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From A Library – Superman: Secret Origins

Superman: Secret Origins #1–6
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Gary Frank

It’s strange reading a story that came out in 2009/2010 that is now irrelevant due to the Nu52 rebooting the entire DC universe. It’s extra strange when the writer behind it is the Chief Creative Officer at DC – did he know that the story would be pointless when he was writing it? Did he just want to write his version of the Superman origin story before things changed? Did he want to leave a footnote to the history while he had the chance? When I think about what Johns was thinking about, it wrinkles my brain; I can’t imagine what it did to him … I have enjoyed work by this creative team before (I particularly enjoyed their Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes), so I thought I’d read this curio even if it has no connection to current DC continuity.

If you’re reading this blog, then you know the origin of Superman, so you don’t need the summary. The point here is to add details and see the story through a slightly different prism. For starters, Johns has a nice angle on the young Clark Kent: he’s developing his powers at puberty, as well as his feelings for Lana Lang, and then his adoptive parents reveal the truth to him, making him a young man in torment and confusion beyond normal adolescence. Johns also introduces some nice touches to the history (which, as mentioned previously, no longer matter), such as the lenses from the glasses he wears are from crystals from the rocket ship because they can absorb his heat vision and that the costume is Ma Kent’s idea from the crystal holograms of Krypton’s history. Johns is a big fan of DC, so he’s obviously spent a lot of time thinking about these little twists to established lore, and this story shows that he is enjoying adding these finesses.

A fortunate aspect of the art in this comic book is that Frank, a talented artist whose work I’ve always enjoyed, can actually draw teenage individuals, instead of just drawing slightly smaller adults with excessive musculature. I particularly enjoyed his teenage Clark – Christopher Reeve is the deliberate model for Clark (Johns was an intern and then production assistant with Richard Donner), and Frank captures him perfectly as a teenager. Later, he displays Clark ‘acting’ as the oaf in the crumpled suit, the goofy grin and the glasses, and it’s a nice bit of storytelling.

I mentioned the Legion of Super-Heroes, and the second issue firmly places them in the Superboy story (possibly because John Byrne’s Man of Steel deliberately removed them?), and I’ve got no problem with that, even if it doesn’t mean anything now (I really should stop harping on about that …), because Superman and the Legion should be entwined. The other aspect that is intrinsic to Superman’s origin is Lex Luthor, and Johns puts in extra twists of the science/business man who buys up 78% of Metropolis and controlling the newspapers and running the Luthor Lottery, which effectively controls the city’s working-class populace. These are interesting additions to the canon, and I like how the Daily Planet is handled, but the solid build-up doesn’t survive through to the action because the plotting seems a little mechanical and coincidental: a fat man turns into a monster within seconds of eating a toxic spill in a corridor; the man who puts on the Metallo suit to bring down Superman is a soldier who Lois’ dad has under his command and who of course wants to court Lois [an aside: I did like the placid smile on Clark’s face when the soldier tries to crush-shake Clark’s hand] and who when hurt is operated on by Luthor and sent back out as a condensed Metallo almost immediately, which stretches belief even in a comic book.

The Clark–Lois relationship is well handled, but the other side of the story doesn’t click together – I’ve found that this is a common problem with origin stories that try to add an action plot on top of the origin story (there is a reason why, in old comic books, origins were relegated to flashbacks: origins don’t always work as a complete story in their own right because they are just beginnings) – which means that the six issues don’t hold together as a whole. The book works as a love letter to Superman and Christopher Reeves, with some lovely Frank art and some nice embellishments to the origin story.

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