By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
Nov. 23, 2010 -- DC Comics is adding another chapter to a long tradition of re-invention that has always been entertaining, with a new graphic novel called Superman: Earth One
($19.99). Maybe because of my high expectations, I’m terribly disappointed with this book.
You see, DC has always rebooted its major characters every 20 years or so. Currently they’re doing it again, by inventing a new world – “Earth One” – inhabited by new, younger, 21st century versions of Superman, Batman, et al. This GN is the first in a series, all written by superstar writer J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5
And, IMHO, it’s an epic fail. There’s not much new about this new version of Superman, and what is new is a bunch of bad storytelling decisions.
In all honesty, I may be prejudiced in that my profession is depicted really badly:
1) I can accept, for example, that Clark Kent lies to his editor and his reading public about his secret identity. Even though that violates no less than six tenets of the Society of Professional Journalists Rules of Ethics, the lie prevents a greater evil: the murder of all of Kent’s family, friends and associates.
But what I can’t accept is Kent using this façade for professional gain. My primary beef is those stories that depict Kent scooping Lois Lane with the first interview with Superman, which lands him his job at the Daily Planet. That isn’t a white lie necessary to save lives; it’s fraudulent self-promotion of the worst kind.
Thankfully, the 1986 version of Superman began to realize how unethical this was, and a 2009 miniseries retelling the Man of Steel’s early years (Superman: Secret Origin
) dispensed with it altogether – Kent got his job the old-fashioned way, by coming up with a big story without using his super-powers, a story that had nothing to do with Superman. Huzzah!
However, Superman: Earth One
restores this ethical breach, with Kent playing the Superman card to get a job. Gah! Once again, Kent is no better than Stephen Glass, Janet Cooke or Jayson Blair.
2) Planet Editor Perry White explains to Kent that newspapers strive for active sentence structure instead of passive sentence structure, and gives an example. That’s something a good editor does.
Except White gets it wrong. He says in order to make “last night, a dog was killed” active, it should read “a dog was killed last night.” But both those examples are passive; simply rearranging the sentence doesn’t make it active! (“Someone killed a dog last night” is the example he’s looking for.) It’s Journalism 101, folks, and Perry White gets it wrong.
3) Kent and Lane’s first stories about Superman are included in the back of the book. But they are so embarrassingly juvenile, subjective and unreadable that they wouldn’t pass as decent blog posts, much less professional news stories. Worse, Kent writes a dialogue exchange between himself and Superman – one that is not only unethical (he’s making it up!) but is so cringingly adolescent and amateurish that no newspaper on any Earth would run it.
Too arcane? Then let’s look at two changes Earth One
makes to the Superman mythos I think are clumsy:
1) Teenage Clark Kent demonstrates incredible, virtually “super” abilities at professional sports, research science and other jobs before joining the Daily Planet. Oops! That kinda lets the ol’ “secret identity” out of the bag, doesn’t it?
2) We discover Krypton didn’t blow up by chance, but was deliberately destroyed by other aliens.
Bad plan. First, the arbitrary nature of Superman’s central tragedy, and how he transforms it into altruism instead of self-pity, is central to his heroism – as it is with Batman and Spider-Man (who have also suffered this sort of revisionism occasionally). Second, if aliens murdered his planet, then Superman has a moral obligation as the last Kryptonian to leave Earth and devote his life to bringing those aliens to justice. Since he won’t (or there’s no series), he looks like a coward from the get-go.
If you’re going to change Superman, says I, change him for the better – give him a 21st century makeover that makes him more relevant to a new age. Don’t tinker around the edges, “correcting” things that were done right the first time.
I seem to be alone in this opinion, as Superman: Earth One
is selling like gangbusters and critics are raving. And that's great -- I really do want it to succeed.
I just wish it was better, and deserved to succeed.
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at