Comic Book Review: Superman: Secret Origin #1

I fully expect Superman: Secret Origin #1 to be a great read. Geoff Johns normally turns out good reads when he is dealing with characters that he truly loves. Johns did an excellent job on Action Comics, so I expect him to deliver the same quality with Superman: Secret Origin. I look forward to seeing how Johns tweaks Superman’s origin to incorporate more of the Silver Age aspects of his character that were wiped out by the original Crisis. Let’s go ahead and hit this review for Superman: Secret Origin #1.

Creative Team
Writer: Geoff Johns
Pencils: Gary Frank
Inks: John Sibal

Art Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Story Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10

Synopsis: We begin with Clark playing football with a bunch of his friends. Clark catches the football and squares off against Pete Ross. Pete bets Clark that Clark cannot get past him. Clark runs forward with the football. Pete tackles Clark. We hear a snap and Pete cries out in pain as he has broken his arm on Clark. Clark looks horrified.

We see the ambulance arriving to take care of Pete. Jonathan Kent arrives and tells Clark to come home with him. Pa Kent says that Clark said he was going to the library after school. Clark tells his father that he is sorry.

We cut to the next day at school. Pete has his arm in a cast. The cheerleaders are all around Pete giving him love and sympathy and signing his cast. Pete tells Clark to stop apologizing. That it was no big deal. Also, Pete points out that the cast is getting him lots of attention with the girls.

Lana then asks Clark how he is doing. Clark tells Lana that he does not feel like talking to anyone. Lana asks if that includes her as well.

Pete then calls out for Clark to come and sign his cast since Clark is his best friend. Suddenly, Clark’s x-ray vision kicks in and he sees Pete’s broken bone through the cast. Clark suddenly runs away and turns down the other hallway.

Lana comes around the corner of the hallway and asks Clark if he is all right. Clark tells Lana that he saw through Pete’s cast. That Pete’s arm is broken. Clark says that it is all his fault. Lana says that it was not Clark’s fault. That they were playing football.

Clark replies that he should not have been playing football. Clark says that his dad told him not to play football. Clark says that his dad did not say anything, but that Clark could tell that his dad thought Clark was to blame for Pete’s injury.

Lana replies that it does not appear that Pete minds with all the attention he is getting. Clark replies that Lana didn’t hear the snap of Pete’s bone and Pete’s screaming. Lana brings up the time when she learned how strong Clark is.

They were playing in the wheat fields and did not hear the combine harvester headed their way. Clark grabbed Lana and put himself in between her and the harvester. The harvester’s metal blades broke when they hit Clark’s back. Lana says that after it happened that Clark stood up and exclaimed “I’m stronger than steel! Cool!”

Lana tells Clark that what he is capable of is still cool. Clark responds that he is afraid to ever touch anyone again. Lana then pulls Clark in and plants a huge kiss on him.

Suddenly, Clark’s eyes glow red and his heat vision kicks in. Clark pushes Lana away and Lana exclaims that Clark’s eyes are glowing red. Clark’s heat vision sets a banner in the hallway on fire. The fire alarm and sprinkler system then turn on.

We cut to the firemen at the school. The firemen say that the fire was intentional. Pa Kent is at school and picks up Clark. Clark says that he did not do anything wrong. Pa Kent says that he knows that. Clark then says that the fire came right out of his eyes. Clark is sad and asks his father “What’s wrong with me?”

We shift to Clark sitting at the kitchen table with Ma and Pa Kent. Ma Kent exclaims that there is nothing wrong with Clark. Ma Kent says that Clark is the most special boy in the world. Pa Kent says that it is time they told Clark. That Clark needs to know. Ma Kent is unhappy with telling Clark because she feels it will change everything in this house.

Pa and Ma Kent then lead Clark to the barn. Pa Kent says that Clark’s birthday is actually the day they found this space ship. Pa Kent pulls away a piece of wood on the floor of the barn and we see a small space ship. Clark thinks the space rocket looks cool and reaches down and touches it.

This activates a hologram of Jor-El and Lara-El. Jor-El introduces himself and Lara as Kal-El’s parents. Jor-El recounts the fate of Krypton and how he sent Kal-El to Earth. Jor-El points to the Sunstone crystal from the House of El that he placed in the rocket. That the Sunstone crystal contains everything that Jor-El could give Kal-El.

Jor-El says that picked Earth because the yellow sun would grant Kal-El powers so that he could protect himself. And also because Kal-El would be able to fit in with the indigenous people of Earth since Kryptonian look like Earthlings. However, Jor-El reminds Kal-El that he must never forget that although he may look like them that Kal-El is not one of them.

Clark’s eyes glow red and his heat vision blasts the Sunstone crystal which stops the holographic recording. Clark screams for Jor-El to go away. Clark screams “This is not true!” Clark then runs out of the barn and into the corn fields. Pa Kent runs after Clark.

Clark runs until he trips and falls to the ground. Pa Kent catches up to Clark. Pa Kent says that he knows that all of this is scary. Clark asked his father why he would show him that rocket and message. Pa Kent replies that he thought Clark deserved to know and that it would help him adjust to having super powers.

Clark stammers that he does not want to be different. That he does not want to be someone else. Clark says “I want to be Clark Kent. I want to be your son.” Pa Kent says “Clark…you are my son.” Pa Kent holds Clark and hugs him lovingly. (Oh man, I am getting verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves for a moment.)

We cut to Lex Luthor running away from his home. Lex’s drunk father is looking to beat on Lex again. Lex’s sister yells for her father to leave Lex alone. While Lex is running he stumbles over some green kryptonite. Lex picks up the green kryptonite and is fascinated by it.

We hop over to the next day with Clark wearing his new glasses. Ma Kent made glasses using two of the crystals from the space rocket. Ma Kent noticed how the crystals stopped Clark’s heat vision. The glasses are to stop any uncontrolled outbursts of Clark’s heat vision so that he does not unintentionally hurt anyone. Clark bemoans how big and dorky the glasses are. Pa Kent then takes Clark off to school.

Ma Kent then enters the barn and activates the Sunstone crystal. Jor-El’s holographic message resumes. Jor-El talks about the various threats Krypton has faced in Brainiac and Doomsday. Jor-El then explains Kryptonian culture and society.

We cut to school with Clark’s friends joking Clark about his glasses. Clark’s friends ask Clark to come play football. Clark says that he cannot play football. Pete asks Clark to come play with them. Clark makes some really lame excuses that sound like obvious lies as to why he cannot go play football. The kids say that Clark is just afraid to play football. That Clark is afraid that he will get hurt like Pete Ross.

The boys go off to play football. Lana approaches Clark and tells him he is going to have to get better at making up excuses. Clark then goes with Lana to the county fair.

We cut to the county fair and see Clark at a book stall. Clark picks up a book on aliens and UFO’s. Lex is at the book stall and comments that Clark might be the only other person in Smallville who is not a dumb hick farmer. Lex is selling his books in order to make enough money to get out of Smallville.

Lex notices Clark’s interest in aliens. Lex then shows Clark his jar that has the green kryptonite in it. Clark begins to wince with pain and collapses to the ground and knocks into Lex in the process. This causes Lex to drop the jar. The jar breaks and the kryptonite falls out of it.

Lex rants that Clark is an idiot. Lex then cuts his hand on a piece of glass from the broken jar. Suddenly, a huge storm hits the country fair. Lana sees Clark stumbling around.

We then see a tornado whipping its way toward the county fair. Lana is in the path of the tornado. Clark runs toward Lana. Lana is about to be sucked into the tornado when Clark suddenly finds himself flying in the air. Clark grabs Lana and flies her high into the air. Clark then loses control of his flying and they wobble in the air and crash land into a nearby lake.

Lana plants a huge kiss on Clark. Clark’s eyes glow red, but his glasses prevent his heat vision from burning anything. We cut to Clark back home with Pa and Ma Kent. Clark excitedly exclaims that he flew. Clark said it was amazing. Clark said he saved Lana and that Lana was so happy. Clark exclaims that he is going to keep doing it. That he is going to keep helping people.

Ma Kent interjects that she wants Clark to wear something more durable if he is going to be saving people. Ma Kent says that Clark has lost way too many shirts and pants getting ripped and stained during his adventures. Ma Kent pulls out the blankets that Clark was wrapped in as a baby when he was in the rocket. Ma Kent said the blankets are made from a strong material, like the crystals that stop Clark’s heat vision, and should not tear during Clark’s adventures.

Ma Kent tells Clark to use his heat vision to help her make an outfit for Clark. Ma Kent shows Clark the sketches for the outfit. Ma Kent says she based the outfit on the fashion and symbols that she learned about Kryptonian culture from the holographic message.

Ma Kent placed Clark’s family crest on the chest of the outfit. Ma Kent says that they do not know much about Krypton, but that they want Clark to embrace his heritage. Clark replies what if Krypton was a bad place. Pa Kent replies that if Krypton gave them Clark then it can’t be that bad of a place.

We cut to Clark walking down the stairs ready to show off his new costume. Clark stands in front of his parents. Pa Kent replies that the outfit is a little tight. Ma Kent states that the outfit is adorable.

We see Clark in his Superman outfit. Clark says “You both better take a nice long look…because today is the last time I ever wear this.” End of issue.

The Good: Superman: Secret Origins #1 was a great read. Johns does it once again as he tweaks and massages the origin on yet another one of DC’s franchises. I enjoyed each little wrinkle that Johns added to Superman’s origin in this issue.

I always preferred Superman’s Pre-Crisis origin to his Post-Crisis origin. DC strip-mined Superman’s origin by using the scorched Earth method thanks to Crisis on Infinite Earths. I never liked that DC unceremoniously dumped Superman’s Silver Age continuity. DC threw the baby out with the bathwater with that move.

What DC gave us in return with Superman’s Post-Crisis origin did little to nothing for me. I simply found Superman’s Post-Crisis origin to be so dull. DC robbed Superman’s origin of much of its color, wildness and imagination and replaced it with a much more practical and boring origin that lacked the same creativity and excitement.

Therefore, it will come to no surprise at all that I am thrilled with how Johns is concocting more of a Silver Age feel to Superman’s origin with this title. Now, Johns is not simply parroting the Silver Age origin.

Instead, Johns is taking the Silver Age origins and meshing it with a modern sensibility and mixing in some elements from the television show, Smallville, in order to create a brand new take on Superman’s origin. Johns’ vision for Superman’s origin certainly has their aura and feel of the Silver Age, but avoids being purely unoriginal and imitative.

Johns’ greatest talent is his impressive world building abilities. Johns knows how to work with continuity like few other writers can. Johns possess a strong vision and, while he may be slowly paced, Johns always has a point and purpose to his story and never waivers from his end goal. Johns simply understands how to massage a character’s origin in order to make it work in a modern setting without having to radically alter the origin of the character.

Superman: Secret Origin #1 is actually a well paced issue. That is something that I simply no longer expect to get when I read a Johns’ penned comic book. Johns eschews his usual method of blatantly writing for trade format and serves up a debut issue that moves with a purpose and at a pleasant pace. Johns actually covers a fair amount of ground in this issue.

Superman: Secret Origin #1 was nicely plotted. Johns gives the reader plenty of substance in this issue. Johns shows the reader Clark gaining several new powers, his reaction to each new power and how he copes with each new powers.

I liked how Clark’s reaction to each new power varies. Clark’s reaction to his X-Ray vision was one of horror at what he had done to Pete. Clark’s reaction to his heat vision was one of guilt and sadness about what is going on with him and his lack of control over his abilities. Then we get to Clark’s reaction over his ability to fly which was pure joy and the resolution to use his new abilities to help people.

The reader also learns the origin of Clark’s glasses (Not quite as exciting as the riveting origin of Barry Allen’s legendary bow-tie.) and we learn about the origin of Superman’s costume. Johns also wastes no time having Clark learn about his true heritage.

We also quickly introduce Lex Luthor into the storyline and set the foundation for his character and why he acts the way he does. Of course, what I appreciated the most was that Johns did not make the reader wait two or three issues to finally see Clark in the Superman costume. We properly get that pay-off at the end of this issue.

All in all, this was some rather condensed story telling by Johns. And that is certainly something I never thought I would be saying about this issue.

The reader gets a great sense of Clark’s character before he became committed to being a super hero. The reader sees Clark transform from a kid uncertain who he is and upset over who he is and scared of his powers at the beginning of the issue to a kid who is happy about who or what he is and ready to dedicate to using his abilities to help others.

I absolutely loved the ending to this issue. It was fantastic seeing Clark bust out the Superman costume as a teenager. We officially have Clark wearing the Superman outfit prior to him being Superman when he moved to Metropolis. Finally!

Johns sweeps away the original Crisis retcon that Superman never wore his costume prior to moving to Metropolis and that Superman never was Superboy while in Smallville. I hated it when DC retconed Superman’s career as Superboy away. It made Superman’s origin much more boring and also wreaked absolute havoc on the Legion of Super Heroes’ continuity.

Johns pulled off some absolutely fantastic character work in Superman: Secret Origin #1. All of the characters were wonderfully developed. The dialogue was excellent. Each character had nicely developed external voices.

All of this resulted in some great chemistry between the different characters. The relationship between Lana and Clark, Clark and Pa Kent and Clark and Ma Kent were all exceptionally handled. Johns is clearly at ease with these characters. Johns’ love for the Superman franchise shines in his deft handling of each character.

There were so many incredibly well crafted and highly emotional scenes in this issue. What impressed me so much was the amount of emotion that Johns was able to convey in this issue. The drama is never cheesy or over the top. Johns plays it well and manages to tug on the reader’s heartstrings at several moments in this issue.

I enjoyed the scene with Jor-El’s message to Clark. Johns played this scene perfectly. The tension in this scene was palpable. It was interesting to note that while Jor-El was neither hostile nor hateful toward Earth or its inhabitants, that Jor-El made a point of stressing that Clark has to remember that he is not one of them. That Kal-El is Kryptonian.

This echoes Jor-El’s position over in Smallville where he routinely tells Clark to embrace his Kryptonian heritage and to always remember that while Clark may look like a human that he is most definitely not a human.

My favorite scene in this issue was the one between Clark and Pa Kent in the cornfield after Clark has run away from the barn and is in shock over the revelation that he is an alien. Clark is crying and exclaims that he just wants to be Clark. That he just wants to be Jonathan Kent’s son. The reader completely feels for Clark in this moment. The reader can sense the confusion, fear and the desperate wish that everything would just go back to normal that consumes Clark in this scene.

Then Johns just breaks the reader’s heart with Pa Kent’s response that Clark is his son. Man, let me tell you. I got choked up at this point. I am a sucker for any father/son moment and this scene definitely tugged on my heart. This scene was perfectly played and the reader was immediately sympathetic for Clark at this moment. This was the seminal moment where Clark’s life would never be the same again.

Gary Frank and John Sibal combine to deliver plenty of their usual quality artwork. I normally like the work product of this art team. Frank is able to pull of the dramatic scenes and does a fine job injecting plenty of emotion into Johns’ story.

The Bad: My only very minor complaint is Frank’s continued decision to draw Clark Kent exactly like Christopher Reeve. I find that it takes me out of the story at times. Also, certain panels of Clark were just plain creepy looking as it appeared like Frank pasted Christopher Reeve’s adult head on a teenage boy’s body.

Overall: Superman: Secret Origin #1 was an excellent read. This is an absolute must buy for any and all Superman fans. I definitely urge everyone to give this mini-series a chance.

5 thoughts on “Comic Book Review: Superman: Secret Origin #1

  1. I wouldn't mind an update about Superman's past… if not for the fact that this is the umpteenth time this has been done. Do they not remember "Superman: Birthright"? Do they not remember the continual re-writes and retcons that have been made ever since John Byrne did the "Man of Steel" miniseries? Are they oblivious to the fact that there is a TV show on The CW that has been on for almost a decade now that has transformed the whole mythos into a modern-day angst-ridden slacker-from-another-world?

    I'm sure it's a good story, but I really think that at some point someone in DC needs to set these writers aside and say ENOUGH! And obviously that's not going to come from DiDio.

  2. I agree with David to a certain extent. However, what DC Comics is truly lacking is a sense of continuity within the titles. And right now, I think they have decided to make Geoff Johns the person to help "re-map" the DC universe.

    Yes, Superman's past needs to defined and not altered anymore. I mean. good grief, it was only a few years ago when Birthright came out. however, DC Comics sucks as far as making continuity work. Johns is a master of this and will help steer DC in the right direction.

    However, I feel using the TV show argument isn't as valid as you might think. I dont consider anything that comes out on TV or film (when talking about comics) as canon. Only what appears IN the comics should be considered as canon, and everything else just a side entertainment.

  3. I enjoyed the review. But as far as the support thrown towards the pre-crisis origin, it may have some great elements in it, but I will never side with anything that brings in a superboy. You may think that having Superman not be superboy is a disservice but it's not. Clark wearing the costume at that age pre-Metropolis is korny not to mention that the S shield no longer would be the point in Clark's life where he's grown to.

    And the Lex' drunk father idea, really? After Smallville actually brought a fresher idea to the table in John Glover's Machiavellian Lionel Luthor we regress? oh well. as the gentlemen above me have said, it isn't like DC's continuity or present-day comics for that matter warrant religious following; you pick and choose what you like, sadly

  4. I would far prefer Morrison writting the mini series. He gas proven that he is one of the best superman writers ever.

  5. I miss the "Man of Steel" miniseries. I think it gave us just enough "super" and paid complete respect to what Siegel and Shuster first intended when they created in this character. The Bryne stories were fun because Clark got his butt handed to him often; but he prevailed because his "edge" was returned along with the heart and guts to get the job done. That's the reason Superman first became a sensation when he first appeared. Like any truly great man, this Superman, like the original, started off with dimished powers and learned to work with what he had. Like a true working man, he got the job done and as his resources grew, he grew along with them. That is what made the original and Bryne's Superman so much fun–the regular guy could kinda relate with great wish fufillment. Read the early Siegel and Shuster stuff, then read the Bryne version: the formula is updated, but still the same. D.C had a good thing with the Man of Steel version, but bad editorial decisions just fucked the whole thing up. But history sometimes repeats, right? Bryne revised the "Golden" age Supes, so I guess its time for Johns and Frank to revise the "Silver." What the hell was "Birthright" and where does it fit in with that damn spider?

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