By Andy Frisk
November 30, 2009 - 18:08
Clark Kent bumbles and stumbles around Metropolis en route to his first day on the job at The Daily Planet, but from the looks of things at The Planet’s offices though, he may not be working there for long. It seems that The Planet is the only newspaper in Metropolis to actually have “the guts to take on that self-righteous megalomaniac,” Lex Luthor. As a result, The Planet is on the “brink of bankruptcy.” Luthor is driving them out of business. Luthor owns Metropolis, and his inventions draw billions of dollars to the city, and himself, of course, so challenging Luthor isn’t exactly the most economically sound thing to do, but nothing can deter Lois Lane from pursing “Truth, Justice, and the America Way” (a slogan that Perry White, The Planet’s editor in chief used to have engraved on a plaque on his office wall). After a hasty introduction to Clark, Lois enlists him in an investigative mission at Lexcorp, where Luthor is unveiling a new “government contracted weapon disguised as a technological achievement,” according to Lois. The only problem is that Daily Planet reporters aren’t allowed on Lexcorp property. When Lois is discovered, tries to make a hasty getaway, tangles with Lexcorp security and Lexcorp scientists (who are demonstrating Luthor’s new power suits by holding a helicopter up in the air with one arm,) all at the top of Lexcorp Towers, disaster ensues, and Superman must fly to the rescue…
Superman: Secret Origin simply gets better and better with each passing issue. While we’re basically getting treated to the same old Superman origin story, it doesn’t feel like the same old Superman origin story. The basic elements are all here: Clark gets a job at The Daily Planet, meets Lois Lane, saves Lois’ life as Superman mere hours after meeting her, and makes a stunning debut which ushers in the modern age of costumed heroes. Johns freshens these elements of Superman’s origin tale by adding nuanced touches that, like in the previous two issues of Superman: Secret Origin, create a tale for the reader that is old and new at the same time. The Daily Planet, in Johns’ refreshed origin tale, isn’t the powerhouse newspaper at the forefront of Metropolis’ news organizations. In fact, it’s teetering on the brink of financial collapse because of its reportage of Lex Luthor's more sinister side. Clark debuts as Superman while saving Lois’ life by catching her as she plummets from the top of the Lexcorp Tower, while also catching the falling helicopter like the scene in Richard Donner’s Superman film. This might be a throwback to an earlier Superman origin tale, but it’s new and fresh in the eyes of current readers since for over the past twenty years we’ve been subject to the retreading of John Byrne’s “Strange Super-Man saves Space Plane” debut. Again, like in Byrne’s story, Superman gets mobbed immediately after saving Lois, underestimating the populace’s reaction to him, but this happens as he is dressed as gaudy superhero, not just some guy in street clothes. It might seem ironic to state that this particular Superman origin story feels new when it borrows so much from previous stories, but the way Johns mixes them, choosing the best elements of each, truly creates something that is nostalgically appealing and new at the same time. Most importantly, intelligently, and significantly though, Lois Lane, being the great reporter that she is, immediately sees through Clark’s goofy demeanor…to a point.
One of the biggest inconsistencies ever in the Superman mythos is the question: How does Lois Lane, one of the best investigative news reporters of her time, completely overlook the fact that Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same for such a long time? Superman II, the movie, dealt with this quandary very well, and over the years various Superman comic book writers have tackled it with varying degrees of success and silliness. Johns takes this inconsistency in Lois’ character head on. Mere minutes after Lois and Clark meet, Lois asks him:
“Tell me the truth, Clark. This is all an act isn’t it?”
“What is?” replies Clark.
“The bad suit. The slouching. And those glasses completely overtake your face. Your prescription distorts your eyes, but the eyes tell the story.”
“They do?” asks Clark.
“You want to underestimated don’t you?”
Lois goes on to state that Perry White wouldn’t have hired him if he didn’t see something in him, and she sees it too…Clark hasn’t debuted as Superman yet, so what Lois sees in him isn’t his alter ego, but she sees something noble, yet hidden, behind Clark’s bumbling act. One has to believe that Lois will figure out Clark’s secret on her own and not be surprised that her partner is The Man of Steel. You also can’t help but get the sense that there’s definitely some sort of spark between Lois and Clark shortly after they meet, even if it’s not “love at first sight.” One feels that with this rebooting of Superman’s origin tale, Clark still has a chance at winning Lois’ attention, and eventual affections, as himself and not as a result of his being Superman. Yes, again this was the case with Byrne’s reboot as well, but seeing Clark do this as a bumbling goody-goody will be a treat (if we get a Superman: Secret Origin II, hint, hint, Mr. Johns if you’re reading this!).
Gary Frank, Jon Sibal, and Brad Anderson’s work doesn’t skip a beat as the setting transitions from Smallville and Clark as Superboy to Metropolis and Clark as Superman. Like Johns does with the story, Frank visually recreates the same characters we’ve seen all these years, but breathes new life into them. The scene where Lois and Clark shake hands for the first time really conveys the physical dynamic between the two (Clark is about a head taller than her) that will be reflected in the masterfully iconic scene of Superman catching Lois in mid air later on. Frank’s artistic ability to create realistic looking costumes, outfits, anatomy, and facial expressions all remain a joy to behold and are worthy of the task of visually recreating the origin story of the greatest superhero of all time.
Superman: Secret Origin is shaping up to be the best retelling of The Man of Steel’s beginnings ever produced in comic book form, thus far. Johns and Frank are not only updating Superman for the 21st Century, they are endearing him to old and new fans alike all over again.
Rating: 10 /10