Two years ago, when the first volume of DC’s bookstore friendly Superman: Earth One series came out, I wrote the following:
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 the year 2010. We can do better, and Superman deserves better.
It’s now 2012, and the state of Superman as a character is, um… Let’s just go through it, shall we?Action Comics saw Grant Morrison and a cadre of pencilers and inkers trying to return to the character’s roots as a violent socialist strongman before they were editorially required to put Superman in a hideous costume and stop having fun. Meanwhile, in Superman, amidst some creative team turmoil involving, DC brought in Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort, who appear to be making Superman comics that can be described as actually breathing life into the franchise if the comics internet didn’t despise them. Seriously, they’re not bad.
But still, J. Michael Stracyznski and Shane Davis continue to publish hardbound copies of a glorified screenplay accompanied by workmanlike storyboards under the guise of broadly accessible graphic novel. The newest is the paradoxically titled Superman: Earth One Volume 2, which rejoins Clark Kent sometime after the events of the first volume, looking less mopey and more poindexter-y as he struggles to figure out what journalism is alongside writer Straczynski and moves into a newer, shittier apartment with such neighbors as a junkie who won’t stop singing Bob Dylan and the star of the show, an oversexed manic pixie dream hooker.
In Earth One, continuity, this is the first time someone has wanted to have sex with Clark, for reasons that confuse not only the readers, but also Clark himself as he has no money. Still, she invites him out for Rocky Horror screenings, invites him in for sexually charged candlelit dinners and lets him teach her how to love again. Except not literally, as Clark flashes back to the fateful day where Pa Kent informed him that he probably shouldn’t have sex because his sperm will murder her. I feel like Tucker Stone writing a sentence like that, but I swear to god — this literally happens in a Superman comic book that costs nearly a quarter of a hundred dollars.
Eventually, the Parasite shows up via events that have nothing to do with Superman, and must be punched. As moronic as it was that the villain Tyrell was responsible for destroying Krypton in the previous volume, at least Superman had some connection to this guy. Here, Stracyznski dispenses with such touchy feely concerns and just has a guy turn into a bad guy so’s he can hit the good guy. Which is a worrying thing, because there’s this whole subplot about the military being worried about Superman that could have been tied in by making Parasite an experiment gone wrong. It’s not an original idea by any means, but it at least passes muster in Screenwriting 101.
Either way, Parasite rampages around the world in Doomsday-like hot-pants until Superman’s computer builds him a suit that gives him an extra life bar, which would be hilarious and charming if Corey Lewis made this comic but instead just reeks of pandering to an audience assumed to be more preoccupied with video games than the monomyth. Which is partially the point of this comic’s existence — nobody wants to read our regular comics, so let’s make something they want to read — but it’s frighteningly cynical to assume that an audience wants a book like this.
To Superman: Earth One Volume 2‘s perverse credit, it’s marginally better at the non-punching bits than it is at the punching bits, and those are pretty horribly written, with Clark bringing his sexpot neighbor to tears by reminiscing about his dead cat and Lois Lane (who’s barely even a tertiary character) investigating Kent’s entire life to figure out his dark secrets — instead of y’know, working. Straczynski understands that a story needs to have character and themes and thus writes scenes that announce such things to the audience; it’s a shame his scripting doesn’t make any of it work at all ever.
The comic should at least work visually, but Shane Davis and Sandra Hope continue to deliver half-baked Bryan Hitchisms, stiff figures and blank expressions that would be at home in pretty much any substandard licensed comic where they have to draw from photos of actors. Like Hitch, they draw the fuck out of buildings and panoramic views of huge structures. If they had even a remote handle on conveying human emotion or the kinetics required of action comics, Earth One Vol. 2 would have been a tad more resonant and enjoyable instead of the opposite.
The original Earth One was enormously popular, which is deeply troubling because this high-profile series presents some of the worst comics have to offer — sloppy writing, not-very-good art and incredibly juvenile shit that adults should be ashamed of conceiving of, much less reading. If people who would have become lifelong lovers of the form are being recommended to start with the Superman: Earth One series, then comics as an industry is fucking doomed.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions) and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic with Mike Prezzato, “Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men,” over at Champion City Comics and check out his other comics at his Tumblr, f=”http://djeljosevic.tumblr.com”>Sequential Fuckery. His webcomic The Ghost Engine, with artist Eric Zawadzki, updates twice a week.