Writer: Frank Miller
Artists: John Romita Jr. (penciller), Danny Miki (inker)
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: John Workman
Cover Artists: John Romita Jr., Danny Miki, Alex Sinclair
Editor: Mark Doyle (Note: I’m not completely sure if this is correct but I couldn’t find definitive information other than that he’s the head of Black Label)
Publisher: DC Comics
After the explosive debut of their Black Label imprint with last year’s Batman: Damned, DC is back with another creator-driven title in this week’s Superman: Year One, from the legendary minds of Frank Miller and John Romita Jr. Presenting itself as a new origin for the original Caped Crusader, is it worth the premium price point and expanded page count?
Honestly? I don’t think so.
My issue with Superman: Year One is that I don’t think it really makes a case for its own existence. It’s a perfectly fine read, coming from the minds of top-notch creators like Miller and Romita Jr., but do we really need a new Superman origin story in 2019? Especially since Superman is arguably the archetypal superhero (rivaled only by Batman and Spider-Man) whose beginnings are so deeply ingrained in the pop culture consciousness by this point that you’d have to do something pretty drastic to his origin to make it noteworthy (as much as I dislike Zack Snyder’s interpretation of the character, he at least made choices I can recognize as being different than the original vision). While Year One does add some new wrinkles to Superman’s origin (e.g. him joining the military, which has never been done?) I’m not sure they’re enough. The fact that it’s being released under the ostensibly esoteric Black Label banner (infamously of “Batman’s dick”) makes it more egregious that Year One is just fine.
Let’s not mince words; there are some creative decisions made here that are undeniably Frank Miller — arguably for the worse. For example, there’s a scene involving Lana Lang wherein she’s the victim of gang violence (and implied possible rape) that I really didn’t like being part of a Superman book. Even if Clark does manage to save the day before it gets too uncomfortable or graphic, it’s just the principle of the thing that irks me. I don’t mind “dark and edgy” takes on the Superman mythos as a whole (e.g. I actually liked Brightburn for what it was), but the reason why the Superman/Batman dichotomy works as well as it does is the inherent contrast between them. You could do a scene like that in a Batman comic if you really wanted, but it just feels tonally wrong for Superman, even if Miller is the one writing it.
John Romita Jr.’s art here is also just fine for me. It’s not bad in the sense that his work has never been bad, but it’s not the best I’ve seen from him either. The way he draws toddler Clark, for example, borders on uncanny valley unpleasantness; he almost looks like a creepy baby doll at times. Romita Jr. has never really been an artist I’ve especially liked in general (though I do love his and Miller’s Daredevil: The Man Without Fear), so I don’t want to sound disparaging of his long career in comics — it’s just that his art on this book is endemic of my overall apathy towards it.
I think a good counterpoint of what I’m getting at in explaining why Year One doesn’t work for me is Marvel’s recent Spider-Man: Life Story by Chip Zdarsky and Mark Bagley Jr. Spider-Man is easily the most singularly popular Marvel character — the closest thing they had to a Batman or Superman in terms of pop culture dominance before the Avengers films — and because of it, coming up with “new” ideas for him is a tall order. That’s why I’ve really been enjoying Life Story; it’s a genuinely new approach for the character that follows the life of Peter Parker in the Marvel Universe had he grown up in real-time and aged with the decades. The fact that Bagley Jr., a classic Spider-Man artist, is the one drawing it lends a uniquely old-school aesthetic to what’s otherwise a classic Spidey story, albeit with a post-modern twist under Zdarsky’s pen.
I’m not saying Superman: Year One needs to be exactly that, but blending the old guard (Bagley Jr.) with the new (Zdarsky) like that title does could’ve made for something a little more special. For a character who’s often (derisively) called boring by some readers, Superman is capable of so much experimentation! With creators like Frank Miller and John Romita Jr., Year One feels like a wasted opportunity more than anything.
Superman: Year One #1
- Frank Miller's voice remains distinct
- John Romita Jr.'s art is consistently his
- Some changes to Superman's origin aren't bad
- Lacks originality
- Doesn't bring anything especially interesting or "new" to the Superman mythos
- Doesn't feel like it belongs under the Black Label imprint