“A story that takes the concept of the secret identity and uses it as a metaphor for our own inner selves, the part of us that most of the world doesn’t get to see, that we share with few others across a lifetime.” – Kurt Busiek’s own description from the forward.
(Note: This was written and shared on Goodreads when I first read the comic in 2013. My opinions stand on reread and am sharing it here for the first time)
Superman was never a character that really called out to me. For “normal” superhero adventures a neigh-invulnerable man never interested me much. But the potential for more was always there, and when creators really embrace the problems someone with super powers WOULD have I find the results are quite spectacular. One such story was For All Seasons, in which Loeb and Sale examine the insecurities a normal farm boy would face when he grew up to be more than normal. For years it was easily my favorite Superman story…
Until Busiek and Immonen produced a tale of a Clark Kent that READ those stories along with me. SI’s Clark is a boy in the real world, who’s been taunted all his life due to his parents’ unfortunate sense of humor and the decision to name him after Superman. His concerns are school, bullies and the girl he likes. Then the unthinkable happens, and Clark finds his both choices and troubles multiplied a hundredfold.
The greatest fiction gives readers something to relate to. Suspension of disbelief becomes easier if the reader cares about what’s happening. Secret Identity, in line with Busiek’s lofty goal from the above quote, shares the journey of a man with extraordinary powers, but worries and problems common to us all. It’s remarkable how genuine and real it all feels given it stars a boy who can fly. We know how Clark feels. We’ve been there in some way. The shared emotion pulls us in and makes us really care about what happens to Clark.
Stuart Immonen’s art is an incredibly vital piece of this accomplishment. The subdued color palette and softer character designs enhance the desired atmosphere of Clark’s world being our own, and the intricacies of Busiek’s nuanced layers to the story would be lost without Immonen’s excellent facial expressions and detail work to convey tone and meaning.
Secret Identity is one of the most resonant comic stories I’ve ever read, and instantly one of my favorites.