Comic Publishers

April 28, 2014

DC Comics Reviews: Secret Origins #1

Secret Origins #1Secret Origins #1
Publisher: DC
Story: Greg Pak; Kyle Higgins; Tony Bedard
Pencils: Lee Weeks; Doug Mahnke; Paulo Siqueira
Inks: Sandra Hope & Lee Weeks; Keith Champagne & Christian Alamy; Hi-Fi
Dave McCaig; John Kalisz; Hi-Fi
Letters: John J. Hill; Carlos M. Mangual; Travis Lanham

Origin stories can be a bit of a mixed bag, especially for heroes we’ve known for decades. Superman has been around now for more than 75 years, and his origin has been told ad infinitum. Robin has been around nearly as long, and while compared to those two heroes Supergirl is a relative new-comer on the scene, she first debuted in comics over 55 years ago.

However, with DC’s massive reboot back in September 2011 when they unveiled the “New 52,” many of these characters’ origins were no longer certain. How much of John Byrne’s Man of Steel origin from the mid-1980s was still intact? And with New 52’s condensed five year timeline (superheroes have only been around for the past five years), how is it possible that Batman has had that many Robins already? Was Dick Grayson’s origin any different now?

Secret Origins #1, one of two new monthly publications debuted by DC this week, attempts to answer these questions for new and old fans alike. And in so doing, they succeed very admirably considering that there is no new ground breaking material here, and yet the book is still a great read.

For the Superman origin story, writer Greg Pak sticks with the tried and true origin. It’s a real testament to Pak’s talent that he was chosen to write the New 52 origin of DC’s iconic superhero considering how many other options there are for DC. While there’s nothing new here for people who already think they know Superman, Pak adds such emotion and heart to the story that it’s impossible not to like it. The framing device he uses, of two very different mothers talking to their child, is brilliant and anyone with a heart will be moved by the end of the tale. That’s a huge feat to accomplish, both considering the short number of pages he has to tell this tale and also that it’s essentially retreading well-covered ground at this point. Lee Weeks, Sandra Hope, and Dave McCaig really knock it out of the park visually, juxtaposing alien Kryptonian landscapes with the fields of rural Kansas to really showcase how Superman is a being of two worlds. There’s also an interesting, and very appropriate, coloring decision that was made by having baby Kal-El found at night time, so the colors in Kansas are dark and subdued while his future is uncertain. As Clark becomes a little bit older, we finally see the sunny brightness of Kansas, which disappears only briefly as Clark deals with tragedy later in his life. This is the kind of stuff that is just perfectly suited for the comics medium – the story, art, and colors coming together perfectly to illustrate a mood or feeling that would take up way too many pages in a novel.

As much as I enjoyed the Superman origin story (and I truly did), it’s the Robin (the Dick Grayson version) origin that really makes this book shine. These days, 75 years after Batman debuted in Detective Comics, it’s difficult to remember that Dick Grayson was the first boy sidekick in comics. His character invented and defined what a sidekick was and created an array of copy-cats (or “homages” to be more polite) like Speedy, Kid Flash, and Bucky. Yet, unlike Batman, Superman, and other big name heroes whose origins has been retold many times over the past decades, Robin tends to be overlooked. For this story, writer Kyle Higgins gets to revisit the character he’s been so intimately involved with for the past few years, and tell the definitive New 52 version of Dick Grayson’s origin story. Again, the broad strokes of Robin’s origin from the 1940s are kept intact, but Higgins does such a masterful job of developing the relationship between Bruce and Dick in a few short pages that we really feel like we know these characters and are deeply moved at what’s happened to Dick, and also by Bruce’s pledge to help him. Alfred also has a spectacular and very moving scene that could possibly bring a tear to your eye if you’re so inclined to get really emotional while reading your comics (ahem… just give me a minute…). Artistically this story is also very well done, and what I enjoyed most of all are Mahnke’s facial expressions. Dick goes from smug and proud to suspicious to horrified in the space of a few short panels, and the reactions are captured perfectly. His Bruce Wayne looks a little older than he’s typically seen in the rest of the Bat titles in the New 52, but that’s a small quibble for what are otherwise really emotionally-packed layouts and character designs.

Supergirl does seem like a bit of an outlier to be in this particular issue, but it makes sense to include her considering her prevalence lately in DC with the Red Lantern tie-in, and also her membership in DC’s other new comic this week, Justice League United. Her origin is pretty standard, but Tony Bedard chooses to put it in contrast of how different it was from Superman’s, despite appearing to be superficially similar on the surface. Most importantly, Bedard does a great job of setting up Supergirl’s inner turmoil and how and why she views the world so differently from her cousin despite their similar upbringings and set of super powers. I’m not a regular reader of Supergirl, so I did find it odd that she recently became a Red Lantern (I’d say spoiler alert but if you’re reading comics you know that from the ads that DC puts in every issue), but this origin did help me to understand the context of that decision a bit more. On the art front, Paulo Siqueira gets to do a ton of really fun and unique Kryptonian architecture, costume, and weapon designs that are a real visual treat, especially when accompanied by the coloring by Hi-Fi. Siqueira also gets to include a scene with Superman and his version of the Man of Steel looks really great, especially considering some of the ads we’ve seen for another version that is going to be appearing soon in a monthly comic.

Moving on….

Is Secret Origins an integral book? No, not if your goal is to learn more about these three characters. You won’t learn much, if anything, about these three characters that you didn’t already know. But, if your goal of reading monthly comics is to become engaged in a well-written, emotionally-packed story with real character development, accompanied by some really great art that helps to propel the story past just the written word, then Secret Origins #1 should be on your reading list.

Martin Thomas



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