Superman: Secret Origin Review

“Everyone in Metropolis looks up in the sky. Sometimes we see him. Sometimes we don’t. But we always know he’s around.”

(This review is mostly spoiler-free, but as always, if you want to go in completely blind, do not read this). Note: This review will be shorter than normal, as I am experimenting with shorter reviews that can be posted in their relative entirety (with some editing for length and clarity) on our Instagram page as well. If you guys prefer to have these shorter reviews that are readable on IG as well, just let me know in the comments below!

With so many different versions of Superman’s origin floating around in the universe (both literal and fictional DC multiverse), writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank set out to firmly establish a definitive origin story, resulting in Superman: Secret Origin, an uplifting and modern affirmation on the Man of Steel’s early days that never strays from the hopeful themes that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster envisioned back in 1938.

Where Zack Snyder’s take on Superman makes him a misunderstood and tragic god figure in a distrustful world, Johns and Frank utilize a radically different approach, and one that’s much more in line with the character’s history and driving themes. When we meet their young Clark Kent in Secret Origin, he’s already aware of and has some control over his powers, but refuses to use them around his peers, just wanting to have a normal life. Even when Ma and Pa Kent reveal that he’s an alien from another planet, Clark outright refuses to accept that, begging to just be a normal child. This relatable and humbling portrait of Clark helps to ground Secret Origin, despite the story also leaning into the fantastical qualities that Superman’s possessed over the decades.

Another thing that sets Secret Origin apart is how readily it accepts the campy nature of Superman along with the more outlandish and delightfully silly aspects of his mythos, like the Legion of Superheroes (pictured above). In embracing these goofier and less realistic facets of Superman, Secret Origin remains unquestionably faithful to the character’s roots as pure escapism during a troubling time (the outbreak of World War 2), helping bring more levity to an already breezy and lighthearted story.

Secret Origin also lets its main antagonist (Lex Luthor) breathe and grow beyond the one-note mustache-twirling villain he’s sometimes portrayed as, to great effect. One of the great creative decisions by Johns and Frank is to bring Lex into Clark’s life much sooner than usual, having the two meet as kids and subtly grow apart, with Clark moving to Metropolis as an adult looking for his first real job and Lex moving there as a teenager determined to establish himself as a premier influence on the world. This early connection between the two only makes their confrontations as Superman and the Lex Luthor we’re used to seeing all the more emotionally charged and impactful, something that other Superman movies or comics gloss over in favor of just having the two butt heads immediately without any previous relationship having been established.

Finally, we have the beating heart of every Superman story ever: his relationship with Lois Lane. Secret Origin ticks all the boxes we’re accustomed to coming across, while giving Lois more agency and a meatier character arc than she usually receives. Instead of simply fulfilling the damsel in distress trope that she’s played to monotonous perfection over the decades, Lois serves as an excellent foil to Clark’s naive, warm, and innocent demeanor, as she’s cynical, jaded, and distrustful of the smallest things. Where many writers use Lois as a convenient plot device to lazily explain where Superman’s emotional state is at during any given moment, robbing her of any individuality or opportunities to grow organically as an important part of the Superman mythos, Secret Origin allows Lois to be a meaningful audience surrogate as the nihilistic person who sees all that’s wrong with the world rather than all that’s good in the world. But unlike us in the real world, Lois gets to meet and interact with Superman, and he changes her perception of the world, helping Lois become the hope that Superman professes to represent.

Verdict:

Superman: Secret Origin is a cheery and lighthearted take on the Man of Steel’s earliest days, with writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank using this opportunity to build upon decades-old material and give us some of the best possible versions of Superman’s supporting cast. Although Secret Origin is light on the classic Superman action we’ve grown used to getting, this lack of bombastic action sequences allows for more time with Secret Origin‘s core cast of characters, resulting in the quintessential Superman origin story.

Score: 8.5/10

Let me know what you thought of the book in the comments below!

Disclaimer: I do not own any of this cover art or any of these comic pages and panels. DC Comics owns all of this art. For the purposes of this review, I scanned some of the pages in myself or grabbed them from readcomicsonline.to

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