REVIEW: Superman: Secret Origin #6

 

Superman: Secret Origin #6



Written by Geoff Johns

Pencils by Gary Frank

Inks by Jon Sibal

Colors by Brad Anderson

Letters by Steve Wands



$3.99 / 32 Pages / Full Color 



DC Comics

 

Superman has never been broken. Ill-used, maybe, but never broken. He's less a concept or idea than a mythological formula with easily discernable components. He's the immigrant, the messiah, the champion. He's the duality of man. He's…Superman. So why fix him? Why rework an origin that reads like legend? 

Because it's what we do. Maybe not fix. Maybe not rework. But revisit with new devises. New experiences. New dreams. 

Geoff Johns is both heralded and belittled as a custodian, a storyteller who tinkers with truly iconic corporate characters with such rich histories that they feel like they belong to the public domain. A fan might say he deconstructs these often convoluted characters, distills them down to their essence, lending them new vitality. A naysayer would suggest he's merely standing on the shoulders of giants, shouting, "Hey, remember this?" An archivist with a finders-keepers approach to creation. I count myself amongst that first group, maybe due to my own philosophy on creativity, that it has a lot to do with problem solving, with adaptation. Invention, after all, is an assemblage of elements on hand. This is an old story. It's so good though, so pure, that it's worth telling again. That might be frustrating for some, but I think it's as simple as that. We create myth and then we tell it again, adding and subtracting. The point is that we keep telling it. Sharing it. 

With this issue, we have a finale to Geoff Johns' and Gary Frank's iteration of Superman's origin. It's a conservative retelling when compared to, say, Mark Waid and Leinil Yu's Superman: Birthright. So if your expectation was for a revolution or even evolution, this book is decidedly a failure. But that's not the only ambition a storyteller ought to have. If you look at Secret Origin instead as a reexamination of Superman and his core relationships, I think it's pretty satisfying. 

What does Johns contribute to the newly redefined mythology of Superman? It may seem minor, but I think he bolstered General Lane as a much more significant opponent. He's the fire behind racial bigotry toward Superman. There's a greater cohesion as well, with rogues like Parasite and Metallo fitting directly into the larger chess match between Superman and Luthor or Superman and Lane. There have certainly been strong connections between these players before, but they feel tenuous compared to this new status quo. 

Then there's Superman and Lois. Clark and Lois too. They feel right here. They feel like they're being portrayed as was always intended. We've been told that Lois is a fearless journalist before, but here I think we get to see that in action. Not in a Bond Girl way, but with a confident behavior I admire in journalist friends. It's easy to play up Lois' sarcasm and make Clark or even Superman feel like a schmuck. Johns writes a balanced Lois that we can fully imagine Superman falling for. They're in awe of each other, and that's never been more clear.  

Now we come to John's approach to Superman himself. As big a character as he is, I don't think there's any one proper understanding. Like Batman, there are some core values there, but these two titans, for as iconic as they are, are actually pretty maleable. So some of this is subjective. 

While I don't consider myself, by and large, a detractor of J. Michael Straczynski–I really enjoyed his approach to Thor–I think a lot of what he's doing in his ongoing Superman: Grounded story is expressed much more succinctly in a page or two (possibly within a single panel) of this book. Superman is the people's champion, and as such has great optimism for humanity, great belief in the potential of ordinary human beings. While Staczynski's Superman exhibits a level of condescension in his march across America, something of a messiah complex in his deus ex machina approach to solving Scruff McGruff level civic dilemmas, Johns' Superman is a model of humility. "I want you to stop looking for a great savior," he explains when pressed for orders by a crowd. "Lex Luthor isn't it. I'm not it." His advice to those citizens, to use their individual gifts to better the lives of others, is admittedly a little cornball, thought that's part and parcel with the red and blue. It's what Johns does next that makes the moment truly work. "That's, um, That's all I have to say," Superman says, a little uncertainly. It's the advice a messiah might give, offered in the humble voice of a boy from Smallville. It's just a glimpse of his upbringing, just a panel away from his next wholly confident move, a direct flight to confront Luthor. Johns' Superman likes to give credit where credit is due. He won me over in that Action Comics Legion of Superheroes story line when he called in the cavalry. His friends. 

Your mileage may vary, but I gravitate towards this traditional take on the character. Superman…he's a hero of mine. I love the grandiosity. The sentiment. The larger than life mythology, which is as simple or complex as you want it to be. I like that he's selfless. I like that, despite everything, it makes sense that he's selfless. 

This issue made me pretty happy. In its storytelling. Its depiction of action, love, and friendship. More importantly, it served as a great reminder. A reexamination of why I love this character, this genre, and this medium. Fantasy at its purest. Cornball, maybe. But that's me too. 

 

Story 5   Art 5   Overall 5

 

 


Paul Montgomery still believes a man can fly. Find him on Twitter or contact him at paul@ifanboy.com. 

Comments

  1. stuclach stuclach says:

    I agree that General Lane is a significant character now.  I love how Geoff Johns uses Lois, as well.  She is intelligent and strong will, but clearly cares for the people around her.  She’s very likable.

    I love Gary Frank, but I found the art less than perfect on a few pages.  It was still outstanding, but not at Mr. Frank’s typical level (in my opinion).

    I also enjoyed the story, but I had a hard time remembering some of the events from the previous issues, so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have.

    I gave this a 4 out of 5. 

  2. JesTr JesTr says:

    Easily my POTW. I’ve loved every page of this miniseries. I love how Johns incorporated various pieces from other Superman materials and merged them flawlessly to make a current origin story. I’m now spoiled because I always want Superman drawn by Gary Frank or Frank Quitely.  I want to by a piece of Original art work from this but it’s so expensive. If I can find the right page for a decent price though I won’t hesitate.

  3. blulew23 blulew23 says:

    My favorite Geoff John’s work has been his run in Action Comics and this mini. Green Lantern has been epic, but his Superman is heartfelt and just feels right.

  4. Paul Montgomery PaulMontgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @blulew23 – Very much agreed. His Superman and JSA scripts are his best work. 

  5. uvayankee1 uvayankee1 says:

    You know Paul, it sounds like you could be describing the Doctor instead of Superman in this review.  I think I’d like to see a Superman who treated humanity more like the Doctor does.  I will definitely be picking this one up in trade, when it hits.

  6. Predictable ending with pencils that, even for Frank, didn’t feel that special.

    Again, I’m sure this is gonna read great in trade…..But the 4 1/2 month delay did not make me feel like this was worth the wait.

    Good review though.

  7. Jeff Reid JeffR (@JeffRReid) says:

    Great review, Paul. I’m very excited to be getting this issue and, perhaps, rereading the entire series. It’s been beautiful up to this point and it sounds like this comic continues that.

  8. Paul Montgomery PaulMontgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I honestly don’t think the delay hurt this one that much. Superman is on the run from the military. The confrontation between General Lane and his daughter in the opening pages of this issue remind us of the stakes before we rejoin the action. So I personally didn’t have trouble synching up with the narrative after a delay. It’s an unfortunate gap in the publication, so it’s going to be problematic for some readers, but I’m not going to deduct points for external factors. 

  9. @Paul: Oh I’m not saying I was confused because of the delay. You’re right, the beginning explained pretty easily what happened from the last issue.

    All I’m saying that, even for a Johns/Frank production, this was very ho-hum…..Or standard I guess is a better word. Nothing really jumped out at me to explain a lateness and even when lateness isn’t a factor….I was a little bored reading this to be honest.

    But that’s just me.

  10. AmirCat AmirCat says:

    Thanks Paul, great review!

    I love Gary Frank and he can do NOOO wrong in my department. I feel the same way about Geoff Johns, however, I was hoping this issue would show us a new part of the Superman Origin story, like maybe bizarro or something. I wanted the same format as the John Byrne series which was SOOOO awesome! I thought that Bizarro might make an appearance as was shown in previews:

    Bizarro?

     

    The delay did not hurt me much because I have tons of other things to read and this was 48 pages afterall. 

     

  11. AmirCat AmirCat says:

    I should say I love Johns’s superman. His immigrant story is beautifully told. I love it …

  12. @AmirCat: Hey yeah…..What the hell happened to Bizarro?

  13. SpiderTitan SpiderTitan says:

    Any idea when the trade comes out?

  14. Paul Montgomery PaulMontgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    The hardcover’s out around Christmas. 

  15. I agree with everything, its comics like these that I can give to anyone and they can enjoy it for what it is. Sure Green Lantern is fun and all, but I think Johns best work has been on Superman(tied with the Flash), its a shame that this is the last of Johns/Frank Superman atleast for the time being.

    Also, yeah the original cover of this issue had Bizarro on it but this issue was sorely lacking in some Bizarro action, its no wonder why they changed the cover.

  16. edward says:

    hmm… it has been good.

    A slight criticism, the tone of the book occasionally fell on the bad side of tongue in cheek. I’m immediately yanked out of the story when superman quips with a villian that got he’s powers from a kryptonite donut. Personally, i don’t enjoy camp in any form; it’s just too easy

    BUT it was a very good book 

  17. Paul, you’re right on the money to single out this moment: "I want you to stop looking for a great savior" and compliment Johns’ nice touch of Smallville, Kansas humility to endear us to such a pronouncement. One of the standout moments of this fine series. The Nolan filmmaking empire should take note of this moment and imprint their reboot with this spirit – maybe even lift this moment directly. 
    The one surprisingly lackluster part of this Secret Origin series is its depiction of Luthor. I think ‘otomo’ over at True Believer reviews said it well, when he compared this interpretation of Lex to being a wee bit too much of a Dr. Evil cartoon type of figure. Which is doubly disappointing given Johns’ connection to the tv series Smallville and its nuanced take on Lex.
    JMS is trying desperately to be grounded and connected but so far it’s not working, but maybe that’s the point, maybe it’s structured that way for a progression. Holding out hope, not holding my breath, on that score.
  18. yikes! don’t know why that comment went all big-font bold and yelling. unintentional. sorry folks.

  19. JesTr JesTr says:

    @AmirCat & @TNC: I believe that is Metallo with his face plate off and not Bizarro.

    @citizenmilton: It seems Lurthor’s portrayal in this mini was a little over the top but I think Johns got it right. He was able to capture Lex’s need and desire to be humanity’s savior and jealousy of Superman. I think he did a really good job, as Paul has said, of expanding the character of General Lane.

  20. Paul Montgomery PaulMontgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Nah, that’s Bizarro. Note the cape. 

  21. Rbigley Rbigley says:

    Great review. This was hands down my pick of the week. A must have this December when collected.