Written by: J. Michael Straczynski
Art by: Ardian Syaf, Sandra Hope, and Barbara Ciardo
When I first heard about The New 52, I was confused. It was about DC characters getting rebooted (as if they haven’t done that before with OTHER cosmic shenanigans stories) for a modern audience. I thought to myself “wait, aren’t they already doing that with the Earth One imprint?” See, DC had attempted to do what Marvel did with Ultimate Marvel: reintroduce classic characters in a modern context. They sorta tried it with the All-Star imprint, but that more or less was just really exploring different concepts and ideas and there wasn’t really any kind of connection between All-Star Superman and All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder (though one would have to wonder if ANYONE would really want the “goddamn Batman” of ASBAR to be connected in any way to All-Star Superman). While initially successful and there were other titles planned for All-Star, but they never followed through, so DC tried again with Earth One, and it WORKED.
Funny thing is, Earth One had started in 2010 and New 52 started in 2011, and that just made me confused and a little worried that Earth One was just up and done quicker than All-Star. This turned out not to be the case as Earth One is still continuing. So far, Superman: Earth One consists of three graphic novels (third recently came out), Batman: Earth One with two (second just came out and I’m already reading it), and Teen Titans: Earth One (that one felt more like a prologue than a complete story but it was good) came out in 2014. I think Earth One has done a better job at “modernizing” because, and this is just my opinion, it applies more or less a “shoot first, ask questions later” approach. Now, one might say “that doesn’t sound great”, but once they look at New 52’s “shoot first, ask questions NEVER” approach, then they might have a different opinion about it.
What I love about Superman: Earth One more than New 52 Superman, and I think this could probably be applied for everything Earth One, is the theme of actions having consequences. It doesn’t seem to be applied much to New 52, so far in most of what I’ve read of it anyway. And that’s what’s going on here in Volume Three, how Superman’s actions in Volume Two affect him, the people close to him, the world, and what he must do about it. In Volume Two, he deposed the dictator of a war-torn country by vaporizing him with heat vision, and while he had good intentions, that doesn’t mean everyone else thinks so. The world’s governments and military decide to find a way to neutralize, and possibly kill, Superman, and who better to turn to than the Luthors, Alexander and Alexandra, husband and wife scientists extraordinares. Major Sandra Lee from the previous volumes also returns, pushing for this attempt to handle Superman. I’m always both baffled and understanding of the “modern world against superheroes” thing being used in superhero stories nowadays, because we live in a darker and more violent world than before, so who knows if these costumed individuals can be trusted or not, but at the same time it gets done to death and even nonsensical. I mean, should the first thought after Superman saves people from Lex Luthor, Darkseid, an alien invasion, or something else, be “oh man this Superman is dangerous, we have to destroy him!” There’s skepticism and paranoia, which can be understandable at times, but then it’s taken to ridiculous extremes when the only way to handle it are just simply kill them. Heck, in this story, all the governments in the world ally themselves with GENERAL ZOD to destroy Superman by not helping him when being attacked. They all turn the other way, be it military or police. EVERYBODY. Near the end, Superman righteously berates them for doing this, though also understanding of it too and manages to come to a balance on how he and the rest of the world will handle things, so there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
The main villain in this story is General Zod. Like all versions of Zod, this one is obsessed with making Superman, and anyone else who defies him, kneel. Though he doesn’t ever say “kneel before Zod” and every time the quote is alluded to, I shout “oh just say it already!” I like how Zod is often depicted as a certain type of foil for Superman, while Superman had to learn in his own way how to handle his abilities, Zod is a military man and had training, making him efficient and strategic. This version of Zod is also Superman’s uncle, but I don’t think it’s really explored much. It could’ve been something like Scar from The Lion King, with Superman openly trusting and respecting Zod, while Zod plans his downfall behind his back and Superman is not just physically hurt by the betrayal, but also emotionally. Zod just simply says to Superman “I’m your uncle” and that’s it. Even though their fights are epic, there could’ve been some more emotional investment for Superman in them besides having to protect his friends and loved ones. He’s fighting the only other person that’s like him and the only biological family he has left, though he is trying to destroy everything he holds dear as well. This Zod is also more insane too, since he’s the mysterious shadowy figure from Volume One who gave Tyrell and his people the means to destroy Krypton, because if Zod couldn’t rule it with his brother Jor-El (Superman’s father) and others in the way, then no one will, and any survivors will be destroyed, including Superman. Most of the time Zod is wearing a hood and lead-lined suit (to protect him from the kryptonite he uses to hurt Superman), with his eyes kinda hidden in shadow unless using special vision powers, and this can get annoying. I get he’s supposed to be a shadowy villain, going along with an “Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious” feel, but couldn’t there be a more clear look of him or a better way to not make him such an obvious looking villain? The only time his face is ever shown clearly is when Superman consults his spaceship for records on him. And it’s just amazing that officials would trust someone as obviously evil-looking as him. He’s wearing a hood, his clothing is dark colored, and his eyes can’t be seen! Wake the hell up!
It’s sad that Shane Davis couldn’t return to do the artwork. He managed to bring a more modern look to everything and helped set the visual tone for the series. At times though, the characters and their actions can look stiff. Ardian Syaf, however, seems to move things along better, having the characters be more expressive and vibrant.
JMS’s writing is also fantastic as ever. The characters are more pragmatic and realistic, but can at times resort to what is traditionally expected, yet in surprising ways. Superman knows he has all the power, but needs to be careful with it and think before he leaps, and vice versa. The Luthors also have an interesting dynamic, Alexander being withdrawn from everyone else yet understanding of how the world works and doesn’t like it, while Alexandra takes advantage of the way things work and uses it to her, um, advantage. It’s also interesting which of them is opposed to Superman while the other supports him and how it results in the creation of the eventual archnemesis “Lex Luthor” (hint: it’s not the MALE Luthor). I also like the relationship between Clark Kent and Lisa Laselle (love interest introduced in Volume Two; also fun fact, ANOTHER Superman character whose name forms the initials L.L.), with after everything they went through in the previous story, and Lisa discovering Clark is Superman in this story, they admit to how they feel for each other and become a couple. It’s actually very sweet and believable, and presents how it doesn’t always have to be Lois Lane that Superman ends up with, plus I don’t think it could happen in this universe anyway. Lois is shown as more of an older sister figure and the story kinda acknowledges that with her becoming his political conscience.
Volume Three continues the cool, if not sometimes flawed, work that started the Earth One imprint five years ago. Maybe it’s flaws speak about real life itself, how not everything goes the way it’s expected or how someone wants it to. I just hope the paranoia and optimism can find a better balance in future stories.