I suppose that I should review these individually but I’ve been sitting on these comics for the better part of two weeks and every time I sit down to write individual reviews, I wind up getting distracted. So, in the interest of moving on and being able to put these back in their bags and back into the shortbox where they belong, you’re getting one of those overview recap things. Lucky you.
Anyway, I had picked up issue #3 for a couple of bucks at my LCS a few weeks ago, opting for the cheaper copy because someone had stamped “March 6 1986” on the cover (I’m not looking to put my kid through college with these books, tbh), and have had the others for a while (and I confess that issue #50 was not technically unread, but since I was reading the others). I did find it interesting to see the contrast between the book’s very early days–a single-issue origin story featuring Captain Marvel–and the later issues where they were sometimes shoving three or four origin stories in a comic.
The Captain Marvel origin (of course, we’re talking “Shazam!” here) is a Roy Thomas adaptation of the classic Captain Marvel origin story that appeared in Whiz Comics #1 in 1940 with art by Jerry Bingham, who I recognized from the Batman: Son of the Demon story and whose style was definitely in the Neal Adams vein. I’m going to assume that Thomas keeps faithful to the original story, which is entertaining, and while I have always enjoyed Bingham’s Batman and his Suicide Squad covers, I wasn’t blown away by his work here. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very good, but I would have been very curious to see what a penciller like Ty Templeton or the late Mike Parobeck would have done with Roy Thomas’ story. Granted, Parobeck didn’t start working for DC until 1989 and Templeton’s first DC credit was a year later, so that wasn’t possible at the time.
Contrast this with issue 43, which features the original Hawk & Dove, Cave Carson, and KL-99 in a $1.50 book (as opposed to the 75 cents of #3). It’s a bigger issue, so that certainly justifies its cost, but I can tell that the series is starting to run out of steam because they are sort of grasping at straws for characters. Hawk & Dove makes sense because the new team had just started an ongoing, so it’s a good cross-promotion, but the backups are people who hadn’t really appeared in much of anything outside of Crisis in quite a while. And speaking of Crisis, Karl and Barbara Kesel show the moment when Don dies, as it coincides with the moment where Dawn Granger gets her powers, but in their version he’s killed by a collapsing building and not by the shadow demon we see attack him. I don’t know if this is a retcon or an error, but it does make me wonder how the Crisis happened in the post-Crisis DCU. I mean, we saw it in Crisis #11 and #12, but those heroes who fought the Anti-Monitor had memories of the multiverse, but in the post-Crisis DCU I don’t know if issues 1-10 “happened”, so is the only thing that did “happen” the Anti-Monitor pulling the Earth into his universe and then the fight against all of the heroes?
Okay, back to Secret Origins. Some of these are a mixed bag. I was never as into the Mud Pack storyline in Detective Comics as others were (and quick confession here … as much as I love the Grant/Breyfogle Batman, I was never a fan of the Ventriloquist and Scarface, either), so issue #44 was a bit of a shrug, as was issue #47’s “dead Legionnaires” feature. The Newsboy Legion story from #49 was fun, even if the issue was a bit of a hodgepodge, and I could tell that we were just getting what was left until the finale.
At least the series went out in style. I mentioned that I’d already read #50 years ago, but I wanted to reread it as a way of finishing out my look at the run that I have. I love the cover–the characters featured in the book packing up elements of the comic book and series–and the 96-page issue, $3.95 issue has a table of contents and some of the best stories from the latter part of the run. Denny O’Neil’s text-piece origin of Robin that is gorgeously illustrated by George Perez is a hidden gem, as I don’t know how many people actually bought this issue and it can be a bit hard to find. The Grant Morrison retelling of “The Flash of Two Worlds” is way more fun and not up-his-own-ass than most Grant Morrison stories I’ve read. The Dolphin origin is fine and I thought the Space Museum was a good nod to the non-superhero DC books. But my favorite of this read was the origin of Black Canary, which was written by Alan Brennert and illustrated by Joe Staton and Dick Giordano.
Even today, I’m pleasantly surprised by how many memorable stories I have read that were written by Alan Brennert (sometimes without my knowing), and while I’m hot and cold on Staton’s 1980s work (his Green Lantern Corps and Millennium art leaves something to be desired), Giordano’s inks serve him well, and he seems to be in a real comfort zone drawing 1940s Black Canary and the modern-day heroes. Brennert ties in the JSA, the JLA, and even Batman: Year Two‘s The Reaper for a story that spans decades and despite being a superhero origin story is an intimate story about a mother and a daughter. While I tend to read a lot of these origin stories pretty quickly–I’d read the Robin origin so many times, I skimmed it and just gawked at Perez’ art–I found myself slowing down and absorbing every panel of this one. It’s a gorgeous story all around.
So, that leads me to the question that I am going to need to start asking myself as I make my way through other partial comic book runs that I own, which is: Do I want to finish collecting this?
Even though Secret Origins has a few clunkers, it’s a very fun series to read, and one that gives me a glimpse into both the history of the DCU as well as the era that had just preceded my comics collecting. I checked Mike’s Amazing World for what was on the stands when issue #50 came out and this is literally at the very beginning of my collecting. It also coincides with the release of the first issue of the loose-leaf Who’s Who series, and I wonder if that’s on purpose, as Who’s Who essentially takes the place of this series but instead focuses on the DCU of “now” as opposed to clearing up the past post-Crisis (in some ways, anyway). It’s also the same month Spider-Man #1 was released, so perhaps this is the end of the Eighties and the beginning of the Nineties as well (of course, it’s 1990s so that’s literal).
For me, Secret Origins is another piece of the history of the DCU puzzle that also includes all of the Who’s Who volumes as well as the literal History of the DC Universe series. This may wind up being a permanent part of my collection.
Keep, Sell, Donate, or Trash?
Finish collecting the series and keep.