Superman: Year One (2019)
Written by Frank Miller
Art by John Romita, Jr.
I can’t think of many comic book talents who have undergone such a massive in public sentiment in recent years than Frank Miller. Once beloved by the community for his Daredevil, Batman, and Dark Horse work, things changed in the wake of 9/11. Miller sunk into a mire of Islamophobia, giving rants to interviewers about his views on the religion, which was based purely on the 9/11 attacks. He even went as far as to propose Batman: Holy Terror, which would have had the Dark Knight going to Afghanistan to kill Al-Qaeda. DC smartly chose to pass on the project. Miller took the idea to Dark Horse, where he dropped the Batman part and made it about a thinly veiled version of the hero. In that same year, he ranted about Occupy Wall Street, calling them “louts, thieves, and rapists.” In 2018, he walked back from those comments saying he “wasn’t thinking clearly.”
I’m not sure exactly what was going on with Miller, but I’ve never been a massive fan of his work. I appreciate things like The Dark Knight Returns, but I just don’t enjoy it that much. His Batman: Year One arc is probably my favorite Frank Miller story. That came to us way back in 1986 and did a great job of rebooting Batman for the post-Crisis universe. It still stands as a work that filmmakers reference when making Batman media. When it was announced that Miller would be doing a Year One mini-series for Superman, I was a bit surprised. His work for the last fifteen years has been, well, not good. The sequels to the Dark Knight are confusing messes, and his All-Star Batman & Robin is embarrassingly comedic.
The first thing you come away from Superman: Year One feeling is that this is a bizarre comic book. From the beginning of the three issues, Miller is clear he’s doing something very different with Superman. The book was published under DC’s Black Label imprint, which means all of this is out of continuity. This makes the story different from Batman: Year One, which proved to be a core piece of the mythos. In this Superman story, he comes to Earth in what is likely the 1990s, having him grow up in that decade to be an adult in the 2000s.
Miller implies that baby Superman used his mental abilities to influence the Kents into taking him in, a strange twist. There’s a deep level of intelligence to this Superman, and he has a group of misfit friends that he defends from the school’s bullies. That makes up the majority of the first part, the second chapter has Clark Kent joining the Marines. You might think this would be a tale about Superman forging his point of view about “the American Way.” Nope. Miller reaches deep into the bag and pulls out obscure love interest Lori Lemaris, a mermaid and has Superman leave the Marines to go live underwater in Atlantis. Eventually, he gets a brief glimpse of Lois Lane and abandons his true love in Lori. The final issue is a rushed narrative that is trying to get Superman to the starting blocks of being a hero and part of the Justice League that is incredibly unsatisfying.
When Miller first brings Atlantis and Lori into the narrative, I was excited. I was sort of digging how weird and off this whole project was. If it was going to be out of continuity, then they should go for broke. But about halfway through, I started to get bored with a story that didn’t really feel like it had direction. The final issue cemented that this was all an effort to kill time so they could get to the big debut moment of Superman to the public. Miller does play into the early Superman appearances, where he was a little sadistic and taunting. In trademark Miller-style, he goes too far with it and turns the Man of Steel into a raging asshole.
Miller also continues his mishandling of female characters he’s exhibited in recent years. Young Clark is madly in love with Lana Lang in issue one, basically promising to return when he’s done with training to be a Marine. Once Lori shows up, Lana is an afterthought. Lois pulls him out of the water and to Metropolis. Once he meets Wonder Woman, she’s suddenly being called his “Amazon queen.” The whole story feels unfocused and implies Miller didn’t know what would happen from issue to issue, just sort of feeling his way out as it went. That could have been fun if a different writer was on the job, instead what we have feels very lazy. I think he lost his steam in the middle.
I don’t really get why Miller decided to write this comic. It’s unclear what he wants to say about Superman that he hasn’t already noted in other work. Nothing that takes place in the book will have relevance outside these pages, so why not go for some big themes and ideas. I’m not sure if Miller plans a Year Two, there’s a lot left hanging at the conclusion. I also can’t figure out why Miller would want to write more when what he’s given us feels so bored & distant.