By Andy Frisk
February 1, 2010 - 20:31
In Superman: Secret Origin #4 titled “Parasites,” we catch a glimpse of the frenzy that is Luthor’s daily process of choosing one needy Metropolitan’s life to change. It seems that Luthor is beneficently giving back to the people of the city who have given so much to him or, in reality, that he’s taken so much from. Many of the people who win the “infamous Lexcorp Lottery,” as Lois Lane calls it, end up missing, and the latest “winner” ends up suffering a fate that forever changes not only his, but Superman’s life as well.
This episode’s title “Parasites” carries a two fold meaning. It refers not only to the introduction of the first super villain Superman faces (in this reboot of The Man of Steel’s origin), but to the relationship between Luthor and Metropolis as well. Luthor, who styles himself as the city’s savior, is in reality a parasite living off of the city’s infrastructure, businesses, and worst of all, its citizens. He moved to Metropolis when he was young to begin his domination of the city through, in Lois’ words, “corporate takeovers, kicking out of tenants and family businesses, trying to squash every media outlet that doesn’t show you [Luthor] in the brightest light, most notably The Daily Planet,” and generally living off of the goodwill extended to him by the unsuspecting citizens of Metropolis who are willing to blindly allow him to do all these things. The Parasite, accidentally created in Luthor’s labs this issue, might be a physical parasite that lives off of the energies of other beings, but Luthor is a far more dangerous and evil parasite who is living off of the goodwill of the populace through a whitewashing of his true nature. It’s a nature that Lois is determined to reveal.
Much is established in this issue that supports and ties into the current Superman story running in The Superman Family of books. The groundwork of General Lane and Luthor’s cooperation is laid out, along with Luthor’s xenophobia and Superman’s complicated reaction to Luthor’s anti-Superman statements. Superman, quite interestingly and uniquely, is portrayed as uneasy with his choice of being a public “superhero” and his ability to “fit in” in Metropolis. He’s not a morose, self doubting self defeatist mind you. He’s just having trouble fitting in at this early stage. Johns portrays this aspect of Superman’s origin with a very light, but very engaging, touch. Superman is the ultimate personification of the immigrant who wants to fit in and help, but is still grasping at his role in society as well as his identity. He isn’t the only one going through a crisis of identity and goals though…
Perhaps the best aspect of this fourth chapter of John’s new imaging of Superman’s origin is his explanation of the bond that Jimmy Olsen and Superman share, and what makes them such steadfast pals, or more appropriately, friends. Jimmy doesn’t fit in yet in Metropolis either. He’s considering leaving Metropolis for good because “I don’t fit in here.” Jimmy hasn’t met with much, if any, success since he immigrated to Metropolis. The kid is about to give up on the city, as is The Man of Steel, but Superman realizes that quitting isn’t the answer. If he gives up, what good will he ever accomplish? Superman’s mission is “to help people…” and it’s a noble one. By convincing Jimmy to stay and pursue his dreams, Superman takes a first step towards really beginning to fulfill his goal, however small a first step it is. This type of character development and insight into human relations, goals, fears, and confidences is why Johns is the highly respected and beloved author he is. He writes engaging character dramas that are wonderful and poignant in their portrayals of their protagonists while continuing the tradition of delivering mature and thoughtful (as well as fun) stories about larger than life characters that we can relate to.
Johns’ wonderful characterizations wouldn’t come as vibrantly alive as they do without Frank, Anderson, and Sibal’s incredible artwork. No matter how many times we see it, Frank’s depiction of Superman/Clark Kent as played by Christopher Reeve remains striking. It’s still a fine tribute to one of the finest actors to play Superman, and a wonderfully nostalgic touchstone for all older Superman fans who still fondly cherish Superman The Movie. Frank does more than just draw a nostalgia stirring Superman though. His Parasite is just as wonderfully horrific looking (and downright disgustingly gross) as Superman is wonderfully engaging. Frank’s Lois and Luthor are both beautifully penciled as well, and they really have no resemblance to any actors who have portrayed them before. This really stands out in contrast to Superman’s resemblance to Reeve. This isn’t a rehashing of an older Superman tale. It’s an updating of a classic one with a nod to the past.
Frank and company's work delivers artistically just as solidly as Johns' storytelling does, and as powerfully. Superman: Secret Origin is the penultimate amalgamation of the best aspects of Superman’s many origin stories. It’s repackaged and reinvigorated for the 21st Century. This series will define The Man of Steel’s origin for years to come.
Rating: 10 /10