Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Trade Tales! - Superman: Secret Identity

Next on the list of stories is one I’ve heard good things about. Superman: Secret Identity was a mini-series that was released in 2004. It's an Elseworlds while not actually being labelled as that. Kurt Busiek took inspiration from the Superboy of Earth-Prime to make this story. For those uninformed, Earth-Prime was supposed to be the real world and it had no superheroes except for “PRIME”. It was destroyed during Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Busiek’s story more or less asks what if the Crisis never happened and Clark kept on living on that world. I doubt he even knew that the character who I call “PRIME” for really no reason would come back the way he did.

I never really sought it out until a few months ago though. My thing about some stories is that if I see it and it’s really cheap, my curiosity monkey will start to itch.  That was how it was for this one.  Busiek, who wasn’t a stranger to comics, wrote all four issues. Reading this made me see why he was ultimately brought onto the Superman books a couple of years later. All of the artwork (pencils, inks, and even colors) were handled by Stuart Immonen. Immonen’s no stranger to comics nor Superman. He drew and even wrote the character for DC in the 1990’s.

Superman: Secret Identity
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Stuart Immonen
Letters: Todd Klein

The story follows the life of a man named Clark Kent. He ended getting named Clark because his parents thought that would be cool or something. Instead, he gets picked on about it. Family members get him Superman memorabilia, the jocks tease him, and even the comic nerds get on him a little bit. One day while hiking in the country, he awakens to find that he has gained superpowers just like Superman. He does his best to lay low until he comes upon a flooded town and rescues some people without revealing himself. After a situation with a reporter named Wendy Case goes bad, he decides to keep his powers a secret even from his parents.

Sometime after college, Clark ends up in New York City working as a writer for The New Yorker. While he works on a book and gets heckled a little from co-workers, he’s out in uniform performing unknown feats. He even finds himself a Lois… Lois Chaudari. Things do get serious for him when the government finds him and captures him. He does escape from a government lab with his identity intact but he realizes he must be more careful. He even starts wearing glasses for some sort of a disguise. Still, he doesn’t let this stop him from helping people and living his own life.  He ends up getting a good deal with his book and he tells Lois about his situation.
Yes, you really don't want to tick this guy off.

A few more years pass by. Clark and Lois got married between those years. They also start to build a nice home in Maine far away from any commotion. One day, Lois finds out that she is pregnant with twins. While Clark is happy for them, he realizes he needs to do something about the government who is still looking for him. He sets out to try and make peace with the government and fails the first time. His second attempt is more successful. He meets with a CIA agent named Malloy and Superman agrees to help the government out when they call. They end up calling him for a mission in Africa when Lois goes into labor. He’s able to complete his mission but misses the birth of his daughters.

The last issue starts with Clark as an older man. He and Lois had good careers and raised two good daughters. His powers do start to give out on him because of his old age. Luckily, it turns out that his daughters have powers of their own and go into the family business. His time with the government comes to an end since they have now found other powered people who will work for government. Malloy, who knows Clark’s identity, does promise Clark that they’ll leave him and his family alone now. He also finally finds out what may have caused his powers. The story ends with an older Clark seeing the world change and seeing his family grow.

I thought this was really good. I can’t say if it’s perfect, but it feels close to that. This is less a story about Superman and more a story about a guy who happens to be named Clark Kent. We end up following him from his teenage years to his geriatric years in about 200 pages. The story’s being told from his perspective through journal entries he’s made over the years.  We see him facing some ridicule for being named Clark Kent. At the same time, you see all of what he goes through when he gains his powers and tries to live lives. Clark himself was pretty cool. While he’s technically not Superman, he does have the traits of the character and it shows.
Well, he makes the suit work at least.

In this world Busiek’s created, there are no supervillains or anything like that. Because of that, there’s not a lot of action. He will go up against the threats like nature, criminals, and the US government.  Luckily, the story that’s given is so broad you forget about the action. The obstacles Clark faces here aren’t world-shattering but they are important to him. He has to balance work, his personal life, and his powers. I also liked Clark’s relationship with Lois. She even felt like the Lois from the comics a bit.
What a nice coincidence...

The artwork from Immonen is another highlight. He does his best to make everyone look as real as possible. Clark definitely looks in charge in the costume. While there’s little action, Immonen’s able to make what’s there look good. I will say that this type of some of this coloring isn’t always to my liking but it works here. It definitely sells that this is a more realistic world with a little bit of the extraordinary. While some of the faces may not look the best at times, I think it’s some of Immonen’s best work.

Is there anything negative to the mini-series? Not really. If anything, they’re more nitpicks than outright dislikes. I did wish we got a more concrete explanation on the origin of his powers. The story doesn’t go into minute detail with his powers nor their origin. It doesn’t really matter story-wise, but it would have been interesting to see. It can also get bogged down with text at times. It’s not a bad thing since what’s there is good, but it can get a bit dull at times. Other than those couple of things, this was good.

Overall, this was a good mini-series with good writing and good art. It may not be what most consider a Superman story, but it does have a guy named Clark Kent. That and the fact he does what he does here definitely counts for something. Well, I’ve got to get back in gear. Next time will be the return to the Earth One universe that J. Michael Straczynski created. All I can say is prepare for trouble, awkwardness, and a little bit of Bob Dylan and some Frank N. Furter. Peace, God Bless, and don’t name your kids while drunk or high. 

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