The Saturday morning of Wizard Entertainment’s annual Big Apple Comic Con went from mild-mannered to Super as DC Comics’ exclusive artist Shane Davis gave fans insight into the creation of the upcoming original graphic novel, “Superman: Earth One,” at his panel moderated by Wizard Magazine Editor, Mike Cotton. Set for an October 27 release, the tome, written by current “Superman” writer J. Michael Straczynski, is a part of a new line of continuity-free original graphic novels chronicling the early lives of some of DC’s biggest heroes.
The story aims to redefine Clark Kent and Superman for the 21st century, providing new and old readers with a modern take on the classic elements the character was built upon. For instance, rather than beginning with a hopeful rocket blazing a path to Earth from the doomed planet Krypton, the story begins with 21-year-old Clark at, as Davis described, “a pivotal age, where he is deciding what he wants to do with his life.” Davis continued, “I wasn’t going in with Clark at the Daily Planet, knowing who he wants to be and what his job is.”
Focusing more on the character’s moral issue of responsibility that his yellow-sun-fueled abilities, Davis revealed a few of JMS’ ideas in writing this series, including questions of, “What would you do with these powers? What would you do to make a living?” As a young man, in pursuit of finding his way in the world and aware of his superior strength, speed, and resiliency, Davis revealed that in the first installment of the script, JMS challenged the character by having him try out for professional sports. “That shocked me,” Davis exclaimed. “You never think of Clark Kent doing that. That set up the idea that maybe Clark wasn’t the fumbling nerd we see him as.” In stripping away some of the more mild-mannered behaviors and nuances of the Man of Steel to get to the heart of Clark, Davis said he was left with a character, “who knows he’s not human, but everyone thinks he’s human, and [he’s] trying to find out who he is.” For Davis, Clark’s appearance in the book adds to his quest for identity in that he wears layers of clothes to hide who he is and blend into a crowd. To best explain where Clark is in his life, Davis described him as “not yet Superman, but not quite Superboy.”
From comic legend John Byrne’s revamped “Man of Steel” from the 1980s to DC’s Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns’ 2009 opus, “Superman: Secret Origin,” comic book readers have been well versed in the beginning of Superman for decades. When asked by a fan if the origin of Superman has been overdone, Davis remarked openly, “That was my biggest fear when I took the project.” However, the artist points out his tale isn’t a baby Clark hurtling to Earth in a rocket origin, but rather “a coming of age story about decisions, responsibility and power.”
In response to a question about his artistic process, Davis said, “the whole point of the book was not to go with the stereotypes.” From drawing architectural inspiration from multiple landscapes around the globe to his choices in character designs, Davis fully immersed himself in creating an original epic motivated by images of Superman’s rich past. The artist recalled a conversation with his editors on the project regarding their suggestion of Clark wearing his Smallville High jacket. However, with the modern vision of a 21-year-old Clark searching for his identity in mind, Davis couldn’t realistically see the character wearing high school remnants during his transition to the big city of Metropolis. In his design of Clark’s jacket, Davis said the hood is a symbolic reference of Superman’s cape. “It’s always down, and bunched up around his neck, foreshadowing Superman’s cape laying on his shoulders,” Davis explained.
When it came to Superman’s supporting cast, Davis explained the unique adaptations of characters in his book and the attempt to free them of decades of stereotyping. For instance, Jimmy Olsen for years appeared to be the young, awestruck, plucky cub-reporter pal of Superman, but in Davis’ take, he’s pushed to be more. “JMS wrote Jim Olsen, not Jimmy, as real newspaper photographer,” Davis said. “Someone who jumps in the line of danger. He’s kind of the crazy guy who’s on the edge.” The artist continued: “[In this story, Jimmy is] not Superman’s pal. [However,] they are friends at a point in the book. We treated every character in the book with respect unto their own.”
Tackling another of the traditional tropes of Superman’s supporting cast and an interesting turn in the conversation between Davis and the audience was one fan’s assumption of Lex Luthor’s presence in the tale; illustrating popular belief that the famed villain must be present in a Superman origin story to further explain the source of their intense rivalry. Davis responded by saying he’s never drawn Lex and while there is a villain of the story, he – or she – is not Lex. “This story is more about Clark Kent and his decisions,” Davis affirmed.
Davis described his working relationship with JMS as being very positive, citing an example of late-night email communications between the two and the writer’s openness to resolve any creative concerns. In summing up his story, the artist said that though this is a Superman book, it is very much a Clark Kent story. “It’s about becoming a man, to be Superman,” Davis added. “What would it take for you to be Superman? I think this is the most human incarnation of the character I have ever seen.”
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