SUPERMAN: SECRET ORIGIN by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank

Written by Geoff Johns
Drawn by Gary Frank
Inked by Jon Sibal
Colored by Brad Anderson
Lettered by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics

DC Comics rebooted Superman’s origin in 1986 with SUPERMAN: MAN OF STEEL by John Byrne and then again in 2003 with SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT by Mark Waid and Leinil Yu. But Birthright, for various reasons, didn’t have the same impact as Man of Steel, and so DC decided to reboot Superman again in 2009 with this series. Much like Man of Steel, this is a 6-issue miniseries where each issue jumps to a major turning point in Superman’s life.

This opens with Clark Kent as a young teenager in High School, playing football with some of his friends. His buddy Pete Rose breaks his arm when he tries to tackle Clark. Later his X-ray and heat vision go off at school, making him afraid of hurting people. His parents decide to finally tell him the truth about his background, how they found him in the rocketship, and they show that to him in their barn. It sets off a hologram of Jor-El and Lara who tell them about Krypton. Clark runs out crying and, in a line that was surely lifted by Snyder and company for the Man of Steel movie, we get a “I want to be your son/You ARE my son” moment with Clark and Jonathan. Then Martha uses some glass from the ship to make a pair of glasses for Clark for him to wear, to help him control his heat vision.  I thought that was a pretty clever way to explain why Clark would start wearing glasses as a teenager. At a local fair, Clark meets young Lex Luthor, whom we see has a drunken abusive poor father, and also an unnamed sister. Lex is selling his book collection to raise money to move out of Smallville, he’s obsessed with the possibility of alien life, and he’s found a small glowing green rock, which we know to be Kryptonite, which makes Clark sick when he’s near it. Then a tornado erupts and Clark has to save Lana from it, and flies for the first time. Meanwhile, Martha creates the super suit for Clark, based on the fashion that she saw in the holographic images from Krypton, but Clark thinks it looks stupid and says “today is the last time I ever wear this”, when he puts it on.

An undetermined amount of time later, Clark has been using his superpowers to help people, going out of his way to avoid being seen. But rumors of a”super boy” are spreading. The members of the Legion of Super-Heroes appear and take him with them in their time machine to visit the 31st century, and he’s given honorary membership. Back in the present Lex kills his father (making it look like a car accident) and uses the life insurance money to move out of Smallville.

We jump several years later to adulthood, Clark’s first day in Metropolis reporting for work at the Daily Planet. We meet all the usual suspect, Perry, Jimmy, Cat Grant, Steve Lombard and, of course, Lois Lane. We also meet an obese janitor at the Daily Planet named Rudy. Sent on their first assignment together, Lois and Clark go to a press conference to watch Lex Luthor (who is now a rich and powerful businessman although Perry and Lois know that he’s crooked) unveil his latest invention, a powerful exoskeleton made out of a brand new metal Lex has invented called “metallo.” There’s a malfunction during the demonstration which puts Lois in danger and so, in a scene straight out of Superman The Movie, Clark changes into his costume and rescues here, going public for the first time.

Lois and Clark are called in for an exclusive interview with Lex Luthor, whom most Metropolis citizens view as a hero. Meanwhile a chemical accident turns Rudy into the parasite, and Clark has to change into his suit to stop him. Lex uses the battle to publicly accuse Superman of being an inhuman monster just like Parasite, and the public seems to agree. But a chance encounter with Jimmy Olsen gives Superman the confidence to keep on going (and Superman does the same for Jimmy, who was about to quit the Daily Planet and move back home) and as a show of thanks he lets Jimmy take the first clear picture of him. Along with Lois’ article the Daily Planet is the first to officially dub him “Superman” and proclaim him a hero. But Lex is pissed…

Lex works with Lois Lane’s father, an army general, to find a way to take down Superman. Sergeant John Corbin, an ex of Lois’, is outfitted with an upgraded version of the Metallo exoskeleton, equipped with a piece of Kryptonite, and provokes Superman into an attack, which Superman barely survives. General Lane and his men then storm the Daily Planet building, shut it down, and declare a state of martial law in Metropolis as they hunt for Superman.

Superman battles the U.S. army and Metallo in the streets of Metropolis. Due to Metallo’s unbalanced mental state, he starts endangering civilians in his zeal to get Superman, which show the public that Superman really is one of the good guys. With the tide turned against them, General Lane is forced to back off, enraging Lex Luthor, who still hates Superman. We also get the first hint of romance between Superman and Lois, plus the beginning of the professional rivalry between Lois and Clark. But it all ends on an optimistic and hopeful note.

Re-reading this again for the first time in years, I like it a little better than I remembered it. Possibly it could be because since I’ve read this I also read the underwhelming SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis and watched the atrocious MAN OF STEEL film, and so in comparison to those I have to say that this was a much better Superman origin story. Although it’s not without flaws.

There’s a little too much adherence to the Christopher Donner version of Superman, for my tastes, both in the way Gary Franks draws Jor-El and Lara and especially in the way he draws adult Clark to look like Christopher Reeves. Twice as a boy Clark disparages the Superman costume, even referring to the shorts as “underwear”. That’s not cool. But, overall, my initial opinion is that this was just average. Not as great as Byrne’s reboot, or as ambitious as Waid’s tried to be. This was just Geoff Johns restoring as much of the Silver Age mythos as he could in this series. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but nothing too bad either. This is a familiar Superman story that most of the general public would understand.

Superman: Secret Origin

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