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Mild Mannered Reviews - Regular Superman Comics

Superman: Secret Origin #1 Superman: Secret Origin #1

Superman: Secret Origin #1

Scheduled to arrive in stores: September 23, 2009

Cover date: November 2009

"The Boy of Steel"

Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciller: Gary Frank
Inker: Jon Sibal

Reviewed by: Neal Bailey, Adam Dechanel and James Lantz

Click to enlarge

Clark, as a boy, plays football with a group of other boys. He slips, on accident, and breaks Pete Ross' arm. After he's taken away in an ambulance, Clark apologizes to Pa for playing sports, given that he was supposed to be at the library.

The next day, as Pete is showing off his cast, Clark accidentally uses his x-ray vision. Aghast, he flees, and Lana follows him, but he can hear her from down the hall. She's been his confidant about his powers ever since a thresher accident he saved her from, and she consoles him with an unexpected kiss. Clark recoils, his heat vision firing out unintentionally, causing the fire alarm to go off and soak both of them.

At home, Ma and Pa Kent decide it's time to show Clark his spaceship. They do, and he sees Jor-El and Lara for the first time. Distraught, Clark uses his heat vision on the ship, fleeing. Jonathan follows him out into the corn and hugs him.

In another part of Smallville, Lex Luthor flees his sister and a drunken father. As he runs, he trips over Kryptonite.

Clark now sports glasses, made from a piece of the ship. Ma made them for him to control his heat vision after she realizes that the ship was impervious to the eye lasers.

Ma goes to examine the ship, and sees visions of Doomsday, Brainiac, and Zod. She also sees the bright costumes Kryptonians wore.

Clark begs off playing football, and goes with Lana to a street fair. He meets Lex Luthor, who tests his intellect. Lex shows Clark the kryptonite, and Clark freaks out, damaging the sample and infuriating Luthor.

A tornado picks up. Lana is pulled away in its wake, and Clark leaps in to save her. On the way out, he flies without thinking, and when they land, Lana gives him a kiss. The glasses protect him, and he has a moment of joy.

Martha presents him with a costume based on what she's seen from the ship. Clark goes upstairs, tries it on, and comes down in the traditional Superman suit, swearing he'll never wear it again.

Neal's Review:

5Story - 5: There's a part of me that says to grind an axe on this one, because I've seen all of this before. I have.

But I've never seen it done this tenderly. I've never seen it done this selflessly, either. Usually, when I read an origin take, it's like, "HEY, WHAT CAN I STAMP ON THIS?"

Other than Chloe's name on Pete's cast, I can't really see anything here that does anything but service the competing visions and bring it toward the center that is the story.

I.E., God forbid in comics, good writing. Writing that isn't about the ego of the creator. That's awesome.

Now we have something we can point to and say, "Okay, this is the history for a coherent narrative." And it's a good history. At least so far, who knows what next month will bring, but so far, so good.

The Byrne aspects of powers developing later is retained, and the connectivity of Luthor being in Smallville that made the television show great is rather seamlessly incorporated.

Some tweaks and changes to continuity are obviously there. Brainiac. But they all reflect a consistent view with the comics of the last three years.

Effort, care, and endeavor. Damned good work.

I like the little touches that show the writer cares about the long-term base, too. Chloe on the cast, Kenny Braverman, the tornado for Smallville folks, heat vision as an anxiety reaction.

All in all, as the pickiest Superman comic fanboy on Earth, I have no problems here.

4Art - 4: There are a few times where young Clark looks strange, but beyond that, all of this is good work for me. Like the writing here, the best quality Frank has is to service the story. There's no overt flash, but the art is just consistently good storytelling.

5Cover Art - 5: If it were scratched on a wall, and we all died, this would be a pretty good sum-up of what we generally hold up as springing from. Family values, simple, hardworking existence. These things combine into the Superman myth, and it's well encapsulated here.

It gets all existential on the next page, for your college students upset at a gross oversimplification...

5Cover Art (Alternate) - 5: Despite the fact that it doesn't fully represent what happens in the issue, given the nature of the project as a symbolic representation of Superman's history, it fits the trope well, and even manages to create an almost poster worth endeavor. My only regret is the fact that the two covers weren't popped together.

Adam's Review:

3Story - 3: Superman's origin is pretty hard to screw up, sure there have been twists and turns to it for movies, TV, cartoons and radio but it's essentially stayed the same.

I was born when Superman: The Movie came out so I missed a lot of Silver Age goodness (thank God for back issues and archives), and too young to appreciate the John Byrne polyester age.

Superman's origins to me were experienced NOT in the comics but rather with the opening credits to Superboy: The Series, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and Superman: The Animated Series.

I'm not sure what I was expecting or what you did either, I'm not talking origin, as I said its really hard to screw that up I'm talking 'yet another revamp.' I stood in the comic store listening to a few readers interviewing others about the story.

"Done to death" was the verdict and sadly, I sort of agree, however with each retelling something richer grows from the tapestry that is Superman's life story - the radio show brought us Perry White, Jimmy Olsen & Kryptonite for example. I'm forgiving for that. My personal favorite origins were the Last Son of Krypton movie (directly from Clark day dreaming) and the episode Tempus from Lois & Clark.

I've read Geoff Johns' work, from the plethora of DC Comics he pretty much runs DC all by himself these days so to hand him the origin - no, the definitive origin, the one that would repair all the plot holes created by the three most recent crises would seem a done deal. So I flicked through it... not once not twice but so much I had to get two other copies (Gosh! Comics, London - you know you love me!) and I was elated and disappointed all at the same time.

Now I know there are some readers that hate the books that are not a direct result of Man of Steel, Legends, Millennium and Panic In The Sky - for this I mourn your loss, your Superman is dead... he's an Elseworlds now. For this I'm truly sorry, he never got a decent ending - he just vanished into thin air as a result of Infinite Crisis. Argue as much as you like but the Polyester Age died as soon as Infinite Crisis began. I wont moan about Mark Waid's Birthright story line, it was another take for the Plastic Era, with modern twists and though I actually liked it, ultimately it became the most famous 'Elseworlds that wasn't.'

Long time fans will have noticed the tweaks to characters popping up left, right and center that make you feel like Geoff Johns, Sterling Gates, Greg Rucka and James Robinson have probably sat together watching too many episodes of Sliders. Here are a few... "Wait, Lucy was never pregnant? Never married?," "Wasn't Zod Russian?," "Wasn't the Fortress an under ice cavern?" all have been tweaked to a mysterious new continuity that bizarrely has some changes that couldn't have happened the way we remember because events that led to their inception have been erased... Some things were radically fixed, Supergirl, Brainiac, Toyman, Parasite while others remain a mystery...

Dan DiDio had promised these 'perceived errors' would 'reveal themselves soon' so four years later - here we are...

As with previous incarnations, elements from other media have crept in and that's been clearly evident in the lead up to Secret Origin (Yes Smallville fans I saw Chloe had signed Pete's cast.)

Apparently that was Geoff John's plan all along - there were fans of the comics of certain eras, etc but rarely a fan that could encompass all mediums. By throwing all elements into the pot we can hopefully go towards an amalgam of Superman elements that will have a flavor everyone can enjoy.

Superboy is back in continuity! Great news as he had some fantastic stories! Bizarro couldn't be here without him, Lex would have hair, the Legion would not exist and now it means Conner Kent really has got a point to his struggle over in Adventure Comics. Lana isn't the whiney witch she was before but more like her Stacy Haiduk rendition in Superboy: The Series as is Sherman Howard's Lex Luthor - I say this as those adaptions were far different to the comics too. (Thank you Ilya). Pa is a far stronger character and a definite amalgamation of his movie, Superboy and Smallville portrayals. Ma Kent was so very K Callan even the dialogue was lifted from the L&C pilot - a magical moment (but Deborah Joy Levine's not Geoff's but we'll come back to that in just a few seconds.) P.S I like that Clark can fib and has never been good at it and also that this Clark has a smart mouth like John Haymes Newton/Dean Cain.

The original rocket has been reintroduced along with the plexiglass lenses which absorb his heat vision and give reason to the good old 'raise the glasses' routine (thank you Julie, Paul and Curt...) however then this points to a continuity error... in Superman/Brainiac Clark used a Sunstone ship as in the movie... so did he use a sunstone craft or a rocket?

What I'm a little hacked off about and disappointed in as I mentioned way back at the beginning - is that Secret Origin is NOT original. Sure twists were thrown in like Doomsday and Lena Thorul but if you know where to look that's where this begins to disappoint - you can't plagiarize Superman with a Superman story. This comes off not as a definitive story but rather more like a homage to what has gone before USING what has gone before.

Here is a checklist for you:

Superman I, II, III, Superboy: The Series, Superman (Ruby Spears series) Lois & Clark - episodes Pilot & Tempus and the episode with the Alphahedron activating (the name of said episode escapes me) and Superman: Last Son of Krypton (STAS). I'm sure there are more but I was able to lift dialogue and scenes right out of all of these and place them in Secret Origin. Now I know the argument of 'without one you couldn't have the other' etc but perhaps I'd be less sour if there was a tribute panel 'Special thanks for all those in all mediums that have helped Superman become the legend he is today' (Like there was for Richard Donner in Last Son) because I thought Geoff would do a little more than lift scenes from other people's work. I found myself saying "Where have I seen that/heard that before" repeatedly which made me stop reading and going off to research where the scene came from. If it had tried for a little more originality with adapting material this would have been a home run 5/5.

So just to say again, I LOVE that Geoff and DC have decided to amalgamate the incarnations of Superman, this is proof positive that it works well (so far). There is a feeling of warm/cosy familiarity to it and perhaps that's the angle they were going for but because it uses other material as is, rather than reshape it- so far it only perpetuates the feeling "done to death". The miniseries still has a LONG way to go to explain the inconsistencies in Superman's modern history, in the next five issues it can't rely on nostalgia as its scapegoat every issue...

4Art - 4: The artwork is beautifully rendered.

Sequences are very cinematic in nature and as with the stories in current continuity by this art team emotions literally hit you from every panel.

The composition of pages have clearly been considered with epic and emotive at the forefront of their agenda to a large extent this works to great effect. The inking was a tad overdone in places, most notable in the scene where Lana and Clark soar into the river, along with coloring the farm land became dreary and swamp like - I was hoping for a more 'Greatest American Hero' type scene!

Gary can't seem to decide on Clark's age, he seems to age and revert and grow and revert throughout and there is clearly not a jump in time from beginning to end as Pete has his arm broken throughout; for characterization with inaccuracies like that, when you notice them they can be enough to pull you out of the story. Jon Sibal has a habit of over inking sometimes and that can weight heavily against the artwork. Take a look at issues 1-10 of the 'Linda Danvers' Supergirl, arguably artist's style grow with age but the artwork there seems much cleaner compared to blotting, solids, crosshatching and fading that sometimes overpower the art. We know the techniques, it doesn't mean you have to use them all at every available opportunity!

One thing that's also bugged me is that the art seems cramped in places and that's a shame, it really shines when it's given the chance. The effect of cramping panels is the same as squashing too mach dialogue on a page, sometimes it can confuse, irritate or just give you a headache. Read just the first page in #45 of Supergirl, after your eyes uncross you'll see what I mean.

Ultimately like the story, the art has some shining moments, it has undeniably stunning visuals. Perhaps the writing led to being overcritical of the art but I'll leave you with this thought: The scene where Clark is clinging to Lana in the tornado is beautiful and honestly that should have been the cover...

3Cover Art - 3: Clark is far younger than he is in the actual book and his parents are far older... inside when Clark is in his early teens Jon and Martha clearly have a bit of color in their hair.

Is it a case of creating the art as a teaser far before the finished book...? Colorist boob? Artist boob? Either way it's a pretty poor first issue cover simply because it's just a family portrait - cute but ask yourself if you were a 100% new to Superman reader and you saw this issue on the shelf would you really think "Holy Crap I HAVE to have it!". A nice cover - just not a SUPER one.

James' Review:

5Story - 5: There are going to be obvious comparisons to John Byrne's Man of Steel and Mark Waid's Birthright among those who have read both origin stories. Man of Steel worked perfectly for the character of Superman after Marv Wolfman's Crisis on Infinite Earths, and Birthright was well done. However, Birthright had a very small, if any, effect on the Superman titles and universe. Plus, let's face it, continuity has been a complete mess after Infinite Crisis ended. Fortunately, Geoff Johns has given us some seeds that have helped fix things a bit in his run on the comics. Superman: Secret Origin #1 allows those seeds to blossom into a re-telling of the Man of Steel's beginnings that makes sense to both new and old readers.

There are two things that Superman: Secret Origin has in common with Man of Steel. The first is that Jonathan and Martha Kent took an active roll in Clark Kent's becoming a superhero, and the second is Lana's knowledge of Clark's abilities. Geoff Johns took a different direction from that of John Byrne, but in my opinion, Johns, like Byrne, understood that these are important aspects to Superman as a character. I particularly liked how both Lana and Martha reacted to the situations that are given to them. Like with everything else in this book, Johns handled them in a realistic manner.

Normally, when we are given the origin of Superman, the story almost always begins on Krypton. Johns, however, took a different direction by starting in Smallville as Clark discovers his powers and where he is from. The reader, like Clark, is learning about Krypton as the mini-series progresses. This is one of the many things I liked about Superman: Secret Origin #1.

Johns combines elements from the movies, television shows and silver and bronze age comic books, and he brings them into the 21st century without making them look dated or campy. I admit, at first, I was on the fence about things like how the glasses came to be. However, I found that the things I had issue with worked well when I read this comic a second time. This is one book I could read over and over again without getting tired of it.

The bottom line: Superman: Secret Origin #1 was well worth the wait, and I'm impatient for issue #2.

5Art - 5: Ever since I saw his art in Marvel's The Incredible Hulk and Supreme Power, I had always wanted to see Gary Frank's visuals in a Superman related book. I got my wish in Action Comics. Frank and Johns have this way of providing fans of the Man of Steel with stories that have images that fit perfectly into the comic books they've done. I haven't seen this since Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness. Let's hope the team of Geoff Johns, Gary Frank and Jon Sibal stay with the Superman titles for a long time.

5Cover Art - 5: This is, perhaps, the best image to begin a mini-series by this creative team. No other cover in recent years has made me want to read a comic's contents like those done by Gary Frank and Jon Sibal.

5Cover Art (Alternate) - 5: While we only see Lex in four pages of the story, this cover shows the beginnings of the Luthor/Superman dynamic in a dramatic way. It's just as incredible as the regular edition.

Mild Mannered Reviews


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