sex. It’s is bound to bring up mixed emotions as reading about Superman’s sexual concerns could be revealed to be anything but super. His abilities make it difficult and maybe perhaps impossible to partake in this natural and normal part of life, and if he can’t, how can he ever find a sense of normalcy?
So, let’s talk about Shane Davis, shall we? The best word to describe his art would be “exquisite.” His depictions perfectly convey the emotional tone set by Straczynski on every page. Everything is drawn for a reason, and there isn’t a single inch of panel space that is wasted. The action scenes are vibrantly fierce with sharp detail that makes you feel everything is unfolding live and in living color. Davis’s work is not mentioned in the same breath as Jim Lee or Alex Ross, but his work is just as elite, and I hope to see him on some monthly titles in the future.
A friend of mine once told me he hated the movie “Superman Returns” because the title character didn’t throw a single punch in the film. While there are lots of reasons to criticize the film, he brought up a good point. People want the Superman who can punch Darkseid the length of two continents. While Straczynski’s approach could come across to some as emo, the DC Comics reboot and the reported darker direction of next year’s Man of Steel film heavily suggests the corn-fed Boy Scout is gone. If this version of the last son of Krypton is not the new definitive one fans want, this is certainly the closest to as good as it gets. No matter which side of the fence you are on, this second installment of Superman: Earth One will receive even more praise and vilification as its predecessor.
Click here to check out my Superman Earth One Part One Review