Fresh off of the 52 series, I’m graced with a comic that, publication-wise, is a bit out of place. This mini-series was published a couple years after the “One Year Later” storyline, but I’m diving in headfirst, trusting Mistah J’s judgment and placement of this trade on “the shelf”. Given the subject matter, it already makes sense. Secret Origin is a retelling of the famed early years in Superman’s life, from his rocket’s crash landing in Smallville up through his first few months as the uniformed man of steel.
I was a little apprehensive going into yet another retelling of Superman’s origin. I feel like I’ve read it so many times that I wondered if this trade could bring anything new to the story. Given that it’s written by Geoff Johns, I really shouldn’t be surprised that Clark Kent is completely reimagined here, somehow managing to be classic and modern all at once.
The earliest portion of the comic shows up the familiar story of Clark slowly gaining his powers as a child. What’s interesting about this version is how unsure and uncomfortable he is with these newfound abilities. He accidentally breaks Pete Ross’s arm in a friendly game of football; he sets off the school sprinklers after Lana kisses him and his heat vision activates; he can hear every cruel word spoken about him by his classmates. It’s a confusing and unsure point in life for anybody, but when you have spectacular, unknown powers, it’s nearly unbearable.
Ma and Pa Kent do everything they can to encourage Clark to embrace his abilities, with Ma even crafting a uniform for her son to wear. Injecting a hint of realism into the story, Clark begrudgingly dons the costume.
The gangly, unhappy boy wearing a superhero costume isn’t one we see very often in comics, yet it fits perfectly. What teenage boy would willingly done the outfit in this world, where it hasn’t yet become a symbol of strength? Small asides like this are peppered throughout the comic, making Superman feel much more human than in previous incarnations.
As Clark grows up, he moves to Metropolis to become a reporter for the flailing Daily Planet. He crafts the bumbling, shy reporter persona perfectly, and when he finally makes his first appearance as Superman, he doesn’t put on any airs of superiority.
He’s down to earth, he’s relatable, and he just happens to be able to fly and lift massively heavy objects. His humanity shines through even as he performs extraordinary feats.
Throughout the story we also watch the rise of Lex Luthor, a boy Clark had a passing meeting with in Smallville and who would go on to become a powerful force in Metropolis. Lex despises Superman, believing him to be from another world and viewing him as a threat. He does everything he can to sway the public opinion away from the man of steel, and for a while he succeeds. That is, until he goes too far and creates Metallo, a kryptonite-powered man who goes a little crazy and starts endangering innocent civilians.
As Superman subdues the threat, he’s faced with numerous questions about his intentions in the city. His answer reminds all of us why he’s so well-respected.
Superman reminds the people that they have power of their own, and that no one should be treated as a savior. As he flies off, public opinion starts to change, and he’s finally seen for the hero he truly is. Luthor’s animosity grows, but the final word is in: Superman’s one of the good guys, maybe the best guy, and he’s here to stay.
As an introduction to the character this was a brilliant story. Given that I’ve read so much about Superman already, I was surprised at how much I liked this story. It didn’t feel derivative, but instead built upon the solid foundation of Superman lore that has been in place for decades. Lex Luthor’s unstable behavior is partially explained as a result of his poor upbringing, while also implying that he’s simply unhinged to begin with. Clark has plenty of fun interactions with his parents, Lois, and Jimmy, with a small reference to Krypto even making its way onto the page. It’s not necessarily new territory, but it sheds new light on a story we all thought we knew.
For Superman fans new and old, I’d highly recommend this mini-series. Whether you know everything about the man of steel or next to nothing, this is a great addition to his story, adding the perfect touch of humanity to an out-of-this-world character.