DC Comics recently released the first in a new series of graphic novel format Superhero books set outside of continuity, Superman: Earth One. Ostensibly, the goal is to reinvigorate headlining characters, so far Superman and Batman books have been announced, by modernizing them and giving them space to breath outside of the often limiting confines of mainstream comic history. These books will be guided by marquee creative teams. In the case of Superman that means Joseph Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis. The question that I’m interested in engaging with isn’t the question of quality of the book, it was competent but not incredible. I’m more interested in the success of the project. Do we need an Earth One line? Is it going to add anything to the overall landscape of comicdom or is it an exercise in excess?
1. What has it got to add?
The graphic novel format is more new reader friendly. Many non-comic readers are reluctant to engage with a medium that isn’t finite. They don’t have interest in following story lines continually and would rather be able to pick up whole stories just as they would pick up a novel or watch a movie. These books can perhaps function as an entree into superhero fiction for this audience. In this regard, Superman: Earth One succeeds. It covers all of Superman’s origin story and introduces his supporting cast while completing the story of Superman’s first triumph against a major threat.
Elseworlds and other media representations have a symbiotic relationship with mainstream continuity. The continuity gives birth to them, they’re like parallel time lines (literally in this case), and their successes then influence the continuity in the return. For example, the Smallville T.V. show character Chloe Sullivan was recently introduced into mainstream continuity as Jimmy Olsen’s ex-girlfriend. I think in this regard the Superman: Earth One book will be most successful. The book’s take on Superman is at times great and at other times a bit too angsty for my taste. Where the book shines is in its take on supporting characters. Lois Lane is allowed to be confident instead of starry-eyed and Jimmy Olsen is possessed of the kind of lunatic bravery that has the power inspire a hero to take up his cause. The notion that humanity inspires Superman through these remarkable humans and through the notion of journalistic integrity and truth is the greatest success of this book.
2. Should you read it?
I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, it’s an entertaining Superman tale, one that would make perhaps a great movie. On the other hand, it’s not particularly exceptional. I’d say it’s still worth reading since it’s the start of a new series that could improve greatly now that it’s moved past the confines of the origin tale and because the take on supporting characters is so great.
3. Is Earth One worth it?
I’d say definitely. In the same way that the Ultimate universe once reinvigorated the Marvel universe, the Earth One universe might reinvigorate the DC universe. Also, I hope the graphic novel format will take off. It seems as though a transition is coming for comics over all though it’s a bit hard to chart what form the industry will take. Superheroes have gained much more visibility in the last ten years through the myriad movies that were produced, but we haven’t seen that translate into a growth of the industry. Perhaps Superhero graphic novels can help in making that happen.
Tagged: J. Michael Straczynski · Superman · Superman earth one
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