[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writer: Marv Wolfman
Art: Claudio Castellini
Letters: Tom Orzechowski
Superman has only one origin, perhaps most succinctly and economically rendered in Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman. However, after that, there have been many takes on Clark’s early years and first appearance in Metropolis. It’s one of the highlights of 1978’s Superman: The Movie. You will believe a man can fly. More recently, DC has published a new original graphic novel take on Superman- Superman: Earth-One. Out of continuity, it imagines the Superman story in a contemporary world without anything beholden to continuity. Birthright, intended to be the new definitive Superman origin (circa 2003-2004) does the same thing, but inside continuity. Man and Superman 100-Page Super Spectacular presents a story originally written for the DC Universe around 2006-2009, just a few years before “The New 52” and immediately preceding Geoff John’s revamp that resulted in Superman: Secret Origin. This story by Marv Wolfman, could alternately be known as “Superman Begins,” as it seems to feel similar in construction and some homages to Christopher Nolan’s 2005 film, Batman Begins. Both are heavily character driven and rely on the man before the heroic transformation. Wolfman’s tale seems to lack the third act, but otherwise, works very well cinematically, and no doubt could have been the basis for a new Superman film series. The last page in the story even evokes an image from the lackluster Superman Returns, which was disappointing from a narrative perspective, but delivered on the visuals, including some iconic imagery.
This story is a “new” take on Superman’s first appearance in Metropolis. He’s left Smallville and is trying to land a job working for The Daily Planet. Wolfman approaches the challenge more realistically than any other take on this classic Superman story element. How does a podunk Kansas farm boy with no real experience land a job with one of the top newspapers in the country? Well, he starts out as a janitor for one, and learns the everyday existence of the little man and his perspective on the big men that seem to run things. Additionally, Clark makes mistakes. However, despite making mistakes he is able to do a little detective work to figure out some of the traditional corruption inside large cities.
After some anonymous super-saves, Clark is mistaken for a terrorist that is part of an attempt to get Metropolis to fork over some ransom. Some of the misunderstanding is due to Clark’s own missteps, but it is Lois Lane who sees the truth and puts it out there on the front page of The Daily Planet, claiming “the flying man” to be a hero. Clark sees this and eventually manages to contact her and produce his own investigative conclusions that point to conspiracy.
The story ends with Superman, in costume (finally), confronting the perpetrator…Lex Luthor (Surprise!! Ha ha!) It neatly sets up the traditional status quo for whatever comes next.
This story is heavily character driven as it explores what it would be like for Clark as a farm boy upon first landing in Metropolis. The positives range from small moments as he beats a 3-card monte charlatan at his own game to revealing Clark’s own doubts about becoming a “super-hero,” including sending an as yet unused costume back to Ma and Pa Kent in Smallville.
More insightful, perhaps, is showing how Clark learns the plight of the “little man” first hand. When he’s working as a janitor, trying to get a gig at The Planet, he befriends some of his co-workers and understands not only their challenges, but their desire to do things on their own. Their hard work resonates with him having seen Pa work just as hard.
Wolfman tries a new take on the first meeting of Lois and Clark, as well. Instead of simply the iconic “super-save,” he injects some personal elements…showing Lois not only to be the one to see the good in “the flying man,” but also having them both come to the same conclusions about the conspiracy. They connect more on a personal level than traditional tropes of feminine beauty and masculine heroism.
Finally, taking this story out of continuity reveals the true worth of it. This could easily have been part of a film. It has that quality and doesn’t rely on any specific knowledge of the characters. While truncated in some ways, it hits all the story beats one wants in the first two acts of an introductory Superman film.
If this had gone on for two more chapters, this would rival All-Star Superman. While not as metaphysical as the Morrison/Quitely epic, it is down to Earth. More than anything else, it manages to evoke much of the second act of Superman: The Movie without being derivative, merely updating the themes. Wolfman didn’t know it, but he was writing a movie script….he just needs the first and third acts!
This heavily character driven story is a must for Superman fans! While out of any particular continuity, it is essentially part of a longer Superman screenplay. It reads like it and finds a lot of new ground in its introduction of Lois Lane and Clark’s challenges upon his arrival in Metropolis. Don’t pass this one up! The forward by Marv Wolfman is worth the price of admission…wait…this isn’t a movie?