SECRET ORIGINS #2 is a solid Batman story, a decent Aquaman story, and, well, nothing Starfire fans aren’t used to by now.
Combining the origin stories of Batman (Ray Fawkes, Dustin Nguyen), Aquaman (Jeff Parker, Alvaro Martinez), and Starfire (Scott Lobdell, Paulo Siquera), SECRET ORIGINS #2 is rather a mixed bag as quality goes – no surprise, given the nature of the book. Still, SECRET ORIGINS #2 is exemplary in the execution of its dual duties – both giving a character background for easy reader understanding and serving as a snapshot of the characters’ main writers, giving readers who were considering getting into a new title a sense of the title’s quality. With a predictable but nonetheless satisfying Batman origin, an informative but unspectacular Aquaman introduction, and a Starfire story that at least manages not to actively offend, SECRET ORIGINS #2 is a decent enough read for those curious about the characters.
THE MAN IN SHADOW
Let’s be honest here – as reader introductions go, Batman’s needs hardly be told. As the issue itself says – “We know this story. Even if we’re new to it, we know it.” Instead of wasting time going over what we all know, then, Fawkes does his best to hook his Batman introduction into the ZERO YEAR feature, an effort aided by the talented art team of Dustin Nguyen (pencils), Derek Fridolfs (inks) and John Kalisz (colors).
First, and foremost, the art in this feature is spectacular. Making a clear effort to tie in with the distinctive style of the BATMAN title’s ZERO YEAR, the story is jam packed with stunning, colorful backdrops, moody and dramatic shots inside Wayne Manor, and Dustin Nguyen’s always-gorgeous pencils, making it if nothing else a real feast for the eyes.
Beyond that, though, the story is short, sweet, and familiar. Capturing both the general tone and Bruce’s specific voice well, Ray Fawkes puts real care into making one of the most well known origin stories feel fresh and alive.
Though Fawkes does a good job adding in little hooks for the reader, THE MAN IN SHADOW is, ultimately, a story we all know. Clearly here more to draw in readers who might otherwise pass up on an issue featuring Aquaman and Starfire than out of any real need, the feature treads ground that has been retreaded for a full 75 years now, and from the occasionally awkward narration to the predictable pages almost beat for beat, it shows. Art aside, there’s not a lot here for readers who have been following ZERO YEAR, and for those who haven’t, the only real tidbits are a short scene with the revamped Red Hood gang and a passing effort to make sense of the New 52 Batman timeline.
THE MAN IN SHADOW is hardly a must-read for all but a very scant few, but its combination of dazzling art and a conscientious writer makes for a high quality product. Readers both new and old won’t learn much from this tale, but despite its familiarity, it’s a surprisingly satisfying read.
Unlike the well-known, ever-popular Batman, the origin of Aquaman is comparatively obscure, having changed a great deal between iterations and leaving many readers unsure of more than that he’s the King of Atlantis. Though the New 52 has seen the AQUAMAN book escalated to new levels of popularity, receiving a great deal of accolades and even an additional Aquaman title, AQUAMAN AND THE OTHERS, many remain unaware of the details of his history, making him a prime candidate for an origin feature.
The New 52 Aquaman origin is very solid, one that combines decades of Aquaman history with hints of the old selkie myths and a smattering of worldbuilding that makes for a satisfying introduction to the character. Jeff Parker takes us nicely through the main points of Aquaman, from his birth to his first heroic outing to his relationship with his wife and queen, Mera. Combined with the new Black Manta origin, which vastly improves on the cringeworthy Black Manta pre-New 52 backstory, GRADUATION offers all a new reader needs to know about the rebooted history of Aquaman.
Parker does a good job, but ultimately, GRADUATION just fails to enthrall. The beats of the action feel somewhat spaced out, with a pacing that feels oddly slow for such a short story, and the dialogue in some places feels stilted.
GRADUATION is a story that does exactly what it sets out to do – it gives the origin of Aquaman, and no more or less. Though largely unspectacular, the piece rests on a good foundation, and there’s not a lot more to say about it, good or bad. If you’re already familiar with the new Arthur Curry, there’s not a lot of appeal here. But if you’re looking for a good introduction, or considering getting into Aquaman, it’s just what you needed. It’s no page-turner. But does it really need to be?
When RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS first launched, a lot of controversy arose regarding the changes made to Starfire under the pen of former Marvel writer Scott Lobdell. Previously known for her close bonds with her friends and her strong emotions, positive and negative, the rebooted Starfire was cold and seemingly emotionless, and more than that, was given what many fans derisively referred to as a “goldfish memory,” unable to view humans as more than a bundle of scents and sensations and unable to tell her traveling companions, Roy Harper and Jason Todd, apart, despite a great deal of casual sex with the former. Though changes were later made to this portrayal, including a much-needed retcon from later writer James Tynion IV, many Starfire fans remain less than enamored with Lobdell’s Starfire. With Scott Lobdell returning to RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS, and Starfire once more under his creative control, the task of writing her origin in SECRET ORIGINS #2 was given to him. It is, at least, not actively offensive.
Penciller Paulo Siquera really shines in this section of the issue. Though many recent depictions of Starfire have been rife with poor anatomy and posing that – sometimes literally – bends over backwards to place fanservice above all reasonable rules of composition, Siquera avoids these pitfalls even during the scenes of adult Starfire in her more revealing outfits, managing to handle scenes of torture and experimentation with care.
With cumbersome dialogue, eyeroll-worthy narration and a truly unnecessary amount of exclamation points, Lobdell’s Starfire continues to fall short of the passionate, emotional, fastidiously loyal woman before the reboot, and indeed has little real personality of her own, whatever resemblance it may or may not bear to her previous depictions. Though one supposes hate does, at least, constitute an emotion, her general failure to emote in any believable way leaves the reader unable to really connect with the events of the issue. It’s a rather difficult feat to tell the tragic tale of a young girl from a conquered planet stolen from her family, forced to serve as a slave and tortured and experimented on at length, without making the reader feel at least the slightest hint of emotion, yet Lobdell manages to pull it off in spades.
STARFIRE, though technically an improvement over much of Lobdell’s previous depictions of the character, falls utterly short in more or less every way possible. Perhaps the best that can be said for this feature is that it does, at least, give a fairly accurate preview of what prospective new readers will face upon diving into Lobdell’s upcoming return to RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS. If you are a newcomer to the character of Starfire looking for an introduction, look elsewhere. If you are already a fan of the character, spare yourself.
With a solid but largely unnecessary Batman story, a decent but informative Aquaman history, and an utterly lacking Starfire origin, SECRET ORIGINS #2 may have been worth a read for those hoping to get into Aquaman, or even just looking for a good read… were it not a full $4.99. If you are looking for a quick and comprehensive Aquaman introduction, it may yet be worth the money. Otherwise? Skip it.