When it hit stands nearly two years ago, DC Comics' "Superman: Earth One" graphic novel gained interest and sales not only for being the publisher's first attempt at expanding "universe" style storytelling across serialized OGNs, but also for the "Superman Meets Twilight" pitch picked up by newspaper and websites nationwide. That image of a modern, hip and even softer Superman dominated talk around the book. But with the second volume of "Earth One" ready to ship on Halloween, artist Shane Davis is promising a different side of things on the sequel.
"The Superman stuff felt new if only because I got it so much more in this book," Davis told CBR of his return to collaborating with writer J. Michael Straczynski. "In the beginning of this book, he is Superman, and he's doing good deeds around the world. I felt like I didn't get to do too much of that in the previous book. It was page 90 before he appeared in costume. But here, rather than Clark becoming Superman, the story is much more true to what people are accustomed to. He's Clark Kent, and then he's got to run off to become Superman. He really is visually juggling two lives...the whole book itself is kind of a completely different layout from Volume 1. From an artist's point of view, the pacing and visual beats feel totally different. It felt like its own book and not so much an add on.
"But story-wise, it picks right up from the Daily Planet article at the end of Volume 1, and we see Clark have a feather in his cap for breaking the Superman story. So it is a very fluid book, even though it's a completely different book."
Central to amping up the action for this volume was Davis' redesign of power-sucking villain the Parasite. "I went at this wanting to make my best version of the Parasite," he said. "His story aspects are a big part of his design, and it felt like because this was a graphic novel, his visual had to escalate. Superman and Parasite fight three times in the book, and if the villain was the same in all three battles, it wouldn't feel like the stakes were any higher. Now we have three big, toe-to-toe Superman battles, and they all feel really different. The first has Superman just charging in thinking he can deal with this in a punch or two, and then with the second, he tries to get away from Parasite. Each time out, we show a very different side."
Designing a new version of the villain didn't come easy, particularly when the artist found very few iconic interpretations to draw on. "I looked across the internet at all the previous designs for Parasite. Some I really liked, and some I don't. I liked the Ed McGuinness one, but I didn't really like the classic one. But the only thing I noticed that was common between them all was that he was purple. Well, why is he purple? It's really because those colors contrast really well with Superman's primary colors. That's a classic theme in designing villains -- especially like the Spider-Man villains who are all green with different patterns to set them apart. This all goes back to when coloring in comics was more primal, and you only had a certain number of colors.
"So I tried to keep the purple while really building up a design based on his powers. He's hungry, so JMS wanted him to start very small and very malnourished-looking. Later as he drains energy, he amps up and becomes this big Doomsday/Hulk-level character. And I'd seen the Bruce Timm 'Superman' cartoon episodes where he chains up Superman to continue to drain him, and that's a great idea. But except in the scenes where he flies like Superman, you wouldn't really know he was charged up just by looking at him. So we came up with a stage three, Doomsday-sized bad guy. When he's been sipping on his Superman energy drink -- his Superman Red Bull -- you can tell that he's jacked up. It works for storytelling reasons."
The artist said that in some ways, coming back to do a second full-on graphic novel gave him a better grasp on the task, though other core elements changed all around him. "It did [make it easier] for most of the cast...except for Clark. Clark Kent in Volume 2 is a completely different Clark than in Volume 1," the artist explained. "He's the Daily Planet 'geek' Clark. He's not dressed the same. He's wearing his geek glasses all the time. I know that doesn't seem too weird, but actually drawing glasses is one of the hardest things for an artist to draw. That's why everyone always draws those wire frame glasses because it's very simple. It's difficult to line real glasses up in perspective off the nose. Clark's wearing them all the time, and it makes him look completely different in Volume 2. Aside from that, his wardrobe is really different. It's all sweaters and button-up shirts. We couldn't just do the classic Clark Kent. It's all more modern, 'geek chic' type clothing. So it was really different from drawing the character in Volume 1."
Alongside the more professional Kent came a few new faces to the story -- including one who helps balance out the action-oriented nature of the project as a whole. "I got to develop the girl next door, Lisa, who is Clark's new girlfriend. So on top of these very many fight scenes with side kicks to the head, I also have great scenes of Clark Kent trying to have dinner with a girl, having his first kiss and wondering about the birds and the bees. So it was a great mix to have the great superhero battles along with some romantic scenes.
"With the new cast members coming on board, that added to the change. Probably the thing that stayed the same from Volume 1 was Metropolis. The city had stayed the same because I build a computer model of it [in Volume 1]. That with Lois, Jimmy and Perry is what stayed the same, and in a way, Clark felt like I was drawing a totally different character."
Davis will next move on to Legendary Comics where he'll draw the OGN "Shadow Walk" for Mark Waid, though the artist noted that he's always viewing his freelance life as a hustle to keep work coming to his drawing table. "I didn't know that there was going to be a Volume 2 [for Superman] until I read it on the internet," he said. "DC had given me some covers, but I was really just sitting there and waiting -- trying to manufacture projects at DC. I honestly had to jump into the book really quick because my workload had been kind of light the previous month."
That desire to keep working has added a few covers for Marvel Comics on Davis' plate as well as one DC story that strangely compliments his work on "Earth One" Vol. 2. "When I was finishing it up, I was also finishing a Batman inventory issue I did -- a Batman/Clayface one-shot," he recalled. "So it was weird to be finishing both at the same time. When I'm drawing a graphic novel, I constantly flip through the book to see how it flows and reads. I think just like a movie, the battles should be a visual climax, and I appreciate JMS' story climaxes a lot. I think this came together pretty well when I look back at it. It's definitely more the comic I wish I could have composed with Volume 1 -- not that I don't like Volume 1. I just think Volume 2 let me draw a lot more fighting, and I tried to work in as many cool fighting moves between Superman and Parasite. Because there was that action in it, I was happy with the final book. Like any artist, I want every project to be better than the last...if I just went in and did 'Volume 1 times 2' then that would be pretty drab. What would be the purpose?"
"Superman: Earth One" Vol. 2 hits stores on October 31 from DC Comics.