Sunday, June 7, 2009

Superman: Secret Identity

In January of 2006 (which I mention, because I thought it had been after Heroes premiered, but I was wrong and it was before, so go team me), I sat down and wrote out a character named CJ Kent. CJ was a normal kid from Quinter, Kansas, whose dad had been a Superman fan, and decided to name his kid Clark.

A little bit of the backstory I wrote for him:
The boy had a normal life, as most boys do. He went to school and did well. He made some friends, but not many, and spent most of his time wandering by himself on his family farm.

One day, when he was eight years old, CJ’s father brought him into a Very Special Room, a room he had always been told was for Grownups Only. This was the room where CJ’s father kept his comic books. He had been collecting comic books all his life, and had dedicated this entire room to their preservation.

CJ was awestruck. Fascinated by the bright pictures and the stories of the heroes, he spent the rest of the afternoon reading through his father’s collection. He came back the next afternoon, and the next and the next, until he had read every single issue. The boy – barely a boy any more – had discovered something about himself within the pages of the books.

He told his parents the next morning at breakfast.

“I am Superman.”
He was only eight, so it's not like he could back that up with anything but eventually his powers manifested, and he had to deal with having super powers in a world that thought Superman was fictional.

If that sounds familiar, it really ought to. Last winter, while I was clicking around the internet, I found out about Superman: Secret Identity, a 4 issue miniseries released in 2004. In my defense, that was during my "off again" period with comics (I was busy with Doctor Who*), so I had absolutely no idea.

I like Elseworld miniseries in general. There's closure (although it's always bittersweet for me; more on that later), which you don't generally get from main-continuity lines. I also love the idea of exploring the characters in other situations, and the Elseworlds I've read have been written well enough that the characters are still the characters. Superman is still Superman in Red Son; he manages to have the same ideals and manners, which gives him the same feel, as his Earth-1 counterpart.

I picked up all four issues of Secret Identity this weekend. I'd read the wikipedia article on it, so I had a general sense of what would happen, but reading the actual comic is always better than just getting the summary.

I wasn't disappointed. Obviously, I liked this idea to start with. And the miniseries took it farther than I did (as the character I wrote was for soething ongoing, and therefore only in his early twenties). It also told the story better than I did (though our only overlap was really in the Superboy years), which is to be expected.

But taking comparisons to me out of it (sad!), I just really enjoyed the story, the writing, and the art. I'll start with the art, which was done by Stuart Immomen. It had a more adult feel to it than a lot of Superman stories that I've read, and I loved the short frames where Immomen's usual style was contrasted with the old school Superman styles. My favorite panels were also things I'm not necessarily used to seeing Superman do, such as in #2 where he's laying in bed and Lois is straddling him in the half-darkness of his Mahattan apartment. I also enjoy the last few panels of #4, which run through the myriad of styles that Superman has been drawn (and animated) in, as he reflects back on his life. That's some great, um, literary something or other.

Which brings me to the writing. I liked it! The rest is just expansion, so you can skip the remaining bits of the paragraph if you want. It's a first person story, and I really like the way Kurt Busiek's wrote this particular Clark Kent. I may have read an issue or two of something he wrote at some point, but not that stood out for me prior to this (knowing that he wrote Trinity makes me want to check it out). Which one of us hasn't wanted to be Superman? (I guess you can answer in the negative, but I won't believe you.) Well, the guy named Clark Kent, that's who. But the use of the first person drew me in, and made every moment that I got to see of Clark's life - from his realization about what "outting" himself would do, to his first date with Lois, to the birth of his kids, and his twilight years - more poignant.

Caveat: I totally get sucked into stories. I don't know why. I'm capable of becoming emotionally attached to something in only 48 pages, so by the end I was a bit teary-eyed. That's why limited runs are always bittersweet for me. In mainstream continuity, I know they'll keep going elsewhere, but for Elsewords that's it. They're done (usually), and I'm sad because I'll miss the characters.

I'm a sap sometimes.

So anyway, for any fan of Elseworlds or Superman, or just the idea of a "regular" person getting to be a superhero (remember, this was written before Heroes, and it actually foreshadows a lot of similar stuff, ushering in an age of "naturally" occurring, non-alien superheroes living among us), I recommed the miniseries.

*Amusingly, speaking of Doctor Who, having an idea I use show up later (or earlier) has happened to me before. I wrote about the universe collapsing, forcing various characters from all eras/incarnations of Doctor Who (and later Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures) to come together to save everything for a game I created. Didn't have Davros, though. Also, one of the writers I gamed with thought that Gillian Anderson would make a great Rani. This was back in 2006. I don't think there's any copying here, I just think the universe of ideas isn't always as big as we think.

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