Before the New 52, DC had been long trying to capture some of the magic that Marvel unleashed with their Ultimate Line. They wanted something new and bold that could grab new readers. Several attempts were made (like the not-so-great First Wave), but without much success.
But they decided to try something a little different with their Earth One books. Like the Ultimate comics, it would having younger versions of familiar heroes. The difference would be that instead of a regular monthly series, they would produce hardcover graphic novels.
The first two entries have been spectacular. Superman Earth One Volume One was smart and exciting. Reading it, I couldn't help hoping that the upcoming Man of Steel would be half as action-packed. Batman Earth One gave us a beautifully drawn book with an amateur Batman tackling problems too big for his abilities.
Now, we continue the story with Superman Earth One Volume Two.
There is no doubt that this book is good. Shane Davis's art gives the world a young, fresh look. And again J. Michael Straczynski tells a story that is both large and intimate.
In this book, the world is trying to react to the presence of a "Super-Man" and how they can defend against him, should he go rogue. Clark is still trying to find his place in the world, both as a journalist and as Superman. Straczynski really makes him feel like an alien by showing him as alienated. He wants to connect to people but cannot. He wants to help the people of the world, but is stymied by global politics.
And yet while he is isolated from the other characters, the readers have immediate empathy. Clark tells the story of his pet cat that might be one of the most touch animal stories ever in comics (in only 2 pages!).
He also deals with Clarks, um, intimacy problem that was addressed with great humor by Brody in Mallrats and the writers on Smallville. But Straczynski acknowledges the awkwardness while using it to really feel Clark's loneliness When an attractive neighbor tries to seduce him, he resists no matter how much he wants to. Of course as a Catholic, I wasn't happy about him complaining to God that he missed out on an opportunity for a random hook-up.
But the book has 2 weaknesses: First, the villain is not that compelling. In the first volume, the alien invasion was a direct result of Clark's presence on Earth. In this, a familiar Superman foe has his origin retold, but it doesn't tie in to the overall story. He seems to be a means to tell a story about Clark's relationship to his power.
The second is that the story does not feel complete in and of itself. The first could survive as a stand alone graphic novel. This one is not only a continuation of the story, but it is a set up for the next. It feels like a transition story, getting us ready for the bigger, more important story to come. That is fine in a regular comic book series. But when you are shelling out premium cash for a hardcover, you expect a little more.
My last note isn't a weakness with the story, but a problem I have with the interpretation of the character. In the book, Superman wants to help the poor people who are living under a dictator. The evil leader blackmails him into leaving. Superman imagines cutting loose and killing him, which is a fascinating insight into his self control. But he later returns to the country with his solution. I won't spoil what it is, and while it does make sense for the character as Straczynski is writing him, it is not what I would have expected. As I said, this doesn't make the story worse, but it doesn't sit right with my tastes.
All in all, I would recommend picking up this book. If not as a hardcover, then at least in paperback.
4 out of 5 stars.