Friday, November 6, 2009

Superman: Secret Origin

John Byrne must be rolling over in his grave.
Oh, wait, he's not dead--just irrelevant.
However, you can bet that if there is an afterlife, longtime Superman editor Mort Weisinger is pretty happy.
Over the past few years, a new generation of superstar writers and artists have been systematically undoing the changes to the legend of Superman made by John Byrne and Marv Wolfman in the wake of Crisis On Infinite Earths and bringing back many of the Weisinger era concepts once abandoned and dismissed as "silly". Now, one of those writers, Geoff Johns, along with artists Gary Frank and Jon Sibal, are carving these retcons in stone as the official continuity in a six issue mini-series called Superman: Secret Origin.

In the second issue, we see Clark going into action as "Superboy," and witness his first meeting with representatives of the 31st centuries Legion of Super-Heroes. Later in the issue, another Kryptonian spaceship lands in Smallville, this one carrying the Kryptonian puppy Krypto. Another recently restored element of the pre-COIE Supes bio is the idea that Clark and Lex Luthor had known each other as teens in Smallville, and the issue ends with Lex, having just murdered his father, preparing to leave behind small town life and head out for the "City of Tomorrow," Metropolis.
One thing that Byrne established that remains in the new telling is the reversal of the pre-Crisis Clark/Superman dynamic. Before Man of Steel, the Superman persona was treated as the real identity and Clark Kent as the disuise. This is epitomized by the phrase from opening of TV's The Adventures of Superman, "...who disguised as Clark Kent," and by the fact that when, in Alan Moore's elegy for the Weisinger era Superman, "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" Superman's secret identity is revealed to the world, it is the Kent persona he abandons to become Superman full time. Byrne established that while Kal-El may have been born on Krypton, his upbringing on Earth has conditioned him to think and feel as a human being, thus Superman is a disguise to protect Clark Kent's privacy. Whereas Byrne tells us this in one of Superman's thought balloons, Johns shows us through the fact that Secret Origin is one of the few retellings of Superman's origins that begins on Earth rather than Krypton.
One of the first things that struck me as I looked at the art, especially in the first issue, is the influence of the Superman movies on the look of Superman's world. The brief glimpses of Krypton we get are of a world of gleaming crystalline structures and when Jor-El appears, he is clad in his Marlon Brando hand-me-down toga, complete with "S" shield crest. There's probably a big Smallville influence as well, but I don't watch that show, so I can't really tell you.
As for the art, I've always liked Gary Frank's art going back to his days on The Incredible Hulk, but here something about it seems a little off. The figures are a little stiff and mannequin-like. I'll blame it on the inker.
For fans of Superman, this is obviously a must have mini-series. After all, as the saying goes, you can't tell the players without a program, and this is the program. Still in all, I'd recommend giving it a pass until the trade comes out. You know the story, so the appeal of this mini-series is how it's told, and you can probably appreciate that better when you read the whole thing at once.

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