There are few things in the DC Universe that have been explored as thoroughly as the origin of Superman. Comic book writers across the board have all taken a crack and adding their prose to the mythos of how and why the Man Of Steel came into being. So it was no surprise that current DC golden boy Geoff Johns (Blackest Night) decided to take a crack at the story with this new title Superman Secret Origins. What’ surprising is that Johns doesn’t really add anything to the legend, instead he simply regurgitates the same stuff we’ve all read time and time again. To be honest Secret Origins reads more like a script from the first season of Smallville than anything else.
The first issue of this six issue series starts in Smallville and shows a young Clark Kent stumbling into his new powers. While playing football with his friends he accidentally hurts one with his strength, his heat vision has come into play, his X-ray vision is making life difficult and all the while Clark is just trying to be a normal kid. The rest of the issue plays out by introducing us to all the elements we’ve read about time and time again e.g. Lex Luthor, Kryptonite, Lana Lang, the creation of the Superman costume, even how Clark first learned he could fly. By the end of Secret Origins all I could think to myself was “Yeah, ok, I already knew all this.”
Granted this is only the first issue of the six but from how things have kicked off I don’t see the next five really doing much in the way of shaking up the story. Sure Johns might try to deepen aspects of Superman’s origin or pepper it with his unique style but at the heart of this we’re just getting another version of the world’s most told superhero story. I was kind of hoping Johns might stray from the formula by going back, back to the first run of the original Superman comic book.
In the original Siegel and Shuster story Superman didn’t get his powers from the yellow sun but simply from his Kryptonian heritage (in the opening panel of the original strip Jor-El is seen rushing through Krypton at super speed) plus he could only run so fast and leap an eighth of a mile. Kryptonite wasn’t introduced until the Superman radio program and Lex Luthor not until the first movie serial. Just imagine if a writer of Johns caliber was handed the original idea for Superman and told to write a story around that. It would be a completely new take on a legendary story. Johns would have carte blanche to try to take this true Secret Origin and try t connect it with today’s Superman. Pass or fail it would have been way more interesting than yet another Superman Grows Up yarn.
What does make Superman Secret Origins standout is the art by Gary Frank who manages to inject new life into images we’ve seen before. Frank approaches the entire issue with a Norman Rockwell feel; each panel feels like it’s been seared with wholesome Americana. The art doesn’t so much pop off the page as it does ease off, breathing as if it’s alive. Frank has a great sense of motion making the whole thing flow like a movie. I particularly liked how he drew Jonathon Kent with a rustic sense of old-world weariness.
Superman Secret Origins isn’t a bad book by any means. It’s well written and gorgeous to look at. The problem is that nothing here is new, we as readers don’t learn anything about Superman we haven’t been told over and over. I felt a little like I’d been ripped off or that DC was trying to pad the already high number of Superman and related books with Secret Origins. If you’re a die-hard Geoff Johns fan or you honestly feel like you could hear the Superman origin told again and again then this is the book for you. For me I feel like the history of Superman should be left alone unless there’s a new chapter to write for it.