Superman: Earth One, vol. 2 starts right where volume 1 ended. Clark is settling in at the Daily Planet and learning to interact with the world. This is partially thanks to his new neighbor, Lisa Lasalle (yet another double L name for the Superman mythos), who helps him push his boundaries and explore his humanity. Superman also has to fight the Parasite, but his superheroics take a backseat to character building.
That would normally be a good thing, except that writer Straczynski doesn’t really seem to understand how people in their mid-20s actually interact, so the dialogue comes off as if it were written by an alien who has casually observed humanity but not lived among it. This is wildly ironic since the major theme of the book is Clark’s feelings of isolation from humanity. Nonetheless, the story Straczynski tells is fairly strong; he gets his theme/ideas across despite his dialogue.
Shane Davis is a fantastic artist, putting in a level of detail that is phenomenal. The colors also seem to pop right off the page. He almost succeeds in making the book feel cinematic. You can tell he really cared about this project and enjoyed working on it, since he obviously went above and beyond the call of duty with his artwork.
That’s the good news. Here’s the bad. For all his many talents, J. Michael Straczynski doesn’t write Superman well. This is not a bad comic. But it’s not a Superman comic. You see, just about every comics company has a hero who is the last member of his race, comes to Earth, and becomes one of its most powerful defenders. It’s now a trope in its own right and most examples of this trope are set apart from Superman by being darker in some way, ranging from a willingness to kill, to resenting humanity for some reason, to actively wanting to rule the world. We’ve seen it dozens of times now, from Apollo to Hyperion to Omni-Man.
Superman stands apart as an icon. Most of the Western world recognizes his signature S-shield and what it stands for, even if they don’t read or care about comics. It’s not because of his powers. It’s not even because of how long he’s been around. (Superman, Slam Bradley, and the Crimson Avenger are all about the same age, but only one of them is an icon.) What makes him iconic is his morality. Superman is a purely, unambiguously, unironically good guy. Despite not being human, he is the best humanity has to offer. Sure, it’s a tad unrealistic, but we’re talking about superhero comics and Superman’s morality is not even close to the furthest fetched thing in the genre.
Here that morality is absent. He’s unwilling to listen to criminals who are in trouble, preferring to beat them up rather than to try and help them reform. He even takes an ordinary human criminal, who is threatening his new friend, and drops him in Antarctica. Said criminal was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, rendering this effectively a death sentence. This is not how Superman behaves. So when you take away the thing that really defines Superman as Superman, all you have left is a violent, overpowered bully of a hero in a blue suit with an S on the front.
In conclusion, it has good art and it’s an okay story. But, appearances to the contrary, it’s not a Superman story. The book is appropriate for ages 13 and up for some violence, Superman’s casual and intentional murder of a character (albeit indirectly), and sexual themes.
Superman: Earth One, vol. 2
by J. Michael Straczynski
Art by Shane Davis
DC Comics, 2012