Frank Miller’s uneven Superman origin story has come to its inevitable uneven conclusion. Superman Year One’s final issue starts out strong because Miller has a good understanding of the main character, but the narrative goes off the rails when Miller tries to tie the series into his larger Dark Knight Universe.
Superman Year One #3 focuses on the titular hero’s time in Metropolis, the creation of his Clark Kent persona, and his first major conflict with Lex Luthor. Fairly run of the mill plot points to hit in a Superman origin story, but the narrative is briefly elevated by Miller’s take on Superman’s relationship with his archenemy.
The Superman/Lex Luthor dynamic is interesting, but not fully developed. Miller presents a very cunning Lex whose master manipulations cause numerous problems for the burdening Superman. If done well, this last issue could have been a great contest between Luthor’s wits and Superman’s heart of gold. One gets the impression that Miller’s goal is to do just that, using other characters to highlight the Man of Steel’s best attributes. The story falters in that regard due to a rushed conclusion that is more focused on a building connection to Miller’s prior DC Comics work than saying anything interesting about Superman’s mythology.
Halfway through Superman Year One #3, Miller manages to cram in the psychotic version of Batman he developed in The Dark Knight Strikes Again, and the awkward Superman/Wonder Woman relationship from said series. Miller’s inclusion of these two characters creates an overstuffed plot that, prior to their introduction, was moving along at a comfortable pace. In addition to that narrative disruption, Miller’s lousy characterization of Batman is a missed opportunity that ultimately harms Superman Year One.
The inclusion of Batman could have been great, with Miller even writing a reversal of their iconic confrontation in The Dark Knight Returns, but his Batman is so insane it verges on parody. The Batman depicted in Superman Year One is far too crazy for any reader to take seriously. As a result, bat-shit crazy Batman turns Superman Year One into an unintentional, and crummy, comedy. As for Wonder Woman, she shows up to help set up the lackluster conclusion to the issue’s main conflict – seeing as Miller didn’t have many pages left to provide readers with a proper ending. There is some foreshadowing to Superman’s relationship with Wonder Woman in the future, but her role in the story boils down to being a last-minute dues-ex-machina.
The dialogue in Superman Year One is typical Frank Miller, and while that means it is not realistic, there is some charm in it. The narration is also surprisingly effective in delving into what makes Miller’s Superman tick. All that dialogue and narration works well, except for when Miller writes Batman — which gives me painful All-Star Batman and Robin flashbacks (see my earlier description of Superman Year One’s Dark Knight above).
John Romita Jr’s art is fantastic, but that makes sense considering the production process behind Superman Year One. Romita was given free reign when it came to realizing Miller’s story on the page, and the benefits are on full display. Romita brings a sense of movement to the story that compliments Miller’s narrative, perfectly pacing every action scene for maximum effect. His use of body language is incredible and reveals aspects of Superman’s character in a non-verbal way that compliments portions of Miller’s script. It is also a treat seeing Romita draw Miller’s Batman characters after his excellent work on Dark Knight: The Last Crusade (a comic that I would highly recommend). Romita’s art makes each page of Miller’s dreadful Batman dialogue somewhat tolerable.
The first half of this comic is pretty good, but when Miller brings Batman into the picture the whole issue just falls apart. On the bright side, at least this comic looks good from beginning till end.