Superman: Year One follows Kal-El as he flees the fiery destruction of his home planet Krypton and journeys to begin a new life as Clark Kent on Earth. With a star-studded creative team anchored by Frank Miller and John Romita Jr. working on this new prestige format, oversized three-part series, this coming of age story brings a new twist to the hero’s early beginnings.
From the start, Superman: Year One offers a very detailed reimagining of what Clark’s early upbringing was like as an infant to a young adult. Superman: Year One doesn’t completely stray away from the tale that Superman fans are familiar with. Instead, it adds more to the story of Clark’s youth than we’ve ever seen before and encapsulates it all in a single issue.
The destruction of Krypton that leads to Kal-El being sent to Earth is still a major component of the origin. However, what’s different in this story is that Kal-El is sent to Earth as an infant already knowing that he will be needed there to save and protect this new world. He’s given a purpose so early in his life that will define him as he grows up to become Superman.
This key change is interesting because prior origins have shown Clark becoming Superman after experiencing the evil in the world on his own. In Miller and Romita’s new origin, his whole identity is built around being a hero from infancy and he carries that with him as he grows up. As time passes and as Clark grows older, he takes on a lot more than what a regular human child would. He’s exploring his powers and his mission to become a hero all while learning to become human.
When Clark is in high school, his group of friends are frequently taunted and beaten by bullies at school. He becomes a sort of celebrity among his peers for taking a stand against them. Even though his parents might not agree with him using his powers to show off, Clark understands that he must do the right thing and develops values of helping people regardless of what may be holding him back. Seeing this whole high school story unravel in the book's first chapter is a key part to him beginning to see the hero in himself.
Upon graduating, Clark seeks to better understand the whole Earth and learn how he’ll eventually become a full-fledged hero. One of the biggest changes to Clark’s origin lies in his decision to enlist in the United States Navy. When looking at his other origins, this decision actually makes a lot of sense. A young boy wanting to leave his small home town to explore the world will most likely consider enlisting in the military. Also, he’s literally an alien weapon with immeasurable power, which leads to some truly unexpected plot twists while he's at boot camp.
The major changes that Year One makes to Superman’s origin story fit this version of the character and his motives so perfectly. Similar to how Frank Miller portrayed Batman’s origin in Batman: Year One, this Superman counterpart feels just as relevant, modern and timeless. I mean, sure, there’s clearly a stark contrast between both of these heroes, but they both had major traumas of losing their family at such a young age. The way that each of their origins were portrayed feels relevant and modern to the times that they were released in.
Even the artistic take on both of these stories are similar in that they portray the realness of each hero’s physical appearances. The suit Batman wore in Batman: Year One was fitting to his early start as The Bat. His physique wasn’t exaggerated and his suit wasn’t covered in heavy and bulky armor; he looked just like an ordinary man in a suit. Same thing goes for Clark—he looks like an ordinary little boy, teenager and eventual young man. Even the cover doesn’t overexaggerate his suit and physique, it feels very real and believable. This artistic choice seen in both comics fittingly depicts these heroes in the early stages of their career and helps to make their stories feel more credible.
This is also Frank Miller’s first time writing a whole series about Superman. Apparently, there’s like this rumor that Miller hates Superman because of what went down in the DKR (if you know, you know). But after reading this first collection (the ending suggests more may be on the way) it’s beyond obvious how much love, care and admiration he and all the contributors put into making this story true to Superman and his fans.
I feel like the world in this present day needs a story like this right now. No matter which origin is given, we know that Superman is this pure being that is more human than humans themselves. (Okay, maybe not in the Injustice series but you get what I mean). He gives people hope, and in this story he’s been inspiring hope in people since he was a little child. Seeing humanity like this coming from a young boy from a small town in Kansas is pretty inspiring and I feel like this Superman origin is really one meant for our generation to see.
Lissete Gonzalez writes about film, TV and comics for DCComics.com and is a contributor to Couch Club, our weekly television column. Look for her on Twitter at @lissete74.