Superman: Year One #1 // Review
In 1987, writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli redefined Batman with their seminal Batman: Year One. Thirty-two years later, Miller, along with penciler John Romita Jr., follows it up with the first issue of his highly anticipated Superman: Year One from DC's Black Label imprint. The results are as disastrous as what happens to Krypton in its opening pages.
The first issue covers Clark Kent's childhood, from escaping the destruction of Krypton to finishing high school. The bulk of the issue focuses on Clark's dilemma over how to handle a gang of bullies at Smallville High—is violence the answer? Ma and Pa Kent give him conflicting advice on the topic, but after the attempted gang-rape of Lana Lang, Clark decides that yes, violence is indeed necessary, a lesson that is antithetical to most depictions of Superman, who uses violence as a last resort. After this moment, Clark—having "gotten" the girl—begins using his powers openly at school, speed-reading textbooks in the library and showboating at a football game, and faces no consequences for his actions. The issue ends with Clark inexplicably enlisting in the Navy.
Frank Miller follows his absolute worst instincts here and seems to actively dislike the very idea of Superman. There is a strong implication that baby Kal-El is telepathically manipulating Jonathan Kent into taking him home and adopting him. There is also a consistent running theme of how young Clark pities everyone around him because everything is so hard for them and they're so fragile. With a harrowing scene that could have been out of this summer's film Brightburn as baby Clark Kent first uses his heat vision because he's angry that Ma feeds him hot oatmeal instead of eggs and meat.
Miller's writing is overwrought, putting cliched country-isms into the mouths of Ma and Pa Kent (and everyone else in Smallville) like "Well don't that beat all" and "put your back into your work, you hear?" Clark at one point exclaims "Let me court you, Lana Lang" without a trace of irony, though the issue takes place in or close to the modern day. The narration's point of view is confusing, as it switches from the third person to the first person without warning, at times refers to Jor-El as "dad" and at others refers to Clark as "my son," and even slips into and out of the faux-country patois that infects much of the dialogue. It's a wonder this made it past an editor—then again, the issue does not feature creative credits beyond Miller and Romita's names on the cover, so it's possible that nobody edited it.
Miller's outdated views on gender are on display as well, beyond just the gratuitous gang rape attempt. At one point, the narration announces that "Girls gossip. Boys brag." Later, Pa Kent tells his son, "You can know a woman for a lifetime…but you can't never do much in the way of predicting her. And you're both better off if you don't try predicting."
Even more disappointing is that the art is simply gorgeous. Penciler John Romita Jr. is doing career-best work here, with his exaggerated depictions of Clark's friends contrasting with his gorgeously realistic cornfields and wheat fields and farmhouses. The coloring (again, there are no creator credits in the issue, though some research elsewhere credits Alex Sinclair) is beautiful, particularly in the football sequence. It's a shame to see such terrific art wasted on such terrible writing.
Not only does Miller appear not to understand Superman, and not only is the issue riddled with cliches, but the comic's biggest sin is that it's simply dull. This issue is 63 pages long, and it only gets us to Clark leaving home—the Daily Planet, Lois Lane, and the Superman costume are all left for future issues. In 2005, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely took one page—four panels and eight words—to tell Superman's origin. In 2019, it appears that Frank Miller needs three 63-page issues to do it, and to do it extremely badly.