Although this story is based on an obscure tale from DC Comics Presents #87 by Elliot S Maggin and Curt Swan about the Superboy of Earth-Prime, this is a wonderfully moving and beautiful tale about what it’s like to be human, told through the eyes of the most powerful man on the planet.
In ‘our’ world, a boy called Clark Kent has to suffer constant teasing at school and mocking birthday presents because he shares his name with a cultural icon, without the benefits of the powers or the friends. He lives in a small town in Kansas and likes to write but feels solitary and alienated; even the comic book geeks mock him. This could apply to most teenagers, as they begin the process of growing into themselves, but it is complicated when Clark gains Superman’s powers for real and he wonders what he should do with them.
After a set of meetings with a reporter (in order to find out more about himself) leads to disaster, he decides to remain a secret but help people anyway. He becomes a reporter for the New Yorker, and meets a Lois of his own, finding true love. But the question remains: should he tell her his secret? Will she accept him for who he is? The heart of the struggle for true love, being loved unequivocally in return by someone you love, is beautifully highlighted by the simple fact of the ability to fly. Of course, this is complicated by Clark’s capture by a government eager to experiment on him; he manages to escape, but not before seeing some sights that make him angry.
Clark and Lois marry and have kids, leading Clark to re-evaluate his Superman role in the light of becoming a father, leading to him developing an uneasy truce with a government agency. Again, Busiek reflects on the real world dilemmas faced by people becoming parents by placing Clark in more dynamic version of the same situation. The final chapter deals with the feelings of becoming old, the losing of youth and accepting your children after years of worrying how they will turn out. The poignancy that is evoked by the interactions and emotions involved are a delight, as Busiek is able to take this story through from beginning to end. Of course, the story wouldn’t be as powerful if it didn’t have sublime art to tell the tale in a visual fashion, so it’s a pleasure to see Immonen deliver spectacular art. Able to capture the real life and the dynamism of superheroics, each page is a joy to admire, with a soft-tinted feel to the work that makes it feel so close and yet just out of reach. Secret Identity is a wonderful story, rightfully deserving all the critical acclaim it acquired. Highly recommended.