Review by: JDC

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Written by GEOFF JOHNS

Size: 224 pages
Price: 29.99

Many writers over the years have attempted to tinker with the Last Son of Krypton’s well worn origin. From Grant Morrison’s one-page summary in All-Star Superman to John Byrne’s groundbreaking Man of Steel mini-series. Mark Waid tried to shake things up in the epic Birthright, as did J. Michael Straczynski with the more recent Superman: Earth One.

But the three greatest words a superhero fan can hear are, “Back. To. Basics.” And that is a principle Geoff Johns excels at.

Anybody looking for a trendy new take on Superman best check elsewhere. Anybody looking for a brilliant and heartfelt story about a true legend, this is it.

Not to say that Johns doesn’t drop in some of his trademark surprises, the biggest and best of which I’ll get to later. His characterisation in this story is perfect, not just of Clark Kent — with whom he achieves the previously impossible and makes him seem all too human — but also the numerous supporting characters too. Every single person in this sounds and behaves relentlessly unique.

From creating the Emotional Spectrum in Green Lantern to finally defining the Speed Force in The Flash, Geoff Johns is a genius when it comes to highlighting ideas that nobody ever thought of before but seem obvious in hindsight. This time, it’s the (literal) alienation of Clark.

Although the opening two chapters, set during Clark’s youth in Smallville, seem oddly disconnected from the rest of the story, they deal with him coming to terms with his place in the world. At the end of the day, no matter how you look at Superman, he is not one of us. This uncomfortable fact has been danced with before, but never fully explored, and certainly not from Clark’s perspective.

That’s when we get to the first big surprise I mentioned. The Legion of Super-Heroes shows up from the 31st century and take Clark away on an adventure into the future, showing him just how much of an inspiration he’ll become to others. The surprise? I hate the LoSH, but thought this segment was not only exemplary of Johns’ expert character work (I could actually keep track of everyone), but also fits in wonderfully in terms of story development. It was also damned good fun to read, another thing Johns doesn’t shy away from when necessary.

The second big surprise I had reading this was very similar, and occurred when Clark has all grown up and moved to Metropolis. Working at the Daily Planet, he meets his familiar supporting cast, including Jimmy Olsen. I used to hate Jimmy too. Yes, even that new mini-series that James Robinson insisted on. But again, Johns knows his characters, and knows how to make something seem new without losing a single element of what originally made it great. In a way, Jimmy is like this whole story in microcosm.

He makes sure that no-one (neither readers nor fellow characters) will ever take him for granted ever again by snapping the world’s only clear photo of Superman and slamming down on Perry White’s desk like a bad-ass. Which neatly brings me to the pictures contained within this book.

People often talk about comic book art that compliments the writing, but I have never seen it work so well as in here. There is a humility to Gary Frank’s art that is breathtaking yet reserved. Like Superman himself, it feels as if Frank is simply “doing his job,” but the job itself is awe-inspiring. Although I still find it disconcerting that he uses Christopher Reeve as a reference for Clark. It just feels weird.

There is so much more to say about Superman: Secret Origin: the intelligent takes on Lex Luthor and Lois Lane, the triumphant finale, the smirk-inducing dialogue, the restrained use of B-list villains (future superhero filmmakers, take note), the inspirational themes, the nods to prior adaptations, the layouts, background details, and so on and so on, forever and ever. Geoff Johns and Gary Frank have tackled the oldest and best superhero origin of all time and they have done it faithfully and professionally.

Superman: Secret Origin may not be as imaginative as All-Star Superman or as “hip” as Earth One. Sure, it lacks the punch of The Man of Steel or Birthright, but its heart is in the right place and so is everything else. It is the simple story of a super man, and sometimes that’s all you need.

Story: 4 - Very Good
Art: 4 - Very Good


  1. Completely agree on every word. 

    This Superman Origin book really made me feel like the first time I saw Superman: The Movie, plus is a damn good story too.

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