SECRET ORIGINS #5 is an outstanding example of the perils of the series’ marketing scheme.
Featuring the origins of CYBORG (Marv Wolfman, Edgar Salazar), RED HOOD (Scott Lobdell, Jack Herbert) and MERA (Jeff Parker, Daniel HDR), SECRET ORIGINS #5 should really have been more fun than it was. Though it had two rather enjoyable features, including the return of Marv Wolfman to Cyborg, forcing three origin stories of wildly varying qualities into the same issue does little but bring the others down.
CYBORG is a charming father/son tale.
Focusing largely on Vic’s relationship with his father before and after the accident that led to his mechanization, Wolfman’s Cyborg origin contains a surprising amount of emotion and charm.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way – CYBORG is rather a special origin tale for our series here – the first time in SECRET ORIGINS that a character’s origin has been told by their creator. No wonder, then, that despite the changes made to Cyborg in the reboot – not just moving him up to the Justice League, but erasing his Teen Titans connections entirely – this feature manages to keep it really feeling like Cyborg. While I enjoy Cyborg’s role in the new Justice League, it’s hard not to miss his relationship with the original generation of Titans that was so much a part of Cyborg’s history. Which is why it’s amazing how little we miss it in this origin.
Focusing heavily on Victor’s relationship with his father, CYBORG is very much an interpersonal story, with little in the way of real action or meat to the story. This is exactly how it should be. These stories should sell a reader on a character while giving us the necessary context to appreciate later stories, especially for characters like Cyborg with rather simple origins. Though the twist on the old jock father/nerdy son dynamic is no longer quite so fresh at this point, it remains very well executed here – both Victor’s frustrations with his father’s attempts to control his life and his father’s frustrations with his brilliant son choosing sports over science come through very well, as does their genuine love and affection for each other after Vic’s accident.
Though this is a fairly minor nitpick, the Star Labs scenes tend to go rather heavy on the techno-grokk. I understand how difficult it can be to convincingly write good science babble, but the opening sequence still lays it on a bit thick, and while I appreciate the relationship it set up, I still found myself somewhat put off.
On an art note, meanwhile, I’d like to mention that the coloring in this issue really bugs me. I can’t quite put my finger on it, beyond the weird desaturated purple that a lot of the skin tones in this segment seem to have. Colorist Thomas Mason is talented, but it really seems like some type of filter or the other got overused here.
Though you’ll get none of his Titans history here, CYBORG is an excellent introduction to the character himself. If you’re looking to get some Cyborg outside of a team context, or if you just want to see Marv Wolfman’s return to the character, you’ll enjoy this feature.
RED HOOD is exactly the type of stagnant rehashing that is SECRET ORIGINS at its worst.
When I started checking out the SECRET ORIGINS title, I knew there wasn’t going to be a lot of enthralling storytelling. It’s entirely known origin stories – it’s hard to add much on there, and only a scant few have managed it so far. But the saving grace of this overpriced, nearly-no-new-content series was supposed to be its variety. It’s supposed to be like a sampler bag of various DC creative teams, giving you a window into books and creators you might not be familiar with and letting you see if you might be interested in more. But instead, we just keep getting Lobdell story after Lobdell story. He has been the writer on three out of the four issues of this I have reviewed so far, and will probably have yet another one when Arsenal gets a turn. This could be justified if he were at least a solid writer, but frankly, his dialogue lacks, his characters all have a paper-thin personality, and everyone talks in the exact same stilted, fake-edgy way.
Well, at least it’s less painful than RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS #0 (not to be confused with the Zero Year tie-in, which occurred in #25 under a different writer). A lot of the heart is missing, but the core of the story remains much more intact. There’s no mention of the obnoxious “Joker’s Robin” backstory, and, credit where credit is due, the “it was about fixing you” sequence was actually decent – in the hands of a better writer, it could have led to some real exploration of the dynamic between Jason and Batman, even in the limited space. Heck, the “I had a lot of pent up anger because I thought Batman didn’t care enough to avenge me by putting Joker down for good” line, clunker that it is, shows an adequate understanding of Red Hood’s base motivation, certainly more than Lobdell’s own “How could you leave me alone with the Joker?” line of some issues ago.
And I’ll confess – it’s been rather a rough ride for Jason Todd fans throughout the years. I should know – he’s been my favorite since I first started getting into Batman. Jason’s voice as written here is weak, spotty, and frequently sounds more at home in the mouth of a handsy fraternity brother, but at least some effort is being made to give the character some much-needed consistency and return to roots.
Also, the art is pretty nice.
First of all, I really, really do not understand what they are doing with Jason’s resurrection. Much as I adore the character, I will freely admit that his return to the living before the reboot was incredibly weak. Even for comics, “Superboy Prime punched the timestream” is terrible. And given the subsequent contortions used to get him to Talia and into a Lazarus Pit, it’s painfully obvious that writer Judd Winick had intended all along to have Talia place Jason in a Lazarus Pit, only to receive a last-minute edict to tie the story into Infinite Crisis. But hey, we’ve moved on now. It’s a whole new universe, one where Infinite Crisis didn’t even happen, and the movie adaptation, Under the Red Hood, used a much simpler Lazarus-Pit-based explanation. We have a perfectly sensible new story all set out for us, requiring very little but swapping Talia out for Ra’s, and this story, uh… had him wake up in his coffin for no clear reason again. Except Talia is there this time? I don’t know what’s going on. This is an origin story and it completely fails to explain one of the most important plot points of Jason’s backstory. This was possibly the one productive thing this story could have done, and yet it was completely ignored. Is this some weird setup to Robin Rises? The BATMAN AND RED HOOD issue did have Bruce allude to a mystery behind Jason’s resurrection, and Talia is clearly involved, but this is a rather strange place to try to introduce a relevant plot point. This one may not be on Lobdell himself, but whoever’s decision it was, it will take some serious payoff to justify this confusing explanation.
Still, this is a fairly minor complaint compared to the continued presence of the gag-worthy All Caste, a mystical group spirited away in the Himilayas that trains Jason Todd as the Chosen One, because reasons or something. After all, what the family known largely for its more “realistic” take on superheroing and general lack of abilities magical or metahuman really needed was a guy with mystical swords. But hey, don’t worry – they justify their insertion into the backstory by having no clear relation to anything al Ghul and such fascinating characters as mystical old lady with an attitude. Plus, he totally blows off the Chosen One role, so, you know. It’s edgy and unique.
To top this whole mess off, of course, we have the usual clunky and obnoxious dialogue/internal monologue. Because with winners like “It hurts. The pain is glorious” and “Now you’re just being condescending. Like I can’t tell the difference between a nuero [sic] thetic compound and raw diencephalitic matter?”, who needs plot?
RED HOOD’s only saving grace is being less terrible than other recent Red Hood stories. Though it shows the slightest bit of growth as a writer, it’s not nearly enough. If you’re not a Jason Todd fan, this will not sell you on him. And if you are? Please. For your own sake. Skip it.
MERA is… rather a sweet love story, actually.
Telling the origin of Aquaman’s wife, MERA is largely the story of how the Queen of Atlantis met her husband and realized she couldn’t kill him after all. It could use a bit more scope, but for what it is, it’s not half bad.
First of all, the chemistry between Mera and Arthur here was excellent. Before this, I’d only ever heard vaguely that Mera was originally sent to kill Aquaman, and was very confused by how that happened. This section explains it perfectly – Mera’s mission, her discovery that the much-fabled King of Atlantis was… actually kind of a sweetheart, and her discovery of her mother’s true feelings. It’s hard to make “assassin falls for the mark” stories feel fresh, but here, it’s very easy to understand Mera’s confusion and quickly growing fondness.
I also really enjoyed what we saw of Mera back in Xebel, before she escaped for the outside world. Even before she meets Arthur, we see her kindness and care for those around her, as well as her unwillingness to put up with being dismissed or manipulated. It’s very much an Aquaman-centered story, but we still get a very real sense of who Mera is as a person.
Finally, though there are only a few moments, I really enjoyed the humor in this sequence. Between little background gags like the waiter very happy to be tipped in gold pieces and the wisecracking diner’s line about “other fish in the sea,” I laughed out loud several times.
As someone in the presumed target audience – that is, a reader who knows very little about Mera – I found this answered a lot of the questions I had about Mera and her husband. I still, however. am somewhat confused by the story behind the exiles in Xebel. Who are they? Why were they exiled, and by who? What happened to Mera’s mother, exactly? There’s enough information to cover a complete newcomer, and I know the origins cannot cover everything, but I would have still liked some answers.
MERA is a fairly cute vignette with a reasonable amount of information. It doesn’t answer all your questions, but if you want a primer on Mera, this is a pretty good start, and if you’re looking for some Arthur/Mera romance, you’ll enjoy yourself.
SECRET ORIGINS #5 is an auto-purchase for many fans, simply because of Marv Wolfman Cyborg. If you’re in this category, enjoy – the first story is pretty good, and if you feel like it, you could even check out MERA. But otherwise? SECRET ORIGINS largely seeks to convince readers to buy a $5.99 monthly on the merit of one or two origins of prominent characters, but if any of the three are less than stellar, it’s very rarely worth the asking price. This is no exception. If Cyborg isn’t worth the price of admission to you, the rest of the book won’t make up for it. Skip it.