Superman: Year One #1 (DC Comics)
It seems like every few years we get another take on the Man of Steel’s origin. Sometimes it’s a part of an ongoing story line, other times it’s a passion project. But I can’t think of a Superman origin story this high a pedigree on the creative side: Frank Miller and John Romita Jr. A new spin on the early days of Superman, Superman: Year One is a brand new installment of DC’s Black Label line of titles. For a tale that’s been told hundreds of thousands of times, every time a new Superman origin is told it has to have a new twist on the story of Kal-El’s arrival on Earth. It’s just too bad that Miller and Romita’s isn’t that interesting.
Retelling Clark Kent’s life from his birth up until high school graduation, Year One covers a lot of the same ground that many previous origins of the Man of Steel have. In fact, it covers so much of that same ground that I found myself skimming the pages of this book unintentionally, which is not a great sign for a prestige title like this. Miller spends too many pages meandering on strange aspects of Superman’s upbringing, and while he probably thinks it’s a good piece of character work, it ends up just feeling like a lot of wheel-spinning on Miller’s part.
Not only does the plot meander, but Miller’s characterizations of major Superman characters tend to fall flat as well. Jonathan Kent basically exists to dispense wisdom to Clark, and Martha is pretty much nonexistent, played more as a dutiful housewife who has no scenes with Clark. She’s not even with Jonathan when Clark is discovered in the space craft, a narrative choice that stands as the oddest one in a book filled with weird decisions (like Clark enlisting in the Navy after high school).
On the art side of things, John Romita Jr’s pages are what you’d expect, so whether you’ll enjoy his art or hate it is entirely up to whether or not you appreciate his work in the first place. There’s nothing here to really make your jaw drop, because again, there’s not a lot of action in the book to begin with. As the book progresses and the plot picks up that will probably change, but right now this isn’t the bombastic story that DC is hyping it up as.
A lot of Miller’s work at DC ends up being revealed as being a part of his “Dark Knight Returns” universe, and if that becomes the case with Year One it might explain some of the narrative choices here. But as of right now it doesn’t make a lot of sense to tell Superman’s origin again. It honestly feels more like DC’s just letting Frank Miller do whatever he wants to ride out his exclusive contract with him. If you’re going to bother telling this story another time, you better have a good reason for it, and unfortunately it doesn’t seem like Miller and Romita, Jr do.