Superman Year One: Frank Miller’s Disjointed Mess
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Superman Year One: Frank Miller’s Disjointed Mess

September 2, 2019


This story may read better once it’s available
in its entirety. But Superman Year
One Book One falls far short of creating an exciting new origin for the world’s
most iconic superhero. DC Black Label finally moves away from the
most popular character in comics today, Batman, to focus on its most iconic. Batman: Damned features stunning art
and lackluster story in my opinion. Batman: Last Knight on Earth is an
achievement in both art and story craft. Frank Miller and John Romita Jr. finally
deliver Superman to the Black Label fold. To very uneven results. The one consistent letdown the entire book
is a near schizophrenic narration. Sometimes it appears a third party is recounting
the tale. At others it’s from Clark
directly. It’s also difficult to keep up with which
father is influencing Clark’s understanding of humanity and his place in
it. It honestly feels like a rough draft
that DC editorial greenlit because they had better things to do than help craft the
best story possible. The book is in desperate need of a quality
editor to focus the narrative. It all leads to a very unsatisfying origin
that leaves much to be desired. I think it’s time to acknowledge Frank Miller
just isn’t a writer that will ever suit Superman and his virtuous character. Miller has had several attempts to create
his own definitive Superman story with mostly divisive results. It doesn’t help that
Mark Millar already created an alternate origin with very dark implications. It’s a
very tall order to outdo Red Son in terms of originality or quality for an Elseworlds
take on the character. Superman: Year One isn’t a disaster by any
means but falls woefully short of quality storytelling. It does little but disappoint me as a fan
of both Frank Miller and Superman. The book inexplicably recounts the destruction
of Krypton without adding much of anything to the story. After a while it gets very tiresome having
the same story retold over and over. Kal-El’s escape from a dying Krypton is one
of the best known modern origin stories in the world. John Romita Jr.’s art is really good on
this book but the look on Jor-El’s face in the beginning resembles mania much
more than fear. In general the art is a bit off at the beginning
of the story but gets much better when Clark enters high school. The inks from Danny Miki are
particularly good and elevate Romita’s art. When Jonathan Kent discovers Kal-El wrapped
in a shroud from Krypton he looks rather creepy to me. It’s almost hard to imagine Pa Kent having
the stones to approach this baby to begin with. This is also where the origin starts coming
off the rails. The Kryptonian baby probes his mind and decides
Jonathan Kent is fit to raise him. The baby uses telepathic influence to make
Kent decide to take him home. Adopting Clark is not an act of a love by
the Kent’s in this new origin. This
fundamentally changes the role the Kent’s play in his upbringing and ultimately
his moral code. When Clark is depicted as a toddler his look
remains very strange. His head
appears to be twice as large in comparison to his body as it should. He also has a
very distant non-emotional look on his face. Clark setting fire to the kitchen using
his eyes because he can’t speak is actually really clever storytelling. His adoptive
parents are fully aware Clark is filled with powers they can’t understand. It’s
demonstrated very well in multiple instances. The depiction of his adolescence is
easily the strongest storytelling of Superman: Year One Book One. The art stabilizes as Clark gets ready to
enter high school and the story falls apart for me. This Clark is far from humble. As he enters town he believes people are
celebrating his arrival for his first day of school. He doesn’t appear to have many
of the morals passed on to him from his adoptive parents readers are used to. But
it’s never explained why. What changed (other than the baby telepathically
influencing Jonathan Kent) that he wasn’t prepared for high school this go
around? This new Clark Kent is void of most of his
small town charm and likability. He’s not evil or anything but something more
significant about his upbringing needed to change for the character to change
this much from the original stories. Clark falls in with a crew of outsiders called
the Weirdo’s at school. He quickly
develops a reputation for standing up to bullies, mostly physically. Although he
tries to tell his new friends how to fend them off with whit here. Funny enough he
never actually does this himself. His friends also seem to learn about his
invulnerability very quickly. Clark is not especially adept at hiding his
powers from the start. The local gang of bullies are led by a racist
named Markham. Clark asks his friends
if they’ve had anymore issues from him. Not since Clark used his powers to tape
him up naked in the girl’s locker room. Superman taping up boys naked in school
is honestly pretty disgusting. Not the way a virtuous hero uses his abilities. Not
the way his parents taught him to use his powers at all. This all feels like what the
writer would do if he had powers in high school. But I don’t want to read about
the actions Frank Miller would take. I want to read about Clark Kent Superman,
and this just isn’t it. And it gets a lot worse. The actions of the bullies continue to escalate
and Clark asks his adoptive parents for help. The characterization of Clark is really off
this entire issue but so are Ma and Pa Kent. They speak like bumpkins for the most part. I understand city folk
probably think less of people from the country but it’s really off putting just how
dumb Frank makes the Kent’s sound. He also makes Martha Kent extremely
milquetoast and void of any life or personality for the most part. Jonathan Kent
isn’t treated much better. Pa Kent knows Clark has power and could kill
his classmates easily but still advises him to
“flatten them” if talking doesn’t work. At
this point in the story the worst the bullies have done is egg his friends. Not
exactly life and death stuff but his parents never help him understand he must be
careful with his powers. During a later encounter with the bullies
we learn that Jor-El provides him with these lessons. Jor-El describes humans as “dull and horribly
slow”, “weak and terribly, terribly fragile”, “their bones
snap like twigs” “everything the bones try to
protect is jelly.” He told him to “never lose your temper. They break too easily.” Clark learning about the physical differences
between him and humans from his Kryptonian father rather than his human father
is backwards. He sees humans as
weak bags of jelly and pities them rather than seeing himself as exceptionally
powerful. I honestly don’t know what Miller is going
for but it doesn’t work for the character in my opinion. This isn’t Superman’s origin. Clark is convinced everyone from the faculty,
the parents to the students are all scared to death of Markham and his bullies. Clark and Lana Lang plan to meet up
and deliver photo evidence to the police and put a stop to it. The bullies get wind
of it and trick her into going outside. They take the photos and decide to gang
rape her to teach Lana a lesson. This is way too far for a Superman comic in
my opinion. Plus the bullies have gone from egging and
roughing up his friends to rape in very short order. Thankfully Clark intervenes but this feels
so out of place and just here for shock factor. I definitely wish I stopped reading the story
earlier when I could tell it wasn’t for me. Clark uses the situation to flirt with Lana
and fly away with her in plain sight. At this point he just uses all his powers
in view of anyone and there isn’t a single repercussion. People literally sit on their porches and
watch Clark as he flies in the sky. He speed reads in school to impress his girlfriend. Nothing happens, just normal
behavior. He drags an entire football team with him
for the winning score and everyone is ecstatic. Never questioning how this is humanly possible. I’m not sure
what planet this is but it doesn’t feel like Earth at all. The government would have
found about this behavior and he would be hunted down, studied and exposed as
an alien lifeform. He’s no longer living as a human. While throwing some hay bales Clark tells
Pa Kent that he’s joining the Navy. I
can’t imagine anything more out of left field. They tell his Ma and she’s
heartbroken. Both his parents know he’s indestructible. Why are they worried
he’s gonna get hurt? Anyway to end the book he boards the bus for
boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois. These next images aren’t in this book. They’re from the next
issue. Superman Clark Kent is going to become a Navy
Seal. I can see some people
thinking this is exciting but to me this is absolutely stupid. Clark Kent could pass
Seal training without trying. This isn’t a test of his physical capability
or mental resiliency at all. I personally find this a complete waste of
time and won’t be venturing any further with Frank Miller to
discover his tainted Superman. If you’re
excited about this I’m happy for you but we’ll have to agree to disagree. This story may read better once it’s available
in its entirety. But Superman Year
One Book One falls far short of creating an exciting new origin for the world’s
most iconic superhero. The narration feels jumbled and unfinished. The art is
good and gets better as the story moves Clark out of adolescence. But doesn’t
feel like anything truly special. DC Black Label is supposed to be premium stories
from the best creators. Miller and Romita Jr.’s reputations seem to
fit Black Label but Superman: Year One never feels like a premium comic experience. I rate it 2.5 out of 5 overall. I
understand there are many Frank Miller fans that will give him a pass and this
might be a divisive review but this is substandard writing in my opinion. For those
who are happy to read a new Frank Miller book I’m glad you enjoy this. For those
who feel like Black Label just had its first swing and miss I feel you. Very little of
this book works for me either. Finally, I would like to invite you all to
tune into the Comics Aficionados right here on Thinking Critical YouTube this Saturday
at 10 am EST. Special guest Dylan from
The Real Comic Book Gamer YouTube channel will join my expert panel. We’ll be
discussing Frank Miller’s Superman Year One. As well as debate the best and
worst Superman writers, stories, eras and more. Hope to see you all there!

Only registered users can comment.

  1. +Thinking Critical Frank Miller maybe one of my favorite writer/artist but he hasn't really been doing much lately because from the looks of this book, it looks like he's still writing "Sin City"

  2. Even read as an Elseworlds this was a difficult read for me, I agree wholeheartedly Frank Miller was a great writer back in the day and I personally love a lot of his stuff but he's not the right fit for Superman. The whole Baby Superman Telepathically making the Kents adopt him was just so stupid to me it almost made me want to stop reading sigh… well at least we still have All-Star Superman. Great review, as you said, hopefully as the more of the story is progressed through future issues it gets better but I'm not holding my breath.

  3. honestly in my opinion i thought this year 1 by frank miller for Superman was okay at best but i do understand criticism but then again its frank miller this could still go off the rails real quick for part 2, but that's just my opinion.

  4. I knew this wasn’t going to be very good, Miller never could do Superman justice. Not even when he was at his best in the late 1980s.

    I don’t understand why this trend of out-of-place characterization and deconstruction is such a thing. With the state that Bendis has Superman in right now, why on Earth would they place Miller on Superman?? They’re going to need Miller on Batman soon enough – he’ll need to fix him again, like he did with the Dark Knight Returns in 1986.

  5. When this project was announced, I was pretty sceptical about Miller's current capacity to make a coherent take on such an iconic character, & you just confirmed my doubts. The last Miller written book I tried to read was All Star Batman, & it was so abysmally badly written even Jim Lee's art couldn't save it for me, I dropped it after 3 or 4 issues.
    I.M.O, the best Miller stories were at Marvel, all his Daredevil stuff, sooo long ago!!
    My favorite Superman stories : the John Byrne era, Grant Morrison's All Star Superman with incredible art by Frank Quitely, Mark Millar's issues of the animated Superman + Red Son, & Superman for All Seasons (J. Loeb & T. Sale).

  6. Plus the article at the military times said that he's gonna go to Capt. Mast at some point. That only happens if you do something pretty bad. And the captain or admrial has to take care of a surly enlisted. Not for me. Sorry Mr. Millar. I like my hope filled supes.

  7. One of my favourite Superman images is from Dark Knight Returns, that one splash page of Superman holding up a tank. While the art itself was far from perfect, conceptually and computationally it was amazing. Superman looks strong, he looks bold, he looks heroic, he looks epic. In a one image, Frank Miller managed to get across a lot about Superman as a character.

    And now we have one of the worst Superman comics from the same person.

  8. This book goes down as a huge disappointment. This was legitimately the first big-time comic book DC has tried to put out and it failed. Still, give me this book over the safe conformist work of Snyder or Gordon Murphy. Miller is at least trying whereas the modern writer has given up by starting. Miller is frankly just past his prime-it's a misguided and poorly executed book. I really don't want to read Superman starring in Archie comics drawn by JRJR(JRJR drawing kids is very disturbing-they all look like bobbleheads).

    I don't mind a new take on Clark but this, as you noted, just defies logic. He's essentially a cornpone Mary Sue-the worst caricature of Superman. And like you said-there is no reason for him to join the Seals..why would he? He has to act weaker than he is to pass, this isn't a test it's playacting. Black Label by attempting to promote the top talent in comics has actually exposed comics for what they are now-silly shallow liberals(Snyder, Murphy, Azzarrello) and past their prime greats(Miller).

  9. Don't let Miller write Superman, just don't. This is the origin of DKR Superman. as Superman fans, why we need to read this book? It was Batman who was the hero in that book. Why we need to see the origin of that government shill?

  10. I really enjoyed it. I think they took the edge off by removing a rape scene on Lana Lang but it was good Art and I liked the story. It seemed to be the constant conflict of his two father's influence on him.

    It showed that he wants to "solve" the bully problem, knowing as an outsider he could, but was told to stay clear or have his friend's targeted further. The telepathic influence was the only thing I did not understand.

    Well, different strokes I guess. Hopefully it gets better for you if you read issue #2. I thought the military aspect they were leading up to may have been interesting to you.

    I really think Frank Miller wrote a rape scene and then they overwrote it. With that rape scene gone it is just a slightly different retelling of the origin. I feel attached to this because I felt like this going through highschool. No a Superman but someone who stood up to bullies and was always an outsider having an Iranian father that seemed to anger most kids in the early 80s.

  11. I loved the art but the story was soooo slow, and Frank kept writing everything in terse hard-boiled detective speak which didn't blend at all with the character. He should stick to Batman and Sin City.

  12. I refuse to spend any money on Frank Miller's modern books: he has lost his damn mind. He's probably gonna turn Clark into an ultra authoritarian militaristic asshole like he was in The Dark Knight Returns

  13. Gave it a try and was really disappointed. They could have did anything they wanted and this is what they came up with?

  14. I think the best retelling of Superman's/Kal-el's/Clark's story was done by Max Landis in Superman: American Alien. Also I really enjoy rereading Kurt Busiek's Secret Identity. So while it isn't easy to write something new about Our Hero, it isn't impossible, either. Lucky for us!

  15. How did the Navy cut Clark's hair? At 9:36 we see he has, I think, a buzz cut (no curl over his forehead, drat). You've thought in another video that Bendis needs an editor. I think that Miller needs one, too, who will ask the questions we out here are asking.

  16. “Feels like a draft of a story that DC editorial greenlit because they had better things to do”
    I can only assume gallons of acid or a mountain of cocaine

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