I don’t envy the writer tasked with penning the script for the latest retread of character origin stories. They are simultaneously burdened with a tale that many long-time readers already know (and may be sick of) and hobbled by the fact of having to walk the very fine line of retelling someone else’s character’s story which may leave them very little creative leeway. A good origin writer can put their narrative stamp on old news, making it fresh and providing readers with a new perspective of familiar events. A bad origin story is like that one not-so-great re-run that always seems to be airing: it sinks like a stone and has you reaching for alternate entertainment.  So what does Secret Origins No. 3 have to offer?

“Blood Money” Featuring Batwoman

This retelling of the Batwoman origin is written by Jeremy Haun with art by Trevor McCarthy. It begins with a 12-year old Kate Kane having the worst 12th birthday ever, and then page-to-page leaps through her life’s major defining moments: quitting the army, turning to crime-fighting, enlisting her father to help her (including that weird moment where he designs her batsuit–kinda creepy, Dad), meeting Maggie, and, of course, meeting Batman, who tells her not to do what she’s doing (not that she listens). Because of the compression, this all felt really staccato–you’re just getting comfortable in a scene and it’s off and running to the next milestone. Haun tries to tie it all together through the device of a Matryoshka doll and it mostly works. The worst I can say about it is that it just tries to tell so much in so little space.

McCarthy channels his best J. H. Williams III here with lovely creative paneling and compositions that really echo back to the early Rucka/Williams run starting with Detective Comics. Extra points for the nostalgia alone. It was also fun to see Kate’s hair change from scene to scene: short, long, down, up. Little details like that really helped to make the transitions of the time shifts work well.  Also look for a wee cameo by Scarecrow; it’s fun to see an A-list Batman rogue just randomly inserted.

Lastly, I was pleased to see work by award-winning letterer Todd Klein. There’s nothing flashy here (a good letterer shouldn’t draw too much attention from the art, after all), but Klein is always solid and has a particular skill with emphasis.

Rating just this story alone as a 12 page introduction, I’d give it a solid 8. It loses points for the cryptic title (which I still don’t get), the complete lack of context for Kate’s mother’s death, and the strange omission of Kate’s sister and cousin.

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Yeah, I could look at art like this all day long.

“Secret Identity” Featuring Red Robin

Scott Lobdell tries to bring fresh perspective to the story of Timothy Drake on a one-man mission to discover the secret identity of the Dark Knight so that he can join him as his new sidekick. Of course we know that he’s going to succeed, so the object can’t be the focus of the story, it’s got to be about the journey, right?
Well, sort of.

First off, since I happened to mention the letterer for the Batwoman segment, I’m going to mention Taylor Esposito here. Now I realize this is pretty standard for Red Robin, but for my eyes, the yellow narrative on the red gradient is just murder to read. In small doses, it’s tolerable, but there are whole pages that are just a mine-field of little red boxes (seriously, one page has 16 narrative boxes on a 4-panel page; it’s too much!).

Additionally Tyler Kirkham’s art overall is a little Animé for my tastes: large heads, small noses, somewhat delicate-looking bodies. It doesn’t help that colorist Arif Prianto chose to accentuate the meat on the bones by delineating every muscle with glaring highlights. The effect is creepily skeletal, unfortunately. Batman looks okay, but Tim is just really stringy in some panels.

But there are some nice large compositions of Batman that keep the story from being too bogged down by the narrative, which it really needs because the narrative is pretty boggy. And some moments are just too over-the-top: Tim’s parent’s holding up a sign in the stadium that reads “proud parents” so that we’ll know who they are, Tim hotwiring a bank ATM to steal money from Penguin, Tim going on about dogs with bones (of all the clichés!), Tim asserting to Batman that he’s not interested in joining a “Batocracy” (I’d have kicked him to the curb right then if I were Bruce).

The story feels like it’s missing some crucial piece of information: why does Bruce say yes? There’s a whole new business about witness protection that could have been interesting, but just didn’t motivate the action sufficiently. Then Batman glosses over a quick summary of Jason’s brief tenure as Robin (and boy did Jason wear a beefy-looking costume–aren’t these kids?). And then it’s over and Tim is off to find another bone. Good luck Tim!

Graded by its lonesome, I’d give this one a 6. It’s not awful, it just doesn’t feel like it brings much added value to the mythology or the comic book.

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It’s a little weird to see that costume hanging on something solid;
normally it just sort of floats magically under the glass.

The Good

There’s lots of good things about this book, starting with Lee Bermejo’s staggering cover. I know it’s not Bat-related and I’m not crazy about Lanterns, but Bermejo’s work is always fabulously welcome and the Hal Jordan montage tells a whole story all its own. Also, if you’re curious, Green Lantern’s origin, “Freedom from Fear” is the first in the book and it’s ably retold by Robert Venditti. Felt pretty by-the-book to me and featured both Sinestro and Kilowog in brief scenes, but it’s probably the most literal “how I became a superhero” story of the three: serviceable, nicely drawn by Martin Coccolo, with a great big giant splash page like you would expect from a book out of the 1990s. And maybe that’s the best way to describe it: predictable, familiar, and a little old-fashioned.

But frankly, I’m okay with that and if the book had just been Green Lantern and Batwoman (see above), I would have felt my money had been well-spent.

The Bad

Wasn’t crazy about the Tim Drake story (see above). I will admit I have certain biases about Tim’s story, however. Jason’s death was the big arc when I was of a certain impressionable age (I’m trying to avoid dating myself here), so recent attempts to tamper with that particular storyline strike me as unnecessary and reaching–recasting Jason as a pawn in some bizarre scheme of the Joker? Turning Tim into some kind of pushy crime-fighting savant? Eh. Maybe Tim worked originally because he was humble. He wanted to help Bruce, not just put a feather in his cap. And maybe that’s what it feels like Lobdell has created here.

The Ugly

The “proud parents” was ugly. Seriously. I get that sometimes you have to push things a little in the medium when you’re pressed for space or time, but we didn’t even need to know that they were his parents in the panel.

Recommended If…

  • You’re a big a fan of J. H. Williams III’s art and would like to see McCarthy’s lovely renderings in a similar style.
  • You like a little side of Green Lantern with with your Bat-meal.
  • Just can’t get enough of origin stories or are madly tracking continuity variances across the New 52 universe (good luck with that!).

Overall

None of these origins take any risks or tell us anything really new about the characters, which is a shame, but they’re still fun to read and generally solid quick intros for the true intended audience: people who are just learning about the characters in the DCU.

For Batfans, if you split the difference between the two scores for the two Bat-related origins, this comes up a straight 7 for Batwoman and Red Robin. Add the Green Lantern story and Bermejo’s irresistible cover and that’s worth another additional half point. It’s a solid effort and overall a pleasant experience, even if it’s not likely something you’ll be reaching for a second read-through.

SCORE: 7.5/10