Off the Shelf — Secret Origins Vol. 1

Secret Origins Vol 1

Nutshell: A must for anyone who wants a quick-n-easy education on the DC universe.  Fan favorites and superheroes the norms probably never heard of are given their 15 minutes of fame.  Like any anthology, in order to truly enjoy it you should probably savor it bit by bit.  But otherwise it’s a damn good read.  And dammit Pak, you made me cry.  Grade: A-

Story:  Like beginnings of things?  Well step right up; Volume 1 tells you about Superman, Dick Grayson, Supergirl, Batman, Aquaman, Starfire, Green Lantern, Batwoman, Red Robin, Harley Quinn, Green Arrow and Damian al Ghul-Wayne.  Got all that?  You will.

Thoughts:  Y’all had me at Conner and Palmiotti y’all.  Throw in Lemire, Greg Pak and waaaay too many other top-notch talent to list here (because I’m lazy), and Secret Origins is looking like a series that wants to blow you away.

Plenty of alt-version cover/full-page art, and Lee Bermejo’s colors and inks are magnificent.  Does it look like a thinly veiled anatomy and phys class? Yes.  Does that kind of attention to detail make my nerd brain implode with delight?  Also yes.  The art within each issue is beautiful too.  But it’s also a look at all types of styles, from Golden Age clarity to Silver Age pulpy fade.  Add in some Bronze Age hyper-detail and a bit of today’s modern sketch/angular vibe.  The editors of Volume 1 take readers through the ages of art while telling tales.  It’s an excellent way to organize these stories.

This feels like a “DC For Dummies”, and that’s a good thing.  Ever feel like you want to dive into the DCU, but have no idea where to start?  This is the perfect way to get your feet wet and your basics understood, all in one handy-dandy volume.  (Okay, the first of what will hopefully be quite a few.)  At first I was a bit leery of the superheroes I didn’t know anything about… then I found myself not caring and just enjoying the ride.

Though characters like Harley Quinn and Aquaman will always have my heart, Secret Origins Volume 1 has shown me that my heart has room for at least a few more.  While I could run down each story in detail, here’s a few tidbits that won’t spoil your dinner:

* “Superman Secret Origins”:  Did I tear up when I saw baby Kal-El with momma?  Damn straight I did.  So bittersweet.  I ain’t ashamed. The different colors in the captions, signifying who’s speaking, keep things not only easy to follow, but all the more poignant, as things shift from Lara to Martha Kent.  *niff*

* “The Man in the Shadow”: Bruce Wayne’s story told by Alfred.  As I’ve been loving Alfred on Gotham, it’s a perfect fit for a re-telling of this tale.  A touch of Dark Knight, but tied in to Gotham and today’s good ol’ ultraviolence.

* “Daughter of the House of El”: Tony Bedard manages to get Supergirl’s/Kara’s story out, distinguish her from her cousin Kal-El, and make me care.  All in the span of 10 pages.  Nice work.

* “Graduation”: Aquaman has always been my A-#1 favorite superhero.  Maybe because I wanted to be an itchyologist when I was a kid.  (Beats a ballerina; I look hellish in a tutu.)  So Arthur Curry’s origin story made me clap in an empty room.  Jeff Parker’s clear eyed first-person narrative can draw in anyone and make ’em a FOA.

* “Starfire”: I know absolutely zero about this superhero, but after Scott Lobdell’s story (and Paulo Siqueira/Hi-Fi & Pete Pantazis’ gorgeous art/colors) I think I need to know more.  Origin Story Achievement: unlocked.

* “Secret Origins: Green Lantern Freedom From Fear”: Seen the movie, but you weren’t impressed?  Well, this origin tale is very similar to the tried & true tale the film covered. It’s an origin tale, but honestly? The weakest of the bunch in terms of hooking a reader in.  [Caveat: I’ve never been truly down with the Corps.  Just putting that out there.]

* “Secret Origins: Batwoman Blood Money”: This story gets Kate Kane’s sexual orientation out, front and center,  and I absolutely love how her dad handles it.  There’s more to her origin than that, and kudos to DC and writer Jeremy Haun for treating it — and her interactions with Batman — like small pieces of her complex puzzle. 

* “Secret Origins: Red Robin Secret Identity”: Did you know that there have been many Robins?  I knew, but didn’t know more than that.  So to see an origin story of the third Robin — Tim Drake-Wayne — was something I quickly dug into.

* “Secret Origins: Harley Quinn”: Conner and Palmiotti write an origin story for my favorite twisted cupcake.  It’s not only Harley’s origin story, it’s Bernie’s!  Who doesn’t love Bernie?  C’mon now y’all.   And while Conner doesn’t do double-duty as artist, Stephane Roux pulls in the funny ditz from the new series, and mixes in a healthy dose of the unhealthy psychopath from days gone by.  New fans of Miss Q may be a little unsettled — especially by that last panel — but it’s a whole picture of the character.  Let’s see if that bleeds into her new series, shall we?

* “Secret Origins: Green Arrow”: All I know about the Arrow is what I’ve seen on the TV.  Yep.  Sorry, but as much as I love comics, I love paying my mortgage more.  It’s a problem I have.  But Jeff Lemire’s story is amazing (no big surprise there, as he’s crazy talented), and though it tracks well with the show, it’s also true to it’s own story.  Short and sweet, Lemire tells you all you need to know to get you into Green Arrow in 12 pages.

* “A Boy’s Life — Damian Wayne Robin”: Peter J. Tomasi breathes life into Bruce Wayne’s Son Damian Wayne/al Ghul.  Damian is a complicated character, but Tomasi touches on the basics, and the beginning of Damian’s run as Robin.

Best Line: “I kiss your forehead…and I taste salt.  Someone wept over you.  Someone loved you.”
G’head.  Grab a tissue.  Lawd knows I did.

Subscribe or Shelve:  Want to know who’s doing what, where and how in the DC universe?  You can’t do better than this, unless you want to try to collect everything they’ve ever put out.  I ain’t judging, but this is easier.  Though if you go the other route, give me your address.  It’s party time!

Publication 411:  Collects issues #1-4 of Secret Origins.  Hits shelves February 17, 2015.

[NOTE: I received a copy of this title pre-publication via Netgalley.  I received no compensation for my review.  Not even a stuffed beaver.]

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