Secret Origins (#50, 1990) – Various

3 out of 5

A lot of clunky tales that are nonetheless told in good spirit – and with some amazing art.

We kick off with a retelling of Dick Grayson’s parents’ deaths in a text tale by Dennis O’Neil. The new spin here (Secret Origins, as I understand it, was intended to focus on what its title suggests – filling in back stories or giving us extra details on established ones) is that Dick had some background on Batman as an urban legend, prior to their first meeting, and also had some fortune teller hoodoo warn him of the tragedy that would occur… Dennis’ text is well-written, but also kind of pointless, not doing much to dress up these new details in any special way. George Perez provides spot illustrations, which are fantastic… but don’t really tie in to the story, so this really comes across as a filler piece.

Flash of Two Worlds finds Grant Morrison… retelling this classic tale, although framed by a journal entry from a youngster who was at the magic show where things kicked off (i.e. where Barry Allen senses the existence of a disappeared Keystone City, triggering his meet-up with Jay Garrick and their takedown of some classic foes). The silver age premise leans in to Grant’s appreciation for comic book history and revisiting this is fun, but the frame is, again, kind of clunky. However, once we wrap around to why the frame was employed, it’s cheap, but a good gag.

Elliot S. Maggin has Johnny Thunder confess his gunman persona to his father – who thought he was just “John Tane,” teacher. Fantastic artwork by Alan Weiss makes Thunder’s rough and tumble with some cowboys pretty exciting, but there’s plenty of clunk present again, via excessive flashbacks of, like, twenty different characters, filling in Thunder’s and his father’s history.

Richard Bruning fills us in on the wacky origin of Dolphin – she breathes underwater, folks! While this is one of those characters that was probably prime for Secret Origins, existing on the fringes without much explanation, her background is pretty goofy and fun, and Bruning manages to give it a nice emotional, human grounding via Chris Landau, a sailor who’s been searching for her.

Alan Brennert is the star of the show: his Black Canary tale, in which Dinah thinks back to her upbringing as she sits by her mother’s bedside in the hospital, at her passing, is one of the most mature and adult things I’ve read in a DC / Marvel book in… forever. It makes its characters human; it makes the weird collision with super powers and spandex figures feel possible. Joe Staton provides amazing artwork.

We close out on some clunk, though, bookending SO #50 with its worst offerings: the origin of the Space Museum, by Gerard Jones and Carmine Infantino, has a kind of silver age kooky tone to it, which is fun, but just a dash more context could’ve helped this out. Like, it’s not really clear why we care about this museum, unless you’re a reader who’s aware of its appearances in old Strange Adventures books, and so the kitschy vibe bounces back and forth between being cute and just sort of… bland.