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Don’t let your daughters play with dolls on railroad tracks – Superman: The Secret Years #3

May 12, 2010

Superman: The Secret Years was a rather forgettable series that came out shortly before the first Crisis wiped the Silver Age Superman from the books.  It dealt with the intermediate time between Superboy’s exploits in Smallville and his appearance as the full-fledged Superman in Metropolis.  Written by Bob Rozakis and pencilled by Curt Swan, the series mainly revolved around Clark and his college friends.

Issue #3 was the only one I had as a kid – in fact, the cover scan above is of my childhood copy.  This particular issue focused on Clark’s friendship with Billy Cramer, his roommate and best friend.  Billy knows that Clark is Superboy, or Super-Young-Adult or whatever the hell he is in The Secret Years, and Clark gives him a supersonic whistle so Billy can contact him if there’s trouble.  Lori Lemaris and Pete Ross show up too, but it’s the relationship with Billy that moves things along.  You see, Billy dies when Clark is off saving countless others from a giant tidal wave – Billy’s trapped in a burning building and blowing on the whistle but Supes opts to save the many instead of the few (I guess he watched The Wrath of Khan).  He eventually pulls Billy out of the flames, but too late to save the young guy’s life.

Even going through it today, this clunky morality play leaves me with that deadly “meh” feeling.  Something about it just doesn’t click.

The most memorable thing about this issue by far is the cover.  Frank Miller handled all the cover art duties for the series, and this particular image really caught my eye as a kid, even though I didn’t know Miller from Adam.  I remember not liking it – there was something about it that made me sort of recoil, but still I just couldn’t turn away.  Maybe it’s Supes looking so tired and beat down that put me off.  Maybe it’s his blue hair – I know blue is used in comics to “highlight” black, but it went a little over the line here.  It made him look old.  Or maybe it was just that Miller’s gritty, agressive art was a shock to a kid accustomed to the soft and elegant work of Curt Swan.  I’m not entirely sure.

Now that I’m older and not a whole lot wiser, I actually really like what Miller did.  He captures how exhausting it must be to carry the burden of being Superman.  Every second you rest, every moment you sit down to catch a breather, there’s someone out there that needs you.  And while Superboy/man doesn’t rescue a little girl in the issue like it’s depicted on the cover, the themes sync up quite nicely.  It’s hard to help everybody, and Clark at the end of the issue questions whether the powers he enjoys are worth the burdens that he must endure.

That’s by no means an original theme in the Superman mythos, but I still dig that cover.  Now it’s one of my favorite Superman images, period.

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