We grade a new take on DC Comics' classic superhero, which details how he came to be

Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis
(Monthly; issue Nos. 29-31 are on sale now)

What’s the best kind of superhero story? It isn’t the kind that’s packed with muscular derring-do that transpires at the moment our bespandexed champion has seemingly reached his breaking point. Nor is it the type that culminates in a tightly choreographed ballet of fisticuffs with his meta-human playmates as they beat down an intergalactic thug. No, the real payoff often comes much earlier, in an origin story. This is where an ordinary schmo discovers he’s been imbued with something special and — holy moly! — decides to take his new powers out for a test drive. And it’s that gesture of aw-shucks wonder that brings us to Geoff Johns’ latest Green Lantern tale, Secret Origin.

If you haven’t been keeping up, the author (Infinite Crisis) is something of a DC brainiac, with a hefty chunk of his output typically steeped in the nuances of any given superhero universe: its folklore; its loopholes; you know, its geeky minutiae. But perhaps the daedal plot-weavings of Sinestro Corp War (his recent, well-received bid at recharging interest in the Green Lantern comics franchise) has actually stoked Johns’ interest in revisiting the title character back in simpler times.

Secret Origin begins with the rebellious antics of the chosen one, Hal Jordan. The son of an airplane pilot killed on the job, he’s an air-force jock with a Top Gun-ish cockiness (like testing the fortitude of a jet by pushing its mach-speed until it literally explodes) that gets him demoted to lowly mechanic. But, hey, apparently that mix of chutzpah and brawn makes for a quality Green Lantern! Which is why the ailing Abin Sur, a member of the Green Lantern Corps, seeks out the earthling simply to hand down his piece of magical bling. Like other mythic rings, this one is special: Able-minded candidates (yes, there are many around the universe) who wear a power ring that’s charged by a Green Lantern can pretty much summon any object, force field, etc., within the limits of his or her imagination…as long as it’s not messing with anything that’s, curiously, yellow.

So after navigating through some token familial melodrama (Mom doesn’t like his hobby of choice because it killed dad), Jordan takes flight. He bounds through the sky and rescues a plummeting jet; he playfully peeves Green Lantern Corps instructors with his boot-camp tomfoolery; he grandstands in front of a foxy lady. The good times, alas, must come to an end — because no superhero is truly complete without a supervillain foil: And here, our bright-eyed upstart is poised to meet a storied foe who enters the fold to stomp out all his fun.

FOR FANS OF… DC Comics, who are looking for a breezy primer on the Green Lantern; Silver Age Green Lantern; ’80s Tom Cruise movies in which he plays one of those young dudes who’s brash, and yet filled with promise.

DOES IT DELIVER? Mindful of his comics forefathers, Johns retells this story sometimes too reverentially: Hal Jordan’s rambunctious exploits are duly noted, but in this day and age, they feel more clichéd than intriguingly ballsy (c’mon, even Road House turned out more compelling barroom-brawl scenes). And much of the fairly sluggish first issue is hampered by familial melodrama and pedestrian narration like, ”When your worst fear happens in front of your eyes…. I thought there was nothing left to be afraid of.” Ivan Reis (Action Comics), meanwhile, does well to bring energy to the mix with quick-cut artwork that’s often saturated in glowing-green warmth. His efforts pay off once the inherently thrilling Green Lantern mythos is a go amid issue 2, and Johns finally lets the timeless action do the talking — by reveling in, say, Jordan’s first superhero flight. And even though there’s no time like his real first time, this here turns out to be a pleasant, serviceable substitute. B