Frank Miller is like the comic book equivalent of a stadium rock band, and this is a status he’s had for some time now. What I mean by this is that he is now at a stage in his career were he’s played the dives and dead beat bars, moved onto bigger venues, and is now king of the world who can put out pretty much any material and his fame is so large it simply cannot fail. No matter how bad it may be.
For me, Miller’s fall from grace came nearly twenty years ago now with the dreadful The Dark Knight Strikes Again (2001 – 2002) and, personally, he’s never ranched the dizzy heights he did when writing The Dark Knight Returns for DC Comics and Martha Washington Goes To War for Dark Horse. But, like a good devoted fan, I bought Superman Year One #1 out of interest, if nothing else, but didn’t really dig what I read. But then, I always have a problem with Miller’s depiction of Superman as little more than a lapdog for whichever President is sitting in the White House. For a good while I thought Miller had a problem with Kal-El and nothing in this book suggests he doesn’t, even some two decades later.
There are writers that simply ‘get’ Superman. He’s not as easy to write as many assume, but what is often lost is Superman’s chameleon-like ability to change and reflect the era he finds himself in. Once a working class hero, and symbol of hope for the oppressed, willing to stick it to ‘the man’, over the year’s Superman has been more than just a symbol of ‘Truth, Justice and The American Way’, but only Miller treated him like a nuke on a leash. It’s not a very good look, but it seems DC are happy enough for him to have another pop at their trademark nonetheless. And, in presenting us with a Clark Kent who shuns college in favour of a life in the Navy, this at least goes some way to foreshadow the man he grew to become in The Dark Knight Returns we at least get some clue as to why he turned out the way he did, albeit he is redeemed in DKIII.
But, this isn’t even the biggest change Miller adds to this heavy-handed origin story. What’s worse is the suggestion that Clark Kent is telepathic, in some way, and uses this telepathy to manipulate Johnathan And Martha Kent. What?
It seems that in a desperate attempt to give the reader as different an origin as possible – even if to mean simply flipping what we know about Kent on its head (the laziest of narrative devices, surely?) – Miller is throwing everything at this story, which is pretty slow throughout this whole issue as it is, in an attempt to have us understand how this version of Superman grew to be the man he became. Yes, he stands up for the little guy, but almost without any thought for his own privacy. Who cares if people know it’s Clark Kent? Miller even has him playing a huge role in his school’s football team (a great example of simply reversing what we think we know about Superman to try and create some kind of controversy, I guess), singlehandedly winning victory for the team through – yup, you guessed it – using his superpowers. At least his dad has the decency to look annoyed, even if he does nothing, or say anything, to prevent his son’s participation. But then, this Jonathan Kent is not the Pa Kent we’ve known. Far more Christian and far more willing to let his son slug it out, rather than look for a peaceful solution, like his mother would have him do. It’s another unsubtle hint, rammed in with a crowbar, that explains Superman’s future development. Fight hard, but never question the higher order. I imagine, if push came to shove, this Pa Kent would vote Trump.
It seems that it’s left to the more peacefully-minded mother to foreshadow future events when she worries that her son, in joining the Navy will become nothing more than a government sanctioned ‘war machine’. But, even in this, she seems subservient to Jonathan. Its certainly Jonathan who Clark seem to be learning form the most. But then, Lana has to get saved by Clark later in the issue when thing ago all ‘Frank Miller’ for her when local bullies surround her with the implication they will go too far. Urgh.
But, at least the art’s something to look at as John Romita Jr. gives us a Smallville full of familiar names but unfamiliar faces. It’s a good look and a good idea to depict Clark’s friends and family differently. I like his Lana Lang, for example, who seems to be depicted as more confident, and far less mousey than ever before. But, its not enough to save this book, I’m afraid and, for the first time ever, I don’t think I’ll be buying any further issues of this series. Miller will continue to rock out the crowds, but what’s one more fan walking out of the stadium when he has so many others that stay to watch the encore? Year One? I’m Year Gone.
I think I’ve given Miller far too much of my good will to now see him bring down the hero I love, and one he clearly doesn’t. Miller’s Superman, for me, is the worst depiction of this all-American hero, just as it was back in 1986. I think I’ll stick with Brian Michael Bendis’ version. Now, there’s a writer that ‘gets’ Superman. So, why should I read one who doesn’t, right?
Superman Year One #1 is out now from DC Black Label.