Superman: Year One and a Reflection on the Origin of Superman
Frank Miller and John Romita Jr.’s Superman: Year One comes out this week and it was a very decent start. Romita’s art is engrossing as always and Miller makes some interesting choices for this version of the origin story. Hit or miss Miller always takes a healthy hack at whatever story he’s telling and we still have a way to go, but for me it was not the best version of Clark Kent’s time in Smallville. In fact, it made me nostalgic for better versions of that story including Superman: The Movie, some seasons of Smallvile, Earth One, Superman For All Seasons and Superman: Secret Origin.
Superman is a character whose best story has always been his origin story. He comes to Earth from a dying planet, essentially as an alien avatar or a like a new MacBook preloaded with software and ready to be customized. He gets filled with all the character, morals and decency from the greatest well of goodness on planet Earth—the Kents. He grows up in a town full of hard-working, dutiful individuals and spends his time with some pretty tremendous young people like Pete Ross and Lana Lang. Growing up with such strong family values, it’s not surprising that he has such reverence for his Kryptonian heritage. In his youth, he learns all the lessons of an entire history of an advanced civilization from his father Jor El—the only man wise enough to know that his planet was dying.
So once Clark is filled with the best values America has to offer and the greatest wisdom in the galaxy he heads to Metropolis. Even in this new city it’s the company he keeps that shapes the man. Lois Lane is as smart and diligent and interesting as a person can be. Perry White probably fills a father figure void left from Johnathan’s passing but Jimmy–Jimmy Olsen is the key to Superman, for me at least. My favorite line in Superman: The Movie is right before Lois and Clark get mugged, and superman says so earnestly, “That Jimmy Olsen is fantastic.” He is marveling at Jimmy Olsen—the most ordinary, unremarkable human being on the planet. And of course he does. These supporting characters tether Kal El to humanity. He likes to be connected to us. He loves us more than we deserve. He is a reflection of the best that mankind has to offer.
People like Superman do exist. I’m not sure I’m one of them but I know one or two. Hard-working. Moral. Decent. They should be revered and celebrated and Superman honors these qualities. These stories present them in a way that young minds can absorb and incorporate into their own character. Good Superman stories make it cool to be a good guy. It’s because this character is so wonderful, and the origin story so strong that Miller and Romita are playing around with it again over eighty years after its creation. Superman: Year One is available on June 19.