Writer J. Michael Straczynski welcomes artist Ardian Syaf to continue the exploration and establishment of Earth One in “Superman: Earth One” Volume 3. Lex and Alexandra Luthor make their presence known and the ladies of Clark Kent’s life also check in: Lisa LaSalle, Lois Lane and Ma Kent. The most critically important member of the cast of this book is Zod-El, an exiled Kryptonian with a dark past and a hood to hide that past under.
Sandra Hope joins Ardian Syaf, providing the inks to Syaf’s pencils. The two collaborate for some very heavy, distractingly uneven shadows throughout the book, which make Superman and other characters appear as though they are wearing partial but solid black masks. Zod’s shadowiness is at least partially generated by his hood, which stays in place throughout his time on Earth, adding mystery to his mission while cloaking his motivation. The rest of Zod’s uniform is an odd mishmash of ideas and concepts that seem culled from other comics: flared spikes like the Witchblade, huge gauntlets that have fierce, sweeping blades like Azrael’s modifications of the Batman costume and the hood, which doesn’t fall back even when Zod is hammered to the ground by Superman.
The story that brings Zod to Earth One is constructed from convenience and plot devices. Straczynski provides readers with the cliched notion of an untrusting United Nations General Assembly who views Superman as the ultimate threat and requires the strongest preparation, solely in case of emergency. A little later in “Superman: Earth One” Volume 3, Zod simply strolls into the Security Council meeting and takes a seat at the table. He doesn’t even introduce himself, ignores the half-dozen security firearms pointed his way and sits down to discuss the importance of destroying Superman. This is just one of the huge leaps taken in this story. Clark Kent’s landlord showcases a myriad of personalities that fit the story as needed and so does Lois Lane. Straczynski guides the characters forward in their interpersonal relationships, but the story itself is clunky and appears to be driven by a series of boxes to be checked, including the requisite appearance of Zod, the addition of a new foe and the predictable misinterpretation of Superman’s guilt in another character’s painful developments.
“Superman: Earth One” Volume 3 is painfully uneven, and the leaps in storytelling cross from the script to the art and back again. At one point, Zod hefts Superman over his head, but Superman is shown limping away on the next with Zod nowhere to be seen. This book is incongruous: when the story is strong, the art waivers and, when the art is strong, the lettering is over-the-top, but all of the parts never click or get the gears to mesh completely. Rather than forcing mediocre stories into a reliable schedule, this installment makes a strong case to look at the product and reconsider what it is that should make the “Earth One” line exemplary.