Friday, October 2, 2009
A Familiar Story, Beautifully Told
Does Geoff Johns sleep? From where I'm sitting, it looks like he's writing roughly 70 percent of the books DC is putting out right now, including event stories like "Blackest Night." He's like the Joyce Carol Oates of comic book writers.
Johns' work rarely disappoints, but I approached his latest project, "Superman: Secret Origin," with trepidation. The Man of Steel's backstory has been told many times in almost every medium, and it was hard to believe that there was anything new to say. But while I'm not a rabid Superman fan, I am a sucker for how-it-all-began tales and Gary Frank's artwork. I'm glad I put my skepticism aside, because "Secret Origin" No. 1 is winning in its simplicity and obvious affection for all the origin tales that preceded it.
In Johns' version, Clark Kent is a teenager who is freaked out by his burgeoning powers. Like all adolescents, he's stuck in a changing, unpredictable body. The difference is that when he kisses his childhood sweetheart, Lana, the embarrassing, involuntary reaction is scorching heat vision. Ma and Pa Kent realize they can't put off The Talk any longer, and as a parent, I found myself wondering how I'd break the news to my kid that he dropped out of the sky in a rocket ship. Their big reveal goes badly, especially after unexpected holographs of Clark's — uh, Kal-El's — Kryptonian birth parents appear near the rocket they've hidden in the barn. Clark goes nuts with anger and confusion, and Pa Kent's loving reassurance ("You are my son.") is so touching that it made me a little teary.
The art in this book is gorgeous. Frank draws Clark exactly like a young Christopher Reeve, who is the gold standard for Superman. There's one panel where teen Lex Luthor's facial expression is so perfectly furious that I kept flipping back to study it. Even if you knew nothing about who Luthor eventually becomes, it would be chilling.
Rarely has my 9-year-old son so entranced by a comic book. As I watched him read "Secret Origin" for the second time, I was struck by how few of my comics I've been able to share with him. Let's face it; once you leave the kids' section, a great many comic books are filled with imagery inappropriate for children under 13. "Secret Origin" isn't a "kids" comic book, but it is accessible in the best possible way. He's antsy for No. 2, and so am I.