This week's first issue of Superman: Secret Origin revisits the earliest days of the Man of Steel yet again - but in such a way that you might just find yourself wanting to believe a man could fly after all.
Best known, probably for all his successful "epic" comics - big, overblown superhero stories like Infinite Crisis, Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War or the current Blackest Night - writer Geoff Johns has a secret weapon of his own: He's really good at the sentimental coming of age stories. You can see it in his Teen Titans comics, or currently in the Superboy series running in Adventure Comics - there's something about the alienation and melodrama of adolescence that his writing can perfectly capture, especially when captured with the right artist... and, thankfully, Secret Origin has Gary Frank drawing.
Frank's artwork adds a lot to the first issue; it's clean, clear, gives us a child Clark that you can imagine growing into Christopher Reeve (which is, strangely enough, important in terms of level of believability here), but more importantly, it's artwork that's very aware of space: You can read Clark's emotions from the art alone, thanks to the way Frank frames the story: isolation in school as the characters are surrounded by space, or the busy, crowdedness of his home life (Fittingly enough, Johns and Frank show us a boy torn between two worlds even before he discovers how literal that really is). For something with the potential to be such a gateway book, it's an impressive balancing act of work that should impress jaded fanboys but not confuse newbies who haven't read comics in years.
Johns' writing does a similar thing; avoiding the traditional route of starting on a dying Krypton (as both Birthright and Man of Steel, the last two big-name "Superman Origin" books did), the first issue instead centers around a teenage Clark being told about his heritage by (both sets of) his parents, and his reactions to that; we're given a much more grounded, and much quieter, story because of that, and it's much better for it - Clark's refusal to believe the truth (and especially his reaction to his mother's idea of him wearing a costume, at the end of the issue) gives us both a lead we're drawn to, and also a glimpse at the journey ahead, for him to become the Superman we know and love.
It does right so many things that Smallville did/does wrong - there's some sense of magic and, maybe more importantly, fear in everything that happens here, and Johns brings the story closer to Harry Potter than Smallville in places, much to its benefit, even if this particular hero is much more unwilling than Harry by the end of this first (of six) chapters.
The close of this issue is a knowing tease: Enough of a glimpse of what's to come to please expectations, but "wrong" enough to ensure that you're come back for the inevitable reversal next time. It's also slightly unnecessary; if future issues show the same wit and class as this debut, return visits were all but guaranteed.
Superman: Secret Origins #1 is available in comic book stores now.