I continue to make my way through this pile of 1980s Secret Origins books that I accumulated via Shortboxtober a couple of years ago. Right now, I’m still in the first half of the series where Roy Thomas was still the driving force behind it and was ensuring that the origins of classic DC superheroes from the Golden Age were getting their post-Crisis due. And in the past, I’ve tried to review each issue individually but I’ve fallen behind on my reviews and have a stack of write-ups that I have to do, so I’m once again going to do a quick and dirty recap of all of this.
Here’s what is covered in the comics:
- Annual #1 = The Doom Patrol and Captain Comet
- #19 = Uncle Sam and The Guardian
- #20 = Batgirl and the Golden Age Dr. Mid-Nite
- #22 = The Manhunters (a Millennium crossover)
- #23 = Floronic Man and the Guardians of the Universe (a Millennium crossover)
While I’m not going to talk about every single story, here are the ones that stood out.
The Best: Paul Kupperberg and John Byrne’s Doom Patrol origin. I know that his DP series from the 2000s is considered one of the worst ever by a number of fans, but this is Byrne at the height of his 1980s DC powers, when he was also doing Superman and leads into the Paul Kupperberg series, so seeing his art on top of a story by the writer who would bring the team back (albeit in a way that wouldn’t go well until Grant Morrison took it over). I’ve actually owned this previously, as I bought it back when I first started collecting comics (a friend of mine was really into the Doom Patrol) and it holds up as well as I thought it did back in the early 1990s. I’d say that this is one of the essential issues of the series.
Uncle Sam by Len Wein and Murphy Anderson. Based on the original stories by Will Eisner and Lou Fine, this is the story of the literal symbol of the USA, a hero that I first encountered as part of the Freedom Fighters when the appeared in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Back then, I thought it was a bit silly to have a superhero version of Uncle Sam but at the same time for a company like DC (which at that point had been around for 55 years), it made so much sense. I’m actually surprised that Roy Thomas didn’t write this (he wrote the Guardian origin from this issue, which is also very good), but Len Wein was also a master at a well-crafted story that felt both classic and modern at the same time. And Murphy Anderson–whose art I had only seen courtesy of a couple of Who’s Who pinups and as the back half of “Swanderson”–does the same thing with the artwork. The idea that this hero had been there throughout all of U.S. history and then comes back in the 1940s to fight Nazi saboteurs is such a great conceit and Wein leans into the perceived corniness of the character. All around, it’s worth picking up.
Solid Read: Issue #20 isn’t the best of the bunch but the origins of Batgirl and Dr. Mid-Nite were entertaining. Dr. Mid-Nite was right in line with what we’ve seen from Roy Thomas and his penchant for Golden Age characters whereas Batgirl was a well-told story, except that before I read this I had already read Chuck Dixon’s Batgirl: Year One, which is my favorite telling of the Barbara Gordon origin.
Biggest Surprise: Issue #22. Look, Millennium is a mess of a crossover that had half of a good premise (Manhunter sleeper agents/Body Snatchers stuff). Here, we have one of the better crossovers of the good half, where Roy Thomas and Howard Simpson attempt to weave all of the different characters called “Manhunter” into a single narrative that involves the Guardians of the Universe’s former protectors. It’s a solid effort and the type of continuity weaving that Thomas is masterful at–and that James Robinson would pick up and run with on his Starman title–and it made for a really entertaining read. Seriously, it made me want to read through Millennium, even though I know that’s not a good idea.
Worst of the Bunch: Issue #23. As I said, Millennium is a mess of a crossover that had half of good premise and half of a terrible idea (the origin of the New Guardians). This is not a bad story per se, but both are so close to the Millennium/evolution storyline with some decent writing (Todd Klein and Rick Veitch doing the best they can) and mediocre B-team art. It’s an issue only for Secret Origins and Millennium completists (I’m sure they’re out there).
Keep, Sell, Donate, or Trash?