Sometimes I buy, and read, comics. I’m a bit of a geek, and this is a normal activity practiced by geeks for several generations. It could be said that reading comic books is a mainstay of geek heritage.
Superman, arguably, helped define both the modern comic book, and the modern superhero. He is also one of the most famous of the comic characters, and the most well known superheroes. His back story – in general – is pretty much known by everyone: Last(ish) survivor of the distant planet Krypton, he fights for truth, justice and the American way!
In other words, he’s an optimistic boyscout, embodying all that is good and right, mixing a child-like sense of trust and optimism with the powers of a god. Really, it’s no wonder he’s so damn popular.
Which makes the recently released Superman: Secret Origins a real bummer of a book.
I’ve only recently begun to delve into the deep, murky waters of Superman comic books. I’m kept mostly with the larger collected trades, things like Kingdom Come, All Star Superman, Superman/Batman, Emperor Joker, Last Son, and Birthright. All of these have been good (with the exception of Superman/Batman vs. Vampires and Werewolves, which was total crap), and have given me a new respect for the character.
Kingdom Come is still a great book, one of my all time favorites, and does a great job of showing how Supes can function in a darker world, and yet he himself must be kept lighter in tone than those around him. It’s the best book detailing “where things end up” I’ve ever read.
Superman/Batman goes a bit further, and shows how Supes should interact with other heroes, namely the Dark Knight – Batman. It gives the sense that Superman and Batman really are two sides of the same coin, a true dynamic duo, each complimenting each other perfectly. The internal monologues in this series are wonderful insights into the mind of the Man of Steel; and more importantly, the mind of Bruce Wayne – the one person perfectly suited to really evaluate Clark on his own terms and merits, and give us a real view of what Superman is, and stands for.
All Star Superman does a great job of showing how Supes should function in his city, around his supporting cast, and on his own. It details the random, crazy stories that would only work with the Heir to the House of El. Superman is something beyond normal, beyond this world, and his stories should be the same – over the top, outrageous and, yet deep down, full of heart and hope.
Finally, Birthright is the perfect summary of how he came to be the Big Blue Boyscout, the reasoning behind why he is what he is, and where Superman came from. The fact that this story also presented the introduction of Superman to the city of Metropolis in a very realistic way – full of fear and distrust of the unknown and alien – really hits home, and makes far more sense than the world just opening up and welcoming our protector from afar.
It’s with those books in mind that I read Secret Origins, and in almost every way I find it lacking. To start, the artwork is flat and homely. Everyone looks a little too young, and a little too fat. Clark is, maybe, 12 or 13 – yet, he’s also in High School? It’s odd, and confusing, and detracts from the story.
The story is also, well, flat. This Clark is a bit of a brat, at times both rebelling against his parents (the Kents), and whinging over not being able to be like others. Once he finds out he’s not of this Earth, well – he loses his shit, throwing a tantrum and generally being a douche.
It also barrows heavily from Smallville, while also making unnecessary changes. He first learns about his heat-vision while becoming aroused, starting a school fire; he first flys when rescuing Lana from a tornado; his best friend is Pete Ross. Even his parents bare a striking resemblance to a certain boy from Hazard County, and an older Lana Lang from the movies.
What isn’t borrowed is rushed. This is the first issue, and already we’ve had powers discovered, bemoaned, cried over, a tantrum, the introduction of complications, the suit and kryptonite. In all, a very busy 48 hours for Mr. Kent.
I suppose this might have been fine, except this story was already told in Birthright, and told so much better than it’s being told here. Granted, it’s got four more issues to pull a decent story out of its ass, but I’m not at all expecting it to do so.
We’ll see how things go, but for now this is one book that’s been retconned out of my personal canon.