THIS WEEK: The final issue of Superman Year One shows that it has a sudden and direct connection to the rest of Frank Miller’s famous Batman franchise. Was I the only one surprised by this?
Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Superman Year One #3
Story and Art: Frank Miller and John Romita, Jr.
Inks: Danny Miki
Color: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: John Workman
Just as news is seeping out that the current iteration of the DC Universe’s days are numbered, Frank Miller and John Romita hit us with the authoritative take on Superman’s origins. Better late than never I guess. It’s called Year One, but this three-issue story covers close to twenty years of the young hero’s life, from Krypton to Justice League.
The first two issues are somewhat jarring to read, in part because the tone is so out of place with today’s Superman books but also because the subject material is so wide in scope. We see the futuristic towers of Krypton falling, a farm couple becoming parents, childhood superpowers emerging, and then Clark making out with his high school sweetheart. He beats up classroom bullies, joins the navy, and has an undersea romance with a mermaid princess. It’s a lot to take in and absolutely none of it has room to breathe. Like a speeding bullet, the years fly by as if the creative team has somewhere to get to.
This final issue feels like a payoff that was decades in the making. In only the last twenty pages it becomes clear that it won’t matter if the DCU implodes again — because this isn’t really about the Superman we’re reading in Action Comics. This is a prequel to Dark Knight Returns. It comes out of left field, especially in light of the modern technology seen throughout the story, and it’s never explicitly stated. But it’s undeniable that this book is connected to Miller’s broader DKR/Year One universe.
It fits, then, that this Superman feels different. For one, he’s less reserved and dad-like. This is a Clark who likes to cut loose and even be a little bit irresponsible, leaving criminals hanging from the spires of high buildings, knowing it will take a while for the cops to get to them. Young Superman doesn’t like taking orders from anybody. He doesn’t follow rules. He’s testing out the limits of his powers, stretching his legs, carving out his domain.
We see glimpses into his thoughts in the weaker moments, too. This Clark is more alien and disconnected from humanity. He disdains how weak they all are and their polluted air burns his throat. He longs to show his coworkers that he’s not as useless as they all think. Show off what he can do. He thinks about walking away from Clark Kent — just putting on the red, yellow, and blue (and black!) and keeping them on forever. That would show them.
He even calls us puny. I dig petty Superman.
A neat consequence of this character direction is that Lois Lane fills an even more important role. He’s taken with her. He wants to save us because we are her people. He feels a connection to humanity because he feels a connection to her. Our ambassador. The best of us. As long as she’s around he’ll have a reason to play by the rules.
Lois in this book is an observer, a scout. She is on the front lines of humanity, documenting this amazing world event as she watches gravity obey him and steel bend in his arms like a bedsheet. Lois would do anything to get the front page spot. We hear her thoughts, giddy as she flings her body into danger. You worry about her, like she’s a little too fond of brushing up against death. You get the feeling she lives for this shit, jumping from helicopters and crashing submarines. She doesn’t get the stories because she knows Superman. She gets the stories because she’s Lois Fucking Lane.
There’s a very early Batman who uses a gun, more of a thug vigilante still figuring out how he wants to play it. No acrobatics, no gadgets, no partners. Just violence, threats, and a gun. And of course blowing stuff up. Striking terror, best part of the job. There’s also Lex Luthor already trying to control Superman and hints of Clark’s future (post-Lois) romantic entanglements.
Lots of seeds are planted here that come to fruition in DKR and its sequels, not the least of which is the Batman/Superman throwdown: round one. Both young and cocky, with bravado to spare. Neither yet fully what he would become. Unsure of each other’s strength. A fight that would last a lifetime.
Superman Year One comes on late but it comes on strong, with a heartfelt familiarity that snuck up on me. I know the DCU will be restarted a dozen times in the next 50 years. But this book belongs to a little corner of the universe you could never reboot.
Tales from the Dark Multiverse: Batman: Knightfall #1
Writers: Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins
Artist: Javier Fernandez
Colors: Alex Guimarães
Letters: Clayton Cowles
This week we see the first of several one-shots featuring DC’s “dark multiverse,” a collection of worlds that never should have been. Of everything that came out of Dark Nights: Metal — a handful of new Justice League teams, a third brother to the Monitor and Anti-Monitor, a kinder gentler Starro the Conqueror — this may be my favorite new aspect. The concept here is that these rejected worlds are very much like the DC stories we know and love, but each with one small but significant change that turned the world into a nightmare version of the “real” one. A single choice made differently or maybe just an unlucky roll of the dice on these worlds caused catastrophic results that serve to remind us just how tenuous the heroes’ victories sometimes are.
This is the same concept that was used to create the evil versions of Batman that have been running around, most notably the “Batman Who Laughs” who seems to be all the rage these days. In that origin story, Batman has a moment of weakness and kills the Joker, setting off a trap (a dead man’s switch, if you will) that results in a permanently Jokerized Bruce Wayne. Explorations of other dark worlds have shown the results of similar questionable decisions — including a Batman who dons Ares’ helmet of war, one who infects himself with the Doomsday virus, and a young Bruce Wayne who is chosen by a Green Lantern ring immediately after witnessing his parents’ tragic deaths. They all end terribly.
In this new series of tales, the cosmic being Tempus Fuginaut (seen previously in Sideways and Flash Forward) is tasked with protecting the Prime Earth’s universal boundary from incursion by these twisted parallel worlds. Warning himself about an upcoming but yet-unnamed crisis, TF decides to check out these dark worlds to see if any good might come of them. He reasons that powerful new heroes may be forged in the fires of these messed up realities, and maybe a new ally could be found? Never hurts to look.
Up first: What if the classic story Batman: Knightfall had ended not with Bruce Wayne reclaiming the mantle, but with Jean-Paul Valley actually coming out on top to retain his status as Batman?
In this alternate world scenario, It seems that Gotham under Jean-Paul’s protection hasn’t fared too badly. Its borders are secure, the citizens have access to universal healthcare via Lazarus Pit, and “Saint Batman” has instituted a no-tolerance policy for evildoers. Of course he acts more as a ruler than a protector, a line that Bruce himself flirts with on occasion but never lets himself cross. For too long.
The details of the story are too fun to spoil in this review, but rest assured that the cast of the original Knightfall saga are not ignored. Bane and Shiva still have some skin in the game and Bruce can never be fully counted out. Jean-Paul Valley is fighting a war that he can only win for so long as his strength is fading more each day. The conviction and hubris he showed during Knightfall is meeting the reality of passing time, and we’re reminded along with Tempus Fuginaut why his reign as Batman needed to come to a quick end.
Future one-shots will offer macabre looks at The Death of Superman, Blackest Night, and other major storylines. They are a spiritual successor of Marvel’s “What If…?” books of old, and so far the results are satisfying. The fun of these Dark Multiverse books is in seeing what might have been, looking at the fates which our favorite heroes have narrowly avoided over the decades, and revisiting some of the most beloved settings in comics without the safety net of a guaranteed happy ending.
- The new Metal Men series by Dan Didio and Shane Davis if off to a promising start, though I can’t help but hear a subtext in Dan’s writing here as the group’s leader surveys the wreckage of characters he’s tried his hardest to maintain in working order over the years.
- Inferior Five has my interest as well. It’s a kooky little book with a great air of mystery to it. Couldn’t even guess where this one is headed.
- Tom King’s Batman continues to be a delight for those who enjoy a long, connected story. The quieter moments in this book hold more resonance than is typical in a monthly mag and all of the action has room to breathe. This is one that is particularly well-suited to a trade collection.
- It’s fun to watch the demise of the team in Teen Titans #35. Damian Wayne’s experiment was always going to end this way, and it’s blowing up on him real good.
- The cross-promoting is out of hand. Why does every book have to show the silly doom symbol in the sky, as if to remind us that DC has a marketing campaign going on? As someone who appreciates comics as an art form, this crap is disrespectful to the creative teams. If you want to tell an event story, tell it in the damn event book.
- On that note, I hear Perpetua’s free. That seems bad.
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