Writer: Frank Miller
Art: John Romita Jr.
Inks: Danny Miki
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: John Workman
Superman: Year One #1 is yet another retelling of the origin of the Man of Steel. It seems DC feels the need to roll out another retelling of this classic tale every few years, occasionally with massive retellings, but more times than not just some minor tweaks. Superman: Year One #1 is clearly the latter, and since it is being released by DC’s Black Label line, it will no doubt have no bearing on Superman going forward. Rather this feels like a chance to reunite legendary creators Frank Miller and John Romita Jr. on a prestige format series that will appeal to nostalgic fans of these two creators willing to shell out the hefty sum required to purchase this comic. Anyone looking for a Superman book, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere as this thick comic book doesn’t move past the teenage Clark Kent and sadly there is no Superboy.
Superman: Year One #1 redundantly begins with the destruction of Krypton, the only interesting aspect is it is from Kal’s point of view. Kal is once again saved as his rocket arrives on earth and is adopted by the Kent’s. This sadly leads to one of the disappointing aspects of the book, and that is the depiction of Ma and Pa Kent, who are treated as stereotypical god-fearing ignorant Midwest farmers. Martha gets the worst of this treatment as she is painfully close minded and devoid of any of the feminist attitudes that the have been pumped into the character over the last thirty years. The bulk of the book then deals with Clark while he is attending Smallville High School, coming into his powers, and deciding whether or not to use them to stop a group of bullies picking on his self-described weirdo friends. It’s an interesting tale but goes on for far too long. Anyone expecting high flying super heroics are going to be disappointed as this issue reads more like an episode of teen melodrama then a Superman story. It’s more like Smallville than Superman the Movie. And while it’s been a fun scene in Superman comics, television shows, and movies in the past to see Clark deal with bullies here it takes up too much of the book. Where the comic lost me was the horrible depiction of Lana Lang, who is devolved from an ally in ending the bully threat to damsel in distress who has a potential gang rape scene that was pointlessly disturbing and was apparently thrown in just for shock. It’s an ugly few pages and serves no purpose as it does nothing to advance the story and the bully situation is quickly neutered afterward. The rest of Clark’s High School’s years are done quickly and much of it looks similar to Byrne’s Man of Steel where Clark is the stand out student-athlete of Smallville High. The end is intriguing and would be interesting to see play out but I was ready Superman’s Year One, not Clark Kent’s coming of age story- that is a story done to death at this point and frankly it has been done better.
Superman: Year One #1 is the best story I’ve read from Frank Miller in some time, but that’s not saying much. Thankfully his right-wing rhetoric is not overt in this book (yet) but as I wrote earlier I did not like his depictions of the Kent’s nor his Eisenhower era gender norm and belief system of Martha Kent. I found his depiction of teenage Clark and his crush Lana to be very well done at the outset but Miller lost me with the attempted gang rape and the devolving of Lana to another damsel in distress who needs to be saved rather than a fully formed character. The bullies and weirdos were a bit to over the top and extreme but I understood the choice with the commentary Miller was making, which I was kind of surprised to see from him with some of his previous alt-right comments and his downright racists depictions in Holy Terror(2011). But Miller has made it clear he regrets some of the choices he made in his recent work and the statements he has made on politics in America and he seems to have toned down some of his writing here but he is still prone to poor choices and misogynistic depictions. I just can’t agree with his world view nor some of the antiquated choices he makes here (especially with his teenage girl dialogue and the previously mentioned Martha Kent and Lana Lang issues). John Romita Jr. is a great artist but he cannot draw teenagers. Every one of his teenagers looked like they belonged in elementary school and it was a bit disturbing to hear some of the teenage hormonal dialogue come from them as well as the sexual innuendos. As the book transitions into the Superman I’m sure his pencils will be more fitting but it didn’t work in this issue with this setting. The colors by Alex Sinclair were beautiful, with a rich pallet that fit the Midwest setting of Kansas and the pages were vivid and deep. It helped Romita Jr.’s art but not enough to make it work.
Verdict: Superman: Year One #1 is a Pass for me. If you’re a big Miller fan or love the artwork of John Romita Jr. then this a book for you. Anyone hoping for a Superman book or who has issues with Miller’s dated characterization will probably want to stay away. But if you’re in need for some high-quality Alternate Superman go read Morrison and Quitley’s All-Star Superman, maybe the best modern take on the Man of Steel.