About? Superman: Secret Origin #3, which shipped last week.
As I wrote at the time, I actually kind of enjoyed the first issue of this Geoff Johns-written revamp of Superman’s backstory; it didn’t really seem necessary, but at least it was being done reasonably well. I had some more reservations about the second issue (which elaborated on Lex Luthor’s origins in Smallville in a way that made it completely pointless to have transplanted him there in the first place, and which reinserted the Legion and a kinda-sorta Superboy career into Clark’s youth in a way designed to pluck all the most obvious emotional chords, but which still had some fun elements). The third issue, though? This one was an outright disappointment.
The nicest moment? It came on the splash page, with the sign in the background for “The Black Swan” (presumably a restaurant?) symbolically pointing at Clark, underscoring how one unexpected factor can have a huge impact on the course of events.
What was nice about that moment is that it was (almost) subtle. Unfortunately, nothing else in the issue was, as Geoff proceeded to drop anvils left and right.
That Superman changed Metropolis for the better? That Luthor wasn’t on good terms with the Daily Planet? Sure, these are fine story elements… if handled with a little finesse. But did we need it hammered home on almost every page that the city was rude and dirty and Gotham-like, a place where no one “looks up in the sky”? Was it really necessary for the Planet to be firing people and facing bankruptcy and be shut out of press conferences and for even Perry White(!) to be afraid to criticize Luthor? (And what’s up with Luthor, BTW—why was his face hidden in this issue?) Sure, Superman’s about inspiring hope and idealism… but that theme could be conveyed more effectively if it wasn’t being painted in such broad and obvious strokes.
Then there were the character introductions. Geoff has a habit in his origin retcons of using past circumstances to mirror current story developments (e.g., the inclusion of the villain Atrocitus in his recent Green Lantern origin), regardless of other events in the intervening years, and he did the same here. It tortures logic to have exactly the current supporting cast (Cat Grant, Steve Lombard, even Ron Troupe!) all at the paper before Clark started. For that matter, it strains credulity to have the origin story introduce villains (Metallo, Parasite) who just happen to be ones appearing prominently in the present-day comics. As for their portrayals… having janitor Rudy Jones be a “parasite” by disposition even before gaining his powers exemplifies just how one-note and cartoonish Geoff’s characterization can be.
When he wasn’t dropping anvils, Geoff was busy hanging lampshades. Sure, we (the readers) know that Clark’s disguise is a bit implausible. Yes, it makes sense that Lois would eventually start to see through it. But does it have to be dragged into the foreground on the very first day she meets him?
Speaking as someone who does care about continuity, the retcons were also annoying (and, as others have observed, unnecessary). For example, Kurt Busiek just did a terrific Jimmy Olsen origin story barely two years ago, in Superman #665… and Geoff completely ignores it here, just to give us a standard one-joke take on Jimmy. (Depicting him, in the process, as much older than he has any business being at Clark’s debut… a mistake Kurt didn’t make.)
And have we now completely lost the space-plane rescue from Man of Steel #1? If so, I’m deeply pissed… that was one of the strongest moments of the entire Byrne MOS revamp in the ’80s, even referenced by Mark Waid in his Birthright version of things, and mentioned again as recently as Busiek’s Trinity weekly last year. It was the event that provoked and inspired Clark to go public in the costume. One could still fanwank that it happened a few days before this issue’s events, which would then make this Superman’s first costumed appearance, fitting in-between MOS #1 and #2 (Lois’s hunt for a Superman interview, and a far better story than this one)… ultimately changing little more than the “meet Clark Kent” bit at the end of MOS #2 (which is far less than what’s already been changed from #1). That would more-or-less work. But incorporating it clearly isn’t what was intended… and it certainly wasn’t replaced by anything better here.
Which leads us, finally, to what people have started calling the “Donnerization” of the Superman comics. Make no mistake, I love the first Superman movie. And in that movie, the night of Superman’s first appearance, including the helicopter rescue, is one of my all-time favorite sequences. But why did Geoff feel the need to put this issue’s plot through tortuous contrivances just to offer up a scene that (more or less) emulates it in comics form? We’ve all seen it before, and it just works better on film. The same is true of Clark’s characterization, among many other elements, and I agree with those who think Geoff’s drastically overplaying Clark’s naive-bumbling-wimp act.
Admittedly, I don’t mind the Christopher Reeve homage when it comes to Gary Frank’s art, which continues to impress me (even though the iconic shirt-opening panel here seemed oddly unmemorable). The other characters all have their own distinctive looks as well, he has a great design sense, and his storytelling is clean and dramatic. However, the writing on this book is getting depressingly formulaic and simplistic. I can only hope the second half of the run gets back on track.Tags: continuity, DC Comics, Geoff Johns, super-heroes, Superman