There’s still no perfect answer to the conundrum of how Superman should be portrayed in 2012.
We’ve seen Grant Morrison put him in jeans as the people’s hero to flawed effect with his Actions Comics run, and two years ago, J Michael Straczynski portrayed Superman as an extraordinary kid moving to a real city in Earth One’s opening volume – they’re two well-produced efforts to break fresh ground with the Man Of Steel, who frequently seems tonally misaligned with modern times, but neither were actually showing us anything new. Yet Straczynski has found a more compelling way of developing his Superman in Earth One’s long-awaited sequel – this is a Clark Kent who struggles with morality in the face of bleak circumstances, and finds mankind simultaneously horrifying and wondrous.
We weren’t quite expecting that kind of approach based on the last volume’s safer take on a ‘new’ Superman, but it immediately highlights the character’s empathy, as well as his strange relationship with the world. It’s a provocative interpretation, and that’s exactly what DC’s renowned superhero needs. Here, Clark’s strength is challenged on a number of different levels as he determines what he will and will not do with his both powers – firstly, through a clash with the villain Parasite that brings him down to Earth in a quite miserable fashion, but also with two of his neighbours, who suffer from their own societal ills, and then the brutal dictator of a war-torn country who brings into question the political significance of Superman.
It feels very real world, then, and it builds a complete picture of Straczynski’s Superman interpretation. Shane Davis’s art is stronger in this volume, too, particularly when it comes to his characters’ expressions, which assists this very human story of an icon we thought we knew inside and out. Let’s hope J Michael Straczynski doesn’t stop here – this is the most rewarding Superman story we’ve read in some time.