Comics titans Frank Miller and John Romita, Jr., who have collaborated before on 'The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade' and Marvel's 'Daredevil: the Man Without Fear,' are joining forces again for a new reimagining of Superman's origin story. Where the Man of Steel previously was a secondary character in Batman stories, 'Superman: Year One' is Frank Miller's long-awaited take on Clark Kent journey from an orphaned stranger to this world to its greatest champion. We sat down with Miller and Romita to talk about how the series came about, what Superman meant to them as young readers, and their favorite Batman stories of all time.
How did 'Superman: Year One' begin and what brought you together again?
Romita Jr: I always ask if I can work with Frank. It’s either rhetorical or I say it to him, and at some point, somebody put it in your head to do a Year One Superman, or you did - it was your idea.
Miller: Actually, it was the weirdest thing in the world, because it was in my home. Dan DiDio came by, and because of the new Dark Knight and how well we were all getting along on it, because I’ve had some ups and downs in my relationship with DC over the years, and how well the whole team was working, and he said, well, you got anything else you want to do? And there was no question from the get-go, but the concept would be, they immediately wanted it to be a Year One, and there was only one guy I wanted to work with.
Romita Jr: And as soon as they mention it…
Miller: It was instant.
Romita Jr: Yeah, it was.
Miller: I hadn’t met Danny yet, but there was no question about Alex because he and I are a team, but it was really a team that collided together very rapidly, and I just sat down with my notepad, and scenes, honestly, scenes poured out of me. I couldn’t believe how many how fast. I was filling up pages. It was written on 17 sheets of copy paper that I was writing on in marker, and I was just filling them up, one after the other, and it’s like, it was a story.
What did Superman mean to you growing up? And is that what you wanted to bring to this project?
Miller: Yes, yes, yes. What he meant to me growing up is he was the first superhero I experienced before I ever read comics. I watched him in cartoons on Saturday mornings. It’s funny because that remains to me the purest and best version of this character there ever was. Every one of them, in just a few short minutes, would tell you everything you need to know about the character and give you good adventure. But Superman was my first superhero, and then I followed on to Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes, and the goofier it got, the more I stuck with it. Eventually though, I was reading an 80-page giant of Batman, and I read one story I’ll never forget where a guy on death row begged Batman to prove him innocent, and Batman went on a huge adventure and found out the guy was guilty and watched him fry in the electric chair. After all these years, when Dan DiDio came and sat on that couch and talked to me, it was like he said, you keep drawing Superman all these times. You put him in all the Batman stories, and I said, I thought you’d never ask.
Romita Jr: There’s an irony in this character for me, because when I grew up, he was perfect and it was almost boring because he was perfect, and I remember my father mentioning that to me as a young kid - because the first comic book I ever saw was a Curt Swan comic book on the floor of my barber shop without a cover. And then my father discussing it, and then working on Spider-Man—an imperfect, red and blue, newspaper kid which stands in antithesis to Superman—and I remember thinking that Superman’s boring because he’s too perfect. He became such a better character, but the irony is that the perfectness of the character plays such a vital role in this story because how do you handle being this perfect machine dealing with human frailties? So the irony is that it came full circle for me. We had to use the perfection of the character, but not to beat you over the head with it.
Miller: Also, his struggle, and his journey, and his story is to make the inner Superman equal to the outer one. To make the mind and the soul worthy of the powers and abilities he has.
Can you tease us about the arc of the story and what we might see?
Miller: No, because we don’t know. We make this stuff as we go along.
Romita Jr: Can’t give too much away! The bulk of the second issue takes place Navy-esque realm, and it’s fascinating. The size of the area that we deal with, literally and figuratively, is daunting. Love every second of it. We go below the ocean, and it’s as large as above the ocean, obviously. Frank touches on things that opened up this gigantic universe. Loved every second.
Miller: Everywhere Superman goes there’s another world of wonder waiting for him, at every stage of his life. If he walks through a forest, it’s an unspeakable wonderland that we could never imagine, what he smells and sees. But if he goes underneath the sea, that’s a lot bigger than the land on planet Earth.
Romita Jr: And then to add humanity to this super universe, so to speak, underwater, with super beings is to still get grounded in it. How do you deal with a father-in-law that hates your guts? And that’s all I’m going to say, but apply that to a super being. What does the father-in-law do? If Superman’s father-in-law, so to speak, treated me the way my first father-in-law treated me, Superman wouldn’t have lasted. Wouldn’t have lasted. We touched on something like that. Oh my God. Why am I down here if he’s going to treat me like this? He falls in love again. He falls in love easily.
Miller: He falls in love a lot. Of course he falls in love. He’s a super man. He’s super sensory, super sensual, and he has nothing but good will toward all humanity. So he’s in love with all of us.
This year is also the 80th anniversary of the Bat. What are some of your favorite Batman stories are, either by yourselves or by other people?
Miller: I’ll jump back to the one I mentioned. The newspaper strip. The newspaper strip where the simple storyline was, a man on death row said I’m innocent. I’m going to die in a few days. I don’t know how much time he had. He assured them I’m innocent, and he went and he committed to himself because he could tell the guy was telling the truth. And he went on a journey to prove this guy innocent. Found out he was guilty, and just came back to witness the electrocution.
Romita Jr: My favorite Batman work is what Frank has done with the character, just completely revolutionized the character. That’s it. There’s nothing that needs to be said.
Miller: I’ve got to say, as a boy, I love the Bob Kane, well, it’s credited to Bob. It was the Jerry Robinson, Dick Sprang version that I liked the most. It was Bill Finger who was actually the writer. Yeah. As a boy, that’s what I loved the most, but excuse me, there’s an elephant in the room here. Neal Adams came along and has completely reintroduced Batman to a new generation. Finally, after years stuck in the daylight, he put Batman back in the night where he belonged.
Romita Jr: The Grim Avenger.
Miller: With him and Denny O’Neil, they turned the character into what he could have been, what he could be. So it’s like, when I tackled the problem of Dark Knight, I took that into account. It’s funny how if you look at the first issue of Dark Knight, you’ll see how it begins looking like my version but Neal Adams’ Batman. Rather lean and so on, and it ends up looking like my version of Dick Sprang’s. He keeps getting thicker and blockier. That’s my version of him. I like the big square threatening father figure.
And you’ve also in the past said you’re a huge fan of the Bruce Timm animated Batman.
Miller: Absolutely. Again, that’s a case where he synthesized all the various versions. There’s everything, mostly from Dick Sprang and from my version in there. I’m particularly fond of - we’ve got to mention Paul Dini as the writer. When he and Paul adapted Dark Knight, I just sat there and I went, this is the Dark Knight movie. Nevermind live action.
And you mentioned Frank and your affinity for his Batman, of course. What was it that grabbed you? Was it Dark Knight Returns? Year One?
Romita Jr: Yes. Yes. It made the character more fun to read. It hadn’t been fun to read for a while.
Miller: Again, I’ve got to mention somebody. I’ve been lucky to work with absolutely terrific artists in my career, but working with David Mazzucchelli was a lot like working with John.
Romita Jr: Brilliant illustrator.
Miller: David is like the quiet version of John. David likes to get a full script to work off so he’s coming in with a certain parameter, and then he pulls - he has such a subtle approach, but he goes so much emotion out of so little Brilliance. Brilliance.