DC Universe: Secret Origins hardcover ($39.99)
I try not to duplicate too much material in my collection, but for some reason I can't resist "Secret Origins" collections, even when I already own all the stories in one form or another. Such is the case with the new DC Universe: Secret Origins hardback, which isn't just a collection of reprints, but a collection of four previously published reprint collections -- a xerox of a xerox, as the expression goes.
(That's not a dig at the quality, which is excellent. This is typical, classy DC hardback, with high-quality, slick paper; expert reproduction; and a glossy book cover.)
The collections DC Universe: Secret Origins reprints are Secret Origins #1 ("Special Giant Issue" one-shot, Sum 61), Eighty Page Giant #8 (Mar 65), Even More Secret Origins 80-Page Giant #1 (Jun 03) and Weird Secret Origins 80-Page Giant #1 (2004), complete with covers. There's a table of contents for each collection listing where the stories first appeared but, oddly, not a comprehensive table of contents at the beginning, not even one listing where the reprint collections first appeared -- you just have to figure that one out on your own.
Which I did! Here are the four collections DC Universe collects:
Secret Origins #1 (Sum 61, also available in a 1997 replica edition)
One commonality in this 1961 giant was its use of Silver Age origin stories for a great many characters who had different Golden Age origins. That is conceivably the very purpose of the book at the time, to firmly establish some "modern" origins. But that's pure speculation on my part, and is something we'll never know. Here they are:
- "The Origin of the Superman-Batman Team!" by Edmond Hamilton, Dick Sprang and Stan Kaye, originally appearing in World's Finest Comics #94 (Jun 58). This is the second origin for the Superman-Batman team, the first being the more famous "The Mightiest Team in the World!' by Edmond Hamilton, Curt Swan and Stan Kaye in Superman #76 (Jun 52). In the original, Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne share a stateroom on a cruise ship and are forced to go into action, and in the process, reveal their identities to each other and team up. They confuse snoopy identity ferret Lois Lane, who is also on the ship, by using the old switch-identities trick, which wasn't old in this case, because it was the first time the two used it. In the Silver Age version, Batman and Robin appear to be replaced as Superman's partners by newcomer Powerman, and reminisce about the formation of the World's Finest team, in which the old switch-identities trick was also used. IIRC, both Mr. Silver Age and I regard the 1952 story as an Earth-1 tale, making the second one contradictory, but I don't remember why, so maybe I'm wrong. At any rate, the editors may have considered the '52 story one from the era they were shaking off across the board, and therefore a new, modern one was required. Again, we'll never know.
- "Secret of the Eternal City!" by Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky and Barnard Sachs, originally appearing in Showcase #17 (Dec 58). Origin and first appearance of Adam Strange. Interestingly, Adam doesn't wear his familiar spaceman outfit in this story, although he does on the cover of Secret Origins, because it didn't appear until the second story in Showcase #17, which was not reprinted in Secret Origins. So that may have confused a reader or two in 1961.
- "The Planet of the Doomed Men!" by John Broome, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson, originally appearing in Green Lantern #1 (second series, Jul-Aug 60). Instead of reprinting the obvious first appearance of the Silver Age Emerald Gladiator from Showcase #22 (Oct 59), the Secret Origins editors opted for the first appearance of the Guardians of the Universe in Green Lantern #1. I don't know why they made that choice -- maybe it's because this story fleshes out the premise of the series more comprehensively, or maybe the Showcase story had been reprinted recently, or maybe some other reason I'll never know.
- "The Secrets of the Sorcerer's Box!" by Dave Wood, Jack and Roz Kirby and Marvin Stein, originally appearing Showcase #6 (Feb 57). Origin and first appearance of the Challengers of the Unknown.
- "Origin of Green Arrow and Speedy" text piece by unknown. I find it interesting that the Emerald Archer was reduced to a mere one-page text page in this 1961 book, because he had been dissed the previous year by being left out of the original Justice League line-up. Justice League of America editor Julius Schwarz always maintained that the omission of Green Arrow in the JLA in 1960 was a mere oversight, quickly corrected with the fourth issue (after Green Arrow co-creator Mort Weisinger reportedly raised hell about it), but this second instance where GA gets backhanded (as was Speedy, who was omitted from Teen Titans in favor of Aqualad a few years later), makes me wonder what was really going on. As usual, though, that's all speculation, and I'll never know. It could just be that Green Arrow was the only character of the ones featured in Secret Origins that didn't headline his own book. Except Martian Manhunter, who was a back-up in Detective and wouldn't get his own book until taking over House of Mystery in 1964, but HE gets a full story, so hmmmm. Anyway, this text piece repeats the Amazing Archers' Silver Age origins, with Oliver Queen learning his skills while washed up on a deserted island, and Roy Harper learning his during his upbringing by the Sioux.
- "The Secret Origin of Wonder Woman" by Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, originally appearing in Wonder Woman #105 (Apr 59). Again, this is the Silver Age origin, which has some striking differences from the Golden Age origin, most of which were presented so subtly that most fans -- well, THIS fan -- glossed over them at the time. For example, they dropped the "sculpted out of clay" idea for Diana entirely -- she had, presumably, a normal birth, although the father was never mentioned or shown. But men were part of the Amazon culture, as evidenced by a panel in which a weeping Hippolyta tells her sister Amazons that "all the men ... wiped out ... in the wars!" To which another Amazon responds "Woe is us ... we are ... alone .. now!" (Evidently, the Amazons also lost the ability to speak in complete sentences.) This all happened "centuries ago," which means "the wars" could have been almost anything, but also establishes that Hippolyta wasn't raped by Hercules (as she was in the Golden Age origin) and that Princess Diana herself is centuries old, which I don't believe was the case in the Golden Age origin, nor was it dwelt upon in the Silver Age stories that I recall. At any rate, this story establishes the meaning behind the mantra usually repeated at the beginning of Wonder Woman's Silver Age stories, in that four gods grant the baby Diana their powers, with the two male gods granting her greater powers than their own! Thus, Wonder Woman is, as it usually says at the beginning of each WW story, "beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, swifter than Mercury and stronger than Hercules." Incidentally, as this story focuses on Diana's early life, it is technically the first Wonder Girl story. In the final panel, Kanigher promises "And from time to time, we shall invite you on more breathless tales of adventure with the unique Wonder Girl."
- "The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel!" by Joe Samachson and Joe Certa, originally appearing in Detective Comics #225 (Nov 55). Origin and first appearance of Martian Manhunter. Boy, J'onn sure had a whopper of a brow ridge!
- "Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt!" by Robert Kanigher, Carmine Infantino and Joe Kubert, originally appearing in Showcase #4 (Oct 56). Origin and first appearance of the Silver Age Flash. It's still a kick, after all these years, to see Barry Allen get the idea for his alter ego by reading Golden Age All-Flash Comics!
Eighty Page Giant #8 (Mar 65)
More Silver Age origins.
- "The Origin of the Justice League!" by Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs, originally published in Justice League of America #9 (Apr 62). This is the first telling of the familiar story of the creatures from Appellax, who turn various JLAers into wood, glass, mercury, etc. What is often overlooked today is what fans of the time had to endure, which was that it took DC two years to give us a JLA origin after their first appearance in Brave and the Bold #28. Also, it made the young Captain laugh, because all the heroes who had weaknesses stumbled into the precise foe who brought those weaknesses to bear: Martian Manhunter fought a flame creature, Green Lantern fought a yellow creature, and the meteor bearing Superman's foe was made out of kryptonite. What a coincidence!
- "Birth of the Atom!" by Gardner Fox, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson, originally appearing in Showcase #34 (Sep-Oct 61). Origin and first appearance of the Silver Age Atom. The pseudo-science of this early story still makes me laugh. When a white dwarf star lands on earth -- seriously, dudes, a white dwarf is a collapsed star whose gravity would destroy the whole solar system if it even got as close as Pluto -- and then Ray Palmer picks it up, remarking (as he lifts a STAR, remember), "Oof! This is heavy!" I think he should also have said, "Ouch! This is kinda hot."
- "How Aquaman Got His Powers!" by Robert Bernstein and Ramona Fradon, originally appearing in Adventure Comics #260 (May 59). This story established the Silver Age origin of Aquaman, which differed substantially from the Golden Age one. When the young Captain read this as a boy, he was unaware there had ever been a previous origin, so this is all I knew for decades.
- "The Man from Robin's Past" by Bill Finger, Sheldon Moldoff and Charles Paris, originally appearing in Batman #129 (Feb 60). This story fleshes out Robin's origin tale from the Golden Age story, adding Sando the Strongman as an early father figure.
- "Origin of Flash's Masked Identity!" by John Broome, Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella, from Flash #128 (May 62). Do you need a spoiler for a 50-year story? Well, OK: SPOILER! This entire story is a daydream that Barry Allen has, where he imagines life after his identity is exposed. The daydream shows how difficult that life would be, so he decides his masked identity is a good thing to keep, so he does. I'm not sure that qualifies as an "origin," but that's what the title says.
- "Story of Superman's Life!" by Otto Binder and Al Plastino, originally published in Superman #146 (Aug 61). I'm guessing -- until Mr. Silver Age corrects me -- that this is the story that essentially established the details of the Silver Age Superboy (as opposed to the Golden Age Superboy, who until 1945 didn't exist). In fact, this story should have been called "The Origin of Superboy!" since it begins with our hero hurtling to earth as a baby and ends with Superboy leaving Smallville to move to Metropolis (and becoming Superman). In between, we discover the origin of his invulnerable uniform (derived from blankets in his spaceship), how he learned to fly (too comical to describe here), the specifics of his tunnel from the Kent house and all his basement accoutrements, and so forth. Most of these concepts had appeared somewhere before (mainly in Superboy comics), but in this story all the information about the Teen of Steel was gathered in one linear tale.
Even More Secret Origins 80-Page Giant #1 (Jun 03)
Still more Silver Age origin stories, although not collected until 2003, when most of this information had been altered or rendered moot. Strange but true.
- "The Olsen-Robin Team vs. the Superman-Batman Team!" by Edmond Hamilton, Curt Swan and George Klein from World's Finest #141 (May 64). Olsen and Robin occasionally teamed up in Silver Age World's Finest stories, and this is the story that establishes the premise. Incidentally, Batman and Robin trusted Jimmy with the secret identities, while Superman didn't. Of course, Olsen was actually competent in his World’s Finest appearances, whereas he was usually an embecile in the super-books, including his own title.
- "Origin of the Blackhawks" by unknown, text piece originally appearing Blackhawks #164 (Sep 61). This text piece describes the background of the "Magnificent 7," as those backgrounds existed in the Silver Age. For example, Blackhawk was still an American.
- "Meet Kid Flash" by John Broome, Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella, originally appearing Flash #110 (Dec-Jan 60). Origin and first appearance of Wally "Kid Flash" West, who becomes a speedster by the same exact accident by which Barry Allen became the Flash. DC, thy name is coincidence.
- "The Genius Who Fought Himself" by Bob Haney and Lee Elias, originally appearing in House of Secrets #61 (Jul-Aug 63). Origin and first appearance of Eclipso. Originally, he was some sort of evil tribal god (who kept hiding his costume so his alter ego couldn’t find it between transformations), not yet the Spectre-level creature he'd become.
- "The Origin of Green Lantern's Oath!" by John Broome, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson, originally appearing in Green Lantern #10 (Jan-Feb 62). Just like with Wonder Woman's "Beautiful as Aphrodite ... " thing, DC decided to explain the Green Lantern oath as something that arose from specific circumstances, wherein GL had to to fight evil "in blackest night," and "in brightest day," and so forth. In today's world (at least in the movie), all the Green Lanterns use the same oath, but back then each Green Lantern said their own oath or said nothing at all -- what was important was holding the ring to the lantern for a specific amount of time, coinciding with how long it took Hal Jordan to intone his oath.
- "Creature of a Thousand Shapes!" by Gardner Fox and Joe Kubert, originally appearing in Brave and the Bold #34 (Feb-Mar 61). Origin and first appearance of the Silver Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl of Thanagar. And, yes, Hawkgirl was a full partner from the get-go (except for title billing), which was pretty progressive for 1961! Her tank top was pretty revealing for the age, too.
Weird Secret Origins 80-Page Giant #1 (2004)
This one is all mystical characters, again reprinting early stories that had become moot by 2004. I guess DC thought we were smart enough to know that.
- “The Origin of … Doctor Fate” by Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman, originally appearing in More Fun Comics #55 (May 40). Origin and first appearance of Dr. Fate. I'm still a fan of this uniform.
- “The Enchantress of Terror Castle” by Bob Haney, Howard Purcell and Sheldon Moldoff, originally appearing in Strange Adventures #187 (Apr 66). Origin and first appearance of The Enchantress. Need I add that it didn't exactly set the world on fire?
- “The Man with Animal Powers” by Dave Wood, France Herron, Carmine Infantino and George Roussos, originally appearing in Strange Adventures #180 (Sep 65). Origin and first appearance of Animal Man, who remained boring and fourth tier until Grant Morrison got ahold of him. This story should hint as to why.
- “The Tricks of Metamorpho’s Trade” by by Ramona Fradon and Joe Simon, originally appearing in World’s Finest Comics #226 (Nov-Dec 73). There's no writer listed for this two-pager, so maybe Joe Simon did double duty. Anyway, it's a basic primer on Metamorpho by the artist who did his solo book (canceled by the time this appeared), "narrated" by Batman. The most interesting thing to me are the Batman heads that introduce and end the segment. The first is by Jim Aparo, and the second is by Neal Adams. What, they couldn't find two Batman heads drawn by the same guy? Those two were just handy? They just didn't care?
- “The Amazing Congorilla!” by Jack Miller and Howard Sherman, originally appearing in Action Comics #247 (Dec 58). Origin and first appearance of Congorilla. Not really amazing. Maybe they should have titled this All-Boring Secret Origins.
- “Call Him Satan – Call Him Saint!” by Robert Kanigher and Gray Morrow, originally appearing in All-Star Western #3 (Dec-Jan 70-71). Origin and first appearance of DC's El Diablo -- the second one, I think. Anyway, this is the one where a paralyzed white guy is possessed by Injun Magic and wreaks vengeance on bad guys in the Old West. What makes this story memorable is the art by the late Gray Morrow, which was wonderful. Many other of this El Diablo's early appearances were by Neal Adams, so I always looked forward to this feature for the art alone.
- “The Origin of the Bizarro World!” by Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye, originally appearing in World’s Finest Comics #181 (Dec 68). No writer is listed for this four-page primer on all things Bizarro. It sums up the basics -- how the first Bizarro was created, how the later ones were, the Bizarro Code, life on Htrae, etc.
- “The Spectre” by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily, originally appearing in More Fun Comics #52-53 (Feb-Mar 40). Origin and second-third appearance of The Spectre. (There's some comics trivia for you: The Spectre's first appearance was in a house ad in More Fun #51.) This tale was that rare animal, a Golden Age story that continued from one issue to the next, and it was a pretty good one. The Spectre, like Dr. Fate, is just cool-looking and I like just about any story he's in. Plus, even as a kid, I appreciated that God was called "The Voice," because I didn't want my comic books picking which religion was the right one, even if it was my religion they picked.
As I've said, most of these stories are moot -- if not before The New 52, then certainly after. So if you buy this book it's for the history, or nostalgia, or because you enjoy Silver Age stories, or because like me you can't resist Secret Origins books. If any those reasons, or others of your own, come into play, then this is a fine book to add to your collection. If not ... well, The New 52 collections will be out soon!