Superman: Secret Origin #1 (November, 2009)
“The Boy of Steel”
Writer – Geoff Johns
Penciller – Gary Frank
Inker – Jon Sibal
Colorist – Brad Anderson
Letterer – Steve Wands
Assistant Editor – Wil Moss
Editor – Matt Idelson
Cover Price: $3.99
Trying to do a bit of clean-up this week… trying to actually cover some books that I allude to/refer to pretty often. Over the past few days we’ve done some Convergence-ing… because, yeah… I refer to that story a lot, and it’s nice to now have a discussion I can link to.
Today we’re going to discuss another story that I refer to when discussing books of a certain vintage… Superman: Secret Origin. I’ve long wanted to cover this here, however it just happened to hit the shelves during that “missing” year of my life where I was without work. The reason it’s taken so long to cover this is… didn’t have any of the single-issues (we don’t call them floppies here), and the first rule of Chris is on Infinite Earths is… I gotta have the actual physical book before I cover it here. It might be a silly rule… and it certainly limits me from discussing some of the spendier books out there, but it works.
We open in Smallville, where young Clark Kent is playing a game of football with his friends. Gotta get this out of the way up front… Clark’s face is… basically Christopher Reeve’s face… like Reeve’s adult face, which looks really awkward on a young Clark. I mean, there’s no mistaking the inspiration… so, points for that… but it is a bit unsettling in some panels. Anyhoo, Clark catches a pass and Pete Ross goes for the tackle… only to have his arm accidentally snapped by his buddy.
Pa Kent pulls up in his pickup truck and hauls Clark’s little butt home. He’s pretty annoyed that his boy was playing football… as he’d been told not to.
The next day at school an injured Pete is da-belle-a-da-ball, all of the girls in their class are absolutely fawning over him. All except Lana, of course… she’s only got eyes for Clark.
As Lana chats Clark up… his vision shifts into the x-ray variety… and he can see Pete’s broken arm. This freaks him out, as it should, and he rushes away.
Lana gives chase and finally catches up with him down another hallway. It’s pretty clear here that Lana knows Clark is “different”. She shares a story of when she (they, really) found out. Years earlier, Lana was almost “threshed” while playing hide-and-seek in an overgrown wheat field. Clark saw that she was in danger, and threw himself on top of her before the thresher passed over. When the dust… and wheat, settled, Clark’s shirt was a tattered mess… but he was no worse for wear. They don’t say how old they were… but, I’m going to guess “pretty young”. Lana’s in pigtails… which, when everybody is drawn as having an adult’s face, is probably as good an indicator of “youth” as we’re gonna get.
Back in “the present” Lana kisses Clark… which triggers his heat vision! He blasts a school banner, setting it on fire… setting off the sprinkler system. Whoops.
Firefighters arrive at the school, and Pa is right behind them to take Clark home. Our boy shares… some of the details of what went down (minus the kiss), and asks why this is happening to him. At home, Ma and Pa discuss whether or not this is the right time to tell him… everything. They finally agree, and escort Clark out to the barn where they show him… the rocket.
While admiring the craft, Curious Clark touches it… which causes it to speak… in untranslated Kryptonese… well, at least at first. A hologram of Jor-El and Lara appear over the ship, and greet their son… sharing with him his true origin as the last son of Krypton.
Jor-El presents Kal with a Sunstone crystal, with which he promises all of his questions will be answered. Clark ain’t all that happy with this unexpected turn of events… and enraged. lets loose a blast of heat vision… which refracts off of the crystal shards. This will be important in a bit.
Still not taking the news all that well, Clark runs off into the field… where he eventually trips over a root and face-plants. Pa is hot on his heels, and when he catches up, comforts his boy… and promises that they are still a family, and Clark is still his son.
Elsewhere in Smallville, a red-haired boy runs away from his abusive, drunken father. He winds up tripping over a strange… glowing… green stone. Hmm…
The next day before Clark heads off to school, he is presented with an over-sized pair of specs… with lenses crafted from the Kryptonian crystal shards, to keep the heat-vision in, natch. Is it weird, that in a story about Superman, Ma crafting a perfect pair of glasses out of Kryptonian crystals is a sticking point in suspending my disbelief? Clark threatens to “lose them… on purpose” because he’s a little jerk.
After Pa and Clark leave, Ma heads back into the barn to see what this Sunstone business is all about. She touches it… and begins learning the history of Krypton… we even get a cameo from our old friend Doomsday!
At school, we see Clark making up a bunch of excuses not to play football with his pals. They’re all flimsy… but his buddies don’t press him. They make fun of him, sure, but don’t really pressure him. After the geeks disperse, Lana approaches and invites our boy to the Smallville County Fair… which takes us to the first ever meeting between Clark Kent and Lex Luthor.
Now here’s where it gets weird. Lex and Clark sorta-kinda hit it off… Lex seems to see Clark as a well-meaning lad with a more curious mind than your run of the mill Smallvillian… and so, he shows him his prized artifact… that chunk of Kryptonite! Clark reacts the way you’d expect… but also, maybe triggers a storm? I mean, it’s weird… lightning strikes… Lex drops the Green-K jar, shattering it… and he immediately blames Clark for it?! Dunno… anyhoo, worth mentioning that Lex’s hand gets cut by the broken glass.
Lex runs off with his glowing rock just as a tornado rips through the fairgrounds. Clark sees Lana being drawn into the funnel-cloud, and charges in to save her. This is the first time we’re seeing our boy fly.
Once he realizes he’s flying, however, he kinda loses control… and the two wind up in the lake. Where they kiss a bit. Luckily for Lana, Clark’s (over-sized) new glasses didn’t fall off while he was in a slap-fight with a tornado… and so, when his heat-vision triggers, her face isn’t immediately melted off.
Back home, Clark excitedly shares the events of the day with his folks… and lets Ma know that the glasses indeed work. It’s here that he decides to dedicate his life to helping others… which is pretty much what his parents wanted to hear. Ma’s already designed him a costume and everything! Clark’s all “ixnay on the ostumecay”, but Pa talks him into at least trying it on.
Then we come to the end. You remember that first issue of Byrne’s Man of Steel? When Clark first tries on the costume… you can almost hear the majestic music start to build… then he proudly takes off, and you can imagine the music hitting that bombastic fevered pitch? Yeah, we get none of that here. What we get instead is a petulant little jerk, who is embarrassed to be wearing “the S”. Yeah, that sour taste currently in your mouth… it’s from this page.
Wow… what an ending! You ever have the wind taken out of your sails from a comic book like that before? Not likely, my friends.
I mean, I get bringing Clark forward… and I understand that a child of today is going to act differently than a child of the 1930’s… or 1960’s, depending on the origin we’re playing with… but, there’s a lot about him that is just so damn unlikable. And yeah… a lot of this sentiment is stemming from that final page. I was pretty much (begrudgingly) on board up to that point!
I could live with Clark being a little snarky… maybe lying to his folks about “going to the library” when he’s really playing football. That’s kid stuff, and that’s fine. It’s his embarrassment that really gets me. First, he’s embarrassed to wear the glasses that Ma must’ve toiled on for hours… even going so far as to threaten to “lose them… on purpose”. Then, and it’s probably silly that I have such a visceral and intense reaction to this… he’s embarrassed to wear the costume. This just doesn’t feel like “Clark Kent” to me.
I think, if this happened in the “real world” I’d be totally fine with it. What teen-ager is going to be cool wearing a superhero costume? Probably very few… if any. We’re not talking about the “real world” here though. Nobody’s going to see Clark and goof on him for being “dressed like Superman” because it’s a world where Superman doesn’t exist yet! He’s reacting like it’s a silly Halloween costume… and not the symbol we all know it to be.
And yeah… I totally get how I’m being hypocritical here. When he puts it on for the first time… the symbol is “meaningless” and I’m attributing far more significance to it than it’s earned at this point. Yeah… I get that. I guess it’s just difficult to separate things and place this in its proper context. It’s difficult to reconcile this take on the origin, when we’ve never seen him be anything but proud to take and wear “the S”. It’s hard not to compare this to Byrne’s Man of Steel.
Speaking of the post-Crisis Superman… with this issue we can finally draw a line under him. They’d been chipping away at that origin for… the better part of a decade at this point, but never outright said “this is the definitive origin moving forward”. Even after Infinite Crisis things were kept pretty nebulous. So, if nothing else… at least this miniseries tells us what’s what.
Let’s shift gears and talk art for a bit. It’s kind of mixed for me. I mean, there are plenty of pretty pages here… really dynamic shots, really good stuff… then, there are the faces. It’s not every face, and it’s not every character… but there are some unpleasant (and creepy)-looking mugs in this book. From Christopher Reeve’s adult head on a little boy’s body, to sunken-cheeked sunken-eyed “heroin chic” Lex Luthor… there’s a little bit of ugly in here. Otherwise though… really nice-looking book!
Overall… looks like I’m gonna ride the fence again. With Rebirth and the subsequent Superman Reborn already in the books, I can’t say that this origin is still the definitive one. That’s kinda the problem with rewriting a character’s origin every few years, ain’t it? Since the turn of the century, we’ve probably had a good half-dozen takes on it… and a handful of reboots ta’ boot. If you’re down to check out the pre-Flashpoint origin… definitely give this a look, just be prepared to have all the wind sucked out of your sails on that last page.