Superman: Secret Origin
by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank (DC Comics, 2011)

One of the main accomplishments of this six-issue retelling of Superman's origin is the newer storylines that are assimilated into Clark Kent's beginnings. Not only are the stories more colorful and more richly textured, they are told from Clark's point of view. This gives us, the readers and fans, a deeper and more personal glimpse into the private life of one of Earth's greatest superheroes.

It's interesting to see Clark Kent as a very normal teenager struggling to accept his identity and, later, as a young man, trying to remain authentic while discovering who he really is. His life is far more frustrating than we realize, as his powers make him a hero while keeping him an outcast at the same time. Superman: Secret Origin is more than just another origin story. It's the humanizing of Clark Kent.

It's also the centering of the story on Earth. There isn't a single scene on Krypton. It's an interesting choice, and an accurate one: Superman was raised as human and has so many human characteristics that it's perhaps appropriate to show where he really lived his life.

Clark/Superman's supporting cast of characters become three-dimensional under Geoff Johns' direction. After all, it's Superman's relationships that make him the very genuine person he is. The bond between the Kents and their son is real and deep. Their endearing love for their son is the reason he evolved into a hero, not just a being with superpowers. Pre-Pulitzer Lois is still struggling to make a name for herself. Perry, Lana and Jimmy are polished-up and restructured for the new age, and it does them all good. Even Lex Luthor is a more vivid, three-dimensional character.

Superman: Secret Origin may be a retelling but origin stories need updating and polishing in order to scrape off all the accumulated bits from over the years. Johns builds a good bridge between the awkward Clark Kent and the world-renowned superhero in a very humanistic way, giving Clark a deeper personality not often seen in his normal, everyday life.

The other success, apart from the storytelling, is Gary Frank's superior art. Metropolis, with its skyscrapers and villains, and Smallville, with its wheat fields and tornadoes, couldn't be more different but Frank's art gives both of them presence. Each place, town and city, is a character unto itself, and each place plays a crucial role in the formation of Clark's identity. Frank also has a knack for making Clark look exactly like Christopher Reeves. In terms of linking the character to the actor, the gesture is a tribute to the man who will pretty much always be remembered as the definitive Superman.

There have been many Superman origin stories in the character's 70-year history. This character-driven series is a good reboot that's totally accessible to newer readers while paying tribute to the character's origin and history in very respectful ways.

review by
Mary Harvey

13 May 2017

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