Superman: Year One #3
Scheduled to arrive in stores: October 16, 2019
Cover date: December 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 begin with Clark saving Lois Lane’s mini sub in the ocean. He then rescues her from the crashed sub, and takes her to a remote island, and then fights off some soldiers, for some reason. He takes Lois back to Metropolis, and begins a new chapter in his life, as he enrols in Journalism school.
Later, while working at the Daily Planet, Superman makes his debut in proper by hitting the criminals of Metropolis hard and fast. A hostage situation happens at Lexcorp, and Superman finds himself introduced to Lex Luthor for the first time. Lex manages to manipulate Superman into working for him, and asks him to take down a masked vigilante in Gotham City, The Batman. The reason for this is because The Batman is making a dent into Luthor’s profits by destroying many of his illegal operations.
When the two heroes finally come face to face, The Batman realises that Superman is a lot stronger than he thought. Nothing he throws at him manages to have any affect. When a frustrated Superman grabs Batman, and threatens to punch him into jello, he is stopped by an almost equally strong hand, one that belongs to the Amazonian Wonder Woman. Her words melt the anger the two men have at each other, and a friendship/bond is formed amongst the three of them. They quickly return to Luthor’s office at Lexcorp, where they tell him that his game is up, as Wonder Woman binds him with her lasso, Luthor spills all his secrets, and reveals to Superman that his people are not all extinct, as the Bottled City of Kandor lives, in the thralls of the collector named Brainiac. Hearing this news, Superman leaves Earth almost immediately, in search of Brainiac, and the thought of liberating his people.
Story – 4: Well this story was certainly a mess and a half. It seemed to randomly jump from one scene or plot to the next, giving such a disjointed feel to the book as a whole, and ending the series on a jumbled note. This is what editors are for, yet for some reason, I feel that DC editorial let Miller reign free with this series, and it shows.
So with this issue we get to meet the rest of Superman/Clark Kent’s supporting cast of friends, allies, teammates and adversaries. Firstly we’re introduced to Lois, and Millers portrayal of Lois is awkward in places, especially the dialogue, however the dialogue is off for most of the characters, so at least there is some consistency there. Lois comes off a little “bitchy”, and I don’t know why some writers feel the need to make her insufferable in the way she speaks to others, namely the helicopter pilot. Someone of her calibre who pulls stunts like this as many times as she would, would at least know pilots’ names, seeing as how they are doing her a favor, this is the sort of uneven writing I complained about in the first book. Though he did show that she puts the story above all, but fails to actually follow up on some of his threads, the scene where Lois is spying on Superman and Lex really doesn’t go anywhere from her end, as she does nothing with the knowledge or photos she takes.
Miller also managed to make rather interesting choices with Lex Luthor, with him just turning up after Superman took care of the hostage situation, and Superman basically just tells him “I don’t like or trust you”… and then foolishly ends up working for him. In a disjointed way, Lex masterfully manipulated Superman, I just wish that he had written it a little more transparently. I liked that Luthor moved up the ranks in the crime world by selling drugs, and then moving into munitions. This I feel was borrowed from Byrne’s “Man of Steel” run, but Miller used it to the story’s strength.
From there it seemed to turn into a rewriting of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” as Batman shows up, and Luthor manipulates Superman into taking him down, (because Batman is wreaking havoc on his illegal operations and factories). Even Wonder Woman shows up at the end, and helps the boys become friends. Now I know that many people hated that movie, but after reading this book, it’s clear on how well that movie was actually written (the extended cut), as this pales in comparison. I don’t know what Miller was trying to achieve, but I feel it missed the mark. Even the Joker made an appearance, and Batman beat him senseless off camera, and as much as I like a good Joker story, there wasn’t any need for him at all.
Joker wasn’t the only character that wasn’t really needed. Wonder Woman served little to no purpose, other than helping Superman and Batman become allies, and then the “kiss me, give me something to remember” line was so out of left field. Wonder Woman throwing herself at Superman like that, is far from empowering.
I did enjoy that Superman was rather careful when it came to resuscitating Lois, his caution made for good drama, as well the scene where he rescues the toddler from the terrorists, and uses his cape to keep her warm. In “Superman: The Movie” fashion, we get a montage of him taking down criminals all over Metropolis, be they big or small, but what confused me was the “prioritizing crime”, and ignoring the muggers and street swindlers. Even though we saw him bring them all in, the monologue didn’t match up with what followed, and the story as a whole was basically we witness the start of his Superman’s career, and then he just leaves, in search of Brainiac and the Bottled City of Kandor, all it did was reaffirm that this was a very disjointed story, and a rather confusing third act to the series.
This may be called “Year One”, but it really serves as nothing more than another origin story, and my thoughts on the project as a whole basically are, there is only so many times and ways that you can keep telling the same story over and over, and Miller really offered very little with original concepts and storytelling. The line on whether this is just a vanity project, or whether we fans just tire of so many retellings of the origin story is very blurry. I felt that this series really only served as a vessel for Frank Miller to tell HIS Superman story, an “offering” to Superman fans, and his devout fan base.
Art – 4: One of the biggest contentious points, I felt for my review of this series, was John Romita Jnr’s art, and the fact that I rated it so high. I know that there are some people that disagree with me about this, which is fine, everyone is allowed to have their own opinions, but I just want to reiterate the fact that, just because you don’t like someone’s art style, it does not mean that they cannot draw. That’s what I’ve read for years in the comments sections. “JR Jnr can’t draw” and I find this very irritating. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, the man is an industry veteran, whose career has spanned many decades, and has worked consistently through those years. If he couldn’t draw, or was as terrible as people say, he would not be where he is today. Yes his art is not as sharp as it has been over the years, but he still managed to tell a great visual tale in this series. And this book, featured some of his better work at DC since his pilgrimage from Marvel.
When we look at the sequential art, it definitely isn’t hard to follow the story at all. Just take a look at the rescue scene of Lois at the beginning, the panels may as well be storyboards for film, they are so tight and visually descriptive. Follow that with the scenes of Superman stopping criminals in Metropolis and then taking care of the hostage situation at Lex Corp, the man knows how to frame action.
This is why I rate Romita Jnr’s art above the rest of everyone that seems to pick on his character designs/models and details. This sort of sequential art is no small feat, and is done extremely well. The visuals are so easy to follow, without reading the words, you can still get the full gist of what’s going on. In fact in ignoring Miller’s words, and reading the pictures makes for a better story in places.
Another aspect that spoke to me was the two splash pages, the first of Superman flying, with the lightning behind him. This most certainly seemed like a nod to “The Dark Knight Returns” cover, but almost the complete opposite, as Superman is not silhouetted, but fully visible and in all his glory. The second is the shot of Superman standing in the rain, as he meets Luthor for the first time. It’s a shot from behind Superman, but Romita manages to show so much attitude, without ever seeing Superman’s face, but only through his body language. I would absolutely love to own the original art of these two pages.
Moving on to Romita’s character work, his Lois is very attractive and sassy, and again Romita does wonders with the body language as well as the wardrobe and accessories he put her in, from the military cap and combat boots, to the office look. She may not have looked as attractive as what other artists have depicted her as, but he did capture her essence. The other Daily Planet staffers such as Jimmy and Perry didn’t look too far off model at all, though he did draw Jimmy rather on the youthful side, but his Perry was perfectly on point. Romita’s Lex had a rather unique look in his face, which differentiated him from a generic bald guy that could be mistaken for Professor Xavier. He also had an interesting take on Batman. I may not have cared too much in the way he drew the cowl, but he did have elements of the Golden Age and “Batman: Year One” in his suit. Wonder Woman sported her current look in the comics, and was disproportionate in some panels, which was disappointing, but the one character that I really loved his take on was the Joker. He seemed like a very subdued version than the one we are used to, but it gave him a more realistic tone and he looked less cartoony, even though Romita’s art style is very over styled in nature.
Romita also manages to have a firm handle on any action scenes, again, his sequentials in those panels and pages are great. Maybe they did lack some flair for the dramatic, but he still managed to convey what was required for the scene.
Now was Romita the right choice for this book? Yes. Could one of Miller’s other artist collaborators have done a better job? Absolutely. However, we must recognize the talent and strengths that Romita bought to the project. It may not be as hyper detailed and kinetic as what Jim Lee, Ivan Reis or the like can bring to any project, and yes, facials and proportions were off in some panels, and the figures looked stiff and awkward, but Romita managed to tell a great story visually. I’ll go to my grave saying that Romita made a masterpiece with Miller with “Daredevil: Man Without Fear”, and I know that DC editorial tried to recapture that magic here, and may have sadly fallen a little short, but it was a good visual narrative regardless. I just hope that people can learn to appreciate an artist’s strengths, and not focus on just their weaknesses.
Danny Miki’s inks have been astonishing. I have to give credit where its due, and his inks may have been a saving grace for Romita in a few instances. Miki is a master at inking, and enhances most of the talent he works with, so we can only wonder what a different artist would have accomplished with this book, with Miki inking him.
Alex Sinclair’s may as well be the Jim Lee of colorists in the industry. The man is a legend, and manages to bring each and every page to life. I did wonder, what the art would have looked like, had someone else colored the book, setting a different tone, but the results would have been so technicolor without him, I’m sure.
Cover Art – 3: As much as I will point out the good in Romita Jnr’s art, this cover composition doesn’t quite speak to me as I would have liked it to. We have kind of seen this image before by other artists, but Romita doesn’t manage to land it like I know he could have. One of his New 52 Superman covers, that shows him lifting debris with one hand, was a much better image.
Variant Cover Art – 4: I like this cover a little better, maybe because it’s a good Frank Miller image, but maybe also, it’s rather striking. Though we didn’t need Batman or Wonder Woman to sell us on a Superman book, Miller did a decent job with the cover. His art is not as polished as it used to be, but this one’s not bad.
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