Superman: Secret Identity #1

Written by Kurt Busiek
Art by Stuart Immonen
48 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

If you had to pick an iconic superhero that more people knew about than any other, Superman would probably be the winner. That’s probably why Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen chose him for their Superman: Secret Identity mini-series. In many ways, it seems like it’s a book that doesn’t depend so much on the character… but on the rest of the world knowing who that character is.

Try growing up in Kansas with the name Clark Kent. That’s what happened to the protagonist of this comic, whose parents thought it would be funny. Now Clark gets Superman comics, t-shirts, action figures, lunchboxes, and the like for his birthday every year. Bullies pick on him by asking where his super-speed is. It’s enough to make sure that Clark really can’t stand the character of Superman. When Clark wakes up one morning and actually does have super-powers, though, his whole life is about to change.

I’m sure that there are long-time comics readers who will read Superman: Secret Identity and be trying to figure out exactly what the connection between this Clark Kent and the one in most other Superman-titled comics is. Has he slipped universes? Is this all a hallucination? A story this powerless Clark Kent is writing? The answer, of course, is that it doesn’t matter. By concentrating on that sort of thing, you’re missing the real strength of Busiek’s writing, which is our look into Clark’s head as he goes from a target of bullies to a demigod among men. You’re able to really feel his early alienation from the rest of the world, doing more activities where he can simply be by himself. Likewise, his discovery of his powers and the usage that follows is exhilarating, with Clark reveling in each new experience and struggling to figure out what to do with them. This is a real celebration of what it means to be Superman, and Busiek is able to hit the mark on every point.

Immonen is an artist who made a strong first impression on me a decade ago, and he’s just gotten better with age. Handling both art and coloring on Secret Identity, there’s a softness to his art that makes it look less like pencil and ink and more like glimpses into reality. From the locks of hair gently out of place to the smirks on people’s faces, Immonen’s make sure to have his art reflect the human core of Busiek’s story. Like Busiek, Immonen’s made sure to keep sights of the wonder of Secret Identity, saving splash pages for moments that are supposed to really impact the reader like Clark’s first flight, or an initial look at a flooded town from up above. It’s a fantastic overall look and feel that is just as crucial to Secret Identity as the story itself.

When the squarebound comic format was first introduced, “Prestige Format” was a name assigned to it. It’s not used as often these days, but trust me, Superman: Secret Identity is worthy of that title. The Superman titles are due for a revamping in April, but this is really where the attention should be. It’s going to be tough for them to beat this level of quality. Well done to all involved.

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