Writer: J. Michael Straczynski.
Artists: Ardian Syaf & Sandra Hope.
Cover artist: Ardian Syaf.
Publisher: DC Comics.
Let’s start by recapping the Superman Earth One graphic novels so far. Volume One introduced a young Clark Kent making the difficult transition from Smallville to Metropolis after the death of his adopted father Jonathan Kent. When Earth is invaded by the evil Tyrell, an alien who helped orchestrate the destruction of Krypton, Clark learns of his otherworldly heritage and eventually becomes Earth’s protector, Superman, rising to the challenge and stopping Tyrell in his tracks.
In Volume Two Clark is living in Metropolis, and off the back of his exclusive interview with Superman, is now working with Perry White, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen at the run down Daily Planet newspaper. Clark is also becoming good friends with his next door neighbour Lisa Lasalle. However, as Superman Clark makes the world’s leaders uncomfortable when his actions aid an uprising that sees an evil dictator overthrown. Things are made worse when a serial killer, Raymond Maxwell Jensen, suffers a terrible accident that turns him into the energy-absorbing villain Parasite. After nearly killing Superman in their first battle, the Man of Steel struggles to take down Parasite and save Metropolis before his powers are absorbed for good. Luckily Superman succeeds in stopping the Parasite, but the world is worried about the power held by this young, seemingly unstoppable, individual.
Volume Three picks up immediately after the Parasite showdown. Clark has grown closer to Lisa, Lois is trying to learn more about Superman and help him live in a world that distrusts his power, whilst the US army has enlisted the help of super-genius couple Lex and Alexandra, or Lex2, to find a way to stop Superman if the need arises. Unfortunately for Clark, there’s even more trouble around the corner when Zod arrives on Earth.
Zod manipulates both Clark and the US Army, which ultimately leads to a brutal battle between the two Kyrptonians in which Superman is nearly defeated by thanks weakening effects of Lex2‘s red solar energy weapon. Following his costly victory in battle, in which the world’s armies refuse to help him and in which he learns about the debilitating effects of Kryptonite on his powers, Superman makes a promise to all the world’s leaders to help them reach a better future, as long as they trust and support him back. Superman also further builds on his relationships with Lois and Lisa, but also makes a powerful new enemy in Alexandra.
The Earth One DC graphics novel series came about as a means for DC Comics to retell the origin stories of popular superheroes without continuity constraints. Focusing on the early years of Clark’s superhero career, Superman Earth One re-imagines the Man of Steel’s origins for a new generation, with Straczynski doing this better than both the Man of Steel film and DC’s New 52 comic book series, which has also rebooted the Superman franchise, albeit in a less interesting way, to appeal to a younger audience.
Straczynski doesn’t break the mould with his reinvention of Superman’s origins in Earth One though, which means he doesn’t alienate existing fans. There are many familiar themes, characters and ideas from the main Superman mythos within the Earth One graphic novel series, but the focus on a young Superman learning about his powers, alongside the relatively small tweaks to the established lore, go a long way in keeping things feeling new, exciting and refreshing. In fact Earth One does a better job of humanising Superman than the current New 52 reboot, making him feel relatable, interesting and vulnerable, by focusing less on his powers and more on his personality.
What makes Straczynski’s work really standout from the rest of the other Superman stories out there is in his characterisation of Clark as a vulnerable young adult. His insecurities, inability to fit in, and worries over contact with other humans are front and centre in the Earth One series, and this becomes even more important in Volume Three’s exploration of Clark’s relationships both in and out of his iconic blue and red suit. The inclusion of Zod, who in Volume Three is revealed to have orchestrated the destruction of Krypton, and the unique twist Straczynski takes with Superman’s most iconic villain, Lex, only serve to make this the best entry in this excellent series to date.
The artwork in Earth One: Volume Three is also fantastic. There’s something very real and down-to-Earth about the visual style in Earth One: Volume Three. Like the story overall, the themes and characters in the artwork look familiar, with Ardian and Sandra refusing to take too many liberties with the iconic visual style of classic Superman, whilst also not being afraid to add in their own spin on things along the way. Earth One as a whole is all about tweaking the Superman continuity instead of re-writing the entire mythos and this really works in Volume 3 thanks to its vibrant yet gritty visual style and interesting narrative that captures Superman’s youthful, naïve and uncertain nature.
As Superman graphic novels go, the Earth One series is both a fantastic introduction for new readers to the world’s most famous superhero, and an excellent re-imaging of Superman and his supporting cast’s early years for existing fans. Volume Three is as good as the two volumes that came before, if not better, thanks to its focus on the iconic Superman villains Zod and Lex, and its further exploration of Clark/Superman’s character and his relationships with Lois and Lisa. Humanising Superman by focusing closely on his internal struggles really helps to break down the barriers between the reader and this God-like character.
His God-like status and inability to be harmed is in fact one of the biggest criticisms most often levied at the world’s first superhero. Earth One turns these criticisms into non-issues, and Volume Three’s tweaking of the existing and established Superman mythos for a new generation is without doubt the best in the series so far. This makes Volume Three the best Superman graphic novel since Volume Two came out, with Straczynski telling the Superman story that I think the New 52 wanted to tell, but didn’t.
Photos taken by Chris Orr from Superman Earth One: Volume 3 (DC Comics).