Superman: Year One #1 [of 3]
Scheduled to arrive in stores: June 19, 2019
Cover date: August 2019
“Superman: Year One”
Writer: Frank Miller
Penciller: John Romita Jr.
Inker: Danny Miki
Cover: John Romita Jr.
Variant Cover: Frank Miller
Reviewed by: Keith Samra
We then witness as a young Jonathan Kent, discovers baby Kal-El, and takes him home to his wife, as they decide to keep and raise him as their own.
We see Clark grow up and come to terms with his great powers and abilities, as he attends school and looks out for the outcasts, who are easy targets for the bullies that terrorize not just the school, but the entire town.
We meet Lana Lang, a young seeker of truth, who is rescued from sexual abuse from the same bullies, by Clark, as he confides fully in her, and they become a couple, and enjoy their days at high school. Clark becomes a silent town hero, who is a loud and proud high school star football player.
We then bear witness to the moment that Clark decides to leave home and explore the world, as he enlists in the navy, In search of his true calling in life.
To be continued…
Story – 3: I am not sure why this series exists, and where this series exists in the current landscape of the post Rebirth era of DC. Every few years we are treated to a new version of Superman’s most commonly retold origin. With the new Black Label imprint at DC, I feel this was something that was offered as a tribute to those die hard Frank Miller fans, who still think of him as a comic writing god. If that came off as snarky or sarcastic, that was not my intention at all, I was simply stating what I felt about the idea, when this series was first announced. And that was part of the reason I asked for this reviewing assignment. I wanted to try and present a more positive view on a project that was narcissistically groaned at when it was announced. Miller and Romita Jnr are responsible for one of my favorite stories of Daredevil, with their “Man Without Fear” graphic novel (yes I know it was a series before it was collected). I loved the way they both updated a character that is commonly forgotten about in the current Marvel climate. And I need not mention Miller’s other seminal work, both at DC and his own creator owned projects.
When I read this book, I was very surprised at how straight forward Miller managed to write this opening chapter. A part of me expected something similar to his latest Dark Knight project, or the All-Star Batman book before that. However Miller showed me that he can do something other than dark, gritty, evil infested suburban narrative, one that changed the landscape of the comics world over three decades ago. Here we saw the usual destruction of Krypton, with baby Kal-El sent to Earth and raised by a kindly couple. It’s the second part of that sentence, which this book mainly focuses on, the younger and teenage high school years of Clark Kent.
Like in many of the modern retellings of Superman’s origin in the past few years, we see a young Clark learn to use his powers, and sometimes not keep them a secret from the people around him. Unlike many of the modern retellings, we see a happier Clark, who actually enjoys life a little more, who doesn’t have trouble fitting in with his peers, and who is open and prone to making and learning from his mistakes. Miller borrows from some of the past origin stories, particularly Man of Steel (1986), letting Clark play football and revel in his strength and abilities.
It wouldn’t be a Frank Miller story, if there wasn’t a heinous crime committed, or about to be, and this came in the form of the attempted gang rape of Lana Lang. I was rather shocked at this scene, and that it being allowed to happen in a Superman comic. However, I remembered that this is under the DC Black Label imprint, and we should be happy that it was not something more. The only other perplexing aspect was the bullies that attempted to commit such a crime, are let off without consequence. They seemed like the type of characters you would see in Gotham City, and that they not only terrorized the kids at school, but the town as a whole. This just didn’t seem to fit the story, it’s as though Miller just didn’t quite finish fleshing them out.
I found that there was two major failings in the book, the first being Miller’s narration boxes, as they changed from direct narration from Clark himself to Miller’s own voice, which made it a confusing read at times, taking me out of the story. The other was Miller’s dialogue. This is something that has become a trademark of his in many of his books, but Miller’s dialogue really felt out of time. A prime example is how Martha is talking on the pages where she first meets baby Kal-El. It’s almost like hearing Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With The Wind.
All in all, this feels like an ambitious retelling of the origin by Miller, and he does bring some new takes to old ideas. I did enjoy that Clark has a desire to see the world, and decides to enlist in order to explore it. He decides on the navy to explore the ocean, but is drawn into the world of the air force by the end of the book. As I mentioned before, Miller takes from past origins, but this did feel like he heavily relied on John Byrne’s Man of Steel, which really shouldn’t be a surprise, seeing as the two were contemporaries back in 1986, as they both helped relaunch Superman and Batman, after the Crisis of Infinite Earths event.
I did find myself enjoying the book as I read it, it helped me escape reality, which is what I want when I read comics, a break from the daily norm. I am curious as to what the next issue will present, and how Miller plans to have Clark find his calling as Superman. I loved the format of 64 pages, and that this series is only three issues long, meaning we will get almost nine issues worth of storytelling in three books.
Art – 4: Another one of the main reasons I wanted to cover this series was because of John Romita Jr’s art. Over the years, but specifically for his time at DC, I have read many comments stating that “JR Jr can’t draw”… “He sucks at drawing DC characters”… “His art hurts my eyes”… It’s comments like these that really irritate me. Firstly I’d like to see any one of these people render a better narrative in comic form. Secondly I’d like to point out that Romita Jr is an illustrator, or cartoonist if you will. Just because you don’t like the way he draws people/figures, does not make him a bad artist. He is a decades long industry veteran, and shouldn’t be labelled as if he were a hack. Also as stated above, he is responsible for the art on Daredevil: Man Without Fear. A collaboration done with Miller in the early 90s, which is still one of the best depictions of the character to date, and one in which he is not seen in costume until the very last page.
With that said, Romita’s work on this issue has been some of the best that we have seen out of him in many years. The line work is sharp and crisp, the blacks aren’t too heavy, and for the most of it, the art marries well with the writing. Romita’s style reminds me so much of Miller’s own work on The Dark Knight Returns. They both come from the same school of caricature designs.
Romita tries to bring a fresh take on Krypton in the opening pages, but with so many different interpretations of Superman’s origin over the last few years, they come off as second dimensional and very flat. His Smallville however comes off much differently, as we see an idealized Midwestern town, one that borders on cliché… But it works for the story being told.
Martha and Lana are the only two prominent females in the book, and both have a familial feel, yet are different in many ways to what we are used to. Martha, much like in Smallville (TV series) is younger, yet still wise behind what seem like tired eyes. While Lana looks like a young Mary-Jane Watson, whose seen some hard times. And not unlike others, the proportions for the characters are off in many pages let alone panels.
Which finally brings me to the hero of our story, and Romita’s second take on the Man of Steel since his run on the New 52 version of the character. Romita competently draws a young Clark, and as I said, there are many times the proportions are a little off (especially the head to the rest of the body), but I found that I actually enjoyed the way he portrayed Clark over the years of his younger life. I actually loved the way Romita designed the pages in which Clark is traveling to Earth in his ship, and we see through his eyes his reflection in the glass. Also it was a nice change to see a young Clark that isn’t moping around because he doesn’t feel he can fit in with his peers, and actually smile and enjoy life in high school. Romita manages to show a good range of emotion in Clark’s face, which I enjoyed very much.
With this first book serving as our introduction to Clark, we don’t see the familiar red, blue and yellow suit that is the iconic depiction of the character, but we do get a feel of the boy that will become the man. And along with his tight-knit supporting cast, we meet many different and some new citizens of his home town, and at the risk of repeating myself, they come in all shapes and sizes, which is something that I loved in this opening chapter of this three issue series.
Danny Miki’s inks needed a mention, as they may have been the saving grace for Romita at times, they are very slight and soft, and never over power the art at all. Sometimes a little too subtle, but they helped set the tone for the issue. Alex Sinclair’s colors are simply amazing. They are what brought to life the sunny warmth of Smallville, a town that may have been transported from the 50s right out of Superman: The Movie.
Cover Art – 3: Though we have seen this cover many times as the promotional piece for the series, it was a little hard to try and look at it for the first time again. On the surface, we are drawn to Clark’s face, which is handsomely depicted. You would be hard pressed to realize that it’s a Romita Jr drawing and not Jim Lee, if you don’t look at the rest of the figure. The hands are awkward, but that’s not counting the oddly shaped leg stepping out. The concept is solid, which is a form of saving grace, otherwise the disproportions really take away from the overall feel.
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