‘Superman: Earth One Vol. 2’ not bulletproof

How does one reinvent the character that invented the superhero genre? Modern-day superhero comics have gotten a second wind by knocking the invincible heroes of our parents’ generation off their pedestals and dragging them through the dirt.

With “Superman: Earth One Volume 1,” writer Michael J. Straczynski tugged Superman by the cape and pulled him down to our level. “Volume 2” presents our new Man of Steel with some real-world problems that can’t be solved by his Kryptonian physiology alone. While it’s a great improvement over the first volume, a shallow villain and a few narrative missteps keep this new story from soaring.

“Earth One: Volume 2” features a Clark Kent who has overcome his identity crisis from the first book and accepted his destiny as a superhero, but who still has yet to find his footing as a reporter. Drawing on years of experience as a journalist, Straczynski makes Clark’s job as a reporter at the Daily Planet feel challenging and exciting. Watching Clark struggle to find his voice as a writer is a handy way to show that he still doesn’t know quite what he stands for as a superhero either.

Less effective is Lois Lane’s arc. The running gag of Lois not recognizing that the man of her dreams is just her co-worker sans glasses and wearing a cape only works when she’s too busy chasing after her next big story to sit down and give it some thought. Unfortunately, this time around that’s all she does, as she researches Clark’s background and tries to figure out how some nobody from Smallville, Kan., got an exclusive interview with Superman himself. Unfortunately, she never puts two and two together, which makes her depiction as a competent reporter questionable at best.

Clark also gets a seedy new neighborhood in which to live, as well as a new love interest, Lisa. To its credit, “Earth One Vol. 2” takes into consideration the inherent dangers of romantic entanglement between the Man of Steel and frail earth women, and it really adds to the isolation that forms the core of Straczynski’s take on the character.

This guy is his own fortress of solitude, and watching someone try to pull him out of it is fun. While it’s nice to see the last son of Kyrpton fawn over someone other than Lois for a change, the new girl feels like little more than a buxom, girl power-infused Mary Jane from Spider-man, i.e. wish fulfillment for all the quiet, bookish males of the world out there.

It’s not much of a superhero book without a bad guy to threaten the world, and “Earth One: Vol. 2” resurrects the classic power-stealing villain known as the Parasite, who absorbs the energy of anyone he touches. The Parasite is a rare supervillain in that he doesn’t necessarily harm people because he wants to, but because he must keep feeding on them to survive. The best depictions of this character are the ones you both despise and occasionally pity.

Unfortunately, Straczynski tosses that baby out with the bathwater in his completely new take on the Parasite. This version is a psychopath who was born bad, stayed bad, and only got worse when he stumbled into an accident in a secret lab and became a super-powered monster.

His only goal? Kill every single person on the planet, one by one. It’s a classic case of “He’s evil, don’t ask why, just go with it,” and it saps the story of any drama when he and Superman have their inevitable duel for the fate of the world. It’s a shame that, in a re-launch that tries to inject some moral complexity into a character often criticized for being one-dimensionally good, he is pitted against a villain who is so one-dimensionally bad.

Shane Davis returns from the first volume with his realistic take on Superman’s world. Gone are the pristine, high-tech, art deco streets of the Metropolis we’re used to seeing, replaced by what looks pretty much like New York City. One could argue that this less starry-eyed look at the world robs Superman of the wonder and optimism that has been a hallmark of the character for the better part of a century, but the grimmer visuals are in step with the new direction of the story.

While some may argue that it’s not Superman’s job to stoop to our level, but our job to rise to his, “Superman: Earth One: Volume 2” is an interesting take on a hero that is as accessible to new fans as it is potentially frustrating to veteran comic book nerds. However, readers hungry for a grimier take on a goody-goody character will find a lot to love in this book.

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