Earlier this year, DC Comics released a 100 page story by Marv Wolfman titled Man and Superman. It was fun, vibrant and full of life. Man and Superman was the kind of Superman story that largely gets overlooked in the overall need for dark and gritty storytelling. In my mind it was one of the best Superman retellings since Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman. Batman stories tend to be the best selling in the comic book marketplace, but Superman’s story is one of those universal ideas that should still have appeal. One of the strongest beings in the universe also just happens to be a small town kid who grew up in the middle of America’s heartland. The concept of “Truth, Justice and the American Way!” entrenches Clark Kent deep within American pop culture, and his role shouldn’t be ignored.
I suppose that is why when DC Comics was finally going to be releasing Superman: Year One by Frank Miller, people immediately had a terse reaction. Miller is well known, for better or worse, for his “dark and gritty” form of storytelling. Miller has had a bit of a deep conservative underpinning in his work, going as far back as his run with Daredevil. While stories like The Dark Knight Returns and Sin City have become touchstones within the comic book industry, Miller has also drawn ire with his unapologetic anti-Islam propaganda piece Holy Terror (2011).
So when I say that my new book, HOLY TERROR, is propaganda, I mean so in all the ways that the virtuous works of Thomas Paine practiced it, through to the ways that the current, shameless MSNBC practice it. I employ propaganda in HOLY TERROR as such. Without apology.
I’ve not read Holy Terror, in fact I was really just made aware of it the other day and its history originating as a Batman story. As I’ve stated before in a recent review, my return to comic book reading is a recent one as I had abandoned the hobby back in the mid nineties. I have a very deep blindspot to fill, so I try to make up for it where I can.
Which brings us to Superman: Year One, which was just released as their third original entry of their Black Label imprint. Storywise there is not much to tell yet. Miller is retelling the origins of Clark Kent, something that should be well known by now and is one of the great American myths, so I won’t rehash those particular details. The first issue covers the main beats of the story so far, with some differences that I’ll get into. Having discovered young Kal-El as he has crashed to Earth as a child, the Kent family must come to terms with what to do next. The story follows Clark as he tries to figure out how to deal with the bullies at his school. It is quite evident to everyone that Clark is different somehow, and while Clark finds friendship among the “weird kids”, the bullies take up to escalating their attacks. Clark doesn’t want to sit by and watch his friends get hurt, while taking care to make sure he doesn’t hurt anybody in the process. The issue comes to a close as Clark graduates high school and joins the Navy.
That last point is one that most people online seem to have taken the most issue with, Clark Kent joins the Navy? Of the reviews I’ve read online, there seems to be a preoccupation with Miller’s political viewpoint. In this political climate, I suppose that’s to be expected, but what I’ve found is that a lot of the criticisms so far have largely been unfair. Miller didn’t do himself any favors with the detached, somewhat emotionless narrator, but I think people are misinterpreting the narration as the words of Clark. He is being described as creepy and sociopathic in one review. Another describes this Clark Kent as one who is willing to dominate over people. This preoccupation with politics has created this need to deconstruct every moment to some sinister underpinning. For example, when Clark is at the dinner table discussing violence. Is he really justifying violence, or is he a kid talking about standing up to the bullies that are hurting his friends? Because there are bullies in a small town, does that mean that Smallville has become as dark as Gotham City? Perhaps it means that, hear me out, that small towns have bad people too. Do kids graduating from school not join the military? I ask these questions because the opinions I have seen in regards to Year One seem to have been decided before the pages had even been cracked. While this may not be the Clark Kent we have seen in other stories, perhaps this is the Clark Kent we’ll later see in Dark Knight Returns?
I know, perish the thought. Year One is clearly a hateful diatribe from some crazy right-winger. If Clark Kent is asking questions on how he should be doing the right thing, what he’s really saying is that he wants to be an authoritarian despot. That being said, Miller still hasn’t done himself any favors. One scene in particular has Kent’s high school love interest, Lana Lang, almost gang-raped by the town’s bullies. How Kent handles this and then taking Lang away in flight does seem fairly tone-deaf. If there is any legitimate complaint about the book thus far, that scene was not handled very well and doesn’t really belong.
The artwork was done by John Romita Jr. Romita is also a polarizing figure within the industry as well, with sort of a love him/hate him view of his artwork. My main complaint is that some of his facial expressions in Year One are frigging weird. I kind of like it, though, as his artwork adds a bit of a classic feeling to the story.
I want to reiterate that I’m probably not the best person to provide insight to the comic book world. I’m very much an outsider looking in, yet I do have my own personal stake pop culture as anybody else does. Superman: Year One does not reinvent the wheel, not even by a country mile. It is not nearly as offensive as others are portraying it, but it’s also a story that has been told a thousand times. This is much like the Batman’s origin story that I simply don’t really need to read or see it again. I enjoyed it, however the proof will really be within the subsequent issues to see how Year One really plays out. Given the players involved, anything goes. By the time this mini series plays out, maybe I’ll end up hating Miller as much as everybody else does. Maybe it is just a misunderstood beginning to a great miniseries. We will know soon enough as Superman: Year One #2 is slated to be released August, 21.