Monday, November 30, 2009

Review: Superman Secret Origin #3

Superman Secret Origin #3 was another excellent issue of in what has been a really wonderful miniseries. It's hard to believe that we're already halfway through.

Geoff Johns and Gary Frank really seem to be clicking on all cylinders here. It seems as though the two of them are picking the best parts of all prior versions of the Superman's origin and are creating some sort of hybrid, some sort of creative alloy. I definitely see pieces of the Silver Age here; there are definitely pieces of the Donner films here. I even think I see part of the animated series here.

It is as if Johns wants to create a fundamental origin story which all fans of Superman can come to and enjoy.

But there is no getting away from the character of Superman and what he represents. And I think that is as important a part of this miniseries as the action scenes and introduction of characters. Superman represents the best that man can be; he represents hope. And that really is an underlying theme here.

Now I don't often get variant covers. Okay, maybe I always get them with Supergirl.

But I don't usually get variants unless the cover is so striking that I feel that I would want it in my collection. And this cover fit the bill.

This is such a great picture of Superman saving what was that first time. It certainly grabbed me as I was scanning the shelves. Plus, it wasn't that expensive.

The issue starts years after last issue ended. This isn't Clark as a young boy in Smallville. This is Clark arriving in Metropolis for his first day as a Daily Planet reporter. In many ways this mirrors the Silver Age in that Clark's college years were sort of the lost years in his history. That transition from Superboy to Superman was hinted at now and then. But he was never chiseled in stone.

This opening panel tells us so much.

First off, Clark's simple response of "golly" sets up how he will be portrayed by Johns here. This isn't John Byrne's mild-mannered but confident reporter, the man that was a high school football star and had a weak bench in his apartment. This is Clark as the small-town man who has moved to the big city.

But for me, the bigger thing was just the appearance of Metropolis here. This is not the shining City Of Tomorrow. This is something more akin to Gotham. Trash is flying around. Graffiti is seen on the buildings. A lifeless tree adorns the sidewalk. And people are walking with little regard for each other. In fact, Clark's first interaction with a citizen of Metropolis is someone who accuses him of trying to steal her purse when he was only trying to help her. A newspaper is seen trumpeting Lex Luthor's position in the city. (Ironic that it is the Daily Star reporting this, the original newspaper from Siegel and Shuster's strip.)

It is as though without Superman's presence, Metropolis is just another dingy big city plodding along, mired in it's own decay.

That sentiment of a hopeless city is hammered home in the next scene as Clark walks to work. A throng of people are lined up outside of Luthor's tower. It seems that Lex has a tradition of coming out each morning at 8AM and picking someone in the crowd to grant a 'miracle' to. Many people in the city are in need and so they come to 'worship' in hopes of getting a boon from their god. Some of the people even look like they are praying!

Isn't that disheartening?

It is as though people there can't help each other or help themselves. It is as though salvation is something arbitrary and not something that can be worked for. It is as though their 'god' is capricious and with nothing else to hope for the people still flock to his temple.

And that is a city without hope.

More than any other scene in this issue, this small one stuck with me. For one, it showed me just how much Metropolis needed Superman. But more importantly, it should me just how much an impact Superman has on the city as a whole. With Superman as a role model, we know this city will change.

As this is a new origin, we get to meet old characters for the first time again.

I was pretty impressed with how Johns re-created Rudy Jones as a beggar of sorts. He truly is a parasite as he talks Clark out of his lunch and 20 bucks.

This scene also reinvents Clark is being a somewhat clumsy person. I don't know if I need to see Clark tripping and falling all the time. But historically this was one way that he differentiated himself from Superman.

And we also get to meet the Daily Planet staff for the first time as well.

Jimmy is once again a fledgling photographer, interning at the paper.

Steve Lombard looks a bit younger and more fit than we have seen him recently.

But most interesting was seeing Cat Grant. She doesn't have the - ahem- pulchritude we are used to seeing. But she is still flaunting her sexuality a bit telling Steve that she works out but not in gyms.

We see that Perry White is the embattled editor of the paper. He is the one who wants the paper to be the bastion of "truth, justice, and the American way." But it seems as though he crossed Luthor in the past and as a result the paper has been blackballed. They have no advertising money and are on the brink of bankruptcy. It is clear that White has no love for Luthor and knows what Lex is. Unfortunately, it seems as though the flight is out of him.

The star of this issue though is clearly Lois. We see that she is still a pit bull of our reporter, willing to do just about anything to get her story. And it is clear she wants to uncover Luthor for what he is. But the paper's owners aren't allowing her to cover him anymore.

But there is more to Lois here than just her spirit. Perry tells her that she is too cynical, that she can't see the good in anything. Just like Metropolis, Lois needed Superman to shed her total negativity and be all that she could be.

Lois is introduced to Clark and befriends him. She also uses him a bit and she concocts a scheme to get into a Luthor demonstration.

She brings Clark to her desk. It looks like a disaster perhaps showing the disarray in Lois's life. We also see that she has a suitor as flowers from someone named Jon are delivered to her desk and promptly thrown out. Who is that?

While it is clear that Lois is using Clark here, she didn't belittle him or try to lose him. I am glad she was open to working with him as a colleague.

Since the Daily Planet reporters are no longer allowed to cover Luthor events, Lois uses Clark is a diversion. She climbs over the fence while Clark flashes his press badge at the front gate.

It is kind of fun to see just how spunky Lois is in these early days. I wouldn't expect the current day Lois to don a blonde wig and sunglasses and scale a fence to get a story. But I can definitely see how doing that here would make her into the reporter that she is now.

The Luthor event is to show off a new military battle suit constructed of Metallo, a new metal with remarkable properties when exposed to certain radiation.

I thought that this was a subtle nod to Superman: the Animated Series as it was at a military battle suit unveiling that Superman revealed himself there. The pilot of that battle suit in that episode turned out to be Metallo. I thought this was a nice homage.

I also find it interesting that while Luthor is such a key part of this issue, he's only physically seen once, in this panel, and his face is covered. Is he bald? Does he still have hair? Is he wearing a wig?

Unfortunately, Lois is discovered before the demonstration can even begin. And as she runs away from the security guards, she actually trips and falls off the roof.

Clark, on the street as he'd been turned away, hears her screams. He makes a fateful decision to reveal himself and save her.

I love this panel as well. This is, in essence, the first time that Clark strikes this iconic pose, ripping off his clothes to reveal the S-shield. Wonderful.

And then in the most apparent nod to the Donner films, he not only flies to Lois' rescue but he also catches a helicopter which had fallen off the roof as well.

This panel is a near mirror image of the similar scene in Superman: The Movie. I almost expected to Lois to say "you've got me, who's got you?"

I have said it before and I will say it again. I never knew that Donner films had such a huge impact on current comics creators. I find it all very interesting.

This dramatic rescue unfortunately lets the genie out of the bottle. The citizens of Metropolis flock to Superman begging him to save them, give them something, tell them how he can fly. It's sad.

They don't even know Superman and already they are asking him for a miracle. This city is in dire straits with a completely hopeless population.

And Clark has no idea how to respond to this. This is not what he expected. And he wonders if he has made a mistake.

I am not surprised to see Clark questioned his decision to reveal himself given the bizarre response of the citizens. How can he possibly help or save everybody? How can he save the people he needs to if others are in no way hoping he can help them with their more mundane needs? Here is where he needs to realize that he has to become a symbol of hope and selflessness, that only when people help each other as he does can the city become a better place.
I thoroughly enjoyed this issue. Like I said at the beginning, there is so much in the story that is familiar but there are subtle nuances that update these classic elements. We saw this in the 'Brainiac' and 'The Legion' storylines in Action Comics ... classic pieces of Superman's origin and history refurbished and reenergized.

And I don't think that I can gush anymore about Gary Frank's art. Yes, at times I find his rendition of Clark as Christopher Reeve a little bit distracting. But everything else is so perfect that I can live with it.

We're halfway done and already I can get the sense that this will become "the" Superman origin for some time. This will hold up for the usual 20+ years that these things usually do when they are done right.

Overall grade: A+


Heath Edwards said...

great review, anj. this is a series i'm loving as well. my only regret with all of these origin tales has been that they all skip from smallville to metropolis. i would love to read about clark's adventures before he gets there. in my mind he has about ten years of college and travelling to do before he moves to metropolis, the daily planet, superman, and lois. its a pity we don't know too much about these years...

Yota said...

You know, in the panel where Lois is looking under her desk for something, what I am assuming is supposed to be a belt looks quite unfortunately like Ms. Lane's, as the kids say, "coin slot...." Someone should really tell the colourist to make better choices in the future, but if that was intentional on the part of Gary Frank then wow.

Best issue so far, though.


Christopher said...

That's not her belt, you were right the first time.

Jason said...

This seems like it's turning out to be a really great origin story, indeed molding the best and most familiar elements from all the previous Superman origins. Maybe this is really geeky of me, but I think it would've been really cool if, instead of skipping over Clark's college years, Johns had decided to update for modern times the pre-Crisis story of when Clark officially went from Superboy to Superman. Wasn't that story from a 1980s miniseries called Superman: The Secret Years?

TalOs said...

Jason: Are you thinking about the 80's live action TV show Superboy starring Gerard Christopher and it's comic tie-in title instead perhaps? :)

SM:SO #3 just felt wrong come the ending chose (to me at least) and was if anything really hoping after Lois's encounter for the first time with Supes would have resulted in seeing her back at the Planet typing up her lil' adventure with him under the headline of 'Meet Metropolis's New Superman!'. *sighs*

Anj said...

Wasn't that story from a 1980s miniseries called Superman: The Secret Years?

I am pretty sure there was ... written by Bob Rozakis.

I'll do some investigation.

mathematicscore said...

I too was, while enjoying this series, hoping for a more upbeat ending. Giveing Superman more relatable concerns is great, but there need to be equal parts inspiring, heartwarming, and confident Superman to avoid all the crap Superman takes of the past.

As to the Reeve modeling, that's been my favorite part of Frank's take. Kick-ass!

Anonymous said...

Is Lana in or mentioned in this issue?

Anj said...

Is Lana in or mentioned in this issue?

No she isn't.

Smallville Leather Jacket said...

nice secret of superman

Anonymous said...

"We're halfway done and already I can get the sense that this will become "the" Superman origin for some time."

And you were right. Now The New 52 universe imploded due to bad ideas and atrocious management, this is Superman's origin again.

And I'm happy about it. The more I hear about how "great" John Byrne's Superman was, the less I like that version.