Sunday, October 3, 2010

JLA Secret Origins Is An Oversized Digest: A Big Bust

The Good: Useful information, Inexpensive
The Bad: Very simple, Almost pointless, Drastically varying artwork.
The Basics: JLA: Secret Origins is a very lame "coffee table comic book" which explains each of the main DC Comics character's origin stories and powers in a limited way.

As I continue my Wonder Woman Year, I keep finding peripheral volumes that pique my interest. When I saw Wonder Woman standing boldly on the cover of JLA: Secret Origins, beside Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Flash and the rest, I said, "I'll pick this up and give it a read-through!" I was further heartened by the fact that this oversized book (in page size, not content) had artwork by Alex Ross, who made Kingdom Come look distinctive. But I was soon in for a disappointment.

Secret Origins is a digest book wherein the main characters of the Justice League Of America have their origin stories told in two-pages each. Each character gets three to five hundred words in which their first story is explained. This allows readers who might have an interest in D.C. Comics' main superheroes to learn about the essential strengths of each character, as well as their alter-egos and essential story. These range from the familiar - Superman and Batman - to the obscure - Martian Manhunter and Plasticman.

The first-string characters like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, Hawkman, the Atom, Captain Marvel, and Plasticman all get two pages in monochromatic colors to explain how they became superheroes. So, for example, on a pair of predominantly brown pages, Queen Hippolyta explains how Diana and Wonder Woman were created. Similarly, on pages that are predominantly deep purple, the tale of Captain Marvel is revealed. The characters are revealed through their stories and then a single image of the superhero in full color.

There are also blurbs on how the Justice League of America was formed, as well as Adam Strange, Zatanna, Metamorpho, Elongated Man, the Phantom Stranger, Red Tornado and the Justice League satellite. The first-string heroes are also granted a two-page "cast photo" painting which is the centerpiece of the book. After that, writer Paul Dini and artist Alex Ross are interviewed by D.C. editors.

Secret Origins is a very limited, but useful reference material for comic book readers who do not want to have to go through the entire canon and history of the DC heroes. Knowing such things as how characters derive their power would have made reading some of the other graphic novels I've read of late much easier to follow.

That said, the twenty-four page oversized comic book/magazine is by no means a great work of literature or art. The writing is simple and lacks any real zest. Most of the interview in the back is spent advertising other Dini/Ross projects of the time. Secret Origins was intended to eliminate the need for backstory in their work JLA: Liberty And Justice and it seems like it does that just fine. The artwork is simple. While I understand the intent of the color washed pages for each hero, many of them look terrible, like the ones for the Atom and Plasticman. While the information for the Atom would have helped with another graphic novel I just read, none of the artwork screams; it just sits on the page looking limp. Outside the centerfold, the paintings are underwhelming and look more like painted thumbnail sketches as opposed to truly wonderful Alex Ross paintings.

It is also worth noting that this is not a story and even the artwork is considered non-canon as Hal Jordan's Green Lantern never worked with Wonder Woman in post-Crisis On Infinite Earths history. Sadly, there's not more to say about the book either; it is a flimsy oversized comic which is unimpressive in each and every way.

For other D.C. graphic novels, please check out my reviews of:
Wonder Woman The Circle
Batman: Knightfall Volume One: Broken Bat
Green Lantern: Agent Orange


For other book reviews, please click on over to my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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