Superman: Secret Origin #1 (of 6)
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Gary Frank & Jon Sibal
Colors by Brad Anderson
Letters by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow
”…The, uh, the glasses work by the way” -- Clark Kent
From The Adventures of Superman to Superman the Movie, to Lois & Clark and Smallville, I can recall and recount the origins of the Last Son of Krypton in virtually every way in the live-action medium on top of the ways it's been told in comics (John Byrne's Man of Steel, Mark Waid's Superman: Birthright, and that's just in my recent lifetime). It's going to take the series as a whole to determine where Superman: Secret Origins is going to rank among these, but I do have to say that the debut issue is a beautiful thing to look at and a page-turning delight.
Right away, and I was somewhat grateful for this, writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank skipped over some of the earliest details that really didn't need a re-imagining, or else they are being explored elsewhere in Superman's monthly titles via "New Krypton." No rockets blasting off a doomed planet, no crazy scene of a rural-based couple in Kansas having their drive down a country road interrupted by an errant unidentified flying object. Instead the creative team sets the scene in Smallville where a (by my estimation, 14- or 15-year-old) Clark Kent is seemingly alone in a country field looking up toward the heavens and being asked "Why are you here?" In a clever bit of misdirection for those all too familiar with Clark's longtime history, the scene is not what it initially appears to be, as evidenced by the following page. This Clark Kent is just another kid playing football with his neighborhood friends, but this idyllic scene is abruptly cut short by a most unintentional moment of violence. To no reader's surprise, Clark is hardly like any other teenage boy, and it is at this point in "Book One: The Boy of Steel" that our lead character starts to come to grips with the fact that there is a lot more to him than anyone else. Judging by a couple of instances showing Clark meeting up with his dad, Jonathan, he should've known better than thinking he could play like anyone else.
Superman: Secret Origin #1 succeeds remarkably in straddling that line between the embracing the familiar and freshening things up enough to keep veteran readers like myself guessing as to how things play out and accessing neophyte fans. Unlike, say, the CW's Smallville, where they have strayed so far out of DCU canon in terms of characters involved in Superman's life before he even put on a costume (more on that aspect of Clark’s growing up later), it's clear that Johns & Co. to a certain extent are going to maintain the integrity of the lead character's decades of history while acknowledging that the occasional liberty can be taken to invigorate his contemporary stories.
What's also welcome is how the book so far holds on to aspects of origin stories of the past while adding to them or better fleshing them out. One great example is with Lana Lang. Back in 1986, one of the key changes John Byrne made to the mythology was her involvement in Clark's formative years, in fact being the only person in on his secret after Jonathan and Martha Kent. Johns tweaks this a bit in that she's in on the secret for years instead of being told literally the night before Clark moves on from the small town to embrace his destiny in a worldly arena (see Man of Steel). The occasions featuring her in this first issue range from humorously endearing to harrowing, and they are all effective. Lex Luthor's history dating back to Smallville is also tapped, a nod to the underappreciated efforts of Mark Waid a few years ago in Superman: Birthright, never mind the Silver Age. However, Lex doesn't get nearly the coverage in this chapter as do other supporting cast members, in fact there is little else beyond the preview pages you likely saw offered in the last month's DC titles. Obviously it's a bigger fish to fry in later chapters, if the striking variant cover by Gary Frank is any indication.
On a production level, Superman: Secret Origin #1 is an outstanding beginning to things. It's just as sharp as what we got from this creative team recently in Action Comics (yea, how you are so missed there). Gary Frank has clearly had breathing room to flex his artistic muscles, and he turns in eye-popping work considering the only superhero costume he gets to do is on the very last page (and, with all due respect to John Byrne, the fabled scenario of Clark being suited up by his adoptive parents for the first time just reinvented itself to the top of the heap). Frank's penchant for expressiveness can be found on every single page of Johns' heartfelt and emotional script that tends to the smaller details as well as the broad sweeping strokes that wash over a series of this scale. And the guy can draw kids, something I'm always a stickler for in comic book art. Brad Anderson's colors keep the neo-rustic scene in Smallville, Kansas, lively while seamlessly transitioning to the science fiction elements found in situations involving Clark's Kryptonian rocket ship and his epic first encounter with his biological parents. So far everything about this book feels right to this lifelong fan of Superman.
Respectful to its predecessors while keeping an eye toward an unknown future, Superman: Secret Origin #1 validates the adage that what once was old can in fact be new again.