Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Superman: The Secret Years #1

Superman: The Secret Years #1

Cover date: February 1985

"Dreams and Schemes and Feeling Proud!"

Writer: Bob Rozakis
Penciller: Curt Swan
Inker: Kurt Schaffenberger
Cover Artist: Frank Miller

Reviewed by: James Lantz

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"After graduation from Smallville High School and the death of Ma and Pa Kent, Clark Kent (and Superboy) moved to Metropolis to attend college. Little has been revealed about these times... until now." - Narration on page two's splash page.

Lex Luthor is on the ledge of the window of his room at the Soames Reform School in Smallville. Thinking Luthor wants to suicide, Mister Soames, the director, attempts to talk him out of it, only to discover that the delinquent genius is using flashlight batteries and bed springs attached to his feet to make an escape. Meanwhile, Superboy must save a passenger jetliner that is flying into hostile airspace. The aircraft is carrying many of his pals from Smallville and Metro University. Missiles from enemy planes have been fired. Superboy has stopped some of them, but has failed to save those he cares for as one strikes its target. An even greater shock arrives when the Boy of Tomorrow discovers that the pilots who fired on the ship are Jonathan and Martha Kent. They tell him that he couldn't save his friends any more than he could prevent the Kents from dying. Saying that Clark doesn't deserve to wear the Superboy costume, Jonathan rips the S off his chest. Clark screams and awakens dorm room-mate Tommy Lee. He had an intense nightmare. Young Kent writes details of his dream in his diary while watching The Late Late Show. As a drunk Ducky Ginsberg enters with a beer in his hand, a news bulletin broadcasts word of Lex Luthor's evasion of justice. It looks like Superboy may not get anymore sleep tonight thanks to Luthor.

Superboy's search for Lex bears no fruit. In spite of this, a lot is happening in the Boy of Steel's life. The next morning, a timid, odd young man from Smallville named Billy Cramer is looking for Clark. His parents used to shop in the Kents' General Store. Billy is even introduced to Ducky, who is drinking beer at 10:30 in the morning. After a rather shaky, unusual chat, Billy leaves. Superboy then picks up Luthor's trail later that night at an electronics store in which the young criminal genius had robbed. However, before he can follow up on his search, the Last Son of Krypton must fly a drunk Ducky and his car around the city to prevent serious accidents from happening. Ducky is unimpressed with Superboy's heat vision burning open his beer cans. The lad is equally angry that the young Caped Wonder doesn't take kindly to his imbibing, something that has caused him to have bad grades, lose his ex-girlfriend Amy and no longer have the respect of his parents. Can Ducky realize he has a problem, or will even Superboy be unable to save him from becoming an alcoholic?

It's been a week since Lex Luthor broke into the electronics store to steal items. Clark Kent is lost in his thoughts about this when he encounters Billy Cramer. Once again, the lad seems aloof and barely says anything. Yet, Clark seems to think that Billy reminds him of himself. Later that afternoon, an inter-dorm football game is taking place. Clark's team is losing sixty-three to nothing with two minutes left to play. Steve Power, a big bruiser who hates to lose, is helping the other squad win while plowing into the opposition. Clark is chosen to take over when one player is injured. He outruns Power to dodge him while eventually scoring Dorm B's only touchdown. In spite of losing, Clark and his friends celebrate. This does not sit well with Steve Power. He's sworn to make the mild mannered student pay for making him look foolish. Clark Kent has now officially made a new enemy.

Metropolis Police Inspector Bill Henderson has called Superboy to help with a case. A total of forty-eight thousand dollars is missing from the vaults of nine different branches of the Metro Bank. At first, President Mister Drysdale thought it was a glitch in the new computer system, but the money is no longer physically there. Each depository's machines are connected to the city telephone lines. Upon learning this, Superboy monitors incoming calls and follows electric impulses to Lex Luthor's lair. Once the young criminal genius makes his next withdrawal of funds, the Boy of Steel grabs Luthor. However, this time he won't be returning to Soames Reform School. Lex is now twenty-one, and he'll be spending time in a prison cell for his crimes thanks to Superboy.

It's Parents' Visiting Day at Metro University. This leaves Clark feeling depressed as Ma and Pa Kent are dead. As he is about to leave the dorm, Billy and his parents Fred and Alice drop by for a visit. Clark is taken aback by the fact that Billy has been writing letters saying that they do a lot of things together. This is simply not true. Yet, Clark covers Billy's stories. Later, Clark has flown to Smallville to see his parents' graves. Lewis Lang, Lana's father, thinks he sees the mild mannered student, but Clark has just voyaged back in time to relive memories of his parents from the year before he went to college. Possibly to prevent paradoxes, Superboy is just a phantom when he revisits his own past. His temporal trip only makes the Boy of Tomorrow miss his folks more. He has now returned to the present to find Ducky has been drinking and driving again. Had he arrived sooner, Superboy could have prevented the accident that has occurred. Ducky's car has hit a tree. Worse yet, his legs are crushed. Ducky Ginsberg may spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, and he may never walk again.

3Story - 3: While there some things I do like about this comic, there is a lot wrong with it. Plus, Ducky's alcoholism is dealt with in a rather ham fisted manner that would only work in one of those old after-school specials. It could be a case of me just being a bit too picky, but I did, quite frankly, expect more from the first issue of Superman: The Secret Years.

Much like the recent Doctor Who Christmas special, Superman: The Secret Years #1 feels like various plot threads were thrown together in a manner that is rather scattershot. Perhaps Bob Rozakis' strength lies in shorter back-up stories because I kept getting the impression much of what I read was meant for several of those. So far, this mini-series would have functioned better as a series of shorter tales and/or a prestige format series along the lines of Superman For All Seasons. (I'll explain my reasons for the latter shortly.) Twenty-three pages just is the wrong length for Rozakis' writing style at this point in this title.

One of my biggest problems with Superman: The Secret Years #1 is that most of it feels like it should be in the second or third issue. I was unfamiliar with characters like Tommy and Ducky, and I wished for more than closing text piece with a passing reference to their appearances in previous Superman related comic books. In this way, a prestige format mini or maxi-series could have worked for Superman: The Secret Years. Those who haven't read Superman #125 and other issues could have been given a lot more information in flashbacks or the like. As it is now, Superman: The Secret Years #1 is not very reader friendly.

Clark Kent's diary really bothers me. Remember Ma Kent's scrapbook from the early days of John Byrne's Post-Crisis run? It fell into the wrong hands and eventually helped Batman figure out that Clark was Superman. It's really poor judgement on Clark's part to have a diary. Then again, it was even poorer of him to go along with Billy's lies. It seems out of character for the Boy of Steel even he did want to help someone out.

In spite of the flaws in Superman: The Secret Years #1, there are things that are fun and bring back memories of the Pre-Crisis Superman. There are tributes to the George Reeves television series mixed in with elements that would later inspire the 1988-1992 Superboy TV show. It may have slipshod storytelling, but it's still worth looking over.

4Art - 4: The art is the saving grace of this issue. Combined with the splendid colors, it gives the first issue of Superman: The Secret Years a classic look that works perfectly with the Pre-Crisis Man of Steel. Frankly, I wish more visuals looked like Curt Swan's. My only problem was with Billy's mother. She looks heavily medicated in her introduction to Clark in the last three panels of page twenty. Aside from that, the images are amazing.

2Cover Art - 2: As much as I like Frank Miller's work on Batman, Daredevil and Wolverine, I really am not a big fan of this cover. I honestly cannot say if it's the art or coloring that feels off to me, but it just seems to me like DC merely used Miller to sell books instead of caring about how the image is presented. It just looks downright strange.

Pre-Crisis Superman Comic Book Reviews



  • Superman #76 (May/June 1952) - “The Mightiest Team in the World”
  • Superman #80 (January/February 1953) - “Superman's Lost Brother”
  • Superman 3D (1953) - “The Man Who Stole the Sun”, “Origin of Superman” and “The Man Who Bossed Superman”
  • Superman #87 (February 1954) - “The Prankster's Greatest Role”
  • Superman #88 (March 1954) - “The Terrible Trio”
  • Superman #89 (May 1954) - “Captain Kent the Terrible”, “Superman of Skid Row”, and “One Hour to Doom!”
  • Superman #91 (August 1954) - “The Superman Stamp” and “Great Caesar's Ghost”
  • World's Finest #88 (May/June 1957) - “Superman and Batman's Greatest Foes”
  • Superman #115 (August 1957) - “The Midget Superman!”
  • Superboy #65 (May/June 1958) - “The Amazing Adventures of Krypto Mouse”
  • Action Comics #242 (July 1958) - “The Super-Duel in Space”
  • Superman #123 (August 1958) - “The Girl of Steel”
  • Superman #127 (February 1959) - “Titano the Super Ape”
  • Action Comics #252 (May 1959) - “The Menace of Metallo” and “The Supergirl From Krypton”
  • Superman #129 (May 1959) - “The Girl in Superman's Past”
  • Superman #130 (July 1959) - “The Curse of Kryptonite!”, “The Super-Servant of Crime!”, and “The Town that Hated Superman!”
  • Jimmy Olsen #40 (October 1959) - “Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl's Pal”




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