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Believe It Or Not, He's Walking On Air...

Superman: Secret Identity #1
writer: Kurt Busiek
artist: Stuart Immonen

We all go through a phase when we consider ourselves different. Possibly in our youth, we figured we were indestructible. And definitely, one main appeal to superheroes is that we all have had fantasies of having power. The Kinks touched a chord when they sang, "…wish I could fly like Superman."

In Superman: Secret Identity, though, that fantasy has long burned out for a kid saddled with the name Clark Kent. Everyone around him, especially his parents, think the name is funny, and Busiek opens on a birthday party with every gift having a Superman theme. (Later, that will come in handy.) Clark has tried to protest, and now just accepts the joke with a numb graciousness, carrying the gifts up to a room filled with anything and everything Superman-related that the underrated Immonen can imagine.

For the first half of the book, Clark's story is an interesting slice of life, though the lengths his peers go to torment him may be a stretch. Not in the random meanness of it, but in how much Superman trivia even the dumb jocks seem to know. Chalk it up to being written by a guy who, along with Mark Waid, stands as being one of the most knowledgeable of comics history. Busiek may have lost touch with just what characters are obscure to the general public, especially in a book that seems to have been set a few years in the past. (Clark fantasizes about meeting Rebecca DeMornay - probably not in the top five fantasies of a modern-day teen.)

Never mind that, though, because the characterizations are otherwise spot-on.

And then, Clark Kent realizes that in his regular real-world existence, he actually has all the powers of Superman. If you must, Superboy. Even more so than in Astro City, Busiek really takes apart the drawbacks that must come with such a discovery, because this Superman (if he grows into that role throughout the series) has no real role models.

Everything Clark knows about his powers comes from comic books. To answer your question, yes, x-ray vision works in the girls' locker room, but Clark abstains not out of moral purity but for fear that it could physically harm people in long-term ways. He has no one to commiserate with, to perhaps compare notes with. If he's adopted, his parents aren't willing to share that truth. This Clark Kent's actual origins are a mystery, but Busiek and Immonen tell the story so well, it almost doesn't matter at all.

They've taken an idea that DC toyed with a couple of decades ago, just pre-Crisis. Back then, they had an Earth called Earth-Prime, that was supposed to be ours, where a young boy named Clark Kent knew the legends, knew the stories, and discovered his powers. He pretty much took it all for granted, adopting the costume and using his abilities in secret for a couple of random appearances before disappearing into the bowels of Alexander Luthor in Crisis On Infinite Earths #12. (No, really.) The concept was good; just nobody ever did much with it. Until now.

It differs from Smallville in that this Clark Kent has the burden of knowing everybody's pre-conceived notions upfront. At least, he thinks he does. Like a lot of teens, he approaches the real world fairly naively. In the clutch, he does the right thing, but it's not always so easy to do in a fame and media obsessed society.

The first issue is 48 pages, and despite spreading the layouts out a bit, none of them feel wasted. Rather, Immonen has done a tremendous job of peppering this superhuman story with little human moments. Even the splash pages with Clark flying serve a purpose other than just cool art; we really feel the freedom and exhilaration.

Secret Identity shouldn't remain a secret. It's a fun take on a story we all thought we knew.


Derek McCaw

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