J. Michael Straczynski
In 2010, DC took on the challenge of giving their heroes fresh origin stories. They created a new comic book universe that does not connect with any prior continuum and thus would allow each chosen writer a chance to flex their creative muscles in bringing famous characters to life for the modernised reader.
This series would be called Earth One and DC decided that to get the ball rolling, they would start with a tale every comic book fan knows, The tale of Superman.
DC were not throwing any punches. The writer they got to script the story was none other than award winning J. Michael Straczynski.
Straczynski has a tried and true writing history. His name is attached to television series like “Twilight Zone” and “Murder She Wrote”, but he may be best known for his classic 90’s sci-fi series “Babylon 5”.
He wrote the screenplay for the Wachowki’s “Ninja Assassin” and Clint Eastwood’s Academy Award nominated movie “Changling”.
So by getting Straczynski on board, DC was reassuring their readers that they were taking this seriously and wanted to get it right. Straczynski once stated in an interview that one of his skills is to re-examine the tropes of whatever genre he is working on.
So how do you change a character’s origin that is so affirmed in everyone’s subconscious?
Well now, you would use Superman: Earth One as a guideline!
The main flow of Superman’s origin remains the same: Kal-El was sent to Earth as a baby by his parents on the dying planet of Krypton. On Earth, Kal-El was found and raised in Smallville by country bumpkins Jonathan and Martha Kent. As a young adult (now legally named) Clark Kent, he decided to independently move to Metropolis where opportunities are more likely to arise that would earn him enough of a living to provide for his now widow mother Martha.
His first time dressed in his skin tight suit is also played out as you would expect: A group of aliens aware of Kal-El’s survival from Krypton go to Earth on the mission to kill him, a man they feel deserved to have died with the rest of krypton.
It’s in the little things though that change things up, instead of someone like fellow Kryptonian Zod coming to kill Kal-El, it’s someone else named Tyrell who looks like a cross between a David Bowie character and WWE’s Goldust. His look and origin fits well into the Superman mythos, he is a somewhat familiar but refreshing villain that goes on to motivate Clark Kent to become Superman.
The familiar cast is all here with Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen taking a fair bit of spotlight in the second half of this tale. Straczynski is able to give new complexities to these characters that end up fitting beautifully. Jimmy, when asked why he puts himself in danger for just a photo replies ‘no, it’s not for the photograph, it’s for the truth!’ It’s lines like this that really give new found respect to these characters. We are in an age now where news and media often either exaggerate a story for views or lie completely. So characters like Lois and Jimmy may not have been as respected today as they once were. So hearing that line really gives a nuance to these characters we know so well.
It also showed the Daily Planet in a realistic light. Their firm stance to only print the truth has left them at the bottom of the food chain. It’s that promise though that makes Clark want to work with them.
Speaking of which, even fairly early in the story we see how resourceful Clark Kent really is. He literally has every job at his beck and call including working with some of the most intelligent scientists in the world. The fact he is so easily able to get these types of work isn’t just a testament to his physical strength but his mental strength as well. Clark is shown to be perhaps one of the smartest minds on earth and yet we see where his heart truly lies. Which isn’t money or fame. It’s keeping the world safe and keeping the world honest. From Clark’s point of view, the Daily Planet is best able to spread that ‘truth’ to the world.
Becoming his alter ego Clark Kent is probably for me the weakest part of this comic book at least in terms of the art style. Instead of looking nerdy and shy, Clark honestly looks very strange and almost a little creepy. It sadly threw me off from the reason as to why he decides to mask himself from the world.
That’s not to say the art overall is not beautiful. It’s amazing, truly! Obviously DC were not planning on making Superman: Earth One a series, so the money spent on Shane Davis to make all his pictures shine is clearly apparent. Everything is exceptionally detailed and expressed. From superman’s angry red glowing eyes to buildings in metropolis crumbling under its own weight, it’s all done just how it should be. I wish all comic books were drawn like this.
Often when people ask “what Superman comic book should I get” it’s replied with “Red Son, All-Star Superman or the Death of Superman” and while all of those are wonderful choices, I would recommend Superman: Earth One. Sure it may be similar to what they have already read or seen, but because it’s done a little different in all the right places it does make it special enough for a first time Superman purchase.