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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Superman #18

Anyone who has read superhero comics for a sizable chunk of their lives knows the difference between a gimmick and a genuine plot upheaval. Gimmicks are shallow. They’re sales tactics disguised as shocking twists that promise to change a character, world, or team forever. Most of the time, they get retconned within a few years.

Plot upheavals that are real, genuine, and permanent are rarer, but that’s what makes them more precious. They often become defining moments in their own right for a character or a franchise. For comic fans, they’re like major life-changing events.

In the same way you vividly recall your first kiss or your first car, you remember where you were when Superman married Lois Lane.

You remember where you were when the Joker brutally beat up Jason Todd.

You remember where you were when Barry Allen died during Crisis on Infinite Earths.

In that same tradition, you’ll probably remember where you were when you read “Superman #18.” This is a comic that promises to change Superman’s life and his story in major ways. It’s the comic in which he finally reveals his secret identity to the world. It’s not a gimmick this time. This is real and it has an impact that will likely resonate for years to come.

Writer Brian Michael Bendis has built a career on powerful, dramatic moments. He did it for years at Marvel with Spider-Man, the Avengers, and the X-Men. Since he began his run on Superman, he’s taken the Man of Steel through his share of upheavals. Superman’s semi-stable family life with his wife and son became a lot less stable, but he still hung onto the same identity that had kept him grounded for decades.

That finally changes in “Superman #18.” It’s not a snap decision, either. This isn’t Tony Stark going off the cuff at the end of “Iron Man.” That’s not how Superman does things. He’s thoughtful, thorough, and very much aware of the implications. He doesn’t agonize or brood over it, as many other heroes are prone to do, especially if they have egos like Tony Stark. He simply tries to determine the right thing to do.

It’s not easy. Before the big reveal, Bendis takes Superman through a round of self-reflection in which he goes over all the reasons why he maintained his secret identity as Clark Kent. Some of those reasons were entirely valid. They weren’t excuses that kept demanding more excuses. They genuinely felt like the right thing at the time.

Superman lived as Clark Kent so he could be human. That has always been important to him, going back to the Golden Age. He’s an alien from another world, trying to live and be part of this new home that he has come to love. Being Clark helped him be human, even though he is objectively not human.

While that might have been important before, a lot has changed for Superman. He no longer has anything to prove. He’s built a life as Clark Kent. He has established himself as Superman, a hero among heroes who sets the highest standards for humans and aliens alike. He couldn’t have done this without maintaining his secret identity. The only question is what more can he do to justify keeping that identity?

The tipping point in “Superman #18” comes when Superman recounts what happens when others in his life have kept secrets. Even if they were kept for good reasons, it never ended with just that secret. One secret demands another. As they compound over time, they become dangerous.

That’s still only part of the issue. Beyond the secrets, having that identity sends a message to the same people he’s trying to protect. It says that he doesn’t trust them to handle him being both Superman and Clark Kent. Maybe that made sense when he was still winning their trust, but it doesn’t make sense anymore. It also helps make the right thing to do very clear.

That effectively ends the debate. Whenever Superman is faced with a decision, his first and only instinct is to do the right thing. That’s exactly what he does in “Superman #18.”

It’s what helps make the big moment in “Superman #18” feel like something other than a gimmick. Bendis makes sure that Superman revealing his identity to the world is the right thing to do. It never comes off as the end of something, either. Whenever Superman’s identity has been revealed in the past, it has always been a complication or a last resort. That’s not how it’s framed here.

Superman #18” feels like another step in Superman’s journey to be the hero by which all other heroes are measured. He’s lived as a human. He’s become an iconic hero. Those lives no longer need to be separate. In Superman’s eyes, they shouldn’t be. He’s still the same man, whether he’s wearing glasses or his iconic cape.

In principle, it’s a minor distinction. However, at no point in “Superman #18” does it feel trivial. Superman acknowledges that this is going to change things. His life is going to change, both as Superman and as Clark Kent. He knows there will be difficulties, but he’s willing to face them. He’s also willing to trust in the same people he protects to face them with him.

It’s a beautiful, powerful moment made all the more memorable by the art of Ivan Reis. It doesn’t require Superman to save the world, defeat Lex Luthor, or punch a planet into dust. It just requires him to do the right thing. That doesn’t just make him a hero. That’s what makes him Superman.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Tales From The Dark Multiverse: Death Of Superman #1

In the world of comics, alternate universes and various “what if” scenarios tend to be hit or miss. Some stories become more than simple thought experiments that plays with the malleable timelines and multiverses surrounding certain characters. A few even go onto become beloved and acclaimed. Stories like “Superman: Red Son” or “Age of Apocalypse” are shining examples of just how great these stories can be.

However, they’re the exception rather than the norm. Most scenarios that deal in alternate universes and “what if” scenarios tend to be either entirely forgettable or too absurd to take seriously. The stories that do set themselves apart usually succeed because the concept is strong and compelling.

By that standard, “Tales From The Dark Multiverse: Death Of Superman #1” has a lot going for it. The original “Death of Superman” story is one of the most iconic stories in the history of superhero comics. It raised the bar for how dramatic, impactful, and heartfelt a superhero comic can be. It showed just how great these characters can be, even in the face of tragedy.

This comic dares to flip the script. It explores a very different, very bleak scenario that shows how tragedy can bring out the worst in people. It dares to contemplate how even those who once championed the ideals of characters like Superman can become corrupt. That’s exactly what happens to Lois Lane in this story.

The idea, alone, is intriguing. Lois Lane isn’t just Superman’s iconic love interest. She’s someone who actively fights for truth, justice, and the American Way without the aid of other-wordly powers. Whether she’s a reporter or Superman’s lover, she personifies these values in ways that few characters can match. She’s the last person in the DC Universe that you would expect to be corrupted by tragedy.

However, in this world when the events of “Death of Superman” play out, that’s exactly what happens. Moreover, writer Jeff Loveness makes it feel entirely believable. As the story unfolds, we see a version of Lois Lane that isn’t just consumed by grief. She’s hardened by it.

Instead of grieving the loss of her lover and hero, she’s consumed by anger. She sees a world full of heroes that Superman helped inspire. Then, when he needed them most, they failed him. They let him die. On top of that, his death didn’t inspire people to be better. Things just went back to the way they were, minus their greatest hero.

In that context, it’s easy to understand why Lois would get so angry. As a result, when she has a chance to embrace the power of the Eradicator, you almost want to cheer her on. Suddenly, she has a chance to carry on Superman’s legacy. At the same time, it’s easy to see how this kind of power will ultimately corrupt her.

Power corrupting fallible human beings is a fairly common recourse in superhero comics. It’s the basis for some of the most iconic stories of all time. However, the fact that this is Lois Lane becoming corrupt is what really gives this story its impact. It makes “Tales From The Dark Multiverse: Death Of Superman #1” feel like more than just another dystopian timeline.

What Lois is able to do with the power of the Eradicator is extensive, but her grief has her cross lines that Superman never would. Loveness never gives the impression that she crosses these lines because she’s a fallible human. There’s a progression that builds up inside her, driven by sorrow and anger. She never just snaps. It feels like a natural extension of her anguish.

Naturally, it puts her at odds with other heroes and major villains. I won’t spoil how it plays out, but it gets pretty dark. However, it never gets so dark that it seems gratuitous. Loveless still makes an effort to capture the drama and heart that helped make “Death of Superman” such an endearing story. While it’s impossible to match the impact of the original story, this story still strikes the right chords.

There are moments in “Tales From The Dark Multiverse: Death Of Superman #1” that defy the traditional conventions of the DC Universe. It’s appropriately dark. At the same time, though, it never feels like the characters completely deviate from who they are. This darker version of Lois Lane still feels like the Lois Lane we’ve known for over 80 years.

Loveness makes the case that even someone like Lois can walk a darker path in a believable way. The artistic style of Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessy, and Norm Rapmund give that story an appropriately dark tone. It’s dramatic, but it never feels like it’s just doing things for shock value. Granted, seeing Lois become so corrupt is shocking, but that’s not the only thing driving the story.

While “Tales From The Dark Multiverse: Death Of Superman #1” probably won’t garner the same acclaim as “Superman: Red Son,” it succeeds in ways that so many other “what if” comics fail. It takes an intriguing concept and develops it in a believable way. It doesn’t undermine the characters or the original themes behind them. It simply tells a darker version of a well-known story and tells it very well.

Lois Lane will always be defined by her connection with Superman. In so many stories within so many worlds, that connection is what brings out the best in her. In this one exceptionally dark world, it brings out the worst and that makes Superman’s death even more tragic.

 

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Why “Joker” Is Brilliant, But Controversial (For The Wrong Reasons)

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Every now and then, a movie comes along that’s brilliant in so many ways, but undermined by the circumstances of its release. In the same way certain movies come along at just the right time to become a cultural phenomenon, others hit theaters with unexpected forces working against them.

When “The Dark Knight” came out in 2008, its timing was perfect. It struck all the right notes from a cinematic, narrative, and cultural perspective. On top of that, Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker went down as one of the greatest displays of acting prowess of all time, and not just for a superhero movie. For many, myself included, Ledger’s version of the Joker will always be the one by which all others are measured.

By contrast, “Joker” couldn’t have been timed worse. The current social, political, and cultural landscape is vulnerable and hypersensitive to every one of the themes it explores. On top of that, the movie explores those things very well, so much so that it warrants being in the same conversation as “The Dark Knight” in terms of how it portrays the Joker.

While Heath Ledger’s Joker is still superior in almost every way, what Joaquin Phoenix accomplished in this movie deserves plenty of praise. At the very least, it helps cleanse the memories of those still cringing at Jared Leto’s rather eccentric take on the character in “Suicide Squad.”

This movie, as well as Phoenix’s performance, comes at a time when taboos about mental health and disturbed lonely men are hot-button topics. On top of that, a string of mass shootings perpetrated by disturbed men, some with disturbing manifestos, has created real-life horror while stoking genuine fears. The story in “Joker” neither avoids nor downplays those issues.

This movie also dares to do something that few beyond Alan More has been able to achieve, which is to give the Joker a backstory. For many lifelong comic fans, especially Batman fans, the very concept of fleshing out this character undermines the core of his appeal. He has always functioned better as a chaotic force of nature rather than a person with a tangible history.

Ever since his creation in 1940, his life and his story have been vague. He has been defined as a perfect counter to Batman’s never-ending crusade. Whereas Batman seeks justice through clear, defined rules, the Joker seeks chaos and laughs at such rules. He can never be too defined, as a character, if he’s to personify that chaos.

Despite these challenges, “Joker” finds a way to tell his story and, like “The Dark Knight” before it, actually manages to make the Joker even more terrifying. Through the character of Arthur Fleck, we see a disturbed mind trapped within an environment that does everything to make his condition worse. Through both unavoidable circumstances and fateful choices, we see this broken mind become something far more dangerous.

It doesn’t happen all at once. There’s no single trigger, like falling into a vat of chemicals. There’s a cumulative effect to Arthur Fleck’s transformation. It’s not always logical or smooth, which comes off as intentional from the beginning. The only constant is that Fleck gets more twisted and unhinged with each escalating event.

This is where Phoenix’s performance really shines. He carries himself with a presence that feels very close to what Ledger captured in “The Dark Knight.” He starts off as simply being mentally ill and struggling with it. However, what he does with his illness and what it does to him turns him into something more than just another disturbed loner.

It’s here where the controversy behind the “Joker” takes hold. I would argue it’s a dumb controversy, but it was serious enough for Aurora, Colorado to cancel screenings of the movie. While it feels like an overreaction, it’s somewhat understandable, given what happened in Aurora in 2012.

If that were the extent of the controversy, then “Joker” would only be a passing concern for most people. Then came the idea the movie celebrates or glorifies “incel culture” through Fleck’s story. While I usually try to be balanced when scrutinizing certain ideas, even if they’re absurd, I can’t do that this time.

Simply put, this part of the controversy is just plain stupid. There’s no better way to say it.

Worrying that this movie might somehow inspire lonely, disturbed men to go on killing sprees is completely without merit. It’s akin to worrying that “Friday the 13th” will inspire anyone who wears a hockey mask to brutally murder camp counselors. Moreover, the absurdity of this controversy undercuts the more substantive messages of this movie.

There is a real message in “Joker” and it has nothing to do with incels, masculinity, or even violence. In this world, Gotham City is the perfect symbol of a grossly flawed society that tries to pretend those flaws can be fixed by staying the course. From the perspective of people like Arthur Fleck, this notion is a complete joke.

Much like our world, there’s a small segment of very rich, very powerful people who benefit the most from this society. The Wayne family is the perfect manifestation of this joke. Even when they carry themselves as responsible, upstanding pillars of the community, they still look down at those who are dissatisfied. On top of that, they think their dissatisfaction is a flaw.

Arthur Fleck is as caught up as anyone in this decaying society. Then, through details I won’t spoil, he starts something that inspires chaos that would make Heath Ledger’s Joker proud. That chaos may or may not be entirely justified, but it’s understandable. In a sense, the Joker is just an extreme manifestation of something that seemed inevitable.

If there is a real controversy with “Joker,” it’s that the wrong issues became controversial. This movie conveys a message to the rich, powerful people who benefit the most from society that things aren’t as rosy as they seem. Those same people who think they know the solutions have no idea what people at the bottom are going through and dismissing them as “clowns” only makes things worse.

We’ve already seen this happen in the real world. The powerful who seek greater power call those who lash out as unimportant or misguided. They think those who protest loudly have nothing of merit to say, which only feels like an excuse to not listen. In that sense, it’s probably not surprising that many media outlets have turned on this movie, albeit for the wrong reasons.

At its core, “Joker” highlights the craziness that compounds craziness. In a world that’s unfair, unjust, and full of lies, how can sane person not be driven insane by their circumstances? Arthur Fleck had more circumstances than most and his mental illness only compounded the situation.

There are times when it’s not entirely clear when the events unfolding are real or vivid delusions. It nicely reflects the uncertain nature of the Joker’s origins, as both the Killing Joke and “The Dark Knight” have previously established. There’s a point in the movie where it becomes unclear where Arthur Fleck truly comes from or whether that name is truly his.

In the end, his name doesn’t matter because once he becomes the Joker, he becomes something more than just a mentally ill loner. For certain people who have seen mentally ill loners commit atrocities in the real world, it sparks real fear. At the same time, “Joker” makes clear that’s the wrong target.

After seeing “Joker,” I feel like I just saw a movie that people are going to be talking about for years to come. It’s a movie that can be interpreted in many ways, which is perfectly befitting of the Joker’s chaotic nature. At the same time, I knew some of those interpretations would be used in the name of an agenda and not in a good way.

In another time, “Joker” would be hailed as a movie worthy of praise on the level of “The Dark Knight.” However, because it came out at a time when people fear the lonely, deranged men more than the society that creates them, it’s not able to have the same impact. It’s still an excellent movie and one that will have a unique place in cinematic history for years to come.

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The (Amazing) Sights, Spectacles, And Lessons Of New York Comic Con 2019

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Another New York Comic Con has come. Once again, I managed to experience it for a single day. While I would’ve loved to spend another day seeing everything I didn’t get a chance to see yesterday, it was an incredible experience. I enjoyed every minute of it and, like other New York Comic Cons before it, this one will be full of many treasured memories.

I could write several books, and even a couple sexy short stories, about all the things I saw while I was there. I attended panels, met incredible people, saw amazing costumes, saw some breaking comic book news, and even got a chance to connect with some real celebrities. I cannot overstate what a thrill that was.

New York Comic Con has always been so much fun, just as the entire city of New York always been fun. There are so many places to see and people to meet. I found myself running around the Jacob Javits Convention Center, trying to experience as much as I could. I like to think I took in as much as I can, given the constraints of time and only having a Friday pass.

By far, one of the best parts of New York Comic Con was seeing the costumes of fellow fans. This year might have been the most diverse, creative year yet. I saw plenty of typical costumes, like Batman, Superman, Deadpool, and the Joker. This year, however, had one of the most diverse set of costumes that I’ve ever seen.

It was so incredible that I nearly drained the batter on my phone, trying to get as many pictures as I could from those willing to share one. Here are just a handful of the ones I managed to get. Trust me when I say this is just a small sample of the creative passion I saw.

Every year, the fans who make these costumes find a way to surprise me. Next year, however, is going to be tough to be. That said, I’m sure the passion of these fans will help them find a way.

In addition to the costumes, New York Comic Con often leaves me with some unique takeaways that I could never get by just reading stories about it. Actually being there and seeing it first-hand will always have a more extensive impact. This year had some more nuanced lessons than previous years.

The first, and most apparent, lesson I learned is that the impact of anime is growing. This year, I saw more anime-inspired costumes than any previous year. I didn’t recognize all the anime that it came from, but there was definitely an uptick in anime costumes and that nicely reflects the growth of the genre.

The second lesson, which is more or less a reinforcement of what I’ve learned in previous years, is that most writers, creators, and celebrities are awesome in person. Many consider themselves fans, as well. I’ve interacted with plenty online, mostly through Twitter. They’re as nice in person as they are in real life.

I even had the privilege of meeting a few I’ve worked with. A while back, I reviewed “Swing Volume 2” after getting an advanced copy. While in artists alley, I had a chance to meet the writer, Matt Hawkins. He was an awesome guy and the insights he gave were incredible.

To those who think the details of that story were embellished or eroticized, I can attest that they weren’t. Everything Mr. Hawkins wrote about in that story was inspired by real people and real couples. I can’t thank him enough for sharing such insights and I’m already looking forward to Swing Volume 3.

The third lesson, which I guess is more an exercise in best practices, is that if you really want to get into a panel, you need to get in line at least 20 minutes early. While I managed to get into all the panels I wanted, the lines were long and I just barely got in.

For the advanced screenings of upcoming movies and cartoons, you need to be even more proactive. I was unable to get into a screening of “Wonder Woman: Bloodlines” or “Joker.” Those filled up very quickly and if I want to get in next year, I’ll have to be even more proactive.

There’s so much I experienced. There are many more things I wish I could describe, but it would take too much time and energy away from writing sexy short stories. I’ll just belabor that I had an amazing time. I saw so many amazing things and met so many awesome people. I’m already looking forward to going back next year.

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Back (And Exhausted) From New York Comic Con 2019

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It was a long, eventful day, but it’s over now. I built my entire day around attending New York Comic Con 2019 and, without a doubt, it was a day well-spent. I saw so many amazing things. I met so many awesome people. Between the fans, the costumes, the panels, and the big news, there was just so much to experience. I’m still processing it all.

To be honest, it’s going to take a few days to fully appreciate what I experienced. That’s to be expected for the New York Comic Con. For as long as I’ve been going, it has always been this huge spectacle that overwhelms me with so many things I love. Every year I feel like it has to take a step back, it somehow surprises me.

This year was no exception. It was an incredible experience. Now, I’m exhausted and badly in need of some rest. As long and arduous as this day was, however, it was SO worth it.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Lois Lane #1

Every Wednesday, a new batch of comics enters this world in the never-ending effort to make it feel less hopeless. Fans like me take comfort and joy in reading stories about powerful superheroes using their immense abilities to pull off heroic feats. Many of these stories center around extraordinary individuals doing extraordinary things with power that few in the non-comic book world can comprehend.

Then, a comic like “Lois Lane #1” comes along and proves that heroic feats don’t need superhuman abilities. They just need a stubborn and unyielding commitment to the truth.

I admit that the idea of a Lois Lane comic didn’t seem all that intriguing. I also freely acknowledge that I’ve criticized how Lois has been utilized in recent years with respect to the larger Superman mythos. Those criticisms aside, I don’t deny the importance of her character. She is still an integral part of Superman’s world, as well as the larger DC universe.

Lois Lane #1” doesn’t change that role, nor does it attempt to radically alter who Lois is. It just takes some time to focus on what she does, why she does it, and why it’s such a critical component of truth, justice, and the American way. You could even argue that those ideals are more critical now than they ever have been, which means Lois Lane’s story carries a weight beyond being Superman’s love interest.

Writer Greg Rucka, who has considerable experience writing DC’s strongest female characters, builds an entire story around Lois Lane exercising her expert reporting skills. On the surface, it may not sound as exciting as watching Superman punch meteors out of the sky, but the underlying themes of the story go beyond just saving the day.

Those looking for another story about Lois needing to be rescued by Superman again will probably be disappointed by “Lois Lane #1.” However, those hoping to see someone pursue justice in a way that doesn’t require Kryptonian biology are in for a treat. Superman may be the personification of truth, justice, and the American way, but it’s Lois Lane who proves you don’t need powers to fight for it.

The story is a potent mix of a spy thriller and a mystery built around headlines that are all too real to anyone with a news feed. Yes, there are plenty of super-villains in the DC universe looking to destroy whole worlds and rip apart the fabric of reality. At the same time, there are smaller-scale forms of injustice and those are the battles Lois fights.

In this case, her fight takes her to Russia, a place not known for press freedom. She has a story that won’t defeat Darkseid, but it will expose the corruption, injustice, and lies that plague her world as much as ours. While Superman is still in the story, he actually plays no part in helping her navigate this battle. In this particular battle for truth, Lois is on her own and she proves she’s capable without superpowers.

In fact, for the truth she seeks, superpowers aren’t that useful. Exposing corruption and lies is never a matter of how many meteors or parademons you can punch. Lois is a reporter. She needs information, sources, and connections. These are not things you can punch or magically conjure. Rucka has Lois rely almost entirely on her reporting skills rather than her intimate relationship with Superman.

Those reporting skills might as well be superpowers. Lois isn’t just dedicated to finding the truth. She’s determined. She willingly puts herself in danger to find the information she needs. While this usually means Superman has to rescue her at least once a week, that’s not the case here.

Lois Lane #1” shows that it is possible for Lois to navigate that danger without calling on her super-powered lover. After reading this comic, you feel as though this sort of triumph doesn’t happen often enough, both in the real and fictional world.

Throughout her history, Lois Lane has been a tricky character to develop. She’s so defined by her relationship to Superman that it’s difficult for her to stand on her own. Being a side-kick or a love interest tends to define a character more than what they actually do in a story.

Lois Lane #1” doesn’t try to subvert or redefine her lengthy history. She’s still very much Superman’s love interest. She still plays a vital role in his story. However, this comic makes the case that Lois can carry her own story, as well. Rucka, along with the art of Mike Perkins, demonstrate that she can pursue truth and justice on her own. For someone who needs to be rescued so often, it’s both refreshing and overdue.

While Lois Lane will never be an iconic female hero on the same level as Wonder Woman, she embodies many of the principles that heroes of all kinds fight for. They readily protect the innocent and defend justice with their immense powers, but Lois Lane demonstrates why those principles matter.

 

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Superman: Year One #1

Every Wednesday, comic fans like me rejoice at the prospect of enjoying a nice stack of new books to start the day. While not every stack is full of epic sagas that leave readers with lifelong memories of pure awesome, there are some that stand out more than others. When one comic in that stack is written by Frank Miller, it’s usually an event that comic fans remember for the rest of their comic-loving days.

If you don’t know who Frank Miller is, then trust me when I say that his name carries a lot of weight in the comic book community. There’s Stan Lee. There’s Jack Kirby. There’s Alan Moore. Most people know those iconic names and the place they have in pop culture. Talk to most well-read comic book fans and they’ll agree. Frank Miller deserves to be in that special class of writer.

This is someone whose work was a true paradigm shift for the medium. His work in the 1980s changed the way people approached superhero comics. It’s not unreasonable to say that Miller is one of the most influential comic writers of the past 40 years. If you want to understand the power of that influence, then “Superman: Year One #1” should get the point across.

This is not a comic that requires a working knowledge of DC Comics’ current continuity, which has been subject to some messy upheavals over the past 10 years. You don’t even have to know anything about Superman to appreciate “Superman: Year One #1.” This is one of those rare books where anyone who has never touched a superhero comic can just pick it up, follow along, and understand the breadth of the story.

This comic, which is printed under DC’s more mature Black Label banner, is not a radical re-telling of Superman’s origins. If you know the basics or have just seen a few Superman movies, then you won’t see anything too shocking. That said, “Superman: Year One #1” brings something new, compelling, and revealing to the table.

There any number of stories about Clark Kent’s formative years, from origins comics to the “Smallville” TV series. Many go to great lengths to show how and why Clark becomes Superman. However, Miller’s approach to “Superman: Year One #1” is a bit different.

The story is less about Clark becoming a hero and more about how he finds his place in the world. He’s not a hero yet. The thought hasn’t even crossed his mind. He’s just a kid for most of the story, navigating his life and trying to figure out where he fits in. His emerging powers are secondary, for the most part.

There are times when Clark is overwhelmed. There are even times when he’s uncertain. One of Superman’s most defining traits is his inclination to do the right thing just because it’s the right thing. That’s what makes him the hero by which all others are measured. In “Superman: Year One #1,” he doesn’t know what the right thing is yet, but he’s eager to find out.

In addition to the emergence of Clark’s morality, Miller also explores his influences and his supporting cast. His parents, his peers, and his first love interest, Lana Lang, all get a chance to play a part in his story. They don’t just give him advice or put him in challenging situations, either. Miller gives them all a personality.

Their voices feel distinct. Their impact on Clark feels unique. They help nurture his humanity more than any aspiring superhero. Both Lana and Martha have powerful moments that reveal why they’re so critical to Clark’s journey. Some of those moments, namely the one with Lana, aren’t the kind that would make it onto kid-friendly movie or Saturday morning cartoon, either.

Miller does take advantage of DC’s Black Label, injecting some more mature themes into the story. However, he never pushes it beyond a certain point. Compared to what happened withBatman: Damned #1,” Miller keeps things relatively balanced. That doesn’t stop “Superman: Year One #1” from feeling like a more mature Superman story.

This is a story where Clark Kent gets to be a kid who just happens to develop amazing powers. It’s a story where he doesn’t fight invading aliens, mad scientists, or hulking monsters. The biggest fight he has involve a group of high school bullies who saw one too many 80s teen movies.

The stakes are small. Clark doesn’t need to save the world at this point in his life. He just has to save a few people and navigate through a few personal situations. While that doesn’t make for the kinds of epic battles that Superman tends to fight every other day, it’s because of this smaller scope that the story feels more personal.

Before Clark can learn to save the world, he has to start by saving Lana Lang from being assaulted. Before Clark can battle Braniac, Lex Luthor, and Doomsday, he has to learn how to take down a group of bullies without causing too much damage. Not everything comes easily, even for someone of his immense power. That’s exactly what makes “Superman: Year One #1” so compelling.

Miller allows Clark to struggle and learn. The artwork of the amazingly talented John Romita Jr. helps give that struggle the perfect aesthetic. Even when he slips up, things never get too dark or angst-ridden. For Miller, the same man who wrote one of the darkest Batman stories of all time, it’s a critical, yet necessary change.

While it’s too early to say whether “Superman: Year One #1” becomes as iconic and well-regarded as Miller’s other work, it succeeds in demonstrating why his approach to superheroes is so iconic. It’s not enough to simply tell the story about how the hero wins the day against impossible odds. Miller highlights the person beneath the heroic icon.

Clark Kent is Superman. Superman is Clark Kent. The identities are often interchangeable, but they’re only names and titles. At the end of the day, there’s still a person within that iconic costume and his story is worth exploring. Under the pen of Frank Miller, that story is in good hands.

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