Images & Words – Superman: Earth One

[images & words is the comic book pick-of-the-week at OL. equal parts review and diatribe, the post highlights the most memorable/infuriating/entertaining book released that wednesday]

Superman: Earth One isn’t my favorite comics release of the week. Nor is it my least favorite. What the book is successful in doing is piquing my interest, making me wonder about the greater implications of retelling classic comics stories through a series of original graphic novels. Even upon the first read, I truly think that Superman: Earth One may have the power to change the comics industry – either by introducing new readers the beauty of the medium or reaffirming Hollywood’s belief that comics are merely storyboards for movies.

Take a breath. Take a sip of Diet Shasta Orange. Take a seat upon my weekly comics-rambling.

All aboard! Okay, here we go! Superman: Earth One is the first in a series of graphic novels that aims to reimagine DC’s most beloved characters, altering their origins so that they can be placed in modern-day. Does this premise sound familiar? It should. But Whereas Marvel decided to launch the Ultimate Universe by releasing new comics through the direct market, DC’s weapon of choice is the hardcover graphic novel. A difference worth noting.

“P. Krueger, why is it such a big deal that DC: Earth One is being released as a graphic novel instead of as single issues?”

Good question. It is my belief that with these new (old) stories, Detective Comics is hoping to reel in a broader demographic. Perhaps people that are familiar with broad strokes comics characters, but don’t know the minutia. Potential readers that have seen movies and TV shows based on comics properties but have never picked up an actual funnybook. People that don’t even know that the direct market exists.

DC is targeting the Barnes & Noble readership. Don’t believe me? Well, feast on the words of Dan DiDio:

Also, in conjunction, we see growth, and we’ve been seeing continued growth, in the bookstore market, with the original graphic novels and collected editions that we put out for DC, for Vertigo and for WildStorm. And we’ll continue to push that marketplace as well. One of the things that we’ve done with the Earth-One line and the DCU is we’re aware that different products exist better in different marketplaces. Vertigo has done extraordinarily well with creating original graphic novels to be sold in the bookstore market, and we’re going to take that idea and move it into the DCU with the Earth-One books and, again, we will continue to push print just as aggressively as we always have.

So it’s more than clear that the powers that be are try to disseminate, as widely as possible, easily digestible comics. Is this necessarily a bad thing? Fugg no. At it’s best, I think that the DC: Earth One could help spread the gospel of this paneled medium to those who would never normally be receptive to the message. And I think that Superman: Earth One is a perfect example of how this could be done.

J. Michael Straczynski crafts an incredibly solid, heartfelt look at Clark Kent’s first foray into Metropolis. He doesn’t give us any Smallville exploits. He doesn’t bog the reader down with the political fiascoes that led to Krypton’s destruction. Instead, he touches upon every important aspect of the character while taking the reader through an action-packed narrative that never slows down. We want the young Kent to succeed because like many of us, he’s confused about his place in the world. He feels as though he has something to offer but isn’t sure how to go about it. Hell, he even feels badly about leaving his mom back home on the farm.

But by the end, Clark has donned the red cape and blue tights and become the iconic Superman. He finally decides his course of action when defending the Earth against an invasion by Tyrell – a baddie hellbent on destroying the last survivor of Krypton, the planet with whom his homeworld warred. Clark realizes that he’s going to have wear a human mask, per se, and integrates himself as a nerdy/emo/goofball reporter for the Daily Planet.

Truthfully, it’s very well done. JMS’ story, when brought to life with the art of Shane Davis (who kicked ass with the Lightning Saga), is something that any comics fan can use to lure in a potential reader. Superman: Earth One may very well be the movie that we were all hoping for with Superman Returns

So would I say that this graphic novel is essential for all fanboys and fangirls? No. In fact, I feel that it was a bit misleading to market this product as an original and unique take on the Superman mythos. If that’s what you’re looking for, it’s time to (re)read All Star Superman.

Could a deluge series of standalone, continuity-free graphic novels combine with the burgeoning river of comics-downloads to displace the direct market altogether? Sure. But I’m hoping that projects like Superman: Earth One help raise awareness for the medium. Maybe we can educate the world at large about what they’re missing.

Gahdamn, you’ve caught me writing on an optimistic day.

My apologies.