Thursday, October 29, 2009

Review: Superman Secret Origin #2

As a Superman fan and a Legion of Super-Heroes fan, I thought that Superman Secret Origin #2 was an absolutely wonderful issue. As I have said countless times before, Geoff Johns seems to have an uncanny ability to take the best ideas from the Silver Age Superman mythos and brush them up for the 21st century. This issue continued that trend.

Now I don't know how this series is playing out with newer readers. I don't know if the homages to all the older stories are readily appreciated. And I don't know if this patina of Silver Age goodness is too saccharin or 'old fashioned' for comics right now. But for someone like me who has read (in reprints) the original first meeting between Superman and the Legion, I thought this was fabulous.

While I understand the angst against yet 'another' Superman reboot, there is no denying the quality of the first two issues.

The issue starts with a dramatic Superboy rescue. A drunk Mr. Luthor suddenly finds his brakes are inoperative and flies off a mountain road. Luckily Superboy was flying nearby and was able to gently lower the car to the ground. Luthor, babbling about a flying boy, is thrown into a jail cell to sober up. When Lex is notified of the miracle, he seems less than pleased. It is clear he cut the brake lines.

I thought the brake line episode was a nice start to the issue. First off, 'brake line accident' was part of the John Byrne history for Lex Luthor. While it was 'never confirmed', it was pretty evident in Byrne's run that Lex's first financial boon was his father's life insurance policy after a fatal car accident. So even though it didn't happen here, it felt like a wink to the Man of Steel era.

I also loved the splash page above. What a dramatic page, no background to distract the eye ... just Superboy hoisting a car.

Clark flies home, entering the secret tunnel in the woods to enter into the Kent basement. The secret tunnel in the woods! I haven't seen that in decades!

I like how we see the legend of the 'super boy' growing ... Ma starting her scrap book. It is these scenes that are very important in showing how Clark became the man he is.

I also like how ridiculous it is that they have asked Clark to stay out of sight but have him dressed up in bright primary colors.

And I think it is humorous but realistic that Clark clearly feels uncomfortable in his suit right now. Who would feel comfortable?

One thing that is clear is that Clark still feels alone in the universe. We see him peering out into the night sky with his supervision. And somewhere out there we are shown a Kryptonian rocket, it's programming stating 'Test rocket connection established. Rerouted.'

That sense of being alone is shown again in this scene in the library. Clark is shown reading the book 'Are We Alone' by Dr. Erdel. He is hoping that he is not the only 'alien' in the whole universe.

At the same time, we are shown just how grandiose Lex's plans are. He is looking through an atlas of Metropolis trying to figure out where he will eventually build his building. Lex's disdain for the small town charm of Smallville is apparent as he disparages everyone who lives there. That said, he isn't delusional. We know he does eventually build that building.

Johns doesn't necessarily follow the Silver Age playbook letter for letter though. In the Silver Age, Lex and Clark were friends. Here Lex sees no reason to 'hang out' with Clark. I wonder if (as in the Silver Age) Lex and Superboy will be friends. Will Superboy 'be responsible' for Lex's hair loss as he was way back when?

And we again get that sense of otherness when Clark talks to Lana. Clark laments the fact that all his old friends are no longer asking him to play football or anything else. His concerns for hurting someone, his excuses to beg out of playing, have changed their friendship.

Lana says she will help him and gives him a peck on the cheek. While she knows that Clark has powers, she doesn't know he is an extra-terrestrial. Clark holds her at arm's length telling her he isn't like her. He doesn't want to necessarily get romantically close with Lana knowing his alien origins. Unfortunately all it does is push her away even farther.

If he felt alone before, he certainly is feeling that way now. Johns really does a great job of conveying that.

Alone until he meets the original three Legionnaires.

This is just another great page by Gary Frank. I really felt a little wave of nostalgia seeing the three founding Legionnaires in their original outfits talking to a young Clark Kent. They thank him for being their inspiration and tell him that things will get better. Somehow Clark convinces them that they should take him with them to the future.

The future Johns paints is an interesting place. We see the paradise we saw in earlier Legion stories, the shiny windowless building, the flying cars, the interlac signs.

But we also see the xenophobic element of some Terrans. Remember, this isolationism was a strong theme in Johns' Legion story in Action Comics a couple of years ago. In this way Johns is building his own history for the Legion.

Superboy joins in the fight against the terrorists even coining the term 'Long Live the Legion'. Long Live the Legion!

But Johns builds this new history within the context of the pre-existing Legion history. So we see Phantom Girl and Triplicate Girl in their original costumes. We see the confident Brainiac talking about how foolish it was for the founding members to bring Superboy here where anything he learns could alter history.

The way Brainiac talks here is exactly the way I picture he would speak.

When they return Superboy to the present, Clark asks hopefully that he will see them again. In the skirmish with the terrorists, he was beaming a huge smile. I think it might be the first time we have seen him smile in the book. Surrounded by other super-beings, he suddenly felt like he wasn't alone.

The three Legionnaires decide they can bring him back to the future assuming they can hide all accounts of his future from him. And look at the list of doozies that Cosmic Boy rattles off.

Doomsday ... okay.
Kandor ... fine.

General Zod and the Earth/New Krypton war? What?! We all thought this was going to happen, proably as next year's big event. But to see it in print felt like a confirmation.

The Super-sun? Is that a reference to the tyrant sun from DC 1,000,000? Or something new?

The death of Lex Luthor? Hmmm ....

Either way, it was a nice way to re-cement the idea of Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes into the DCU.

Since the Legion can show up at any time, Clark decides to begin wearing his Superboy suit under his clothes. It is these tiny flourishes explaining the minor details of the Superman's origins that really flesh out the book.

As if finding friends wasn't enough, the Kryptonian test rocket we saw earlier lands on the Kent Farm. Krypto has arrived giving Clark another playmate. Look at the joy on his face.

The book however ends on a more chilling note.

The elder Luthor is found dead. Lex blames his father's weak heart despite his clean health record.

Lena be sent to live with her aunt.

Suddenly Lex is free. And a quick shot of the insurance policy shows that he also has his first financial windfall.

In case I haven't gushed enough, I loved this issue. One thing I think the series does is streamline the origin into one that I think even casual fans can latch onto. There was a lot in the prior reboots (Lex as business man in Man of Steel, Superman with 'life aura vision' like in Birthright) that just wasn't what the mainstream comics reader was aware of or that seemed right. Someone picking up a their first Superman comic in the Byrne era might not get that Luthor isn't a mad scientist. That said, Johns is able to update the older ideas he is reinserting to make them more reasonable for the more modern reader.

Gary Frank continues to supply absolutely incredible art here. I love his retro-Legion!

Nothing but goodness here.

Overall grade: A+


Jason said...

Wow...this is looking really good!!!! I'm also liking the cherry picking of the best elements of the Silver Age origin.

"We understand your Aunt is coming down to help take care of your sister." Does this mean the return of Lena Luthor (a.k.a. Lena Thorul) to continuity?!

Unknown said...

I have to admit it's nice seeing the REAL Superboy back again ... and a reference to Lena Thorul to boot!

TalOs said...

OMG! I truly adored EVERY bit of this next installment of Superman, Krypto and Supergirl's official origin back stories come Post-FC main DCU E-0 continuity and I only wish that we had seen Lena on panel, as well as (come the Legion time era) Superman's very own descendant aka Laurel Kent! :D

Gene said...

It would be nice if Lena Luthor could be reintroduced into Supergirl's mythos.

Anj said...

I agree with everyone.

It will be nice to have Lena back.

Alan Moore Fan said...

Thank God DC came to it's senses and finally realized that it's those derided silver age elements that made Superman great. Yes, Weisinger put in alot of junk but it made Superman alot more interesting and, oddly enough, human. Byrne's stuff was junk and it's high time that it is buried for good.

Anonymous said...

"Thank God DC came to it's senses and finally realized that it's those derided silver age elements that made Superman great. Yes, Weisinger put in alot of junk but it made Superman alot more interesting and, oddly enough, human."

Indeed. Supergirl, Krypto, Brainiac, Bizarro, Kandor, the Phantom Zone and its inmates... the Pre-Crisis ingredients of the Superman mythos go back once and again because they expand the mythos and provide an incredibly fertile ground for storytelling.

Yes, Beppo the Super-Monkey and the multi-colored Kryptonite was a bit too much, but you don't kill Supergirl and ditch Krypto only because the Kandorians make Superman less unique. It is asinine.

"Byrne's stuff was junk and it's high time that it is buried for good."

I wouldn't call it junk. Some of it was interesting. I liked that Pa and Ma Kent were still alive when their son was Superman.

However I think Byrne's interpretation should be regarded as ''an'' interpretation and not like ''THE'' interpretation, if it makes some sense.