Superman: Earth One, Volume 3 | Writer: J. Michael Straczynski | Artist: Ardian Syaf | Inker: Sandra Hope | Colorist: Barbara Ciardo | Publisher: DC Comics | From my column at Forces Of Geek.com
He is an ideal that we all strive for every single day. At least, that is what most people would have told you several years ago.
In 2015, the general consensus was that he’s too powerful, and therefore he’s boring and unrelatable.
When you peel back all the layers of contempt that didn’t exist a generation ago, the answer is more intuitive than a super-powered skill set. The affluence of Superman’s deeds still causes us to look inward, but instead of finding inspiration, we see an underlying arrogance in the ease of his endeavors.
That is how much of an imprint The Man of Steel has on our culture: that we look beyond the obvious nature of truth and justice only to see a pronounced representation of what we can’t do.
In the last two installments of Earth-One, J. Michael Straczynski has given us a Superman representing the shades of gray in contemporary society almost to a fault. Struggling to find his place in the world and striving to unlock his humanity revealed the complexity in this version of the character. The canonical Superman would let two countries go to war with one another because, no matter how bad he wants to step in, it’s not his place to do so. Here, Superman single-handedly causes a regime change in Borada because he felt it was the right thing to do. The United Nations are concerned about having these crucial matters taken out of their hands.
Next, enter Lex and Alexandra Luthor, who is brought in to stop or kill Superman.
Instead of a bald criminal mastermind, we are given a married couple who are supremely intelligent to the point where solving problems is as easy as breathing. Lex is more of the humanitarian of the two. He wants to help and has the answer, but he isn’t sure if murder is the way to go. The success method makes no difference to Alexandra, which makes her scary because her hubris is almost justified.
Lisa Lassalle is back in the fold as Clark’s attractive neighbor and close friend. Straczynski makes their chemistry evident and more prominent than most couples you see on screen by not hitting you over the head with the romance of it all. Lisa lets Clark completely in by telling him her hopes and fears. On the other hand, while there is no ounce of judgment from Clark regarding her occupation as an escort, he still keeps her at arm’s length, which is frustrating but understandable considering his secret.
Zod is the big baddie here and, while another choice would have been welcomed, he is the villain required for such a personal story because the ghosts of Krypton have been haunting Clark in his dreams.
Zod is as smart, cunning, and ruthless as we have seen him in past iterations. Zod convincing the United Nations to allow him to kill Superman without interference was brilliant because he could manipulate humans’ fear of the unknown by making him known through deceitful tales of the past.
Lois Lane remains the beacon of truth that Superman needs to fill in the blanks from time to time.
There are no feelings of affection between the two, not even a tease, which makes their relationship more respectable to the reader because they both want the same thing. Lois’s factual honesty is a standard that not many people bother to achieve in their lives.
Here comes this strange visitor from another planet who wants to accomplish something authentic and, unlike most, has the powers and ability to make it happen, and Lois is drawn to this flame of hope like a moth.
Martha Kent is still Mother of the Year, and her maternal wisdom outshines Clark’s superior I.Q. when it comes to matters of the heart. Clark is overthinking everything regarding Lisa and comes up with hypothesis after hypothesis regarding all the what-ifs. Martha answers all of Clark’s questions with some of her own inquiries, all while holding a cordless phone with her shoulder and stirring into a mixing bowl. Later on, she is in the line of fire, and Clark doesn’t play around at all. He moves swiftly in a manner that the narrative and imagery captures with such meaning.
Adrian Syaf handles the artistic duties this time around.
There was a lot to live up to, as the gorgeous illustrations of Shane Davis in this series are a visual masterpiece. On a scale of one through ten, Davis was a ten, and Syaf scored an eight. The expertise on display is nothing to complain about. Still, some inconsistencies made me believe I missed something, only to backtrack and discover that either something was left out or a poor choice was made during production.
There is one moment during the battle where Zod lifts Superman over his head, ala Bane versus Batman in Knightfall. Superman is limping away and holding his ribs on the next page, so we didn’t get to see what Zod exactly did. Did he break him over his knee, throw him through a building, or slam him Ultimate Warrior style? There were also some panels early on where there was no yellow S-Shield on Superman’s cape. Later on, it appears out of nowhere.
While every page wasn’t a pick’em of illustrated delight, Syaf masterfully captured the story’s key moments exquisitely. Superman’s exposure to Kryptonite exudes bodily pain in a manner that made me cringe and wanted the agony to stop. Lisa’s discovery of Clark’s costume was in many ways the money moment of the book. You didn’t need a word balloon because her facial reaction and posture screamed, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.
Near the end of the book, Superman flies into the night sky with the city, moon, and stars in the background, and it was a majestic moment that was augmented by the coloring of Barbara Ciardo.
The vivid palette of colors throughout the book, and the series, for that matter, visually fits like a glove. The fight scenes are impressive enough, but the coloring was the difference between seeing something blown up and feeling the heat from an explosion. Also, the tone of blue she chose for Superman’s costume is what I always imagine. It’s not too bright or dark; it’s bold and perfect.
The previous battles with Tyrell and Parasite were a set-piece to Superman’s societal stumbles because he was in many ways the reluctant hero who was the only one who could save the day. This time out, the fighting takes center stage because while multiple villains can spoil the punch, it worked here because the goal wasn’t to take over the world or steal power; it was to kill Superman.
Fighting for his life instead of fighting for something more on an emotional plain wasn’t as profound. Still, it was a well-realized series conclusion that wrapped everything in a manner where a fourth installment makes sense, but if it doesn’t come to pass, it is clear that between his relationship with Lisa and his super-heroics, Clark Kent has indeed found the brass ring.