I was over at Anj's Supergirl blog the other day when he mentioned having bought one of the Secret Files & Origins specials DC put out from 1997-2010, and planned to post a page. I asked him to wait a week or so, in order to round up a quick crossover to mourn the series. You see, we old school comic nerds really loved The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe when it came out in 1982, as it was basically a bible of Marvel history with all the biographical and statistical data one could want to know about their favorite heroes and villains. Michael L. Fleisher had compiled more literal text-driven encyclopedias for Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in the 1970s, but comics are a visual medium. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, DC came up with their own monthly universal handbook, Who's Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe, which ran from 1984-1993. Marvel still puts out sporadic Handbook update mini-series, and even though there hasn't been a Who's Who's edition in nearly twenty years, there's still enough love remaining to warrant a new podcast series.
Secret Files & Origins, on the other hand, does not seem to inspire a lot of emotion in fandom. For double the cost of a standard comic, readers usually got a redundant full length lead comic story that re-canvased origins as familiar as Superman's and Batman's, or tried to insert some asinine bit of retroactive continuity in service to the "next big event" that would soon whimper out of the public consciousness. It was also a dumping ground for short filler material related to some fatiguing bit of minutia, often executed by "not ready for prime time" rookie talent or over-the-hill hacks. The main draw was of course the Who's Who style profile pages, which typically failed to satisfy fans of the original due to the rigid format, sparse text, and by simply being inserted as back matter in a quasi-annual.
There were of course exceptions. The very first one starred the JLA, and came out in the year that book exploded onto the comics scene as a surprise hit. The lead story, "Star-Seed", was a thrilling introduction to the team by the series' regular creators, firing on all cylinders. "A Day In The Life: Martian Manhunter" is one of the character's best short stories, and made a huge impression on new fans first introduced to him through JLA. Writer Mark Millar offered a faux magazine interview with J'Onn J'Onzz to go with the comics. Don Hillsman did swell illustrations of the Alien Atlas throughout the book that hit the internet hard, and still linger fifteen years later. The issue sold over 75,000 copies, and if the line had kept up that kind of quality and momentum, perhaps it would be better thought of today.
Thanks to JLA and its many ancillary books like the SF&O, Martian Manhunter received his own solo series in 1998. The profile above was by its main artist, Tom Mandrake, with text by Matt Brady. DCU Heroes Secret Files & Origins #1 sold a third as well as the first JLA one, and was a spotlight for lesser lights like Blue Beetle, Hitman, and Resurrection Man. I suppose it's a tribute to Lobo and the Alien Atlas that they were expected to anchor the book, though neither of their series lasted all that long after this came out. Still, while likely never to be all that fondly remembered, I believe Martian Manhunter fans owe a debt to Secret Files & Origins, so I hope you folks will take a moment to check out today's selection of profile pages and commentary from participating blogs...
Secret Files of the DC Blogosphere
- Aquaman @ The Aquaman Shrine
- The Atom @ Power of the Atom
- Doctor Fate @ Tower of Fate
- Firestorm @ Firestorm Fan
- Green Lantern @ The Indigo Tribe
- Hawkman @ Being Carter Hall
- Renee Montoya @ Who is the Question?
- Phantom Stranger @ I Am The Phantom Stranger
- Steel @ DC Bloodlines
- Suicide Squad @ Subject: Task Force X
- Supergirl @ Supergirl Comic Box Commentary
- Wonder Woman @ Diana Prince
- Zatanna @ Justice League Detroit