Prime Numbers

Superman: Secret Identity: written by Kurt Busiek; illustrated by Stuart Immonen (2004): Busiek takes a decidely Meta concept inspired by a Superman comic book of the 1980’s and extrapolates it into a moving tale about the Man of Steel. In a weird way, OUR Man of Steel.

The Superman team-up series DC Comics Presents offered an odd story towards the end of its run in the 1980’s. In it, the Superman of DC’s main Earth, Earth-1, met the Superboy of Earth-Prime. But the thing was, Earth-Prime was, in DC’s multiverse, ‘our’ Earth, one without superheroes, one upon which all of DC’s heroes were simply characters in comic books. That included Superboy and Superman. So Superboy of Earth-Prime found himself with superpowers on an Earth where he was already a fictional character.

Borges, eat your heart out!

Busiek takes this initial concept and, not in a situation to write an ongoing, in-continuity series about Superboy-Prime, instead writes a non-continuity story that follows a Superboy from a world where he’s a fictional character through the course of the super-powered portion of his lifetime.

This Superboy has been teased for years because his parents thought it would be cool to name a male baby with the last name Kent who hails from a small town in Kansas (Pickettsville, not Smallville)…Clark. And one night, when he’s 13, Clark suddenly wakes up with a pretty fair approximation of all of Superman’s powers.

What follows is a really charming story which allows Busiek to explore the aging of a superhero. Most ‘adult’ superhero books explore either the beginning or the end of their hero’s career. Busiek’s best work lies here in exploring the middle — adulthood, parenthood, grandparenthood. His Superman, who consciously adopts the classic costume in part because it means people who see him won’t be believed, operates in secrecy, leery of a U.S. government that apparently wants to dissect him.

But as a fundamentally decent person, Clark continues to help people, despite the risk of being followed home. His powers aren’t great enough to always protect him from being knocked unconscious, but he keeps going anyway. And perhaps the government will eventually decide that he’s not a threat — or develop superheroes of its own.

Busiek and artists Immonen, who’s never done better work than he does here, do a lovely job of pointing out the ways in which it would be great to be Superman, both through the soaring, two-page vistas that periodically appear to show the world as Superman sees it, and through the little things that he takes for normal, such as being able to go to any restaurant in the world whenever he wants to. It’s a great take on Superman, wonderfully told, with expressive character work by Immonen. Recommended.

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