Conor is off on a vision quest in Texas this week, so I’m tasked with proffering a second Light Week suggestion in his staid.
The problem for me is that repulsion from the horrors of Nazism (or a Nazist-like excess of power setting) and repulsion from gore as a form of entertainment should work on an entirely different level, yet here they seem to mix in an ambiguous way, which is something I don’t think I can stomach. As I got older and this scenario popped into my head it became less of a fantasy than a thought exercise. I used to have a lot of fun ruminating over these questions and I think that is a small part of the reason why I love Superman: Secret Identity so much. Written by Kurt Busiek, drawn and colored by Stuart Immonen, and lettered by Todd Klein, Superman: Secret Identity was first published as a four issue prestige-sized mini-series in 2004. Superman: Secret Identity stands as not so much a remake as a homage to that original story, and one that, as Busiek explains in the foreword, became less and less of a remake the more he delved into the story, which will, on its surface, sound very familiar to anyone who read the preceding paragraph. Opening in what is ostensibly the “real world”, Superman: Secret Identity introduces us to a teenager living in Picketsville, Kansas named Clark Kent.
If the story isn’t structured like the typical comic book and if there isn’t a whole lot of slam-bang action, what makes Superman: Secret Identity so compelling?
One of the lessons of Superman: Secret Identity is that no man is an island and Busiek isn’t alone here—not with a creative partner in Stuart Immonen providing full art duties. I love superheroes for a variety of reasons and not the least of which is their versatility. For anyone who wants to get this for super cheap you can get all four issues on comixology for 69p or $0.99 each during the superman sale. I went nuts and bought $35.00 worth of Supes books from the sale, Secret Identity among them. Finally finished reading this, it was absolutely amazing, I especially loved the last part of the story. And to think, if not for Conor making it the book of the month I’d probably never have read this, much love! If you had to pick an iconic superhero that more people knew about than any other, Superman would probably be the winner. Immonen is an artist who made a strong first impression on me a decade ago, and he’s just gotten better with age. If you’re going to change back from Avengers West Coast to West Coast Avengers (actually The Avengers: West Coast Avengers), just what is the point of all of it? These days that thinking is usually about my work and so you can often find me rummaging for the bedside notebook that is somehow never found at my bedside before I forget an idea or a turn of phrase that has come to me while sleep remains elusive. This used to happen much more when I was younger, and it’s still been known to happen every now and then, but I would often find myself wondering what it would be like if I woke up the next morning and found that I possessed all the powers and abilities of Superman, not in any fantastical cartoon or comic book world, but here in the real world.
Clark, whose parents really didn’t have much in the way of foresight, is sick of the Superman-related presents he gets for every Christmas and birthday (he’s got a closet full of them) and he’s sick of the taunts and the bullies at school who delight in reminding Clark that he’s nothing like his super namesake.
The first chapter features teenage Clark in Kansas where he first gains his powers and decides just how the hell to deal with a development that is, quite frankly, equally exciting and terrifying. Those who are only familiar with Immonen from his recent Marvel work might not realize that the supremely talented artist often worked in an entirely different art style ten years ago, one that fell heavily on the photo-realistic side. They can be used as a way to tell an edge-of-your-seat action adventure story and they can be used to examine the human condition.


The Superman book is just a basic trade, Solo is a beautiful hardcover and features some of the best creators of the industry, and it also has Supes in it.
While I’d say Superman for All Seasons is definitely my favorite Superman story, this one definitely ranks up there. That’s what happened to the protagonist of this comic, whose parents thought it would be funny.
Handling both art and coloring on Secret Identity, there’s a softness to his art that makes it look less like pencil and ink and more like glimpses into reality. That said, the primary reason for my excitement is the prospect of Kieron Gillen’s unbridled agency in a creator owned setting. Here, in a photo-real world in which Superman is already a fictitious presence in popular culture, a young man named Clark Kent discovers his impossible, innate powers. Life seems pretty miserable for young Clark until one day, while out camping in the woods alone, he suddenly manifests Superman’s powers. The second chapter finds Clark, now grown up and out of college and living in Metropolis New York City. A man who, in a world with no other superheroes or villains or aliens or monsters, finds himself suddenly able to do the fantastic. All of his skills in that regard are on display here and one of the big reasons that this particular story about the “real world” works so successfully is that because Immonen’s realistic style makes every character come alive. Here we have a man who worries about his career, his relationship, the safety of his children, and the well-being of his fellow man. The original Superman movie was one of my first movies, along with Star Wars, as a kid…but even moreso, I can point to this book as a reason why Superman can be fresh and poignant.
Now Clark gets Superman comics, t-shirts, action figures, lunchboxes, and the like for his birthday every year.
The Superman titles are due for a revamping in April, but this is really where the attention should be. Though he’s more than found his footing with recent projects at Marvel, this is an opportunity to witness his unfettered creative powers on display in a deliciously grimdark setting.
Doubled if not tripled my love for Superman as a concept and a character and made me realize that Immonen is a damned chameleon.
That story was about Superboy of Earth-Prime—back before the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis turned him into the metaphor for crazy comic book fans known as Superboy Prime—who existed in the “real world” in which the rest of the DC characters existed only in comic books. It’s never really explained how or why this happens, and that’s okay because how or why Clark Kent finds himself with the wondrous abilities of his comic book counterpart is entirely besides the point.
The dangers may not be of the comic book variety, but between an hysterical media and a terrified and therefore aggressive government, they are real. As great as the writing is I don’t know that a story in this setting would be as compelling drawn in a more traditional cartooning style. That’s not a concept that’s so foreign; it probably describes many people you know in your everyday life. If anyone can be trusted to do something thoughtful with metahuman nazis, it might be Gillen. I’d go so far as to say that these, for me, and for the people my age, many of whom are ruling comics right now, are formative comic books.


In that story, a New England kid named Clark Kent, who looked just like his comic book counterpart, got made fun of all the time for it until the time came when he found himself manifesting the very powers of his comic book counterpart. In New York Clark finds himself set-up on a blind date with a woman named Lois because this is the kind of thing one’s friends would find hysterical if they are in their early 20s. Busiek does a really wonderful job of making Clark Kent feel like a living breathing human being with all the hopes and fears that any of us have. The fact that these characters look real adds to the feeling that heightened sense of reality. The only difference here is that in Superman: Secret Identity the man in question occasionally puts on a costume and saves people in Australia from a tornado. It’s a fantastic overall look and feel that is just as crucial to Secret Identity as the story itself. I tell you this not because it’s important to know to read and enjoy Superman: Secret Identity—it’s not, at all—but because it’s sometimes fun to know where great stories find their inspiration.
The third chapter finds a middle-aged Clark, now a successful author, making a life for himself and his wife in Maine.
This Clark Kent is wonderful to be around and following him along through the journey of his life is endlessly fascinating. Add to that the unique coloring palette that Immonen deploys here—in the foreword Busiek says that Immonen was trying to emulate magazine coloring from the 1950s—and you have a book that is just about as gorgeous as you’re likely to find. When Clark wakes up one morning and actually does have super-powers, though, his whole life is about to change. In the fourth chapter Clark is an old man content in his family and his life and his place in the world. Everything is familiar—the name, the small town, the job, the girl, the glasses, the costume—but here it’s all just different enough that all of the real world elements echo the traditional Superman mythos in a way that makes the story different yet very familiar. From sweeping vistas that really capture the sense of the freedom of flight to pitch perfect acting on the faces of the characters, Immonen once again proves himself to be one of the best artists in comic books. You’re able to really feel his early alienation from the rest of the world, doing more activities where he can simply be by himself.
I’ve skipped over a few details and have been purposefully vague because I don’t want to spoil all the beats, and while this isn’t a book that reads like a typical comic book—it does not not live and die on the final page cliff-hanger; each issue is its own story—it’s better to not know everything that is coming. In 2004 Busiek was coming off a years long run of comic book excellence that found him among the best in the business and Superman: Secret Identity is a writer at the top of his game. Likewise, his discovery of his powers and the usage that follows is exhilarating, with Clark reveling in each new experience and struggling to figure out what to do with them. This is a real celebration of what it means to be Superman, and Busiek is able to hit the mark on every point.




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