”What We Said Then” is an ongoing feature at Comics Bulletin, displaying past reviews from Comics Bulletin and how they relate to the prevalent comics of the present.
With the release of the newest Earth One HC, Teen Titans: Earth One, let’s look at a review of the very first Earth One novel, Superman: Earth One. Read what we had to say about the comic way back when…
As someone who likes to learn from past mistakes, both mine and those of others, I’ve thought about what a Superman story in the year 2010 does not need. First, it does not need an in-depth retelling of Superman’s origin. We’re all working from the same textbook (Richard Donner’s Superman film) so just point your curious readers to a video store and get on with it.
Second, and I didn’t think this was even an option, Bryan Singer showed us that we don’t really want a mopey Superman either–because that’s what Peter Parker is for. So DC decided to prove my point that these are the qualities we don’t need by releasing Superman: Earth One–a mopey retelling of Superman’s origin.
On the bright side, much has been made for the past . . . I dunno . . . decade, I guess, about the inevitable death of monthly comic books, and it looks like DC’s exploring its options by releasing Superman: Earth One almost exclusively for the kind of people who dwell in bookstores–the coffee-swilling casual readers and the kids who sit on the floor of Borders and read manga all day.
DC has created a slick, realistic reboot/alternative to the traditionally impenetrable, unappealing Superman comics–essentially, this book is Ultimate Superman, featuring Clark Kent as a paradoxically fashionable-yet-small-town boy who wanders around Metropolis in a hoodie, applies for a few jobs, and thwarts an alien invasion led by a villain more generic than the growling Romulan from the Star Trek reboot.
So who have DC Comics enlisted to pen this vaguely youth-targeted story featuring this hip, young Clark Kent? That’s right: J. Michael Straczynski, who currently writes the impenetrable, unappealing Superman montly comic.
Straczynski’s script for Earth One is not unlike his writing for the monthly book. By which I mean that parts of it read like a shit version of something Grant Morrison already did in All-Star Superman. I’ve no idea whether the Babylon 5 creator has actually read Morrison’s character-defining work, but I can’t imagine him reading that beautiful page that distills the basics of Superman’s origin into four panels and four key phrases and then thinking it would be a good idea to turn each panel into several long, talky, and generally inelegant scenes that run about four pages too many.
Morrison wrote what should have been the last word on Superman while elevating the character to new levels, and still we find ourselves wallowing in restating what’s already been said.
As for the illustrations, Shane Davis draws Superman: Earth One in a style similar to the work of Bryan Hitch, so we have wide-screen action, photo-realistic characters, and concept spaceships that wouldn’t be too hard for a Hollywood special effects house to make a cinematic reality. Coupled with Barbara Ciardo’s inks, the comic has an Ultimates quality–which is exactly what DC and the creators are going for–so, in that respect, it’s successful.
Despite the creators’ best efforts to avoid mimicking the Superman films, there’s something delightfully Richard Donner/Richard Lester about Clark Kent. Even though he’s presented here as an outstanding athlete and intellectual genius, it’s hard to read the scenes of Clark’s job search and not imagine a version of Earth One in which he might comically bumble his way into performing miracles for every field he’s in rather than letting everyone know he’s extremely gifted.
As it is, the conclusion of his job search makes Clark seem like a complete fucking idiot–all that athletic ability and intellect and he chooses to work at a newspaper doing a job he’s not very good at? Superman truly IS a dick. This conclusion could have worked if Straczynski had painted the decision as Clark giving himself a challenge by doing the one thing that doesn’t come to him naturally; instead, it’s just some pap about Clark being inspired by Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane being out on the front lines reporting.
You’ll notice I haven’t written much about the big villain of the piece. That’s because he barely registers: his name is Tyrell, he looks like an androgynous mime from space, and he’s come to invade Earth because he wants to kill Superman. Imagine if Ziggy Stardust was a Juggalo with wings, and oh my god I hate this comic so very much.
With its pseudo-realistic mise-en-scene and total lack of imagination, Superman: Earth One is the worst kind of comic book–the kind that reads like a glorified screenplay. While this kind of faux-Hollywood nonsense was all the rage in 2002, it’s now 2010. We can do better, and Superman deserves better.