Before I say anything else, let me just put out that I have no idea what this comic is really about or what its goals are, other than a Supes origin story obviously. I’m reading this solely out of an unavoidable urge to read and review a comic book I have already pre-judged to be garbage. Year One is a new series written by Frank Miller. I really do not like Frank Miller. I only kind of like his older work, and I really don’t like his newer work. His art specifically is criminally bad, and shouldn’t be allowed to be published by anyone with a functioning brain. His writing may have some redeemable qualities but I simply haven’t been impressed with anything he’s done in a long time. But wait, turns out Frank Miller isn’t doing the art for this comic book. Maybe the dream isn’t completely dead. Who better than John Romita Jr. to helm the art on this crazy new Frank Miller comic!? Seriously, if you asked me: “Anthony, if there’s one artist who could compete with Miller’s trash tier art style who would it be?” Well, I’d answer almost immediately James Romita Jr.. Which sicko at DC decided to pair these two together? These are 2 of my least favorite people in the comic book industry today, so what better than to read and review their new comic book about my favorite Superhero? I genuinely find most comic books I read to be at least passable. Some outliers exist here and there but come on. Read my reviews. I’m most often giving comics glowing scores and mentioning why some of the less than great things are balanced by the good. I’m not sure I can deliver that here. There’s a major uphill battle, and I’m not all that interested in winning it, so this comic has a lot to prove. Let’s jump in.
Superman Year One has a lot of storytelling in it, and it’s a very long comic at that. I don’t want to go into heavy detail, so we’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum. First off, this first issue doesn’t really follow the logical “Year One” branding. #1 follows Clark through the first 18 years of his life, from Krypton exploding to his high school graduation and a little beyond. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, I think they’re just a little trapped by the Year One labeling which is well known within the DC Comic world. I’m glad Frank Miller decided to not take that labeling too literally, and write the story he wanted to write. The comic is told in a somewhat strange third person classic storytelling type of way. It sometimes feels like a poem or a nursery rhyme like Twas the Night Before Christmas. Also, thoughts and feelings are accessed by the narrator on an individual character basis depending on the situation. The omnipotence of the narration only follows one character at a time which is a little strange. It’s a little hard to explain unless you’ve read the style he’s writing in. This style is particularly strange in the first 1/4th of the comic or so when it focuses on baby Clark Kent. The narration begins very simply and babyish with few words as Clark is learning and absorbing his surroundings with his adoptive family. This narration evolves and grows with Clark as he becomes older, even though the narration doesn’t solely take place within Clark’s mind. It’s very weird but it’s an interesting enough style.
The beginning chunk of Year One follows Clark through the first few years of his life as he slowly comes into his own. His adoptive parents can only look on as baby Clark sets the house on fire with his heat vision because his food is too hot, or runs way too fast in front of them, or jumps way too far away from them. It’s fun to see this much younger Superman utilizing his powers. Most origins have Clark developing this stuff much later on. Seeing a baby with god tier strength and super powered reactions to his emotions is pretty clever, and Miller keeps it from being over the top.
The bulk of the comic focuses on Clark’s high school life. While he’s learned from a young age just how powerful he is, and how careful he needs to be in his everyday life, the high school drama he faces pushes his limits in ways he hasn’t before. So begins an internal struggle with how to properly utilize his powers. A gang of bullies practically run the school, and as they become more and more bold with their antics, Clark becomes more and more unsure how to properly handle the situation. He could easily annihilate these people pretty much by looking in their general direction, but obviously that’s not the Clark Kent thing to do. That’s what makes this character so endearing to me. These conflicts exist to form Clark Kent into Superman. It’s what Zach Snyder tried to show in Man of Steel and it’s what Miller is trying to show here. Superman is overpowered as all Hell. When pushing someone down could literally kill them without much effort Clark has to learn to put serious limitations on himself both physically and emotionally, and I think Miller does a really admirable job showing this aspect of Clark both in these high school situations and throughout the entire comic.
By the time Clark graduates high school he’s ready to see the world. As his father has encouraged him throughout the comic book to use his powers for the sake of humankind, (a little pointedly at times, perhaps in direct contrast to Snyder’s take on Clark’s dad in Man of Steel) Clark heeds his advice in his own way and enlists himself in the Navy as an attempt to see the oceans of Earth, step one of his master plan to “know his planet”. Why can’t he supersonic fly his way around the world and see the oceans? Well that’s just not emotional enough. We’re given some tear jerking goodbyes from his parents and his girlfriend Lana that are kind of ruined by the weird narration style but well written nonetheless, and Clark begins his life changing journey away from home.
First and foremost, I think that this comic from a story only perspective is beautiful. I really really enjoyed the things that happened in this issue. I think executionally the comic has some faults, and I think specifically with dialogue there are some jarring moments. Additionally as always, Frank Miller’s weird political leanings and opinions rear their ugly head a bit here. I’m all for weird ideas and concepts I don’t really agree with in the content I consume, but it’s a bit too on the nose for me at times. I’ve said the same for things I do agree with. Again the narration style struggles to know exactly what it’s trying to convey at times, but I’ll stop rambling about that specific topic. To my own surprise, I think Miller wrote a really good story from beginning to end with this issue, and it’s by far the most redeeming quality.
The art is kind of difficult to give a clean review of as well. I can say confidently that this is the best Romita Jr. has to offer. Now, is that a compliment or not? I’m not really sure. When Romita isn’t drawing people I think his art is phenomenal. His backdrops and settings look so damn good. When Romita is drawing people they’re hard to look at. That being said, I think it’s easy to get used to in this comic specifically, and certainly not the worst I’ve seen from him. This comic did teach me that Romita can only draw one head size, as we constantly see young teenage Clark with a massive adult sized head on his skinny teenage body throughout the issue. That’s probably a little nitpicky, but my god in some shots it bothered me so badly. I’m stuck wondering what this comic book would have looked like with a different artist on the helm. While I think Romita’s style does cater best to this grainy country setting, I simply don’t like his art, even in this issue where it looks the best that I’ve seen.
While I’m going to reserve my judgments on issues to come in this series (I’m not sure how long it’s going to be), I think this comic book would hail as one of the best origin stories put to comics if it stopped right here and existed as a one off “first 18 years” kind of deal. Again, the story of this comic book is really good, but I’m afraid of where Miller is going to take it from here, and I’m even more afraid of how Romita is going to draw it from here. Year One #1 was slow and emotional and it didn’t care how long it took to tell you a story from beginning to end. It started great and ended beautifully. But alas, all good things must continue until they’re not good anymore. I adore Superman, but I’m just not sure I see myself continuing with this series. I’m simply satisfied with this, and maybe that’s not a bad thing. I’ll keep my eyes and ears open for issues to come, and if they’re praised as much as this one was I might have to read anyway. Props to Miller though. He gets a pass from me on this comic.
(4 / 5)