Dark Nights Death Metal: The Secret Origin #1 review

It’s the end of the world(s) as we know it. The One Who Laughs has created 52 dark parallel Earths and they’re invading Earth 0, where its heroes and villains, along with those of numerous destroyed worlds, are making their last stand.

Well, I think that’s what’s going on – I doubt Dark Metal would make any sense even had I read all the issues.

Basically, big Crisis-level fight. And where there’s a Crisis, there’s usually Superboy Prime. He’s the Kal-El from Earth Prime, this very world you and I are on. It was wiped out in the Crisis on Infinite Earths so I’m not sure how we’re still here.

Comics. We were likely renumbered.

Anyway, Superboy Prime is the star of this issue. The guy who helped defeat the Anti-Monitor and then went nuts and rewrote reality via a magic wall, murdering and maiming heroes along the way, including Kal-L, the first Superman.

Talk about irredeemable.

The Secret Origin begins with our protagonist’s secret origin, the tale of how a foundling was named Clark Kent by his adoptive parents. As Superman was a fictional character on his world, he was roundly mocked.

But one day, as he was out with girlfriend Laurie, Halley’s Comet came within range of Earth.

He met the Superman of Earth One, but dreams of being the greatest hero of his world vanished as he saw Laurie wiped out by a wave of anti-matter, along with everyone else on his planet. For a while, he was a hero, but that was long ago. Now he accepts that he’s seen in a certain way.

But there is someone who doesn’t seem to think Clark Kent of Earth Prime is beyond hope.

Krypto the Superdog. This is the point in a Superboy Prime story in which he shows how psychotic he is by frying a good guy. Poor Krypto….

What’s this? Is there a drop of the boy he once was in there? Earth 0’s Superboy, Conner Kent, doesn’t believe so, telling him to get the hell away from his dog. Prime’s reaction hints that he hasn’t changed.

Seconds later, the evil Supermen of 51 worlds attack. They might expect him to help them raze this last world standing, as he’s the very definition of a dark Man of Steel, but Prime hates Supermen, so throws his lot in with the defenders of the Earth. And in the midst of battle, a weird realisation.

One of the evil planets has been transformed into a world of hope. Could Clark possibly change all 52 if he destroyed their creator, the One Who Laughs? Might he even see his homeworld reborn?

The twisted, cosmic-powered evil Batman can’t see Superboy Prime going through with his plan. In fact, he tries to recruit him.

But the One Who Laughs is wrong – Superboy Prime isn’t like him. He remembers who he was, before he was thrown into a realm of cartoon characters whose deaths feel meaningless. Before grief and ennui sent him mad.

Whether or not the One Who Laughs is truly gone, his works are.

And somewhere, Clark Kent wakes.

The long nightmare is over. Earth Prime is back. And if not having super powers is the price he pays for the return of an entire world, for a life with his loved ones, Clark is willing to pay it…

I loved this. I loved a comic starring Superboy Prime, a character I’ve hated since writer Geoff Johns had him go from hero to villain. I’ve complained every time he’s showed up, his whining about how things used to be better always coming off as Johns attacking entitled fanboys. You know, the people who pay the bills and are entitled to an opinion.

And yes, I see the irony.

But from the opening pages showing a 1984 comics spinner rack, to the final surprise for Clark and Laurie – I’ve left that out – this is terrific work. Little by little, Johns and co-writer Scott Snyder remind us of where Superboy Prime came from, and reignite the spark of sanity, of goodness, that is still within him. Having been with Superboy Prime from his DC Comics Presents debut, I abhorred the twisted monster he became. I find his reversion to the person he was more convincing than his move to the dark side. I love that his horrific deeds gain the status of ‘it was all a dream’ and that he’ll get the chance to learn about heroism from the ground up.

And is it any surprise that it’s Krypto who provides the initial moment of warmth that touches Clark’s heart. Sure, he tells himself that he only wants to show the other 51 bad Supermen that he’s the worst, but I don’t believe it – he’s been transformed by the Pup of Steel. Or Krypto recognised that he wasn’t beyond hope, and Clark took his cue from that. At some level, he knows he’s fighting for the right side, and he embraces it. And look at those tears as the truth of the One Who Laughs’ words pierce his steel skin.

Of course, this being a Death Metal book, there’s lots of punching and blasting, but refreshingly, for a comic starring Superboy Prime, no bloody murder, not even a head or arm removed.

The action is well captured by artists Ryan Benjamin & Richard Friend, and Paul Pelletier & Norm Rapmund, while Francis Manapul handles the several-page encounter with Krypto with due sensitivity. The standard is high throughout, but my favourite visuals are the framing sequences by Jerry Ordway, a master at imbuing everyday North America with wonder.

As Backseat Editor to Andrew Marino, I’d make a couple of art tweaks. The first concerns that changing world Superboy sees – we have just one panel of it, whereas a Before and After is needed.

And then there’s this.

The colours seem different how? I could see Earth Prime being more intense than Earth 0, but it’s the other way around here, and the contrast isn’t between worlds, it’s between inside the Kent home, and outside. Perhaps a collection will recolour the art to make things clearer.

Overall, the colouring relay team of Hi Fi, Ian Herring, Rain Beredo and Adriano Lucas do a fine job. And Rob Leigh’s lettering is splendid, especially the final title design.

The cover by penciller Ivan Reis, inker Joe Prado and colourist Alex Sinclair is fine, typical of the Death Metal event, but doesn’t hint at how interesting things get inside. Perhaps that’s a good thing.

Quibbles aside, this was a lovely surprise. On the one hand, Superboy Prime is a character it’s hard to feel sympathy for; on the other, he was so far from the Superboy of ‘our’ Earth as originally presented that it was hard to see him as the same character. So if a comic book wants to have Superboy Prime revert to plain ol’ Clark Kent of Earth Prime, removing a super-stain for ever, well, that’s… super.

6 thoughts on “Dark Nights Death Metal: The Secret Origin #1 review

  1. Wasn’t this a treat?
    It was put in my pull box mistakenly, but as a lockdown is just around the corner, I didn’t have the heart to put it back. I figured I’d eat the six bucks and read the story (or not) at some point.

    And then I read it, and doggone it if the creative team didn’t just make me tear up and feel for stupid Superboy Prime.

    I’m not gonna lie. I hope this is it for the character. And if it is, it’s a great way to go. The story was great! The art was great! Pleasantly surprised by the whole issue.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s official: I’m buying comics for the art now. Snyder and Johns each used to be a favorite, but I’ve cooled on both in recent years. And Superboy Prime…ugh. But I heard good reviews, and Ordway, Pelletier, and Manapul are all top-notch, so…

    …and I was very pleasantly surprised by the whole thing. The middle, cosmic hoo-hah section didn’t grab me too much (aside from when it slowed down for the Krypto scenes), but on the whole, the book was terrific. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was worried when you started, there, Rob. I’m glad you enjoyed it too. Superboy Prime can fade in our memories and we can remember the Superboy of Earth Prime.

    Now, watch Krypto go dark…

    Like

  4. This is the only Death Metal book that I got. I absolutely cannot stand The Batman Who Laughs, or whatever he’s called. Every time I see him on a cover or in an advertisement I automatically think “Judge Death rip-off” and having a huge, lengthy crossover revolving around a Batman who gets Jokerized and becomes the ultimate evil (or something) sounded really stupid and unnecessarily grimdark to me. I only got this issue because Jerry Ordway drew part of it, and I love his work, plus a few people gave it good reviews. It actually turned out to be an enjoyable story. I just wish DC would give Ordway a lot more work.

    Liked by 1 person

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