DC has carved itself a great niche within the YA market by presenting many of its famous characters and stories in a new light. House of El Book One by Claudia Gray, Eric Zawadzki, Dee Cunniffe, and Deron Bennett is a wonderful addition to this line, and to the Superman mythos as a whole.
What’s largely interesting to me about House of El is how similar its pitch is to Claudia Gray’s Star Wars novel Lost Stars, which I have not read, but is widely acclaimed and ready to read on my phone whenever I get to it. Which is to say: this is the second time this week I am reviewing something in the hopes that it gets me to read something else. Send help.
I brought up the comparison, though, because it felt apt, but also because I was surprised at how well this comic balanced the romance and the eventual doomsday (not the character, an event) of Krypton. More than that, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, but the romance is incredibly nuanced and is growing at a gradual pace that feels alien in superhero stories. This first book in a three-book series holds back so many of the moments and feelings that superhero films casually toss out, showing not only restraint but the amount of skill that Gray has as a storyteller. That element alone made this story really stand out, even while a lot of the end-of-the-world stuff was somewhat generic.
The story’s biggest strength, though, comes in the core themes regarding the social structures on Krypton. Typically, I don’t like stories set on Krypton at all — I’d even say I avoid them. This is mostly because I don’t like when Superman’s Kryptonian nature is focused on. The way House of El frames it here, though, is new to me, and gives it an angle that I think is actually interesting.
Zawadzki is a talent who has slowly been growing over the last few years, and I’m happy he has this as a big work of his. The storytelling is kept very simple throughout, mostly employing layouts of panels stacked on top of each other, and few horizontal tiers, though those are present throughout. It’s very much a comic that will work for people who don’t have much experience with comics, and his clear lines help there as well.
The double page spreads, I should note, are extremely fun throughout. Each one is used in a delightful way, always accentuating a moment that feels big, whether emotionally or physically. I particularly like ones where our lead meet, and the one displaying the barracks.
I think the real star of this book is Cunniffe, though. The colors add so much to the environment and character designs, accentuating the differences between the characters while also showing key traits of Kryptonian society. The dominant color of the book switches between blues both dark and light and more dull grays, and the transitions are always notable, purposeful and affecting the tone of the scene. The way the color almost always has a subtle feeling of fabrication impresses me so much, it’s delightful.
This isn’t my favorite of DC’s newer YA comics, but I do think it’s one of the must-read ones. It gives new context and perspective to the events on Krypton, and acts as the first chapter to what I expect to be one of superhero comics’ best new romances, even if it is YA.
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