52 Pick-Up Week 44:
This week’s selection may seem a bit of an odd choice. 52 Pick-Up, at its heart, is about me expanding my horizons and reading outside my comfort zone of superhero comics. How, then, can I submit a review of a Superman comic book? Is he not the quintessential superhero? Sure, to some. Me? I don’t so much read his books. I’ve tried to get into them. It’s never worked. So a fresh new take on the Man of Steel might be JUST what I need.
Now, if only I could find such a thing.
Honestly, I can’t figure out if the positive reviews on the back of this book mean that I’ve totally missed the point, or if they’re just ridiculous industry-insider gladhanding. If you haven’t seen what I’m talking about, feast your eyes below. It’s an impressive collection of blurbs from an impressive collection of people, but honestly, I think they maybe all thought it was Bizarro Day…
I would truly love to have read the same book these fine folks did. I may be getting ahead of myself in reviewing the back cover of the book before addressing the content within, but let’s take that last line there and use it as a starting point. “A man of steel for a new generation.” Really? What defines this Superman that makes him so different from any other? Well, he’s emo and materialistic. I suppose that aligns him with this generation rather nicely. Beyond that, any difference between Classic Clark and New Clark seems to be irrelevant as of the end of this story, and that difference mostly boils down to his reluctance to act as a hero. Because he’s a selfish and self-absorbed youth? No, that would’ve been too key a character trait to have brushed away so easily. It’s because he wants to get rich to take care of Martha. Okay, maybe there’s this slight fear of being persecuted for being different, but good news… Straczynski bypasses the 40+ years of character development that led the X-Men to finally earn the acceptance of the world at large, and – in 128 pages – turns Clark from the bullied outsider to the golden boy of Metropolis!
I’m simplifying, of course. The point is, by issue’s end, this is very much the same Superman you and your father and maybe even your grandfather grew up reading about. He’s younger. There’s that. Aside from the age difference, however, you’d be hard pressed to find anything unique about this new take on the Last Son of Krypton.
Beyond Kal El, there are a few noticeable changes. First and foremost, Jimmy Olsen. Or rather, Jim. He’s a serious photographer and his own man, and the possibility for he and Clark to be not just friends, but equals, is an intriguing one. It’s the only part of this book that really has me wanting to come back for more. The other biggest difference is the implication that Krypton had enemies, and that Clark is going to become the posterchild for anti-Kryptonian sentiment throughout the galaxy. I’ve bitched about him not having worthy adversaries before, but what JMS has done here is built himself a revolving door for super-powered aliens to come to Earth and become the equivalent of Smallville’s freaks of the week. It’s okay, I guess. Really, it just feels like what eventually happened to Classic Clark anyways. This time it’s just been built in to his whole back story.
Ultimately, I feel like this reads more like the script for a new Superman movie than it does a bold new take on an existing character. In fact, this wouldn’t be bad in that capacity. There’s not a whole lot of bad writing, aside from one particularly frustrating part near the end where JMS loses track of his own voice. In the “interview” for the Planet (a nice touch, overall), Superman says that he’s here to handle the big things that mankind can’t, like alien invasions. Later, in the same interview, Superman’s talking about stopping muggers, and how that’s the kind of thing he’s here for – not to get involved in political plays and the like. Ignoring the potential for great social commentary wherein I would posit that our political problems ARE the big things we can’t handle on our own, Kal El has just contradicted himself. Is he here to stop “only the big things that we can’t handle” or is he here to stop muggers? It’s a bit of sloppy writing that I find especially bothersome considering I noticed it upon my first read through and neither the writer nor editorial staff seemed to pick up on it.
Y’know what didn’t bother me? The art. I’ve loved Shane Davis’ art every time I’ve seen it, and it’s stellar here. He manages to draw Clark and Jim VERY differently, to the point that even if both got shaved bald in a future storyline, I think I could tell them apart. That’s one of the benchmarks, for me. Beyond that, though, nearly everything here is crisp, beautiful, and… ahem… picture perfect. Nearly. I’m still not sure what Alice Cooper’s beef was with Superman.
Superman: Earth One gets 3 out of 5 self-healing space ships.
There’s nothing “wrong” with this book, by any means, aside from its almost complete and total failure at being a re-imagining. It reminds me of one of my favorite jokes:
I wrote a script, and I gave it to a guy who reads scripts. And he read it and he says he really likes it, but he thinks I need to rewrite it. I said, ‘Fuck that, I’ll just make a copy.’
- Mitch Hedberg
If all DC wanted was a retelling of Superman’s origin, this is fine. But there’s nothing much that is “bold” or “new” about it.