Superman: Secret Origin TPB (DC)

SupermanSO

Rating: 4/5 – Effectively reminding us to look to the skies and aspire for the very best

First, a little context for this review: Superman: Secret Origin begins with an introduction from David Goyer, a screenwriter of the upcoming Man of Steel film. If there was any doubt as to which Superman story most affected the shape and tone of that film, Goyer’s stark praise and acknowledgment of Geoff John’s and Gary Frank’s work on Secret Origin leaves resolves the issue. Indeed, the screenwriter claims (and I’m paraphrasing here) that this was the Superman story that cracked the code of how to present this mythos to a new audience while staying true to what came before.

In short, those anticipating the new Superman film should take note of Secret Origin, if you haven’t already. And while writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank don’t reinvent the wheel, they do manage to refine and personalize the central tenants of the Superman universe in a satisfying manner.

Secret Origin is an origin story told in six chapters. Covering roughly 30 years, Johns attempts to lay out the core base of his universe and its central conflicts. Ultimately, the story’s central conceit is to remind the reader to keep his or her eyes trained up towards the moral high ground, as a true Superman story always should. It’s not particularly ambitious past face value, but Taken together, the six chapters form a cohesive story that is elegantly told both structurally and thematically.

While Superman’s origin is well-trodden territory, Johns takes the character’s classic conflicts and reshapes them into highly-personal story beats. Spider-Man successfully added this same ‘personal’ dynamic and injected it into the ‘super’ hero archetype that Superman first began in 1933. Taking a cue from this ‘spidey-playbook’, Johns centers the Superman’s core cast and conflicts as closely to Kal-El/Clark Kent as possible. This added personal layer to Superman is a process attempted by many writers; but Johns really does a particularly good job of using this close-knit story to cut to the heart of these characters while driving the narrative forward.

Still, this ‘personalization’ of the Superman universe results in somewhat contrived storytelling; it tightens the relationships of the central cast to the point at which they’re practically stepping on each others toes at every turn (professionally, as well as at their most ‘super’ and ‘secret’ levels). But, small gripe aside, this is also a highly effective means to tell a story firmly rooted in character. And on that front—establishing strong sense of character—Secret Origin absolutely soars.

Complimenting Johns’ commitment to character-driven storytelling is Gary Frank on pencils. Conservative in character design and overall composition, Frank brings a classic style to this book that is well suited for the script. With the characters almost always central in each panel, Frank successfully zooms in on the characters who drive this book: and what remarkably expressive characters they are! In fact, Frank’s Superman/Clark bares more than a little resemblance to Christopher Reeve’s rendition of the character, thin-lipped earnest smile and all. Few western artists can match Frank’s ability to express subtle emotion. And he makes it look so simple and easy. With crisp and clean lines and lush vibrant colors, Frank and his colorist keeps Superman suitably confident and fun.

While perhaps holding its punches just a bit, Superman: Secret Origins is an immensely enjoyable re-imagining of the Superman mythos. Fans of the character (and classic superhero comics, in general) would be hard pressed to find fault with this collection. Effectively reminding us to look to the skies and aspire for the very best, Superman: Secret Origins is the perfect example of ‘safe’ superhero comics. And personally, I wouldn’t have my Superman any other way.

Reviewed by: John Dudley – john@comicspectrum.com
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