DC's Earth One books were designed to be the companies' attempt at making stories in graphic novels for their respected characters, as opposed to making individual comics. These stories exist outside of the main continuity as to let writers have more leeway in writing about aspects that haven't been written about before, without interfering with overlapping details. And it all started with 2010's Superman: Earth One. Writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Shane Davis made a cinematic reimaging of Clark Kent becoming Superman, that became a huge seller overnight. DC made JMS drop all of his projects at the time of release to get to work on a volume 2. After 2 years, does it proceed or trump Vol.1? I think so.
SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE VOL.2 picks up right after the end of Vol.1, where we see Clark settling into his new persona of glasses and keeping to himself. He finally gets his own apartment with some new neighbors, including a flirtatious woman named Lisa Lasalle. Lois Lane, questioning how a young nobody like Clark Kent could get Superman's story, starts an investigation into Clark's background. And Raymond Maxwell Jensen, homicidal killer, accidently becomes the Parasite, a metahuman who can suck living beings powers and essence. How will Superman fight a creature who can steal his powers away? You'll have to find out.
After reading both Earth One books of Superman Vol.1 and Batman, I've come to the conclusion the EO books are more about humanizing our protagonist and changing some aspects of the mythos, while stretching some of the taboos of the character. Batman: Earth One did this exceptionally well, with making a Bruce Wayne who never left Gotham, as well as being angst-ridden and making human errors. Superman Vol.1 did some subtle changes, but it played safe to the overall mythos. Vol.2 on the other hand, actually takes more risks on dealing with Clark Kent, the human side of Superman, including the subject of the 70+ year old question regarding sex for The Man of Steel, and I find it commendable. It's different to read about and is handled fairly well, which I'll talk about in a bit.
There are two over-arching themes here: Superman represents power and Clark Kent represents isolation. Of the two, Clark Kent takes majority of the screen time and for someone like me who doesn't see a lot of stories on Clark, this is fresh perspective. The theme of being alone is so prevalent that a good majority of the interactions Clark has throughout the story are brief. Lois looks up Clarks background and finds out his whole life has been about keeping away from others due to his power and origins, and to the point that Clark had straight C-grades in school to stay under the radar. Lois, Jimmy, and Perry White are rarely seen for this intention as well to further this theme. It's handled well and you actually care for Clark being an outcast because of who he is. It makes his turmoil that much acceptable to the reader--especially a sad and lovely story about Clarks first pet.
But this theme gets challenged by the only friend Clark gets (and love interest) Lisa Lasalle. Lisa pushes Clark into new territories, being a voluptuous redhead with tattoos immediately coming on to Clark from page one. The interaction of this one and only friend, as well as pushing Clark's boundaries in intimacy, gives Clark human qualities we all feel and sympathize with. And the taboo with dealing with sex for Superman (and the awkward and funny scene with Jonathan Kent and Clark over sex) is something that works out well, and adds those qualities never talked about before. I know JMS gets a lot of heat for shaking things up for characters, but I applaud him for trying.
The other theme is power; power to rule, corrupt, and lust for. Power of Superman doing just about anything he wishes, and because of it, the world views him from both perspectives: a savior of a god or a destructive weapon ready to go off. This is shown when Superman goes to a foreign land and tries to help, only to be threatened about "guns are the power". The Parasite represents greed and monstrosity of what power can do. Even Superman has an edgy persona about him that drool's power. And even when Superman loses majority of his power, he finds something more about those who don't have it. It's a good metaphor and theme about where Superman stands in this world and universe, and it offsets the more somberness of the book with action. The theme isn't handled as well as the theme of isolation, but it works.
As for art, Shane Davis is up there with some of the more underrated artist. He puts on the same level of detail and cinematic feel about it here like he did in Vol.1, but even more so. His detail to human expressions are key here. They go well with Straczynski's writing. 80% of the book is in the expressions, with only 20% in the action. So you'll do well to take your time and really take in the panels.
As for complaints, it lies in the character usage of Lisa, Lois, and the Parasite. The Parasite is written somewhat one-dimensional. He plays a great monstrosity of a character, but lacks some polish on his background. As for Lisa, she is and will probably be the biggest lighting rod for debate, due to the nature of her. For one, JMS writes some horribly cheesy lines for her. She immediately slathers her way onto Clark from page one, which is something most people would never do. JMS could have at least eased into her coming on to Clark, but it feels way to fast and ridiculous to believe. The other is her being the new love interest over Lois. Lois and Clark barely have anything to do with one another in Earth One, so this will feel uneasy with readers who feel Lois should be the love interest. And the other...well sorry if this feels like spoiler, but...Lisa is a prostitute (occasionally). This little nugget of information has already made people up-in-arms over feminist as seeing Lisa as stereotypical. People might see this as Clark being around a women who is "impure" to someone like himself. I don't mind this take, but some people out there might really go nuts over this.
SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE VOL.2 does everything Vol.1 does, but ups it up greatly. This is a great character study on Clark Kent, and using the Earth One title to deal with such forbidden discussion to great effect. If you're one who didn't enjoy Vol.1, then this book probably won't change your mind. But if you did enjoy Vol.1 and want to take it further, Vol.2 shouldn't disappoint. And if your one who wants a different take on the Clark Kent/Superman mythos, then this too is worth checking out. The big teases and set-ups for the inevitable Vol.3, I'm looking forward on what JMS and Davis do in the future.