I was never really into Superman that much as a kid. Sure, I loved the Christopher Reeve movies (still my favourite on-screen Supes) but outside the Man of Steel’s cinematic adventures I never really paid much attention to the Kansas farm boy with the shiny red and blue suit. Honestly, I thought he was just a bit boring and moved on, and the more recent movies starring Brandon Routh and Henry Cavill haven’t exactly changed that opinion. So when I say I came to this ten-year old graphic novel with fairly low expectations you’ll probably understand why.
But here’s the thing. This was penned by J. Michael Straczynski. He’s the guy who gave us (among many other things) Babylon 5, in my personal opinion one of the finest and most groundbreaking TV shows of all time. So it’s probably not all that surprising that in this first book of a new reimagining of the Superman tale he’s managed to present something a bit special.
The Earth One series is another one of those occasional exercises in which DC Comics try to reboot their massively overpopulated superhero universe in an attempt to reinvigorate sales and interest. Except unlike those other reboots, like New 52 or Rebirth, this one is intentionally set aside from the rest of the DC universe, and is instead a self-contained reimagining of their core properties for modern readers. And it works surprisingly well.
In this first volume of the Superman story we meet a young Kal-El, just taking his first steps into the wide world beyond the Kent farm. He hasn’t yet decided what it is he wants to do with his life, and there’s even a suggestion that he’s going to avoid donning the famous red and blue costume. He explores several possible career paths, eventually leading to an interview with Perry White at the Daily Planet. But as he’s trying to decide exactly what path would make him happiest a bunch of alien spaceships turn up and start wreaking havoc around the world. Enter the Man of Steel to save the day.
The pace and storytelling by Straczynski in this book are exceptional. I read the entire thing in a single sitting, and at no point did I feel the story drag. I wanted to keep reading to see how the narrative unfolded, and find out how Supes comes to terms with the responsibility that comes bundled with the immense power at his disposal. It’s the first time in a long time I’ve actually cared about a Superman story, and I think the first time ever I’ve actually felt there was a real, albeit philosophical, threat to his role as the great protector of humanity. This is capped off really nicely by a four-page ‘interview’ with Supes in which he explains his purpose, and the reason he’s sticking around.
As well as some exemplary storytelling, there’s also some fantastic artwork here. Shane Davis has done a great job of realising Straczynski’s script, and the first real view of the titular hero in all his chisel-jawed glory really hits the spot.
If you’re a fan of the Superman franchise and haven’t read this book yet then I’d say give it a look. And if you’re not specifically a fan of Superman but don’t mind dipping your toe in superhero infested waters now and then I’d also recommend having a look. You might be surprised.