If we do a retcon, will it make that lawsuit go away?


Superman, Krypton, Smallville, Lex Luthor, Superboy, Lana Lang, rocket ship, super suit, heat vision, Ma and Pa Kent, glasses, and a spit curl; everything you already know about Superman’s history.  The origin story has been told so many times I would bet you could walk up to some hot girl on the street and ask her about any of these, and she would know what you were talking about.  So why, oh why, did DC give the light to Geoff Johns to retcon the well known origin story?

supermansecretorigin1COVER.jpgWhile the changed universe following the most recent Crisis is probably a good enough reason, that nagging lawsuit concerning the title character and his younger self seem more likely a reason to retell some of the events in a way that is similar but uniquely original.  So is this new telling really a derivative work?

That’s a question that is best left to the lawyers and the judges who are much more knowledgeable regarding these issues, but from what I see, there are plenty of attempts to do something original, but it just doesn’t come off quite right.  On the plus side, Johns avoided all mentions of Clark Kent being rocketed to Earth to escape an exploding Krypton – no really, read the Jor-El segment again, and you’ll see no mention of an exploding planet was made.  Likewise, the young Christopher Reeve doesn’t have superpowers from the moment he reaches the planet’s surface, but instead starts to gain powers near puberty.

While he’s shown to exhibit a tough exterior, and cold breath early – a secret shared between Lana Lange, Ma Kent, young Christopher Reeve, and John Schneider – it’s not until his first kiss with Lana that young Christopher Reeve gets his heat vision.  And he uses it to nearly burn the school to the ground.  It’s the same, but different, see?  Also changed to make it more believable is the origin story of young Christopher Reeve’s glasses.  During his exchange with the hologram of his father, a pair of perfectly round pieces of glass break off the rocket, that Ma fashions into a pair of glasses to keep young Christopher Reeve’s heat vision for burning anyone or anything else.  Also revealed is the vision Ma Kent has of Krypton, which gives her the idea to create the Superboy’s costume.  Since we really haven’t seen this take on the origins of these two items, it fits perfectly into a Secret Origin story.

While I do like Geoff Johns writing, a lot of the other story elements seem straight out of Smallville.  This is especially true during the concluding pages, when a tornado rips through town, causing Lana to get in a pickle, and giving readers the hint that Clark uses his power of flight to save her.  Even Jor-El’s monologue introducing himself to his son, while different, seems eerily similar to Marlon Brando’s delivery in the 1979 flick.  Of course a lot of this could be the result of Superman’s mythos being so engrained into our history that the line between the new and the old has blurred to the point it is difficult to tell one, without thinking of the other.

While that may be a convenient out for the writing, my biggest problem with the issue is Gary Frank’s art.  Frank is a great artist and does a bang up job in the layout, composition, staging, and so on, but I wish the muckety-mucks who run the company would send out a memo demanding artists to stop using likenesses for their character design.  It’s simply creepy seeing Frank trying to take the visage of Christopher Reeve that we are familiar with and de-age the face to make it fit the story.  In some panels it plays off as a nice homage, but other times it just seems so off and wrong.  This also goes for the depiction of Pa Kent.  With Smallville being a big deal, I can understand wanting to caricature John Scheider, but if one goes down that path, it needs to be followed and be consistent through the rest of the issue.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work as the face falls apart to the point by the end of the issue Pa looks nothing like he did on the first page.  And let’s not get started on the Jeffrey Hunter rendition of Jor-El.

Overall, it’s not a bad issue.  Those who are under the age of 12, or who haven’t seen Superman the Movie, watched the animated, series, seen Kristen Kruek strut her stuff on Smallville, or even been told the a phone-line version of the origin, will certainly get a lot of this issue.  But for the rest of us, a big shrug of the shoulder is in store.  I think the best reason to pick up this issue is to get the lead-in to the Legion of Super-Heroes appearance that is just around the corner.

The pacing works, the story elements click, and it does look pretty, but overall Superman: Secret Origin #1 only tops out at 3 out of 5 Stars for this reviewer.


The Author

Stephen Schleicher

Stephen Schleicher

Stephen Schleicher began his career writing for the Digital Media Online community of sites, including Digital Producer and Creative Mac covering all aspects of the digital content creation industry. He then moved on to consumer technology, and began the Coolness Roundup podcast. A writing fool, Stephen has freelanced for Sci-Fi Channel's Technology Blog, and Gizmodo. Still longing for the good ol' days, Stephen launched Major Spoilers in July 2006, because he is a glutton for punishment.

You can follow him on Twitter @MajorSpoilers and tell him your darkest secrets...

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  1. Ocho
    September 29, 2009 at 11:19 am — Reply

    I didn’t read Birthright, so I’m not certain if it’s included… but, is this the official reinsertion of the Superboy identity into modern Superman history?

    • September 29, 2009 at 11:28 am — Reply

      Following 52 and Final Crisis and the Superboy lawsuit, yes.

      • September 29, 2009 at 11:29 am — Reply

        Or I should say it is the Clark Kent Superboy reinsertion, and not the Conner Kent Kon-El Superboy story that is being re-imagined.

  2. Ocho
    September 29, 2009 at 11:48 am — Reply

    Just checking. That’s my take on why they felt it was necessary to retell the origin again.

  3. lifeisaglitch
    September 29, 2009 at 1:40 pm — Reply

    But what did you think of kid Luthor?

    • September 29, 2009 at 2:14 pm — Reply

      Again nothing we haven’t seen before. If I didn’t know better, I would say he was hoping to get elected to the LoSH in Braniac’s chair. Nothing too over the top that we haven’t already seen in the Silver Age.

  4. Hey!
    September 29, 2009 at 1:58 pm — Reply

    Haven’t read it, but always had a problem with a toddler/baby with superman’s powers. I have a 3 yr old, and he’d unintentionally kill everyone he met if he had Superman’s powers. They love to roughhouse.. and forget about it when he’s having a tantrum. He’d destroy everything around him….

  5. September 29, 2009 at 7:36 pm — Reply

    Is Franks still giving everyone “psycho faces”? Back in the Action Comics Legion story-arc, everyone looked like they’d been injected with the Joker’s special venom. Freaky.

    (Sorry if this post is a duplicate–when I post from my office computer, my comments don’t show up. Weird.)

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