By Andy Frisk
September 23, 2009 - 21:45
John Byrne’s classic Man of Steel miniseries, which debuted right after Crisis on Infinite Earths ended, was the definitive and highly original re-imagining of the Superman character for a new age of DC Comics, Superman fans, and readers. It was a unique retelling of the Man of Steel’s origin that reflected the attitudes and trends of the day. Lex Luthor was an evil businessman, and Clark Kent wasn’t a goofball misfit, but a socially capable and likable former hometown football star whose superpowers developed slowly over time. As the years flew by though, continuity took its toll and editorial attitudes changed, especially under the direction of Dan Didio, Senior VP-Executive Editor of DC Comics, and everything old was new again, or more aptly put, everything Silver Age was new again. Overall, this newly injected nostalgia for the Silver Age hasn’t hurt DC Comics’ books, and has, especially in the instance of Green Lantern Rebirth, which returned Hal Jordan to the role of Greatest Green Lantern, allowed for some great and thematically powerful tales to be told. This has also been the case with the return of Barry Allen in The Flash: Rebirth, albeit to a lesser extent as far as the storytelling has gone. Now it’s Superman’s turn to receive his Neo-Silver Age makeover. Truly we can say that the age of Crisis on Infinite Earths, or the Dark Age, or Copper Age, or whatever the members of comic fandom want to call it, has closed. When Superman is the subject of a major reboot with a miniseries, a new age has descended upon us, no matter what the “Comics Age” haters say. We have entered the Neo-Silver Age of comics, and the verdict on the first issue of the first big miniseries event of the new age is…
…well, let’s let the readers of the first issue and this article about Superman Secret Origin #1 decide for themselves.
Superman Secret Origin #1 opens with Clark, his childhood pal Pete Ross, and their group of friends playing a game of backyard football. Clark catches a pass and is tackled by Pete. Immediately, Pete screams out in pain, as he has broken his arm. All works out well though, for upon returning to school, Pete is the object of the attention of the entire Smallville High Pep Squad (comprised of all the school’s cute girls). They are lining up to sign his cast. No harm is done and boyhood friendship remains intact. No one knows what really happened and just why Pete’s arm was broken when he tackled Clark, except for Clark himself, and Clark’s closest friend, Lana Lang. Clark and Lana have shared his secret ever since Clark saved her from certain farm equipment accident related death when they were a few years younger. Of course, Ma and Pa Kent know all about Clark’s abilities, and Pa decides that it’s time to reveal to Clark the particulars of his origins, namely by revealing the rocket ship that he and Ma found him in.
Geoff Johns, yet again, works his storytelling magic, and creates very vivid and alive characters and characterizations that, even though you know all of them already, makes you feel as if you’re meeting, Clark, Lana, Pete, and Lex Luthor again for the first time. Each one of them is vividly alive, and you quickly become interested and intrigued by, as well as attracted to, all of them. Johns also moves the story along very concisely, and introduces all the major characters while giving us the in’s and out’s of this new, redefining origin of Superman. Along the way we discover what plot and characters from the time of Crisis on Infinite Earths to Final Crisis made the cut, and what plots and characters didn’t. Doomsday is in, Lex Luthor the business man is out, (although he probably will still be the founder of Lexcorp). He will be much more of a mad/genius scientist character, as we’ve seen him play the role of over the past few years, and in the now continuity irrelevant and problem riddled Superman Birthright.
It is Johns’ characterizations and little plot events that seem cute and funny at first, which upon reflection really serve to, not only endear the characters to us, but make profound statements on the themes of doing the right thing, nature vs. nurture, the importance of family (in Clark’s case, adoptive or foster family) and the toll the lack of a loving family and friends can take. One perfect example of John’s subtle, yet powerful storytelling revolves around how he shows the development of Clark’s heat vision.
Clark first manifests his heat vision when he suddenly and unexpectedly experiences his first kiss with Lana. The second time his heat vision manifests is when he suddenly and unexpectedly triggers the sun crystal from his rocket ship in front of his Ma and Pa which contains the information on his biological parents and his home world of Krypton. The two instances are extremely passionate moments in his young life. One is filled with the first adolescent stirrings of love, and the second is a moment of fear, and fear driven anger at discovering that his world has changed in an instant with Jor-El’s holographic revelations. So when Clark is angry and frightened, or experiencing the first innocent stimulations of love, his heat vision fires off. Love and hate may be opposites, but they are opposites of the same side of the dichotomy of passion and apathy. Clark’s passion, the fact that he is alive existentially, emotionally, and physically, and is engaged in the world around him, and not apathetic about life and his surroundings, is quite evident and related very well through Johns’ imagining of the first time manifestations of his heat vision. He might be an alien, he might be different and gifted with incredible powers, but at the core of his being, Clark is as human as the rest of us. All sentient beings share fears, dislikes, likes, as well as the need for love and acceptance. The lack of love and acceptance is what dehumanizes Luthor and makes him a tragic figure. He comes from a broken home, as Johns shows us, and is himself an outcast in his own family, so he grows to be a great hater of those who are different and not like him, namely those who are not geniuses and not human, or in some cases both…Pretty profound for a simple tale of a superhero as he grows up, huh?
The profound and touching allegorically human story that is the ongoing tale of Superman is what makes Superman so enduring and endearing a character. A great character, appearing in a multitude of monthly comic books, can’t be fully actualized through a written story alone. He has to have a great artist visually bring him to life. Right now, all of the artists working on the Superman Family of titles are among the best in the business, and Gary Frank is very obviously one of the best as well. Frank draws a Superman/Clark Kent who strikingly resembles, by design, Christopher Reeve. It’s a great homage to the man who portrayed Superman most convincingly and lived a life, after his paralyzing accident that reflected and by far exceeded the strength of character that the superhero he played so well embodied. Frank does just as great a job bringing to life the other characters in the story, such as Ma and Pa Kent, and Lana. The small, Americana filled, Midwestern, fictional town of Smallville is just as much a well developed character in Superman Secret Origin #1, as the living characters are. Smallville High is a very detailed and well drawn locale that is immediately and nostalgically recognizable, even though no one has ever been there because it doesn’t exist. The same is true for the rest of Smallville, with its beautiful sunsets, corn fields, tractors and harvesters, quiet creeks, and sudden storms. Like Smallville High, we’ve never been there, but Frank brings the town to life and makes it feel like home.
So overall, how well does this Neo-Silver Age miniseries makeover of one of the most beloved superheroes of all time start off? Don’t let this article about Superman Secret Origin #1 convince you of its greatness. Pick up the first installment of this fantastic retelling of Superman's origin for yourself. It’s definitely not Byrne’s Man of Steel, and again it will be up to the reader to decide which take on Superman’s beginning is their favorite, but like Man of Steel, it pays homage to and embodies the best attributes of the now timeless and classic story of the ultimate superhero, created all those years ago, who has proven to be not only the first, but the best superhero of them all.
Rating: 10 /10