I have a confession to make. With each issue of “Superman: Secret Origin,” I become fractionally less interested in the mini-series. It’s probably due to the fact that it’s approaching modern times with each additional step, and the stories are more locked in stone and familiar. Sure, some of the changes along the way are still surprising, but overall we’re hitting territory that is less uncharted. So yes, there are still changes to the Parasite and Metallo’s origins being unveiled in “Superman: Secret Origin,” but for some reason it isn’t providing the same thrill as seeing how the Legion of Super-Heroes now fits into the grand scheme of things.
That’s not to say that “Superman: Secret Origin” isn’t a well-crafted series, or that #5 is the exception to that rule. I like the latest take on Metallo and how he comes to be connected to not only Superman and Lex Luthor, but to Lois Lane as well. The best part of the issue is easily that first meeting between Superman and Metallo, only with them as Clark Kent and John Corben. Geoff Johns’ take on early Clark Kent is mapped on the same mold as Richard Donner’s “Superman” film, and it’s easy to see why. That mixture of earnestness and fumbling is the perfect disguise, and it’s fun to watch him subtly steer the swaggering and nasty Corben away from Lois.
Gary Frank’s pencils continue to be strong, although people who don’t like Frank depicting Superman as modeled off of Christopher Reeve will be less than thrilled. If there’s any one time that it actually needs to be, though, I’d say that “Superman: Secret Origin” is it. Like it or not, it’s Reeve’s performance as the character that is the most iconic in pop culture these days, and so a book designed to be an entry point to the character should follow suit. (It’s certainly better than the longish haired Superman that we got when the pilot of “Lois & Clark” featured Dean Cain with slightly longer hair. Cain got a haircut after the pilot, but it took years for the “Superman” comics to catch up.) More importantly, I like the slightly goofy expressions that Frank gives Superman, serving as a strong contrast to the self-assured, confident Superman. It makes moments like the conflicted, upset Superman striding out of General Lane’s office that much stronger, because it’s such a difference from how we’re used to seeing him. The crushed shut eyes, the tensing of muscles, the clenched fist; you can see how badly the conversation has just hurt him. It’s excellent usage of body language, something Frank’s always been good with.
This issue is very much written as part of a fall-and-rise story, dropping Superman down to his lowest point by the end of the issue. As we all know that Superman will end his origin story as beloved by the world, it’s not much of a crazy guess to see that coming. But it still works here, because having Superman in such a bad place at the end of this issue will make his struggle and eventually success that much more interesting in the conclusion of “Superman: Secret Origin” next month.
When this series was first announced my initial thought was that I could really do without another re-telling of Superman’s origin, but this has been a pleasant enough series that at the end of the day I don’t mind it sitting next to, say, my copy of “Superman: Birthright.” After all, they’re all just stories. They can hang out with one another if they wish.