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‘Superman: Year One #1’ (review)

Written by Frank Miller
Illustrated by John Romita Jr.
Published by DC Comics

 

Frank Miller’s name boasts excellence in comic book storytelling.

Epic tales such as Sin City, Born Again (Daredevil) and The Dark Knight Returns have created controversy and redefined some of pop culture’s most iconic characters. .

Miller’s later works; The Dark Knight Strikes Again, All-Star Batman and Robin, and Holy Terror were the opposite of innovative, and praiseworthy.

Now, Miller and artist John Romita Jr. reunite to lend their creative talents to Superman: Year One in the latest release of DC Comics’ Black Label imprint.

Hearing “Year One” makes any comic book fan hearken back to the critically acclaimed Batman title of the same name. Miller himself even stated his new take on Superman ties in with The Dark Knight Universe and Batman Year One.

The book opens with the mandatory destruction of Krypton sequence. The narrative adds nothing new here. Romita, however, brilliantly allows the reader to experience the moment from baby Kal-El’s perspective. Eventually, Kal-El’s reflection in the cockpit window emerges, adding depth to his long journey through the stars.

Clark’s conflict with high school bullies established his sense of truth and justice. Despite being able to flick people a mile, he can keep his anger in check while righting wrongs because no one else will. This is one of the stronger narrative elements because it is easy to understand why he eventually becomes a superhero.

The teenage romance between Clark Kent and Lana Lang was a bit of a surprise because of how well it was conveyed on the printed page. Their shared interests eventually align, and deep admiration and love emerges, which was handled in a rather mature fashion. Clark reveals his secret to Lana without thinking twice because it needed to be done. It spoke how much he values life but also and in hindsight, why Lana is perfect for him.

The conclusion takes Clark on an unexpected path of military enlistment. This plot point has the potential to build upon the fiber of Miller’s Superman in a more engaging manner.

The artwork of John Romita Jr. is the standout attraction here. Excellent character work, landscapes, and body language are exhibited well in all aspects. However, it is the coloring of Alex Sinclair that arguments Romita’s presentation. All of the color choices were vastly appropriate for the moments on display. The colorist often doesn’t get enough love, but Sinclair’s work is an example of why they should.

It’s not all roses, though.

There are a lot of story elements that didn’t work. The Kent’s discovery of a particular baby inside of a rocket ship brought about some changes to this pivotal moment in Superman lore. While the alterations on their own weren’t a bad thing, the execution and payoff were severely lacking. There was no reason for the small changes, and it came off as an everyday occurrence as opposed to a touching moment.

The conflict concerning the bullies of Smallville High does wonders for Clark’s character development. While there is some bullying on display, the Keyser Söz-like fear the bullies held over the town, school administration, and police is never explained or shown. That could have made for an exciting development; it appears to have been sacrificed to keep a sharp focus on the titular character.

Those looking for any substantial connection to The Dark Knight Universe will be disappointed. There are a couple of things that MIGHT serve as a connective tissue towards Frank Miller’s work mentioned above. Also, it could just as easily be a coincidence. No matter which way the wind ends up blowing on this matter, the relationship between the two titles, in this outing, wasn’t worth the press it generated.

Miller’s quest for authentic and introspective dialog was a big swing and a miss.

The Midwestern Kansas twang was frustrating to read. It didn’t flow at all and often took me out of the story. Clark’s perspective changing inner dialog was equally as disappointing to consume. One minute it appears Clark is talking in the third person and then it shifts to first-person thoughts without rhyme or reason. At first, I thought it was someone else’s words, but they do belong to Clark, which is puzzling.

A quote from Marlon Brando’s Joe-El. ”They can be a great people, Kal-El; they wish to be.”

Replace the word people with a comic book, and you have my exact opinion of Superman: Year One. There is a great book, somewhere, among its sixty-four pages. Despite the things it does well, Frank Miller brings very little new to the table and those elements along with others don’t carry enough gravitas to matter. Besides, Clark and Lana’s relationship and the colorful illustrations, nothing is earned, which makes the sum more significant than the whole.

This is the first installment, however, and I hope Frank Miller’s expressed enthusiasm for the Man of Steel will pay dividends going forward.

Rating: C

 

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