Superman: Secret Identity

Superman: Secret Identity cover

Superman: Secret Identity is a Superman story for everyone. If you like the superhero concept, this story will provide a new take on what heroism really means. If you don’t know much about Superman, this story demonstrates the core of the character. If you’re bored with Superman, thinking so many stories have been written that no one can provide a fresh approach, here you’ll get something original and unexpected. If you know too much about Superman, this story shows why we still need ideas of heroes.

If you know of writer Kurt Busiek (Astro City), you’ll get another excellent piece about how superheroes might affect a world more like ours. If you know of artist Stuart Immonen, you’ll be surprised to see that this is some of his most stunningly beautiful work ever.

Clark Kent has been living with the stigma of his name all his life. His Kansas parents thought it would be cute and funny to name their kid after a superhero, but he doesn’t want the Superman comics and toys his family keeps giving him. While other kids dream of having powers and secret identities, he doesn’t even have that escape. He wants to be himself, but everyone expects him to be someone else, someone fictional.

Superman: Secret Identity cover

Then he does get the superpowers, and a lovely sequence captures the joy of flight. The coloring (also by Immonen) almost makes it look like he’s underwater, which provides a nice point of comparison for those of us who never will fly unaided. The art here, as in the rest of the book, is colored over pencils, which gives it all a softly realistic look, whether vibrant cornfields or pastel interiors.

As the first chapter continues, the classic elements are introduced: his first heroic rescue, the investigative reporter, the crush on the girl next door. They’re familiar, but they’re used to build a modern take on a classic story that’s brought up to date without losing its essential power. Often Clark uses his abilities to get the solitude he values, a physical version of the way a teenager feels, separate from everyone. Clark’s sense of wonder, mixed with confusion about the right path to take and the best way to deal with the ramifications of his abilities, makes this the best young Superman story I’ve ever read.

But that’s only the first chapter. In the second, Clark’s moved from Kansas to Manhattan, where he’s working as a writer. He meets Lois (a joke setup that turns out to work) and falls in love. As he grows up, he has to deal with two major questions: who should he keep his secret from, and what happens if the government finds out?

Chapter three expands on those questions as Clark enters the mature period of his life. His feelings when it comes to worrying about his family, love and amazement and fear all together, require familiarity with more adult concerns. This isn’t something that could be written by someone who hasn’t himself lived through growing up and settling down. It takes a certain maturity to believably write maturity. In chapter four, Clark’s aging, and his powers aren’t what they used to be. His contemplation of mortality, of simply growing older, is a theme rarely explored so thoroughly and so well in superhero comics, and the question of what he wants to leave as a legacy is very touching, full of pleasant surprises.

For years people have been arguing over whether there can be superhero comics for adults. We now have our answer: this is a superhero comic that deals intimately and wonderfully with adult concerns. Busiek and Immonen have broken new ground with a flagship character, reinventing what can be done with Superman’s lengthy history.

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