One of the things that I’ve heard people address about Man of Steel was the way they told his origin. While they did use the classic template of the orphaned child, they did make some very big and controversial decisions to add in. Of course, we have to keep in mind that this isn’t 1979 and we live in a different time, so the studio and the filmmakers had to makes some changes in order make the film palatable for a modern audience. I don’t think anyone would dispute that. However, many fans are not pleased with the changes that were made for the film. In some ways, I’m one of those fans.
At the time I’m writing this, it’s been two weeks since I first got to see Man of Steel at an advanced screening. I saw it again the debut weekend, and since that time, I’ve had quite a bit of time to form my true opinion of it. I already wrote my review for the film the week it came out, and I gave my thoughts in the Roundtable chat. Since my first screening, I have felt my appreciation for the film slowly begin to wane. In fact, I feel like I gave it too high of a grade in my review. (Which is one of the big reasons I hate sticking a score on a property. There’s no guarantee you’ll feel the same way later)
So this week, I’ll be focusing on some of the more recent origin stories and why I think that they work as well as they do. Each one of them adheres to the classic Siegel & Shuster story, adds in their own flavor and different elements to the story, and in my opinion, I think each of these stories would have worked a bit better than the story they had in Man of Steel.
Superman: Earth One
Like I mentioned, this story has a lot of differences with the classic story. For instance, Clark Kent is not a man clocking in at 6’3″ and sculpted like a bodybuilder. He’s actually a foot shorter and a lot skinnier. He’s even more shy than his classic incarnation, and he really doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. So he goes to Metropolis to try and find his calling. He tries the NFL, a major scientific laboratory, and of course, the Daily Planet.
Not long after he makes his way into Metropolis, the earth is visited by an alien named Tyrell. Tyrell claims to be a from a world neighboring Krypton’s, and blackmails the earth to give up Kal-El in a way very similar to what Zod Man of Steel. In fact, I would not be surprised at all if they got the idea from this book.
In a major departure from the classic story, Tyrell reveals that Krypton did not explode due to a natural disaster. His people had been at war with Krypton for centuries, and they had finally destroyed their hated enemies by causing the entire planet to implode. Tyrell’s attacks on the population force Clark to don the suit to defeat him.
Of the origin stories I’m mentioning here, I’d have to say that this is the one I love the least. J. Michael Straczynski is one of my favorite writers working in the genre, but his work with Superman has been a bit hit-or-miss. There are moments when he gets the character absolutely right, in a way that only he can, but there’s others that don’t feel as natural.
That being said, there’s a lot in this book to enjoy. Shane Davis’ artwork is excellent. I love the way he draws the characters in this book; he’s very good at making them emote, and he meshes with JMS’ narrative like an expert. I like that they made Superman smaller, and that they gave the staff at the Daily Planet the respect that they deserve. It has its issues, but it’s a solid and respectable origin story for the Man of Steel.
Superman: Secret Origin
Geoff Johns wrote this particular story, which I explains why I like it so much. The miniseries covers nearly everything in the classic mythology, from Clark’s arrival, to his adventures as Superboy with the Legion of Super-Heroes, and his arrival with Metropolis. It also manages to do a lot in a short amount of time. Johns quickly establishes the staff of the Daily Planet, Lex Luthor, and even some good unique backstories for Parasite and Metallo.
This is another example of a team working in perfect synchronicity. I love the way Gary Frank drew everything in this book. The backgrounds are great, the characters and their designs are even better. I especially like the way they made Clark Kent/Superman resemble the late Christopher Reeves. I thought that was a very classy touch.
This was meant to be the definitive origin story for Superman up until Flashpoint arrived a mere year later and rebooted the whole universe. I would have really liked to see Johns and Frank turn this into a ongoing series. I would have loved it even more if they adapted this into film. They really got everything right with this book, and they made Superman seem as heroic, honorable, and human as he always should be. That’s what’s most important after all.
Before DC rebooted their universe for AGAIN for Infinite Crisis, Mark Waid wrote an absolutely incredible origin story for Superman that I absolutely love. I only read this book for the first time a few weeks ago to prepare for the Man of Steel, and I couldn’t put it down until I finished it at 2 am.
Out of these three stories that I picked, Birthright does the best job of establishing character and getting the reader involved with the story. We immediately like and respect Clark Kent and Lois Lane when they’re introduced, but some of the best work of the book goes towards Lex Luthor. Waid and Yu focus on what makes Lex the man he is by exploring who he was as a young man. They actually make it possible to empathize with the boy who eventually becomes one of the most evil men in the DC universe.
The conflict between Superman and Lex is front and center in the book, and it’s a really entertaining battle. Lex’s scheme is really devious, and it makes you realize just how deadly he could be in the right hands.
What I love most about Birthright is how it clearly shows how great a character Superman is, and how he develops into a symbol of hope. When we first meet him, he’s working as a freelance journalist in Africa, writing about the injustices of the local governments. We also get a newfound insight into his respect for life. Clark can actually see the life forces of living things, and when the life force leaves the body, it leaves an unsettling sight to his vision.
Birthright is bookended by the destruction of Krypton, and Waid gave it a beautiful heartbreaking addition that has become one of my favorite moments in comic books. It was so poignant, uplifting, and sweet that I showed to my parents and they were both really touched.
There you have it. These are my three stories which could have been a better movie version