Review: “Superman Peace on Earth” (DC Comics, Jolly Jinglings Special)
Welcome back to the Jolly Jinglings holiday event here at The Splintering! As part of our celebration of the Christmas season, we’re focusing on a host of festive content to get you in the holiday mood. Today, we’re reviewing Superman: Peace on Earth, a 64-page graphic novel published by DC Comics in 1998.
Written by Paul Dini (of Batman the Animated Series fame) and illustrated and co-written by Alex Ross (Kingdom Come) at the height of his popularity, Peace on Earth is an oversized “prestige format” book designed to showcase Ross’ high-quality painted artwork. This was the first of six similar “prestige” books featuring DC Comics’ most celebrated heroes, including Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel (Shazam), and the Justice League (JLA), all of which were created by the team of Ross & Dini.
The story opens with the Man of Steel taking part in the Metropolis Christmas tree-lighting ceremony. As events unfold, Superman discovers a young malnourished woman among the crowd, and carries her to local shelter. This inspires Superman to undertake an ambitious holiday mission, to feed as much of the world’s hungry and disadvantaged in a single day. The developed countries of the world all agree to donate their surplus grain to the effort, and Superman begins delivering trailers filled with food across the globe.
While many people receive the gift with open arms, Superman’s efforts are not always met with celebrations. Confronting a complicated problem such as poverty on a large scale takes a psychological toll on the Man of Steel, as he realizes that there are human evils that even he cannot defeat, including authoritarian governments, fear, and ideological possession.
That isn’t to say that the story is totally “grim-dark” like so many other modern takes on Superman, but it’s not exactly cheerful either. There is some high drama in Peace on Earth, and some moments are truly gut-wrenching. The Man of Steel’s heart is clearly wounded by some of the people he meets, and your heart might just break right alongside his. However, despite confronting doubts in his inner monologue, Superman himself never completely abandons hope. Instead, he redefines his mission along the way, coming to the ultimate conclusion that victory over complicated problems requires long-term solutions, and that his setting an example for others to follow is – at least in part – a success all on its own.
One of the most remarkable achievements of Peace on Earth is how the story remains so compelling despite the near total lack of supporting characters or conventional villains. There’s no Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, or Lex Luther. Other than brief references to his father and upbringing, Superman exists solely in a continuity vacuum. Not only does this make the book accessible to completely new readers, but it proves that Superman does not need to be bolstered by a supporting cast to be compelling (or dare I say relevant).
Alex Ross’ painted artwork complements the tone of the story very well, presenting Superman with a sense of timeless grandeur. Every page, nearly every panel, is a poster-ready work of art, though it doesn’t hurt that Ross had sixty years of Superman artwork from which to draw inspiration, and in some cases, pay homage. Many of Ross’ paintings from Peace on Earth have been used on other products or as promotional material by Warner Bros., so even if you’ve never read the book, you quite possibly have seen at least some of it before.
While Ross’ realistic art is widely held in high regard, it’s still worth noting that it is often criticized as being too static. If you are of this mind, Peace on Earth likely won’t sway you. For my part, I typically enjoy Alex Ross’ work and thought that it suited the oversized format quite nicely.
Peace on Earth is certainly not the “feel-good book” of the Christmas season, so it may be a little too heavy on the serious side for some. After all, Superman doesn’t fly because he’s strong. He can fly because he’s light. It should also be noted that while Peace on Earth deals with political issues, it does so without being too preachy or partisan.
Both creators Dini and Ross have an evident love and reverence for the Man of Steel, and they understand what makes him enduring as a character (at least they understand him better than many current-year creators). If you are a fan of either creator, I highly recommend giving Peace on Earth a read. On the other hand, if you don’t care for either Ross or Dini and prefer your Superman to be on the lighter side, there’s no shame in skipping it.
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