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Review – Superman: Year One #1 (DC Comics)

Superman Year One #1 (DC Comics) cover (detail) by Frank Miller
Up, Up, and Away with Superman: Year One #1
Overall
7/10
7/10
  • Writing - 6/10
    6/10
  • Art - 8/10
    8/10
  • Overall - 7/10
    7/10
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Summary

Writer: Frank Miller
Pencils: John Romita Jr.
Inks: Danny Miki
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Maturity Rating: Mature
Publisher: DC Black Label
Release Date: June 19, 2019

Two comic book legends, Frank Miller and John Romita Jr., reunite for Superman: Year One, offering a complete examination of the Man of Steel from birth, but does it bring anything new to light?

Up, Up, and Away with Superman: Year One #1

Riddle me this—what do a Beatles Anniversary box set, The Fast & The Furious film franchise, and a Superman origin story all have in common? Answer: they’re all so plentiful in number, variation, and edition that any subsequent addition, by definition, is made redundant. Enter comic book legends Frank Miller and John Romita Jr. with Superman: Year One #1. A “complete examination of Superman from birth” that should, if nothing else, solidify the thesis “if you don’t have anything new to say, don’t say it at all.”

Writing

Superman Year One #1 (DC Comics) cover by Danny Miki & John Romita Jr
Superman Year One #1 (DC Comics) cover by Danny Miki & John Romita Jr

The story begins amidst biblical chaos. There’s the familiar obligatory death depiction of the planet Krypton, as well as baby Kal-El as he’s placed in an escape-pod by his loving parents. As readers fast-forward through some very confusing Miller narration, the scene turns to Jonathan Kent finding baby Clark in his cornfield. He grows from a rambunctious (and bouncy) baby boy into a mild-mannered teenager still adjusting to his emerging powers. He fights bullies, he wins the football game, and he kisses Lana Lang. BOR-ing. This is literally everything we already know about the Superman mythos. When are we going to get to Year One?

Why is it even called Year One? It seems to deal with every aspect of Superman’s life other than the first inaugural year of him donning the red cape and blue tights. In a recent interview with DC, artist JRJ was quoted as saying “the periods of time we’re covering haven’t really been covered before, other than some tiny vignettes.” Are you kidding me? There is such a gargantuan supply of supplemental information regarding the early years and origins of Clark Kent it’s absurd. Comic books like Superman: BirthrightThe Man of Steel, Superman: Secret Origin, or my own personal favorite, Superman: American Alien go into these pockets of time and events in beautiful detail. 

“A complete examination of Superman from birth.”

What does happen as a result of Frank Miller and DC titling this book as “Year One” is that sales, no doubt, will be through the roof. Miller is once again harkening back to his legendary and unforgettable standalone Batman: Year One. A somewhat blatant attempt to perk the eyes and ears of the aging comic-reading populace, while at the same time repackage “something borrowed” as “something new” for the next generation to come. This is the comic book equivalent of the new Aladdin or Lion King reboots. It’s the epitome of a once-genius comic book writer who has seemingly nothing original left to say. 

Art

There are few artists out there in the comic book world who have a greater polar divide than John Romita Jr. It sounds cliche to say it, but you either love or hate the guy. Historically, I’ve leaned toward the latter side of the argument. Talented as he is, he’s an artist I’ve always struggled to come to terms with. Hence any examination of his work carries with it that inherent bias. But even someone as opposed as I am has to give credit where credit is due. 

The artwork, while still bursting with all those subtle nuances I tend to disdain, does have its moments of true beauty. Particularly the panels where John finds Clark for the first time. One of JRJ’s strengths is capturing the emotion of his characters, specifically through their facial features. It’s one of the constants throughout the book that reinforces the relationship the characters have with the reader. 

What truly breathes life into this book, however, is the inking of Danny Miki and the eye-gasmic color palette of Alex Sinclair. With absolute certainty, Superman: Year One #1 may be one of the best-colored books of 2019. Sinclair adds a crucial underlying dynamic; his color array is unquestionably one of the most enjoyable aspects of the project. It’s this kind of work that highlights the difference and impact a great colorist can make. 

Conclusion

When the word first broke that Frank Miller would be writing a Superman book, I, of course, was excited. That it was to be published on DC Black Label, again, I was excited. “Year One”. That’s what gave me pause. Frank Miller has fallen into a very familiar pattern these past few years of rehashing past glories, with a mixed response. In fact, his only major DC releases over nearly five years have been The Dark Knight III: The Master Race and The Dark Knight: Last Crusade.

Miller is definitely one to “stay in his own lane”. But with Superman: Year One #1 it’s to the point of him whitewashing the contributions of others who came before and simply signing his own name in their stead. There’s nothing new, nothing we haven’t seen or haven’t already been told at least a dozen times over. I read this issue because of the names on the cover. I won’t be repeating that behavior. 


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Jordan Claes

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