Superman: Earth One Vol. 1
Superman: Earth One Volume One is the latest reboot to the Man of Steel's classic origin story. It seems that Superman spends more time than just about any character with his origin story, so this book has a lot to be compared to. Does it manage to feel fresh and differentiate itself from all those other works while still staying true to what makes Superman the iconic character that he is?
The basic story is one that every Superman fan, and even most people who have never picked up a comic book, will recognize. A young adult Clark Kent has made his way from the small farm where he was raised to the bustling hub known as Metropolis, searching for his place in the world. He makes a connection with the Daily Planet and familiar faces Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, and Lois Lane, then spends most of the rest of the book proving his worth in a huge battle with alien invaders with a secret from Clark's past. These aliens, headlined by a weird looking and mostly ineffectual man named Tyrell, are a fairly standard invader trope, possessing awesome technology that ultimately pales in comparison to Superman's powers the moment the plot calls for it.
Since the story itself is more on the side of something we've seen plenty of times in the past, the real focal point here is on Superman's internal conflict and new characterization. Here we get to see Clark Kent try on many different hats before settling on the Daily Planet as his occupation of choice. We get a good sense of who he is as he tries on various well paying professions but feels ultimately unsatisfied by the lot of them, instead coming to the conclusion that his opportunity to bring truth to the people through the written word is worth far more than the millions of dollars he would make in pro sports. Of course, there is a major flaw in this part of the book as it actually ends with Clark doing an interview with Superman himself. This doesn't seem ethical at all, and in fact the strange contrast between a man who purports to be all about truth, justice, and the American way while interviewing himself and not disclosing how he gets all these amazing features with the Man of Steel is one of the elements of the Superman universe most in need of rebooting.
Despite the fact that DC has labeled this new interpretation of Superman as "Twilight-esque" and "emo," there is literally nothing about this character that is either of those things. He doesn't get caught up in any romance, much less a love triangle in which he vies for the attention of a sullen twerp, and his brooding is the kind of stuff we've seen in plenty of the other Superman stories, including the excellent Superman for All Seasons. His conflicts are indeed amplified a bit, becoming the focus of the book instead of one of just many layers, and his emotional struggles with identity and isolation do threaten to overburden the narrative to some extent, but even at its worst this book only takes Clark to Batman levels of angst.
There aren't many other characters, with the rest of the cast being rounded out by the most familiar of Superman's longtime "normal" allies. Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen make a crucial appearance here as the two people that help motivate Superman, and Martha Kent distils her advice in her typical sagely manner. These characters don't have a ton of depth and, for a reboot that is supposed to take bold chances because it is out of continuity or whatever, these characters are the exact same people we've been seeing in the comics and films for decades. Martha looks a bit younger than usual and almost seems more like a middle-aged hippie than an elderly farmer, but that's about it in the change department for Superman's allies.
One of the few major changes this book does make to the Superman origin story is brought to life through the artwork. Instead of the pristine, vibrant, futuristic version of Metropolis common to his stories, we get a wonderfully seedy look at the city that rings far truer to Gotham than it does to Superman's city. Even the Daily Planet is portrayed as a fading shambles of a newspaper organization, and this makes for a marked contrast that helps to display exactly what Superman will come to mean to the city. The crew working at the Daily Planet looks great as well; in fact, one of the book's major strengths are the faces and posturing of each character, giving us faithful, modern interpretations of the characters that are expressive and mechanically solid.
As a solid contrast to the newfound grunginess of Metropolis, we get plenty of alien space craft that are far more clean and elegant looking. There's even a brief look at Krypton via a flashback that is well drawn. Most enjoyably, Earth One features layouts that perfectly match the tone of the story. Superman's battle with the alien armada is every bit as grandiose and chaotic as you would expect, though the main bad guy could've done with a serious costume adjustment. Superman, on the other hand, is the beneficiary of a rather neat costume change that helps modernize the character to some extent, though one wonders if his hooded sweatshirt, jeans, and shaggy haircut will just end up looking as dated and hilarious as his 90's Supermullet in time.
Earth One is a reboot that just about anyone can enjoy, because it really doesn't transform the core of Superman's story that much, and features a simple plot that stands on its own. On the other hand, this is a very angst-riddled version of the Man of Steel, one with emotional issues more like Batman than like what we expect of Superman. If you are a long time Superman fan, this Is something that will probably bore you to death, if you are a newcomer, you can find much better origin stories featuring the character. It's competent enough, but difficult to recommend to anyone who would be interested.