Superman: Secret Origin
Despite being faster than a speeding bullet and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, Superman has always been a tough sell when it comes to the big screen. He's been around for decades and is probably the best known superhero in the world to geeks and non-geeks alike, but he's never really been able to set the silver screen on fire in recent years. Why is that?
Technically, Superman should be awesome. He's got amazing powers and a nice costume but he lacks the one power that every good hero needs to best any opponent: popularity. Comic Heroes magazine recently listed their top 50 heroes and Superman came a respectable third behind Spider-Man and Batman. Quite telling that. Batman, despite having no powers, defeats Superman in a poll just as he often does in the comics such as The Dark Knight Returns, World's Finest and another title that I'll come to later. On paper, Superman should beat Batman hands down with his extensive array of superpowers, but he lacks the one thing that Batman has and that's popularity. It's popularity that wins battles in comics not their powers and that's why Batman always beats Superman when a gallery of super-villains cannot.
Batman also wins the big screen battle against Superman. Since the late 80s when Tim Burton re-imagined Batman, he's been kicking Superman's ass while the Last Son of Krypton got stuck in development hell, a prison even more fiendish that the Phantom Zone, and when he finally emerged with Superman Returns, it was met with general indifference. Meanwhile Batman was going from strength to strength thanks to Chris Nolan's new version of the Caped Crusader.
People said that Superman Returns wasn't good because it tried to homage the Richard Donner version too much. I don't think that's entirely true. For me it failed for the ludicrous plot points like him having a kid with Lois Lane that he promptly abandons; showing why Fathers For Justice used to dress up like superheroes, I guess. Then at the end of the film, he manages to lift up a whole island made of his one weakness - Kryptonite. Er, how does that work? Forget the Donner lovefest - sort the bloody plot out!
It could be argued that one of Superman's flaws is finding a writer to do him justice. It can be done given the right talent as Frank Quitely and Grant Morrison showed us with the excellent All-Star Superman. However there is another series that not only does Superman justice, but also shows that you can homage Richard Donner as well. That's Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's wonderful Superman: Secret Origin.
This is a wonderful retelling of the Superman origin story documenting the Man of Steel's early years in Smallville to his arrival in Metropolis and the Daily Planet and his first encounter with Lex Luthor. It's simple, classic story-telling and as anyone who reads it should be able to tell, the rendering of Superman/Clark Kent is straight out of the Christopher Reeve playbook.
It's a story with a lot of heart, which captures a naive Superman taking his first steps on the road to hero-dom and drawing a line in the sand against the machinations of a megalomaniacal Lex Luthor. There's great interaction with his parents and a believable chemistry between Clark and Lois. The mainstays of the Daily Planet get enough 'screentime' and there's great action courtesy of the Parasite, Metallo and a trip to the 30th Century with the Legion of Superheroes. In short it's a great read and a much better follow up to the Donner/Reeve Superman than the 2006 film was.
Sadly in the grand scheme of things, this tale could get over-looked. DC have rebooted their entire line and no doubt a new origin story has already been written. Writers love the chance to re-tell origin tales, as it's easier than coming up with new material or angles for a 50 year old character. Even if you don't read it, Superman is a nice guy right? Do you think he'd be bothered if you didn't? Let's ask him...
This article was originally posted on Dicky's blog Cynical Cyanide