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What is So Secret?

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Superman’s origin was essentially the same for his first 48 years. But over the past 23 years, it has been retconned and rebooted numerous times. Superman: Secret Origin brings another overhaul.

At its core, Superman’s origin has remained the same for his 71 years of existence. Jor-El and Lara sent their son Kal-El to Earth right before their planet, Krypton, explodes. The baby is found by Jonathan and Martha Kent and they raise the alien baby as their own. Kal-El is renamed Clark Kent and is instilled with values such as truth, justice and the American way. His alien heritage gives him great powers, and he decides to use these powers to protect his adoptive planet as Superman.

Over his first 48 years in existence, this origin was fleshed out by creators adding more and more parts to the mythos. It was revealed that Superman first appeared in costume as a teen. Calling himself Superboy, he would eventually serve as inspiration to and eventually become a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes.

His arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor, was a childhood friend of Superman with whom he had a falling out. The Kents both passed away before entered college. Lois Lane alternated between wanting to marry Superman and find out his secret identity. He discovered he wasn’t the only survivor of Krypton, that his cousin Kara, a.k.a. Supergirl, also made it out okay.

By the 1980s, Superman’s status quo was seen as staid and perhaps even a little boring. The continuity changing miniseries, Crisis on Infinite Earths, allowed DC the opportunity to shake up most of its line, including Superman.

Enter John Byrne. His 1986 series The Man of Steel changed everything we knew about Superman. Instead of a sci-fi paradise Flash Gordon would be at home in, Krypton was turned into a cold and sterile planet. Superman was the sole survivor of Krypton—no cousins, no dogs, nobody else. He didn’t meet Lex Luthor until he moved to Metropolis as an adult. The Kents were still alive. He was never Superboy and never met the Legion. Lois Lane became a strong female character more concerned with scooping Clark Kent than finding if he was really Superman.

Changes like this had never happened to the character before and generated a lot of buzz and excitement. This was a brand new Superman, and readers at the time thought they would be on the ground floor for the next 50 years of the character.

However, DC couldn’t leave a good thing alone. As time went on, Byrne’s new version of Supeman’s origin was retconned and revamped. A new definitive version of Superman’s origin appeared in Superman: Birthright. Published in 2003, the miniseries reestablished the childhood friendship between Lex Luthor and Clark. It also returned the bottle city of Kandor back into continuity, amongst other changes.

Krypton was returned to the pre-Crisis version of the planet and then to something resembling the Krypton in the first Superman film. In Superman/Batman, Supergirl was reintroduced, leading not only to Superman not being the last of his kind, but also to there being enough Kryptonians to fill up their own planet. Krypto even made a return to continuity as most of the changes Byrne made were replaced by modern versions of Silver Age continuity.

All of these retcons diminished the power of Byrne’s reboot and seemed almost lazy on the part of the various creators. Instead of creating a new part of the mythos, they would go back and put their own spin on a classic part of Superman’s canon.

This week, another definitive version of Superman’s origin, one that presumably replaces The Man of Steel and Superman: Birthright as Supes’ canonical origin, arrives in the form of Superman: Secret Origin. This series presents the post-Infinite Crisis version of the Superman saga. Little is known of what it entails, but it would appear that Clark being Superboy and a member of the Legion will be reintroduced. 

DC wants us to be excited about this new telling of Superman’s origin, but I find it hard to be all that interested. The Man of Steel was groundbreaking and revolutionary and created a sense of something new and long-lasting. But DC proved that the series was not permanent and made constant changes to the status quo. So, I have no reason to believe that Superman: Secret Origin will present things as they will forever be, but rather things as they are now, before the next revamp. 

Also out this week:

Spider-Woman #1

Sometimes books are delayed because of late art and/or writing. Sometimes there are other reasons for the delay. In this case, it’s a little of both.

This series was supposed to hit stands before the Secret Invasion series got started, but events in that series—that Jessica Drew was kidnapped and replaced with a Skrull—made it more prudent to wait before starting a new series instead of having one with an alien replacement.

Of course, after Secret Invasion, this series was solicited for April, cancelled and then resolicited for this month. I doubt any storyline was the cause for this delay.

Spider-Woman is one of my favorite Marvel characters and I loved her last ongoing series. It was weird and inventive. Hopefully, Bendis and Maleev’s version will be just as good.

Brian Michael Bendis (W), Alex Maleev (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Ongoing Series.

Wednesday Comics #12

I haven’t heard of any plans by DC to run another weekly series in their future, but, for time being at least, it looks like this series will be the last. If that is the case, then at least the company’s experiment with the weekly format has gone out with a bang!

If you did not pick up this series, you really missed out on something special. The content was a little uneven, not every story was a winner, but the best entries were well worth the $3.99 per issue.

I don’t know if or how they will collect these stories, but you should check it out if/when they do. This was a great series and I wish there were more of it coming.

Various (W), Various (A), DC Comics, $3.50. Final Issue.

Bart Simpson's Treehouse of Terror #15

This yearly tradition is a favorite of mine for a number of reasons. First, it is a comic book version of one of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite TV series of all time. Next, this series is known for bringing in an eclectic group of creators to work on the Simpsons characters, characters they normally wouldn’t work on.

This year, it’s no different. This issue is guest edited by Sammy Harkham, creator of the indie comics anthology, Kramer’s Ergot. This tells you to expect stories done by the biggest names in independent comics. And Harkham doesn’t disappoint as indie legends such as Kevin Huizemga (Ganges) and Jeffrey Brown (Bighead) take a shot at Springfield’s favorite family.

Various (W), Various (A), Bongo Comics, $4.99. Annual.

Wolverine: Old Man Logan Giant-Size #1

Hey guys! Remember that arc by Millar and McNiven? You remember—the one with a Wolverine in a dystopian future where the world was controlled by super-villains? The arc delayed so much that they had to publish #73 before #72? Well, it’s finally being completed in a giant-size special, months after it was supposed to end.

Here is your catch up. Logan went on a mission across the U.S. with Hawkeye to deliver a special package. Delivery of the package meant a lot of money for Logan, money he needed to pay off the Hulk Gang and save his family. Unfortunately, double-crosses were the rule of the day, including one by the Hulk Gang. Logan returns home with the money only to find his family dead at the hands of the Hulk Gang. Now, instead of a payoff the Hulk Gang will be getting a payback. Because Logan is long gone, and Wolverine is back on the scene.

Mark Millar (W), Steve McNiven (A), Marvel Comics, $4.99. Special.

Underground #1

Jeff Parker is one of the best, up and coming writers in comics. Steve Lieber is one of the most underrated artists in the field, finally getting recognition as his Whiteout is hitting the silver screen. So any pairing of these two creators is worthy of note. And both men are collaborating on this series, hitting stores tomorrow.

The story is about a female park ranger named Wesley Fischer looking to protect her beloved Stillwater Cave. When people illegally start blasting in the cave, this raises her ire. But her anger leads her into a situation more dangerous than she could have ever anticipated. She wanted to protect the cave, but now she needs the cave to protect her.

Jeff Parker (W), Steve Lieber (A), Image Comics, $3.50. Four-Issue Miniseries.

Beautiful Creatures #1

Beauty is only skin deep. That is a popular maxim, but not entirely true. There are a lot of gorgeous women and handsome men who are great people deep down inside. Of course, there are a lot of attractive people who are ugly, snarling beasts deep under the skin.

This series takes that latter fact to the extreme. Four pretty college girls are stunned to find that they are really monsters underneath it all. Not figuratively, but literally. They are each possessed by horrific, ancient mythic creatures. But this discovery is only the beginning of their adventure. Will the girls be free of the creatures that share their bodies? Or are the creatures the ones needing to be freed?
 
Kurtis J. Wiebe (W), Ash Jackson (A), Red 5 Comics, $4.95. Two-Issue Miniseries.

Ender's Shadow: Command School #1

Marvel’s adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s legendary sci-fi epic is garnering shelf space in bookstores and attention from fans of the book series. Now, Marvel is building on that success with this release of the next stage in its adaptation, which follows up its Battle School miniseries.

Just as it was last time, this series acts as a companion to Ender’s Game: Command School, which was released a few weeks back. It looks at the world of Ender Wiggin through the eyes of a classmate by the name of Bean, allowing us to look at Wiggin from the viewpoint of rival. It offers a unique perspective on the other series and the overall narrative. Even casual fans might be interested in this unique take on the original story.

Mike Carey (W), Sebastian Fiumara (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Five-Issue Miniseries.

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William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer and daughter Vanessa. He also is a comic reviewer for PopMatters, has written for Comic Foundry magazine and is the comic book movie editor for Film Buff Online. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com

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Comments

  • Eric Lindberg

    Eric Lindberg Sep 22, 2009 at 9:34pm

    I completely agree. They need to stop mucking with Superman's origin. It's just as well that the Silver Age elements are back though as writers clearly wanted to use them. It was the "No more Kryptonians" rule that caused all these reboots I think. If writers had been allowed to use the classic characters (Supergirl, Zod, Krypto, etc.) instead of having to approximate them with Earthborn angels, Russian cosmonauts, and mutated lizard-dogs from the Phantom Zone, there wouldn't have been a need to rewrite Superman's origins three times to bring the classic stuff back. John Byrne had a good idea with "Man of Steel" but editorial may have been a little too strict with it afterwards, as the last 20 years of Superman stories have largely been an exercise in undoing or bending the rules of what Byrne created.

  • Steve Kanaras

    Steve Kanaras Sep 22, 2009 at 10:07pm

    I wonder how much of this stripmining of the Silver Age is because creators don't want to create new characters for Time Warner and Disney to own? The ultimate legacy of Image comics...

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