One of us: a review of Superman: Earth One, Vol. 2

Superman: Earth One, Vol. 2 preview

The latest installment of Superman: Earth One comes out next month. I didn’t find time to review the first volume (which came out two years ago) for my blog, but you can read my thoughts on it here. Or, if you’d rather skip to the good stuff, trust me when I say that the quality of Vol. 1 and 2 are the same: awesome.

Superman: Earth One, Vol. 2Superman: Earth One, Vol. 2 by J. Michael Straczynski (writer),Ā  Shane Davis (penciller), Sandra Hope (inker), and Barbara Ciardo (colorist)

Leave it to one of the best modern writers in comics to make Superman relevant again. The second volume of Earth One (on sale October 31 in comic shops and November 6 in bookstores) is a literal investigation into the man and legend: his personal life and why he refuses to let anyone get too close, his work persona and how he makes himself appear to the public, and also his budding career as the Man of Steel — whom the U.S. government is studying in case the world’s alien miracle ever turns on them.

As Clark Kent grapples with maintaining these identities, so does he struggle to find peace among them. The beautiful girl in the apartment next door wants to seduce him, but he won’t allow it: The risk of hurting her is too great. And as an up-and-coming reporter, he’s still learning how to balance hard journalism with the compassion that drives his stories. He finds similar conflict in his doings as Superman. This book tests his abilities to both help people and do what’s right for them; sometimes those two things can’t always be reconciled.

And to stop his newest enemy, the Parasite, who drains him of his energy and powers, Superman must walk as a mortal — helpless to the greater forces working against humanity. The experience is humbling, and it gives him a reason to fight harder. The world needs someone who can make it feel safe, even if it’s not.

Just as Superman is an alien in a human visage, the Parasite is a human in monster’s form. We see this kind of parallel of unbridled rage and strength in both characters, but it’s Superman who prevails: Not because he isn’t tempted to loose control, but because he is afraid to. That concern for the well-being of the people around him is what makes him a hero — and able to carry on where Parasite fails. At the same time, it cripples him, isolating him from the people he saves when he’s not wearing the suit. He keeps people at a distance, terrified that they’ll discover his secrets or come to harm because of them. These difficulties will continue to be a major part of Clark’s development as a superhero and as a person, and Straczynski ends the book with a sense of the growth ahead of him.

Shane Davis (the comic’s penciller) deserves accolades, too, for showing us the many conflicting sides of Superman: the vulnerable young boy, struggling in a world that can never truly accept him; the timid reporter and tenant, who keeps to himself to prevent others from learning the truth; and the dangerous, confident hero, carving his place in a world that needs him.

Straczynski ends the volume with uncertainties: two new figures are about to enter Superman’s life, and we already recognize their last names. But their roles are different — reversed from what we expect them to be. That air of mystery is what makes the book so irresistible. This is the Superman we know, but it feels like we’re only just starting to understand him.

Bottom line: The Superman you’ve wanted for years.

Grade: B+

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