The bloated, bland, Superman-less "Black Label Superman: Year One"
Story: Frank Miller and John Romita, Jr., Pencils: John Romita, Jr., Inking: Danny Miki, Letters: John Workman, Colors: Alex Sinclair, Cover Art: Romita, Jr. & Miki
At first, when I heard about an upcoming series from Frank Miller titled Superman: Year One, I expected it would be following in the footsteps of Miller & Mazzucchelli’s legendary and similarly titled Batman: Year One, stories that explored the early years of a hero's career, and are considered canon. DC’s Black Label books are not. They are “imaginary” or “Elseworlds” stories that take place outside of DC continuity and are aimed at mature audiences, so I consider DC’s decision to brand Miller’s Black Label series as “Year One” to be intrusive, confusing, and deceiving.
While I know it would have been difficult (but not impossible) to market a comic titled Superman: Year One without having Superman appear on the cover in costume, but DC did so, despite that fact that he does not appear inside this overly-long 67-page first issue. The only glimpse we see is a flash of red, as Ma Kent sneaks a colorful bundle into Clark’s backpack at the end of Part I.
Miller literally starts over from the beginning to tell his alt-uni Year One tale, on Krypton, in scenes through the eyes of, and curiously narrated by, the toddler Kal-El. Jonathan Kent finds him after he lands in Kansas, who brings him home to Martha, who amazingly and immediately accepts his tall tale of the child falling to earth in a rocket. “Jonathan, stop telling stories! Where did this poor child really come from?” would have been a much more believable response. People on this alt-Earth must be really gullible. Miller's version of Martha will not win many fans over; she is unlike any Martha we have seen before.
The alien child is immediately portrayed (visually and in his own continuous narration) as knowing he is a superior being to these earthlings, manipulative, intolerant, and mean-spirited at times. He has little patience for others, especially when he begins school, and sees the effect the out-of-control bullies have on his friends, the school, and the town.
Will Clark be able to resist the temptation to use his abilities, as his Pa constantly cautions him not to do? Some things are constant in any universe, it seems, and Pa Kent’s positive outlook and guidance continues in this reality. However, here, his influence seems to be the only thing preventing Clark from becoming the cruel, vindictive character portrayed in the recent Superman-inspired horror film Brightburn. I hope that is not where Miller is going with this story; that would be a shame and show the ultimate disrespect for this character, and Miller has often shown Superman in a less than favorable light in stories he has written to date.
I will give Miller credit (and perhaps Romita, Jr. too, since he shares story credit) for including a lot of good-natured humor to balance all the darkness in the story so far.
An art note about Romita, Jr.: I haven’t always been a fan, especially lately. His work has been becoming a caricature of itself, with overly large heads on bodies, and increasingly longer noses and chins on his faces. But here, he has been gifted with a very talented inker in Danny Miki, who makes any penciler he inks look much more solid in every way. He makes Romita, Jr.’s art look 20 years younger. I was pleasantly surprised and had no complaints.
I also enjoyed the long sequences about the Clark-Lana love story, another constant in this reality. Their story was touching and romantic; but again, an Earthling seemed awfully quick to accept and not be fearful of Clark’s superhuman abilities.
The end of Part I shows Clark making a surprise decision after high school graduation, something we have never seen him do in any other imaginary story.
The story and dialogue were G-rated so far, but considering how much more graphic and adult Miller’s stories and scripts have gotten over the last decade (see: All-Star Batman & Robin and The Dark Knight Strikes Again), I anticipate this Black Label series will become more adult-oriented. Buckle up, it is probably about to get a lot bumpier in the issues to come.