Review – Superman: Year One #1: A Darker Smallville

Comic Books DC This Week
Superman: Year One cover, via DC Comics.

Superman: Year One – Frank Miller, Writer; John Romita Jr., Danny Miki, Inker; Alex Sinclair, Colorist


Ray – 2/10

Corrina: About Bullies….

Ray: A few years back, DC released Superman: American Alien, a retelling of the Superman origin story written by an awful individual now accused of multiple sex crimes and other forms of abuse. It featured such delightful additions to the Superman mythology as a full-term pregnant Martha Kent losing her baby in a horrible drunk-driving accident, a teenage Clark burning some meth-heads alive while trying to free Smallville of drugs, and Clark impersonating Bruce Wayne and having sex with a college-aged Cheetah. It is widely considered to be the worst Superman origin story of all time – until Frank Miller saw the challenge, yelled “Hold my Beer!” and dropped this third installment in the Black Label line. A 60-page jumbo comic with art by John Romita Jr., it looks exactly like what a Superman book should look like – but that’s the only good thing I can say about this complete mess of a comic.

Corrina: Any Superman origin story is going to inevitably be compared to past origin retellings, from Superman: Secret Identity to Superman: Birthright to the long-forgotten but very good Superman origin by Marv Wolfman and Claudio Castellini, Man and Superman.

Then there’s the awful Superman: American Alien. I still don’t know what possessed DC Comics to give Max Landis a prestige series but given the checkered history of the Superman editorial office (run by the now-fired for sexual harassment Eddie Berganza), it’s perhaps no surprise that American Alien was the basement dweller of Superman origins.

Until now?

But, I will note that it’s certainly more understandable that Miller and Romita Jr. would be given a prestige series than Landis. And yet, the Miller/Romita Jr. collaboration has issues. For every good point, there are two or three or four bad ones.

The end of Krypton. Via DC Comics.

Ray: The problems start early on, with a first-person perspective prelude told on Krypton, as a toddler Clark is swept up in the chaos of Krypton’s destruction and shepherded into the rocket. The idea of this story told through the eyes of a confused child is actually very good, but Miller is unable to turn off the oppressive narration. He casts Clark not as a confused child, but as a near-omniscient being that is fully aware of everything around him. When he’s found by Jonathan Kent, he almost seems to hypnotize the farmer with his superior intellect and make him take him in as his son.

Corrina: This oddly rewrites Kal-El as manipulative from the start, making his relationship with the kindly couple somewhat sinister. Why this had to happen, I have no idea. Superman has always been a wonderful adoption story. And now? It’s a darker tale of a preternaturally aware super-being hypnotizing people to care for him.

Ray: The characterization of Jonathan and Martha isn’t horrible, but Jonathan is a bit too flippant and Martha a bit too much of a scold. It feels like Miller is playing to stereotypes here, making the father the casual one and the mother the strict, cautioning one. The early segments dealing with Clark’s emerging powers are fine, but we’ve seen better and Clark’s eerie narration distracts from the story.

Corrina: Martha Kent certainly comes across as the wet blanket, with Jonathan the fun one. There’s little nuance in either of these characterizations.

Ray: The book really falls apart in the last half, though, as Clark enters high school. Miller has added to the Smallville mythos a trio of sadistic, racist bullies that terrorize Clark and his friends – particularly some original characters including a seemingly slow fat kid and several non-white boys. As the abuse escalates into extreme violence, the administration seems to not care. Lana Lang, Clark’s confidant and eventually girlfriend, tries to expose them, and that’s where Frank Miller’s worst instincts come in. An extended attempted gang rape segment of a teenage girl has no place in a mainstream DC book, even one officially labeled Black Label. People lost their minds over Batwang? How did this get past the editors?

Corrina: I guess maybe we should be grateful that Lana wasn’t actually raped? Because that seemed quite possible for a page or two. ::sigh:: Superman, of all characters, doesn’t need to be motivated by rape.

The idea of Clark not being able to stop bullies by brute force and must find other means to combat them is a good one. But the story stacks everything in favor of the bullies, including an administration that doesn’t care at all. That is sometimes the case in real life but it lacks depth here, as again, the adults in the story are never more than cardboard figures, so I can’t even tell why they don’t care about kids being terrorized or killed.

Ray: Other problems include the fact that Clark seems to casually expose his powers repeatedly to everyone in town, and a bizarre ending where Clark joins the Navy which only seems to exist so that Martha can deliver Miller’s own cynical views on the US military. I don’t know what superhero origin this is, but it’s no Superman I know.

Corrina: Joining the military seems an odd choice for Superman but it could be interesting. Yet the setup here with Martha, now the worst stereotype of the clinging mother, is terrible.

Overall? I see no reason why this story needed to be told, nor does it add anything interesting to the Superman mythos.

To find reviews of all the DC issues, visit DC This Week.

Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.

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