Thursday, August 13, 2009

Preview released for "Superman: Secret Origin"

It is most likely that my colleagues who grew up in the 1980's and knew much of comics take it as common knowledge that the reboot of Superman by Marv Wolfman and John Byrne is a superior and better imagined version of The Man of Steel. As with all kids, we looked upon the old with contempt and the new with a belief in its obvious superiority as the new that it may not always have earned.

Unfortunately, the attitudes we pick up as kids are often not reflected upon again in a way that perhaps older eyes might look upon a bit more kindly (and, well, maybe spending as much time as an adult as I pondering upon Superman is not something you do). In the 1980's re-boot, much was lost in regards to the 48 years of comics which had painted a vast history for the Man of Steel. No membership in The Legion of Super-Heroes left the concept of the super-teens of the future adrift. Smallville became an idyll oft referred to, but seemed to hollow out Lana Lang and reduce the point of Pete Ross immeasurably.

And, of course, the 1980's reboot greatly aged Lex Luthor and dropped any notion that Clark and Lex may have known one another in their formative years.

All of this will sound "wrong" to my fellow Gen-X'ers, and that's okay, I suppose. However, there's a kind of mythology the Superman comics began working with, especially beginning in the 1950's, that drove a thousand stories.

Almost as quickly as Wolfman and Byrne had launched their version, the comics began trying to rebuild the mythology, only with the trick of keeping the new rules in place (Lex was older, Superman was the only Kryptonian, etc...).

In 2006, the Superman comics were more or less re-touched once again, with elements of the old and new co-mingling very well. However, no definitive origin ever surfaced.

It was just as well. The origin, told before the creative team had made a few creative stabs one way or another, could have once again accidentally painted DC into a corner from which they could not be free to return to favored ideas, find new concepts, etc...

But three years on, there is a new mini-series coming, once again from one of DC's top-flight talents, and one with no small skill at reinterpreting DC Comics for a modern audience.

The team which brought you "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes" and "Brainiac" of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank is soon bringing the re-telling of the first days of Superman's career with "Superman: Secret Origin".

Check out some preview pages here.

As much as I enjoyed "Superman: The Man of Steel" as the first Superman reading I ever took seriously, and Mark Waid and Yu's "Birthright", I'm glad that someone will have the opportunity to do what was unthinkable until three or four years ago and restore the classic mythology in a context which will work for today's reader. Just as I sincerely hope that in 20 years' time, the story will be told again for that generation of readers, returning to the bits that work, and making way for new ideas, tweaks to characterization, etc... which will make the story work for that generation of readers.

Super-hero comics are a unique medium, paralleled only by the soap opera, with an ongoing story that depends upon audience engagement to continue. But unlike soap operas, the origins of each character are as important as Arthur's pulling the sword from the stone, Robin returning from the Crusades to discover his land bespoiled, Hercules' parentage, Achilles' propensity to take a dip... Without those elements as moorings, the "why" of the character gets lost, and we wind up with the 2D cartoon cut-outs of geeks in tights that so often make up the public's idea of a superhero.

Superman could have disappeared into the folds of audience disinterest, but his alien origin, idealized Rockwellian childhood and move to the most modern of American cities is a simple enough story (and is often bandied about when the elbow-patch crowd describes Superman as the ultimate immigrant analog). And while those elements re-appear in no small measure in the pages of the monthly comics, its a good idea to return to those roots, to reach back and see the highlight reel.

And we're lucky enough that DC has put a crew of its most talented on the project.

Should be fun.

3 comments:

Simon Mac Donald said...

I read "Superman: The Man of Steel" as it was coming out and I remember enjoying the part where Lex becomes a business tycoon. I find him to be a more interesting villain as a immoral, narcissistic business man who is out to save humanity from Superman. It was cool to see him pulling the strings from behind the scenes.

Other than that I think they took way too much away from the Superman mythos. Why couldn't he be Superboy, what happened to the Legion? etc.

It should be very interesting to see what they do with the new Secret Origin.

The League said...

I kind of love that they're keeping the businessman side, but given Lex even more motivation as the former tycoon and POTUS that Superman toppled entirely through Lex's hubris. But, of course, Lex refuses to throw in the towel.

There's a certain perfection to that relationship.

Michael Corley said...

"Super-hero comics are a unique medium, paralleled only by the soap opera, with an ongoing story that depends upon audience engagement to continue. But unlike soap operas, the origins of each character are as important as Arthur's pulling the sword from the stone, Robin returning from the Crusades to discover his land bespoiled, Hercules' parentage, Achilles' propensity to take a dip... Without those elements as moorings, the "why" of the character gets lost, and we wind up with the 2D cartoon cut-outs of geeks in tights that so often make up the public's idea of a superhero."

This quote most pleases me. It is ever so true.