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Superman: Secret Origin (Issue 1)

DC

Written by Geoff Johns; Art by Gary Frank and Jon Sibal; Covers by Gary Frank

Sep 23, 2009 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


I’m not sure if we really needed yet another “definitive” account of Superman’s origin. It seems like ol’ Golden Boy’s narrative is pretty much canonical by now. Sure, writer/fanboy darling Geoff Johns (Infinite Crisis) and capable Action Comics illustrator Gary Frank (Superman: New Krypton) make a good point: from Superman: Birthright, to Man of Steel and New Krypton, Clark Kent’s origin has received a multitude of retcons. Despite this, the core narrative elements are there and wholly understood. The through-line of a sole survivor of a dead planet being raised by salt of the Earth parents remains firm even if New Krypton lessens its dramatic import. Issue one of Superman: Secret Origin tackles the early years. You know, the awkward Smallvile or Smallville stuff. Johns and Frank are deft at drawing on DC’s storied well, but sometimes they get a little carried away. Many fans on the Internet have complained about DC’s unhealthy preoccupation with Christopher Reeves’ visage and it’s easy to agree when the young Clark looks like the deceased thespian here.

This first installment in a six-part miniseries goes over Clark’s life in Smallville and how he finds out about his powers. Clark’s heat vision acting up when Lana kisses him for the first time is an old trick but Johns treats it with the utmost sincerity. “Sincerity” would be an apt descriptor that keeps this seemingly humdrum retelling from becoming a total bore. The young Superman’s interactions with his adopted parents are cuddly without being too cloying and the red-haired Lex Luthor is a nice touch. His obsession with extra-terrestrials and a transitive story thread about his abusive father add much-needed background, but he still feels a little rushed in the narrative department. Later issues will hopefully flesh out his friendship and ultimate bitter rivalry with young Supes. Lana on the other hand, is still a echoic cypher of Lois Lane, and Kal-El’s parents (Lara and Jor-El) seem a little off artistically.

Johns is known for playing soft with the canon, so I often wish he’d throw some curveballs, like he did on Green Lantern: Secret Origin or the less successful, The Flash: Rebirth. Instead, we either get Norman Rockwell-esque reproductions of smalltown life or a cheap tornado plot thickener out of nowhere. Johns zooms through his plot points quickly, making Secret Origin Book One: The Boy of Steel‘s 48 pages a quick read. He’s proven with his work on Green Lantern and The Flash that he’s an outstanding writer when the material is there. Superman: Secret Origin is sadly a non-starter in that area. Frank’s linework is whimsical and homey, yet dark and foreboding when it needs to amp up the tension. Both creators’ creative spirits are more indicative of the current state of DC than its storied past.

Much of what DC has set into place since Superman left Earth seems to be designed to separate itself from Superman’s traditional origin. Secret Origin is no exception. The recent Siegel estate litigation comes to mind, even though Johns starting working on this well before that case. The forthcoming issues deal with less rote material, such as the Legion of Super-Heroes (issue two), Clark’s arrival in Metropolis and at the Daily Planet (issue three), and his first tussles with classic adversaries such as Parasite and Lex Luther (issue four). Hopefully when the series ends in February of next year we’ll have something novel to chew on instead of this fluff. Read Johns’ Blackest Night instead. (www.geoffjohns.com, www.dccomics.com)

Author rating: 5/10

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Average reader rating: 5/10



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