Superman Secret Files and Origins 2005

I haven’t found much in DC’s current crop of titles to interest me (with the exception of the all-ages charm of Teen Titans Go! and my historical fan interest in Legion of Super-Heroes), so I was pleased to discover a recent stand-alone Superman story that really got what the character was about and wasn’t shy about showing it.

Devin K. Grayson starts her story with that classic dilemma: who’d win, Superman or Batman? Kids on a playground debate the issue with their fists, since they don’t have the logic or words to more intellectually compare the two. They’re very invested in their argument, identifying closely with their chosen heroes, demonstrating both refreshing passion and a certain immaturity.

The kids are called into their classroom to present their reports for Superman Appreciation Day, a throwback to classic Silver Age stories where these kinds of recognition events seemed to take place every other week. The Batman fan has written his report as “Superman is pretty neat but here’s why Batman is better.” The points he brings up — Superman is so powerful there’s no risk of him getting hurt when he helps people, he didn’t have to work for his abilities, and normal people can’t depend on him — are key to the bigger debate about whether Superman is really a hero.

I’ve had this conversation with others, as most fans have, and the lesson the boy draws isn’t a bad one. He thinks that we should be like Batman, making ourselves stronger and smarter so we can take care of ourselves. (I’d add that even more than Batman, Wonder Woman also traditionally embodied this message.) Neither he nor his battling classmate seems to realize that the two approaches can co-exist, though. For them, it’s all about who could beat up whom … and that’s faithful to the way the world makes sense to the young.

The art, by Ariel Olivetti, is playful, turning two boys wearing superhero logo shirts into their respective champions as they tussle, yet keeping their expressions childish. It’s funny seeing Batman with his tongue sticking out, because it’s so unlike the currently remote god in the comics. The teacher is drawn as Wonder Woman to separate the two boys, a terrific panel that was truly fun and surprising, as she grabs their capes (shirts) and says “Wonder Woman would like both of you to knock it off now.” If it wasn’t so cropped, I’d figure out how to turn it into a t-shirt.

The class raises the point that superheroes use violence to solve problems, in contrast to the message they’re given by authority figures. Clark Kent, conveniently visiting the class to cover Superman Appreciation Day (I’m sorry, I like saying that because it makes me giggle), turns up to present the viewpoint that superheroes spend more time helping people than hitting them. He starts them roleplaying how they’d solve a hostage problem, exploring various conflict resolution methods.

These are key issues facing the superhero comic in today’s world, and I greatly appreciated seeing them handled so directly and with such skill. The kids are right — if you judged the genre by the common denominator of most books on the stand, you would conclude that superheroes are mostly about smacking people. That’s an indictment more of the people producing them (and the corporate assembly line that demands monthly product) than the genre, though.

That’s demonstrated by the next children to present, who provide the hopeful side of the hero. An immigrant child emphasizes the story of Superman’s doomed home planet and how “being from somewhere else is what makes him special.” The last little girl talks about the key fantasy and inspirational aspect of Superman: that he can fly.

There’s more to the issue, with profile pages for Superman, the Daily Planet, Ruin, Blackrock, Lex, and Lois (wastes of space, if you ask me); a focus on Lois that makes her seem insane; and a short Bizarro story. After the gem of the first story, I didn’t want to read any more, because I knew the rest would disappoint me. That first story, though, is well worth the issue.

2 Responses to “Superman Secret Files and Origins 2005”

  1. Melissa Says:

    Batman is better because he is consistently better written than either Superman or Wonder Woman. Plus, the Catwoman – in her classic phase – was the best “villain” ever.

    Honestly, I am going to have to get this book, because I know the conversation will degrade to DBZ characters vs. Superman before too long. .

  2. Johanna Says:

    That’s an interesting way to approach it that I haven’t seen before — judging a character’s strength on the appeal to creators.




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