I’m going with a two-fer this time because out of all of the issues of Secret Origins that I have read so far, these have been two of my favorites and for very specific reasons: they feature the origins of the Golden Age Superman and Batman. Oh, there’s an origin of Halo from The Outsiders in there as well, and even though it was fine, I really would rather talk about the more classic hero origin stories.
So, Secret Origins launches right as Crisis on Infinite Earths ends and the idea of an Earth-2 with Golden Age versions of the DC Pantheon is shuffled off to the great longbox in the sky … more or less, anyway. Roy Thomas had been writing the definitely chronicles of Earth-2 in both All-Star Squadron and Infinity, Inc. The latter book would carry on for a few more years while the former, which was on issue #56 at the time, finished its run nearly a year later and was replaced by The Young All-Stars, a series that I’ve never read but heard was hit-or-miss.
I bring this up because from what I understand, the last few issues of All-Star Squadron were very much like extra issues of Secret Origins with Thomas telling stories about various members of the Squadron. This explains, in a way, why a number of issues of the first half of the Secret Origins title’s run featured the origin stories of a number of Golden Age characters alongside modern ones; moreover, Thomas proved to be a stickler for the classic origins and weaving them into continuity, so he worked around those original stories.
This is the case with Superman and Batman’s origins. Nothing is really much different than what you’d expect from either of them–Krypton still explodes and the Waynes still die at the hands of Joe Chill–but as you’re reading along, you find yourself in each character’s original adventures. For Superman, we step into the moments that lead up to and include the very cover of his first appearance, the iconic smashing of the car on the cover of Action Comics #1; for Batman, Thomas does a re-telling of “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” from Detective Comics #27. Both have been done before and since and in some cases better or worse (‘tec #627 is a great example of both “better” and “worse” versions of that story), but with Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin on art chores, the 1939 Batman story gets a fresh coat of paint, with Batman looking slightly more modern than as originally drawn by Bob Kane but with everything else looking distinctly Golden Age. Thomas also acknowledges the contribution of Bill Finger to the character, which I know was not always the case when it came to Batman.
With Superman, we have legendary Man of Steel artist Wayne Boring on pencils and upcoming Adventures of Superman artist Jerry Ordway on inks. The art is gorgeous and is a great reminder of how dynamic and strong Boring’s Superman was, although one minor quibble I have with the artwork is that there are times where it looks more like Ordway than it does Boring. Now, I don’t know if this is the case of Ordway’s inks overwhelming the pencils or Boring’s pencils being so light that Ordway was left to do a lot of the heavy lifting. But like I said, that’s really minor compared to what is an outstanding first issue.
Secret Origins starts out really strong as a series and out-of-continuity stories like this are a big reason why. While he certainly could have if the Golden Age versions of the characters still existed, Thomas didn’t need to shoehorn 1938/1939 stories into post-Crisis continuity and so he gave the fans a self-contained story that is reverent of each character’s history. The stories are simultaneously entertaining and educational and you can tell they’re crafted with a significant amount of reverence and love for the era.
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