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Brutally Honest: How Do You Make Superman Relatable?

How do you make Superman relatable to readers? Do we need another Superman origin story?

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Late last year, DC Comics revealed that they would be releasing two graphic novels focusing on two of the industry's biggest names- Superman: Earth One and Batman: Earth One. While not a whole lot of information has been revealed about these books until recently, we got our first look today at one of the books when both AICN and Slash Film revealed previews of the upcoming Superman: Earth One graphic novel which is due out this Wednesday, October 27th, 2010. The graphic novel is appropriately being written by the current Superman writer, J. Michael Straczynski. Superman: Earth One will tell Superman's origin story- a story I am sure both avid comic readers and non-comics fans can recite by heart. It is an origin story that has been told countless times, and one that I bet even my Mother can recite- and she has never read a comic book in her life. This isn't the first time a writer has picked up his pen to tell his version of the Superman tale; so how will DC make this version compelling enough to both engage Superman fans and reach out to new readers?

Over the last week or so, it seems like DC has been putting out all the stops in order to build awareness for the release of this new graphic novel. By including a preview of the upcoming book in the back of many of their October comic books, tipping off the New York Post and having DC's Co-Publisher, Dan Didio, sit down with the newspaper to discuss the graphic novel, and distributing advanced previews of the new graphic novel online- it seems as though the big push for Superman's new book might be their way of modernizing the classic character. While Supes may be one of the most recognizable superheroes in comic books, he is hardly the highest selling title. According to ICv2's August sales figures, Superman #702 came in at #21 in a list of August's top 300 comics. That is after four Green Lantern books, five Avengers titles, and at least one Batman title. Twenty-one out of three hundred books released that month might seem pretty good, but one would think a character like Superman should have a more prominent following; particularly when issue #702 of Superman was only the second issue into a brand new story-arc. Could it be that Superman is too iconic? That he is not relatable enough to the average reader? Is it difficult for writers to come up with new and innovative adventures for the Man of Steel that haven't already been written? How do you write a story about a man who can leap over tall buildings in a single bound, deflect bullets off his chest, and at one point was able to even move planets (Silver Age) and still make the character interesting to the average teenage boy or girl struggling with adolescent crushes and struggling to balance school and after school activities?
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The fact that Straczynski is the writer on the book that will retell Superman's origin story sort of makes sense considering he probably had to do quite a bit of research before taking on the character in his present run in the Superman: Grounded story arc. In Straczynski's current Superman arc, he seems to have taken the character apart- sort of deconstruction by
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humanization. Taking away the power of flight and forcing the character to walk across the United States, traveling from city to city to solve people's problems. Essentially, the current Superman story arc serves to break down the timeless character, and get him more in tune with the average American. When I first heard about the current arc, I thought that it was, in theory, a fantastic idea. Here is the man of Steel, the most incredible hero in comics being broken down and simplified and subjecting himself to traveling the country and passing through the towns and cities of the average American in order to relate to and understand them. Here we have Superman coming down to my level and off of that God-like pedestal that I, like so many other readers, are so familiar with. Now, I am not going to criticize Straczynski's run on Superman since we are only four issues into the series, but it seriously reads like a John Mellencamp song. So, does this mean that in order to make Superman a relatable character he must be de-powered and many of the attributes that make him super- pun intended-  must be revoked? It is not that the idea is necessarily bad, it just feels, at least to me, that the character has no direction.  It feels like something I may have read before. Didn't Superman already prove that he was never going to be able to save the world and everyone's problems in Superman: Peace On Earth? So, how could this story possibly end?

I am definitely interested in checking out Straczynski's take on Superman's origin story, and his focus on a younger, more relatable character. I am also interested in seeing where his Grounded story arc takes the Man of Steel. I just hope he doesn't have to change to much of who he is, to get there. Check out the preview images of the upcoming Superman: Earth One graphic novel below, and be sure to let us know what you think! Are you excited about Superman: Earth One? Have you been reading the current Superman arc?