SUPERMAN: YEAR ONE, is another entry into DC’s Black Label imprint. It’s written by industry veteran Frank Miller and illustrated by fellow veteran John Romita Jr. This reunites the two who previously worked on the miniseries, DAREDEVIL: THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR. Miller had already presented readers with the first-year experiences of Batman in 1987’s YEAR ONE and now it’s time for Miller to tackle the beginning career of the Man of Steel. How does he fare?
Book one opens with what any and every Superman origin must have, the destruction of the planet Krypton. However, we don’t spend much time there. We don’t get acquainted with a new version of Jor-El and Lara. Miller does give us baby Kal-El’s eyes to look through and Romita’s art gives us a beautiful panel of his eyes in darkness as he leaves his doomed Planet. Yet we don’t stay with the tragedy for too long as Kal-El lands in Smallville and into the lives of Jonathan and Martha Kent. From this point on, Smallville is the location for the rest of the story.
I think its obvious when it comes to this story, you must talk about Frank Miller. I know when this was announced there was much talk and skepticism of Miller handling Superman. One thing is certain since 2013’s Man of Steel, and that’s people are particular about their Last Son of Krypton. Well for starters, there is no Superman in book one of SUPERMAN: YEAR ONE. There is only Clark Kent. And it’s not too bad. We have a young man, aware of his growing abilities with two loving parents learning to navigate the world. In addition to Clark’s parents, we have Lana Lang, his high school sweetheart. Unfortunately, Miller does not devote much characterization to these 3 pillars of Clark’s developing years. With Lana there is a part of the story that draws upon a negative aspect of Miller’s writing. It’s a bit more restrained than he would have written this in the past, but still, it’s a part of his writing that he hasn’t let go. There is also a move that Clark makes at the end of the story that I’m curious about because it is not something, I think Clark would have done and I welcome the character choice. Yet you must wonder how Miller will handle it in the future. Now that I think about it, it may work if you’ve read The Dark Knight Returns. The bulk of the story deals with Clark handling some bullies who constantly mess with his friends, but the way it’s presented in the story makes it feel like it has a twinge of Gotham City in Smallville. Again, it’s Miller so I’m not surprised.
However, my biggest criticism of the story is that there’s nothing special about it. For the most part it feels much like a standard Superman origin. Even with the typical Miller missteps, there isn’t much here to either love or hate. The story moves at a pretty pace, but it’s all familiar territory. Perhaps he’s setting the stage for the stakes to be raised in book two, but I would say that it’s an ok read.
John Romita Jr’s art? Beautiful. His visualization of Smallville remind me of the Rockwell like art of Tim Sale’s art in SUPERMAN FOR ALL SEASONS. You see the sunset, the leaves fall, and you just feel like this is a serene place you should be. The colors by Alex Sinclair provide much vibrance even for scenes at night, as well as the destruction of Krypton. Although I will say that sometimes the faces can look a little too similar.
SUPERMAN: YEAR ONE is not the book you think it would be. It is not ALL-STAR BATMAN & ROBIN (Sadly, because that’s the most hilarious book I’ve read in a few years). It’s not unhinged Miller like one may fear. It has his trapping, but not to the degree we are accustomed to. The art is beautiful and vibrant, but the story is really nothing new except for what Miller sets up at the end that I assume we will see in book two. Since I can’t let a story go unfinished once I start it, and because this was cool to review, I will grab books two and three at release. Hopefully things pick up.
I’ll give the first part of SUPERMAN: YEAR ONE, a 6/10. Not as low as it could be, but not great as it could be.