Clark makes some new friends when Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, and Lightning Lad of The Legion of Superheroes visit him from the future. Lex Luthor succeeds, on his second attempt, in finding a means to leave Smallville and relocate to Metropolis in order to begin his conquest of the city. Meanwhile, another ship lands on the Kent’s farm. It’s a ship that very closely resembles Clark’s but contains a very different…animal.
Clark’s powers are keeping him from making friends and fitting in since he’s so worried about accidentally hurting someone again like he hurt his friend Pete Ross when they were playing football. He’s quickly becoming an outcast among his classmates in the eyes of all except one, Lana Lang. Clark isn’t ready for a romantic relationship though, and unwittingly pushes her away. Things are looking pretty down for the young Clark Kent until three visitors from the future arrive and whisk him away on an adventure of epic proportions. It’s the kind of adventure that will become commonplace to Clark as he grows, but seems like the trip of a lifetime to him now. All of these events converge to form the type of man that Clark will become one day, although at this point he feels that he can only “be himself” when he’s around his new friends from the future…
Geoff Johns presents a new take on the Clark Kent/Superman identity that harkens back to the early days of the character where Superman was more his primary identity and Clark Kent was more the façade. At first it looks like a drastic change from the John Byrne take on Superman’s identity where Superman was the façade. Johns is striking a pretty good balance overall though when one takes a step back and re-examines Clark’s budding identity issues. While he definitely has to hide his physical abilities around his classmates in order to avoid hurting them, thusly becoming an outcast, he still is a part of a loving family, if not a larger social group. He is the beloved son of Ma and Pa Kent first, then “Superboy,” since he’s flying around Smallville in his super-suit saving townsfolk, then he’s a misfit at school. He will have to hide his physical abilities, but these abilities will not be what make him an outcast. It’s the cruelty of his fellows that will. When he learns a bit about what he’ll do in the future and how he’ll inspire a universe full of super powered kids to grow up and follow his example, he’ll learn how important his future actions will be. Still though, in Smallville he can’t “be himself” as he admits to his Pa, but he still has the love of his parents, who will always be there for him, whether he can “be himself” or not. It’s this love that will define him more as a person than the names (Clark, Kal, Superman) he takes on, or his abilities, or the cruelty of his classmates will. Clark will have to fill many roles and take on several identities in his time, but he will always be Ma and Pa Kent’s son, no matter what.
In contrast, Lex Luthor’s developing story is exactly the opposite of Clark’s. Luthor is a loner by choice. He is vastly more intelligent than all those around him, but it is his arrogance that truly separates him from his fellows. He dreams of leaving Smallville and becoming something grander, much like Clark will dream of doing one day as well, but Luthor’s motivations are self-centered in nature whereas Clark’s will be altruistic. Both boys are going through identity crises, but only one will turn out having the best interests of his fellow men in mind, because no matter how the world ends up treating him, he will always have the grounding support of loving parents. Luthor definitely does not, and his father’s neglect will have terrible consequences on the word.
The interesting theme of identity and nature vs. nurture that Johns is focusing on in Superman: Secret Origin #2 is a highly relevant one to today’s youth. Much like Clark, many youngsters today have several obligations, influences, as well as the call of their own talents and abilities pulling them in many directions at once. Often times these factors make it difficult to establish an identity where they can “be themselves,” instead of having to live up to their parents’ aspirations, or the demands of our highly superficial society and its glorification of power and money. While young adults and adolescents might not have to deal with heat vision erupting from their eye sockets when kissed by someone they have a crush on, or has a crush on them, like Clark does, they do have their own seemingly super powered obstacles to overcome. John’s allegorical tale of Clark’s coming of age is relevant and important in its message. Luthor becomes a bitter, arrogant, future tyrant, and Clark becomes, more or less, a savior with the good of all others as his paramount goal in life. The difference between the two is measured by the presence or absence of loving parents. Superman: Secret Origin #2 is a tale that can easily be related to by many a young adult, but it is also a tale with a lesson to all of those young adult’s parents. John’s is living up to the great potential that a writer of Superman’s stories has at his fingertips. He’s telling a tale where love and respect, and a desire to use your talents, whatever they may be, for the benefit of others, is essential to living a noble life. The ability to develop this type of altruism starts in the home, and is gifted to children by parents who take on the task of loving and instilling virtue in their children. Who said that Superman as a character, and the tales that can be told around him are growing irrelevant? Try telling a tale filled with as much positive themes as this with Wolverine…you won’t get far.
Gary Frank continues his great stint as penciller on this series, with Brad Anderson handling the colors. All of Frank’s panels are great renderings of small town life, future sci-fi adventure, and colorful costumed heroes. He continues to draw the young Clark Kent/Superboy with a visage that is highly reminiscent of Christopher Reeve, which is a great tribute to the greatest actor to ever play the character. At times though, some of the other male characters in the book also resemble Christopher Reeve. The prime example of this is the cover image of Superman, Brainiac 5, Saturn Girl, Lightening Lad, and Cosmic Boy. Cosmic Boy’s head is almost interchangeable with Superboy’s. They look strikingly similar. This is a minor complaint though. The art of the series thus far is fantastic.
Overall, Johns continues to show what a powerful, engaging, and relevant character Superman is to the world of storytelling. He is the prime example of what a superhero is in contrast to the brooding, dark killers that often overcrowd the racks at the local comic shop. While the stories of heroes and anti-heroes like Wolverine are enjoyable for what they are, and can be engaging and “realistic” in their own right, Superman is the rare type of hero who can appeal to all and not just angry kids. Clark has his issues as well, but the story of his overcoming of them, and the example of the support that loving parents can provide is a much more realistic and powerful tale than one where the “hero” wakes up without a memory and slaughters all those around him in an adamantium claw driven rage. Again, don’t get me wrong, Wolverine can be great, but Superman is great, and relevant.