Comics: Superman - Secret Identity

Superman: Secret Identitysecret identityKurt Busiek (script)Stuart Immonen (art)DC Comics, 2013 The imminent return of Superman to the world's movie theaters (this time in the form of this summer's Superman: Man of Steel directed by Zack Snyder) is flushing out innumerable collateral product from DC Comics, the company that gave the character to the world way back in 1938, and as with any opportunistic cash-grab, there'll be good parts and bad parts. One very good part is also comparatively recent in the character's long history: the four-issue mini-series from 2000 called "Secret Identity," written by comics favorite Kurt Busiek and drawn at entirely new levels of mastery by Stuart Immonen. The mini-series caught on with fans and was collected into a single volume a decade ago; this week DC reprints that single volume as a flat mimeograph - the new volume has not one thing new about it except the paper it's printed on: no new Introduction, no new Afterword, no added bonuses of any kind to mark either the story's enduring popularity or the upcoming movie. There isn't even anything to tell Superman-newcomers that this might be worth their while to explore.-SUSI001It very much is. In fact, of all the possible Superman reprints DC might be contemplating, "Secret Identity" is perhaps the most newcomer-friendly, specifically because in its premise, we're all newcomers. This is meta-comic writing done with extreme confidence: the story revolves around a Kansas teenager in "our" world who has the unfortunate name Clark Kent. All his life, this has naturally made him the object of gentle mockery: his friends and acquaintances are constantly teasing him about secretly being Superman. In the world of "Secret Identity," the popular conception of Superman - the superhero in the background of all superheroes, the pop culture stand-by - is exactly the same as the conception likely shared by all those newcomers to the graphic novel section of their local evil chain bookstore: they've heard of Superman, but they know he's not real.The story takes off when young Clark Kent does indeed suddenly develop Superman-style superpowers (Immonen's panel-work showing the boy's initial discovery that he can fly was a benchmark for this artist), and for a wonderful few dozen pages, Busiek gets to make a stab at extrapolating what that would really be like for a person in the real world. And even when he quickly reverts to comic book tropes (heroic saves, nefarious government agencies, and of course secret identities), the writing throughout "Secret Identity" is refreshingly intelligent and low-key. And those newcomers to Superman - if any-colored Kryptonite can induce them to pick up a graphic novel in the first place - will appreciate not only that straightforward, energetic storytelling but also the freedom from 80 years tangled comic book continuity. You don't need to know anything about space warps or bottle cities or ret-cons to appreciate this version of Superman - just as newcomers didn't need any of those things to appreciate the original version of the character, all those years ago.