Geoff Johns had a pretty successful Green Lantern storyline called Secret Origin, a retcon of the origin of the character that set up storylines like Blackest Night, bringing new characters and concept to the origin and linking them with current continuity. It was both successful and entertaining, and so DC decided that Johns should bring his magic touch to Superman. Already deep into a successful run on Action Comics (including issues co-written by Richard Donner and featuring art by Adam Kubert, and featuring a revitalizing of Superman’s rogues like Zod and the Toyman), it was announced that Johns would team up with Gary Frank (with whom he has just completed an arc on Action Comics) to do a mini-series, Superman: Secret Origin.
Announced as the “definitive” origin of Superman for the modern, post-Infinite Crisis DC Universe continuity, the story incorporated elements of the movie series and Smallville continuity, showing Clark Kent in his pre-teens as Superboy, meeting a young Lex Luthor in Smallville. Unfortunately plagued by delays, the six-issue series took almost a full year to come out, and despite positive reviews, many fans didn’t end up staying all the way through the series.
More information and my review after the jump!
Superman: Secret Origin had an interesting reaction upon its announcement. While most fans were excited because the creative team (Geoff Johns and Gary Frank are really a modern dream team), there was also some confusion. After all, DC had already done a “definitive” origin of Superman in 2004’s Birthright from Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu, which was pretty popular. Fans had committed to that origin, would this contradict it?
Post-Crisis Superman’s origin was something of a mystery, and had been contradicted so many times over that it was actually a little frustrating. “Modernizing” origins was one thing, but there were a good number of tellings of the origin that just didn’t work with each other, and, especially after Infinite Crisis, fans really were really hoping for some clarity regarding Superman’s past. Had he fought Zod before? Had he been Superboy in his time in Smallville?
Secret Origin doesn’t go back to Krypton. Rather, it begins after Clark has discovered his powers, and they’re developing more as he hits puberty. The mini series kind of goes with a series of “firsts” for Clark – his first kiss, the first time he uses heat vision, his first meeting with the Legion of Super Heroes, his first meeting with Lois and the gang at the Daily Planet, etc. etc.
Which, to a certain extent is both its strength and its weakness. Superman: Secret Origin retreads some familiar material (the first meeting with Legion, his first appearance in Metropolis) and re-imagines it with a modern sheen. The influence of both the Donner films and Smallville are clearly apparent here, but the comic doesn’t feel like it’s imitating either, except in the case of the art (which I’ll get back to later).
As for how it’s a weakness? Well, I wouldn’t actually call this Superman’s Secret Origin, per se. It’s nice to get the modern take on the Superman mythos, but the stuff it leaves out is pretty important. Krypton is mentioned only sparingly, despite being a big presence on the covers of the series. Krypto the Superdog is seen in a photo, but never explored. And while I don’t mind picking and choosing what “important” pieces of the Superman origin to tell, I think some of the items it does focus on are a little lackluster.
The series’ second half focuses on the introduction of Superman to Metropolis, and the role Lex Luthor plays in the creation of the villains Parasite and Metallo. Unfortunately, the new origins on those characters aren’t all that interesting, and Metallo’s new character design is a pale comparison to the original. The story feels like it’s barreling all too quickly to its ending, just as we’re really getting into it.
I’d say that the first half of the series is much stronger than the second half, but overall Secret Origin is a must-read for any Super fan. The way that the most memorable moments of Superman’s origin have been reimagined is pretty stellar. My overall major gripe, I’d say, is that the story focuses on preaching to those who are familiar with Superman, rather than giving a completely reimagined origin take, like Green Lantern: Secret Origin. In addition, there is some foreshadowing to the War of the Supermen storyline which feels out of place (since it’s not resolved in this series) and, sadly…that storyline really wasn’t all that hot.
As for Gary Frank’s art, if you’re familiar with his Superman art, you either love it or you hate it. His take on Superman is obviously influenced by the look of Christopher Reeve and, for one, I think it’s a pretty solid look. A lot of us grew up with Superman looking like Reeve, so this feeds into that nostalgia. However, if you’re not a fan of that influence (I believe Aron has mentioned that the Reeve-inspired visuals bug him), then you’ll have issues with the art as soon as Superman shows up in Metropolis. The creative team make their love for the Donner Superman clear in this series, and at the time it was released, there was a huge surge in interest in the original movies – Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, Richard Donner writing Action Comics with Geoff Johns, the release of the original movies on DVD, etc.
I enjoyed Superman: Secret Origin, but wished I could have seen more of the origin itself, and less of the uninteresting villains. While this series is obviously no longer in continuity with the New 52, it’s still worth a read for those who love Superman, and are already familiar with his origin. The Deluxe Edition hardcover, however, is “deluxe” in name only. It’s oversized, but there are no extras. I’m not sure why they would call it “Deluxe,” to be honest with you. Still, if you’re craving the type of Superman you probably grew up with, the one that inspires hope and is just an overall nice guy, Secret Origin is right up your alley.
Well, since starting In Search of Superman, I’ve decided that I really want to build up a Superman memorabilia collection. I’m going to start small, with little items that I come across, and eventually (when I can devote a decent amount of time and space to it), really build up to the good stuff. So every week I figure I’ll be purchasing something, and I’ll update you guys on what I buy here!
This week’s additions to the collection: Superman pajama pants, t-shirt, and iPhone 4S case, all from Old Navy (in store, not online). Also, Superman: Secret Origin from my local comic shop (you can purchase using the Amazon link below!)
Do you have a Superman collection? Send me pics at firstname.lastname@example.org!