Did you like Zero Month? No, I don’t mean “Zero Year” Month where we saw everybody struggling through a hurricane, I’m talking about that event in September 2012 when every DC title flashed back to their main character’s early days. Well, if you did, I have good news: Secret Origins is an all-new series that tells the (you guessed it) origins of DC’s characters. Again.  The debut issue of this whopping $4.99 book features tales of what set Superman, Nightwing, and Supergirl on the hero’s journey and and in this review I’ll talk a little something about all of them.

One thing that needs to be said right from the get-go: you’re going to get the most enjoyment out of this comic if you are actually new to New 52 comics. If you are then it’s amazing and if you’re not then it’s mostly just a lovely little refresher. (Also, when you see the word “origin” in this review, DRINK!)

Superman: Secret Origins

Written by Greg Pak

Pencils by Lee Weeks

Inks by Sandra Hope & Lee Weeks

Colors by Dave McCaig

Greg Pak writes an excellent Superman and while he didn’t start the New 52 Action Comics, he’s sure as hell making it his own and in my opinion he’s serving up a better run than anyone before him. What he gives us in Secret Origins is a montage of Krypton’s destruction, Kal-El’s voyage across the cosmos, his adoption by the Kents, issue #0 of the New 52 series, and finally we end up in the present day. It’s essentially Greg Pak and Lee Weeks summarizing the key points of Grant Morrison’s run in a beautiful way, but doing so through the lens of Clark’s two mothers, Lara Lor-Van and Ma Kent, who share duties as narrator. I liked that aspect of the comic a lot because, frankly, the moms get shortchanged in superhero flashbacks, especially movies and I’m not just saying that because Mother’s Day is only a couple weeks away (REMINDER: Mother’s Day is on the 11th). Superman Secret Origins looks fantastic, has a great recap of all the major aspects of The New 52’s re-imagining of the origin story, and it ends on a really strong note that encapsulates the sort of awe and sense of fun that a Superman story should have. However, while it is certainly a well-told it’s still a story that readers will have heard a thousand times before and that’s one of the big problems with the comic as a whole. If you’ve been reading the New 52 from the start then everything here is fairly redundant. I can’t help but wonder why at least 1 of the 3 stars of this premiere issue wasn’t a character who has yet to appear in the New 52. Is “Secret Origins” really just the Cliffsnotes version of The New 52?

The Long Year

Written by Kyle Higgins

Art by Doug Mahnke

Inks by Keith Champagne & Christian Alamy

Colors by John Kalisz

Superman: Secret Origins was a very sentimental montage that took us through all the major beats of the classic 75 year origin (and all the little twists added for flavor by the New 52) and Higgins & Mahnke’s approach to Dick Grayson’s story is very similar except that there’s no narrator and unlike Pak, who was essentially cutting and pasting flashbacks from Morrison’s run into a cohesive narrative, Higgins is revising a story he told himself back in Nightwing #0. “The Long Year” is almost identical to issue #0, but Higgins trimmed some of the fat and gave it an even better ending. I would go so far as to say that the revised version plus Mahnke’s art made this superior to Nightwing’s Zero Month. What changed? Well, it repeats a lot of the same scenes from issue #0 and at it’s core that’s just the Batman: Dark Victory origin but with a teenager instead of a little boy. However, what sets Origins apart from Zero is that there’s no longer a needless teaser for a Lady Shiva two-parter and the comic’s most controversial aspect has been cut entirely. If you want to know what that is, read the spoiler tag:

Spoiler
Dick no longer figures out Bruce is Batman prior to the big reveal in the Batcave. In issue #0, Dick figured it out just by looking at Bruce’s face and even called Batman on it before he had time to take off his cowl. That’s no longer the case in Secret Origins.

One thing I was hoping would be addressed wasn’t, but it’s a Batman: Court of Owls spoiler and since this is a review for a comic that’s the made to entice new readers I’ll put that info in spoiler tags as well. But let me just say that while this short story was pretty much the same thing as issue #0, it’s good. Anyone who already read issue #0 probably won’t get much out of it, but I think it’s that rare remake that exceeds the original even if it just exceeds it by a tiny bit. One particular splash page by Mahnke is sure to garner a lot of attention.

Spoiler

The Court of Owls supposedly run Haly’s Circus and yet they let Zucco hassle them? How is it that a Talon wasn’t sent to cut Zucco’s throat? And even if that wasn’t possible, how is it that The Court of Owls didn’t get revenge on Zucco and all of the Maroni operation after their circus/training ground was attacked and their top choice for a the next Talon was lost?

Daughter of the House of El

Written by Tony Bedard

Pencils by Paulo Siqueira

Inks/Colors by Hi-Fi

It’s hard to fault anyone on the creative team with what’s wrong with “Daughter of the House of El” because its problems go all the way back to the start of the New 52. 1) Supergirl’s outfit is terrible– the driving force behind a character design should NOT be so we can all cross our fingers that someone hot might actually dress up like that at the next comic con. Alright? Let’s give little girls a role model who wears more from the waist down than thigh-high boots and a little shield over her vagina. 2) The origin of Supergirl sucks and needs to be taken back to the drawing board, it’s been unimaginative for a long time. The problem is that it’s too complicated to have the simple, romanticized montage approach that Nightwing or Superman had in this issue and it’s too derivative of Superman’s own origin for it to stand on its own without us getting Clark’s origin all over again. A full page of this is devoted to re-telling the Superman origin we already got in the first chapter of this very comic! She’s a character that I think needs to be reworked from the ground up so she has a strong foundation of her own. Superman has this incredible sci-fi interpretation of the story of Moses and it also stresses how he’s this great last hope of an entire civilization, a one of a kind being with the weight of the world on his shoulders… and then we’re told “Wait, there was another space ship with a Supergirl in it! She has all the same powers and is also a hero! Buy more toys!” It just seems so obvious that she was invented as a way to attract a female audience and sell more merchandise– Batgirl was too, but she broke away enough to become a strong enough character in her own right. I feel that having another Kryptonian, a relative no less, really diminishes Superman’s own story (I’m fine with Zod, because he represents entirely different ideals and his own origin story is creative and in no way mirrors Superman’s). Anyway, I rambled again, but it’s fitting because this is the wordiest of the three origin stories and it seemed to lack direction. We’re shown a couple instances of her trying to be a hero and getting lectured (it ends with her being lectured by Superman, quite the sour note after he and Nightwing both had such inspirational finales to their own origin stories) and we have a great deal of exposition dumped on us, but while Superman and Nightwing offered a great showcase of what those characters had to offer and left me with a feeling of hope and inspiration, Supergirl just looked kind of lame. The high point of the issue was the colorful visuals by Paulo and Hi-Fi during an action sequence envoloving dinosaur-like creatures, but after that it was a bit of a snooze.

Recommended If…

  • Lee Bermejo’s cover is worth the high price alone
  • You love hearing these stories so much that you’re more than happy to hear them again, specifically Nightwing #0 and Grant Morrison’s early Action Comics run (including issue #0)
  • You like it when the mothers get their due, it’s a fine issue for Ma Kent and Lara Lor-Van
  • You’re new. It’s invaluable if you’re new to The New 52 and have been seeking a crash course in how the Superman, Supergirl, and Nightwing of the modern era differ from the way they were portrayed in the past

Overall

There’s absolutely nothing secret about these origins. There isn’t anything here that readers of the #0 issues haven’t seen before. However, even though there’s nothing all that new to be found, these old stories are still good and they are definitely told well. The Supergirl origin was the weakest of the bunch, but her origin is inherently weak anyway since it’s basically a complete knock-off of Superman’s own origin and lacks the simplicity and poetry that the greatest superhero origins possess. I sincerely hope that this series tackles origins we actually haven’t heard before (or at least not as often) in future issues because even though it’s a well-crafted book and a must-buy for the uninitiated, there’s not much incentive for hardcore fans to drop five bucks on this.

SCORE: 7/10