Thursday, September 1, 2011

Blast From the Past: Superman Secret Identity

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Stuart Immonen
Company: DC Comics

It's no secret that Superman is one of the hardest characters to write.  He's a god, the brightest and best example of what man hopes and can hope to be.  Trying to hit on that in a story and make it memorable while at the same time making it approachable is a Herculean feat.  Hence the reason that a good Superman story, one that stands the test of time and has been branded into your mind, doesn't happen as often as you'd think.  It's strange then that Secret Identity, a book that really isn't a story starring the Superman that we all know and love, is one of the all-time best.  There's a lot of reasons for that, but mainly its due to two very gifted individuals:  Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen.

Kurt Busiek, the man behind things like Astro City, Marvels, Wednesday Comics, and The Avengers is a master level craftsman.  He knows what makes a good comic book tick and constantly is able to find that ever shifting formula that keeps you turning the page, dying to know what comes next.  With Superman: Secret Identity, the defining factor that makes it so damn good is its heart.  The story that Busiek weaves is extremely human, therefore extremely relatable.  It's set in the real world, tells the tale of a young boy who's parents jokingly named him Clark thinking that it would be a great name for a kid to grow up with (especially with a last name like Kent), and explores the many routes of what happens when you get superpowers.

Now sure, we've seen this sort of thing done before, but I still think Busiek's tale here is one of the best examples.  His Clark is such a great character.  Introverted, smart, but still imbued with the desire to help people.  He's something new, as he doesn't initially like the idea of Superman (as this is set in the real world, the character exists in the comics), but there's that streak of classic in him too.  It's a clash of character traits which makes him pop right off of the page.  The construction of the story, separated out into different chapters, covers Clark's life from teen to adult, from single man to proud father.  Through those chapters we're introduced to so many concepts of life and love and fear.  Now, let me say this:  This isn't just a character study, there's action here too.  The government, and their distrust of someone that can fire laser beams from his eyes and fly at the speed of light, is such a key element to the tale being told and the concepts and little details that Busiek peppers throughout makes it so believable.  We see this version of "Superman" do astounding feats and fight his way out of situations, so there is nothing boring about this book, believe me.

The other gifted individual behind the success of this book is Stuart Immonen.  As an artist, he is a chameleon.  What do I mean by that?  Well, Immonen has the uncanny ability to change up his style drastically and alter the way a story is told.  With Nextwave, there was an almost cartoon-y vibe to it that allowed a much larger than life feel to be extrapolated.  With his work on Superman: Secret Identity, he employs a much more realistic style that grounds the proceedings, making it that much more believable.  Really though, Immonen's art here may in fact be his best.  The world he creates and the broad scope that he's able to tackle, everything from Clark ripping and blasting his way out of a government facility to the quiet moments between two people are equally special and beautifully rendered.  There is also so much movement and emotion packed into each panel, which goes hand in hand with the heart that embodies this entire story.  Without the visuals, the story would still be good for sure, but Immonen sells it in a way that I think no other artist can, and that elevates it to that category called great.  

So yes, Superman: Secret Idenity is indeed one of the best Superman stories, right up there with All-Star.  It has a bit of everything and anything that a person could want.  The only down side is that it's been out of print for awhile.  I read a friend's copy, but a few weeks ago I came across one at a local used book store, which I was super stoked about.  Luckily, DC is reprinting the series (not in a trade, which is a shame), but in their DC Comics Presents line.  Seriously, if you haven't ever read it before, do yourself a favor and pre-order it or hit up your local comic book store.  You will be glad that you did.


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