Anytime legendary writer/artist Frank Miller releases a new comic, there’s plenty of reason to take notice. For better or worse, Miller is a singular voice in the graphic medium. His output vacillates between brilliant and objectively awful. Miller has given us legendary stories like The Dark Knight Returns and Daredevil: Born Again, but his bibliography also features such jingoistic drivel as Holy Terror!. Yet no matter it’s outcome, Miller’s work is never boring. Superman: Year One #2 is no different. But what side of the quality coin does this new comic land on? Well, that depends on how married you are to the classic Superman lore and how much you're willing to accept some intrinsic flaws of the comic's titular icon.
When we last saw Clark Kent in Superman: Year One #1, he was boarding a bus to start training as a Navy SEAL. The events leading him to this decision were nothing out of the ordinary and up until its final act, the first issue of Superman: Year One played out with a grand sense of familiarity. However, when Clark enlists, there is a huge shift in tone, which, after reading this following installment, seems to be the series modus operandi.
Superman: Year One wants to keep readers on their toes. The twists and turns this series (and especially this issue) present have a strange narrative flow that makes sense within its own world, but it's a world comic fans may not be too keen on. Now before we get into the second issue any further, let’s address the camouflage elephant in the room: military Superman feel a bit antithetical to the character at his core.
Learning discipline and brotherhood through the military is an interesting angle, to be sure, and the fact Kent doesn't fall for any sort of programmed patriotism helps makes the character familiar despite the extenuating circumstances Miller and artists John Romita Jr. put the Man of Steel through. The idea that Clark Kent would pursue a career in the armed forces instead of being relegated to the farm to learn humility just doesn't sit right with us. Clark Kent the farm boy is just as important as Kal-El the alien from a dead world. Taking the character down a "Johnny get your gun" road only works when you consider the version of Superman we see in other Dark Knight Universe stories he appeared in earlier, chronologically speaking.
Miller is notorious for interesting narrative choices by weaving superheroes into each other’s lives in unorthodox ways, especially in his own little corner of the DC Comics landscape. The military angle in Superman: Year One #2 is only he first head-scratching choice Miller and Romita make in this issue alone. From there, things get significantly weirder, but they do have deep connections with another iconic superhero. The class of worlds that unfold in Superman: Year One #2 make the series feel more like a fable or a Greek myth more so than a classic superhero origin story, and if didn't play out in such a strange manner, it might have worked like gangbusters. Sadly, it's all a bit too mad for its own good.
The themes in this issue are going to be divisive, and sadly, for us, the majority of them fall into the "what did I just read?" category. Now to be fair, there is some pretty solid writing. The sudden switch in narration when Clark discovers something truly wonderful beneath the sea are well done. The split narrative between the rescuer and the rescued does a wonderful job of building the legend of Superman. The same can be said for the duality between the wars above and those below. Clark sees that not all battles are noble, which is a valuable lesson for a man who will eventually become the Earth's greatest champion.
Romita is doing stellar work this issue. There are titles where it does feel like he is, for lack of a better phase, "phoning it in," but even at his worst, Romita is still one of the more exciting artists working in the business. His work in Superman: Year One #2 is gorgeous and Alex Sinclair's color pallet elevates some of the muddier panels when needed. This is a handsome book through and through.
Ultimately, Superman: Year One #2 is a book that has all the pedigree to be something great but falls a bit short due to its strange tone and questionable character direction. DC Comics' Black Label logo on a comic book pretty much guarantees readers are going to see a side of a beloved superhero they may never have wanted to see. And while challenging norms should be the goal of any artist trying to make their voice heard, Superman: Year One #2 has a voice that falls on deaf ears.