I finally picked up a copy of 2012’s Superman: Earth One over the weekend at a local used media shop called McKay. I had already read through last year’s Batman: Earth One and enjoyed it. I figured with both on my shelf, now’s a good opportunity to discuss them with the blogging world.
In 2010, DC Comics began a new series of ongoing graphic novels called Earth One, which retells and reimagines the beginnings of classic heroes. If you know Marvel’s Ultimate line – started over a decade ago with Ultimate Spider-Man – then you’re familiar with the concept. The first was Superman in 2010, followed by Batman in 2012.
One special thing about these books is that they are published straight to hardcover book form. No monthly single issues. While I wouldn’t want all of my comics switched from monthly releases to yearly bound collections, I think it’s a good release format for several stories such as these.
Stand-alone miniseries like these don’t need a six-issue run when they can go straight to a collected release. If they get canned, at least what’s produced are still complete stories, instead of stopping a monthly title in the middle. Few things are worse in reading than starting a series that ends up canceled halfway through. If they’re a hit, then you make more (Superman: Earth One was a hit and already has a second volume that was also released in 2012).
Plus, only being released every year or two will help the Earth One cannon from becoming too convoluted. On that front, Marvel’s Ultimate line is coming dangerously close to being as crowded as Marvel proper.
To the books at hand though. I’ll start with Superman: Earth One.
Superman: Earth One
The book is written by J. Michael Straczynski, of Babylon 5 and Amazing Spider-Man fame, and drawn by Shane Davis. It tells of Clark Kent’s arrival in Metropolis to find what to do with himself, lost and aimless like many other early 20-year-olds. As both he and we find, part of the answer to that journey is to put on the classic blue and reds and become Superman. It’s a good piece to show the human side of the character, to help make Superman relatable. He’s afraid of going public with his abilities, of choosing to be an outcast just as he’s gotten good at fitting in.
I like this characterization of Superman, seeing the more human side of him. Superman is a hard character to crack, because he can do anything the plot calls for. In general, I prefer Clark Kent stories.
We also get reintroduced to the Daily Planet gang – Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and editor-in-chief Perry White. They’re mostly the same as expected, expanding on working at a newspaper in the era of declining print. I always like seeing more of the newspaper side of the Superman story, and this delivers. The book even includes a very ethically-questionable Superman interview by Clark Kent (whoever did he snag that one?) as an extra at the end.
The only knock I’ll give the book is a forgettable villain. Straczynski creates a nemesis names Tyrell from a planet neighboring Superman’s home world of Krypton. His people have been at war with Krypton for years, and here he comes chasing down the last survivor 20 years later. Being from the same solar system, he has almost identical abilities as Superman. Ultimately though, he has no real motive other than being a soldier carrying out his duty, and his defeat hardly feels satisfying. I don’t want this to be taken to mean that Straczynski and crew must pull from the tried and true rogues gallery, or else we’ll get the already-played-out likes of Lex Luthor and Zod. I’m fine with original villains (as Batman proves further down), but they need to work for their respect.
Batman: Earth One
Now, Batman: Earth One, by Geoff Johns and art by Gary Frank. Like the Superman one, this is the beginning of Batman. The Waynes are killed. Little Bruce sees it and swears vengeance. Jump to to the future, annnnnd Batman! Right off the bat (hehe), the first departure from DC proper is the eyes. You can see them through the mask, as opposed to the usual blank white eyelets that obscure the eyes of the man within the mask. It shows that this Batman is more human than the almost-superhuman machine that is the typical DC Comics Batman. He makes mistakes and gets the crap beat out of him, but ultimately, Bruce finds the Batman within himself.
The more intriguing aspect of this book is the Gordon/Bullock relationship. Two detectives who couldn’t be any more different, and not in the ways you’d expect. The culmination of them and eventually Batman in Arkham Asylum is a thrilling scene where Batman starts coming out on top as the hero he will eventually become. The villain in this scene, the original Birthday Boy, is a pretty sadistic sort, as Bullock finds out first hand.
This one’s down side depends on how attached you are to your expectations of the characters. This Bruce Wayne, this Batman, is more naive and vulnerable than even those of other Batman’s beginning tales. Take Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, for example. Bruce Wayne may get knocked around and make mistakes, but he’s still filled with conviction and certainty of his mission. This Bruce Wayne, however, has a steeper learning curve and takes a bit longer to recover when he gets knocked down.
Also a more controversial part of the story where someone kills a bad guy to save Batman may not jive well with some, as it may imply that Batman can’t do what he does without a gun and a death at times.
Overall with both books, despite not being perfect, I recommend them. For new readers, they’re good stand-alone stories, and if you like what’s in them, you should like the mainstay DC Comics titles too. Old readers will enjoy the break from ongoing stories to have a stand-alone tale they don’t have to invest months and months in.
DC thinks both books are worthwhile too. Superman: Earth One already has a second volume that was released in later 2012. Batman gets his sequel later this year. Supposedly, we’re getting Grant Morrison’s version of Wonder Woman: Earth One sometime soon as well. I hope this line continues for a while and lives up to the promise within these first two books.
What comic books would you recommend to fans of Superman or Batman?