SUPERMAN: YEAR ONE By Frank Miller and John Romita Jr.
DC Comics, h/b, $29.99
Reviewed by Matthew Johns
This DC Black Label retelling of the early years of Kal-El of Krypton is a gorgeously bound and illustrated hardback that deserves a place on any DC fan’s shelf. While the exterior artwork of Superman lifting the Daily Planet globe is a delight to behold, it’s always worth removing the dust jacket from hardbacks to enjoy the actual hardcover, and this is no disappointment – emblazoned front and back with some fantastic cover art portraits of everyone’s favourite Kryptonite from the pens of Frank Miller and Alex Sinclair, they hint at the pleasures to be discovered within.
To comic book and movie fans, Frank Miller needs no introduction. Acclaimed director, writer, executive producer and more, he takes a new look at Superman’s origins and alongside Romita Jr’s excellent art brings him to life again through the pages of this superb graphic novel.
This Superman is drawn with a much lither figure than many of the recent, hulking comic book versions, and he shows his powers from very early – using psychic abilities as a baby to convince Jonathan and Martha Kent to take him home and raise him. As he grows through high school and learns to use and control his abilities, he falls in with the misfits and geeks, feeling powerless to stop them from being bullied without breaking his legendary moral code. It’s easy to imagine him turning into an evil version of himself here (similar to the recent movie Brightburn), but Miller keeps him on the straight and narrow (with a little help from the Kents). Graduating high school, he feels pulled to the ocean and enlists in the Navy as he wants to see more of the planet and work out how best he can help it, giving this Superman an almost Aquaman feel at times.
The young Clark Kent seems to give his heart away very easily – falling in love with Lana Lang, an Atlantean mer-princess called Lori, Lois Lane and Wonder Woman. Being a less seasoned Superman than many we have encountered before in print and on screen, his occasional naivety and wish to just do the right thing is well-depicted, with Lex Luthor’s scheming grip almost catching him as he tries to turn Superman and Batman against each other.
The artwork inside is brightly coloured and detailed, with panels flowing smoothly from left to right across the page in the usual fashion, with the occasional full-page spread for bigger scenes (a great example is Superman snatching a baby right from the hands of a kidnapper near the top of a skyscraper). The story combines everything from teenage angst and young love to action, thrilling adventure across land, undersea and of course up in the sky. Personally, I’d have liked to have seen the relationship between Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman explored further to see how these different versions would have interacted outside of their initial collaboration to defeat Lex Luthor, but that did not detract from my enjoyment of this work. If you’re new to the world of DC Black Label, then this is a good starting point and the series is worth exploring further – I know I will be!