DC Comics has a line of books, the Earth One imprint, where the creators produce a decent sized graphic novel depicting the early adventures of various heroes.
Yeah, I could have picked one to review. But I didn’t. Instead, I got the first volume of each of the four series (to date) as samples. Reviews and potential SPOILERS after the cut for
Earth One Superman, Batman, Teen Titans, and Wonder Woman.
Superman opens with Clark Kent arriving in the big city of Metropolis. He has some big city dreams to make a lot of money, and with his physical and mental skills, he can do so easily.
If the idea that Superman is out to make a lot of money seems wrong, well, don’t worry. He’s doing it for the financial security of widowed Ma Kent. She insists he doesn’t have to, but he’s bound and determined to do it anyway.
In short order, an alien space armada shows up threatening to destroy the Earth. Who are these guys? Well, they shared a solar system with Krypton, and every twenty years the two systems went to war over resources. Eventually, another unidentified race gave these folks the weapons needed to destroy Krypton. As payment, they just had to make sure there were no survivors. Hence the reason they followed infant Kal-El to Earth.
Oh, and they have the same powers as Superman.
Superman, obviously, saves the day, and chooses a profession for himself based off his own desires and not the need to make a lot of money. The story worked out fine. J. Michael Straczynski can be controversial with his work, given such things like his “Superman walking across America” run, or how he changed Wonder Woman’s whole back story for some reason, and that’s not even getting into his Spider-Man, but aside from Superman looking to make money, this work was rather conventional as a modern Superman story. Shane Davis’ artwork is fine, and the story moves. Perhaps best of all, no sign of Lex Luthor. It may have been too easy to go to that well right away.
Does writer Geoff Johns have a good grasp on Batman? I don’t know. In the past, Johns wrote Batman as the guy most likely to be more of an antagonistic ally in big meetings. He was the one who wanted to stop Hal Jordan from stopping the bad guy at the end of Green Lantern Rebirth at a time that was ridiculously stupid, and as a cliffhanger before the final issue at that. Granted, Batman alone seemed to remember this was the guy who nearly wiped out all of existence during Zero Hour before Johns came along to say Hal wasn’t responsible (cop out!), and the whole thing might have been done to set up Hal to punch out Batman with a single right hook (say what?).
I wasn’t a fan of that Rebirth nonsense, and for a while Johns wrote Hal Jordan as a Christ-like figure which, no matter what you think of Hal, is not what he is. I can think of multiple DC heroes who can be a Christ-like figure, and womanizer Hal Jordan is pretty far down that list.
But I digress.
This story shows a clumsy, rookie Batman trying to stop crime in Gotham, starting with finding who was responsible for killing his parents. He suspects the mayor, Oswald Copplepot, might be behind it since his dad was going to run against him. His only ally thus far is Alfred, who was more a special forces guy who said he was a butler instead of his traditional manservant role.
While this Batman needs saving a few times, with gadgets that don’t work right, it’s not a bad place to start. He manages to inspire Jim Gordon to stop being afraid, and young Barbara Gordon to maybe make her own Batsuit. Harvey Bullock is about as far from every other Bullock readers have seen as it is possible to get.
And, hey, no Joker either.
Gary Frank’s artwork may be the best of any of these books, with one noteworthy exception coming up. Of the batch, I may be most tempted to go further with this one, but hopefully Batman gets better at what he’s doing because so far he needs a lot of help. It’s a miracle he didn’t get killed himself.
Teen Titans may be the furthest of the batch from the original source material. Since this “universe” is new, there haven’t been many superheroes with sidekicks to join the Titans. As such, most of the Titans are kids who, as it turned out, survived a bit of genetic tampering at the hands of their own adopted parents. The sole exceptions there are Starfire, an alien and the source of the genetic experimentation, and Raven, a Native American mystic seeing visions of the others.
That leaves Terra, Cyborg, Beast Boy/Changeling, Jericho, and at the very end, Aqualad/Tempest to find answers on their own. One day, all of them (save Aqualad) suddenly change, gaining powers they didn’t know they had. Their parents’ reactions vary. Of the group, Cyborg’s mother seems to be the most pleased by this development. She is clearly not the maternal type. She may be the closest the volume has to a villain, and that’s with Deathstroke standing off to the side. In fact, this Deathstroke is highly reluctant to do anything to the kids, and actually seems to be almost a decent guy.
Longtime Titans fans will note a number of supporting characters are named after Doom Patrol characters, with the mysterious unseen Chief being set as the shadowy boss behind it all. I wasn’t sure what to make of Jeff Lemire’s story, truth be told, though Terry and Rachel Dodson’s artwork is always nice to look at. Lemire has come up with a really creative way to handle these characters, partially out of necessity, so it comes across more as a case where the characters have the names of the Titans and some other similarities, but in other ways are radically different characters.
Raven’s visions suggest more Titans are coming. Which ones and for what is, obviously, not revealed yet.
Grant Morrison’s best talent when working with longtime characters is to take the traits and characteristics that they had developed over the entire history of the individual characters, and then to create an epic story that acknowledges and honors that entire history. He did it with All-Star Superman, his long Batman run, and arguably with his JLA.
Can he do it for Wonder Woman?
That’s a legitimate question. Wonder Woman has, in many ways, defied characterizations in ways that make for a coherent character. She often comes across more as an idealized person than an actual person. And while many creators ranging from George Perez to Greg Rucka to Brian Azzarello have put their stamps on Diana, these cases often come across as more of how the individual creators see her than how the character actually is. Morrison has his work cut out for him.
He’s off to a good start. Teamed up with his old Bulleteer partner Yanick Paquette (the only artist rivaling Gary Frank on these books), Morrison depicts Paradise Island as the paradise it appears to be, but only at first glance. The Island itself is stuck in a stasis, seeing nothing but wrong with Man’s World, and unable to change themselves. Traditions are all that matter.
Man’s World isn’t much better, but those are problems that readers would recognize from their own existence looking around, and much of what Diana sees, she judges based off her own education. For example, she is horrified to see a hospital ward full of elderly, dying women. She accuses the men of letting the women die, apparently unaware of the limitations of modern medicine where no one has a purple ray. I was a little amazed there were apparently no old men in the ward. It’s not like they had it any better.
The real hero may actually be overweight college girl Beth Candy. Looking a bit like Rebel Wilson, Beth (formerly Etta) has the gumption to stand up to the Amazons who are just as judgmental about her as they are about the world she comes from. Using the framing story of Diana on trial for leaving the Island and letting a man land there and live, Beth is the one who seems to show that both societies could benefit from change. Steve Trevor, cast here as a black man, also has a few things he could add to the idea of repression, since the Amazons only notice it when its related to gender and not race. Besides, Diana asked him to wear a studded leather collar and had no idea why that was a bad thing.
I’m rather curious where Morrison is going with this. Diana doesn’t really stomp a bad guy here, so much as demonstrate strength through loving submission (a trait from her Golden Age creation), and basically get an new origin story that sets her up as ambassador to Man’s World.
Superman: 7/10 reporter disguises
Batman: 8/10 disgusting mayoral eating scenes
Teen Titans: 7/10 uncaring parents
Wonder Woman: 9/10 resentful lesbian lovers