I’ve read countless think pieces and listened to innumerable podcasts all offering the same perennial complaint of superhero movies – both brand new franchises and reboots alike – giving too great a focus to the hero’s origin story. The Amazing Spider-man, Batman Begins, Dawn of Justice, Man of Steel, and most of the Marvel movies (among others) have all been subject to scrutiny over such. The argument is that audiences are so familiar with these modern myths either through previous portrayals on the silver screen or merely through cultural osmosis that showing the Waynes being gunned down or Krypton exploding yet again is redundant, cutting into the runtime and the real plot.
Trinity #4 (DC Comics)
I’ve never quite understood this inability to recognize the origin not as a separate story but rather the first act of the overall story, essential to understanding not merely how the hero got his powers, but to who he is as a character, what motivates him, the state of the world he lives in, and his relationship to the villain. Return of the Jedi would make little sense without seeing Luke take his “first steps into a larger world” in the original Star Wars. And as the recent Rogue One has proved, even the origin story can have its own origin story, not only compelling in its own right but better serving to set-up the main story through the added context.
And what is this current season of the year but an annual revisit to the most widely known origin story of all? Particularly pious Christians place so much emphasis on keeping Christmas about the birth of Christ specifically because elements of the narrative such as the Virgin Birth and the Gifts of the Magi are essential to establishing the character’s identity as God-incarnate and the King of Kings later on in the narrative of Jesus’ life.
Complain as many might, origin stories are essential and – often time – of exceedingly high quality. There’s a reason why Rogue One and the original Star Wars are the best by far of the eight films. There’s a reason why, more so than even Easter, the Nativity is the most popular biblical narrative to adapt. And there’s a reason why American Alien was the best comic book series of 2016 (mostly because Max Landis is an exceptional story teller, but also because the origin story for a character like Superman is such a terrific template to work with).
Given these views on origins as essential and engaging, I find no fault in Francis Manapul dedicating three of the first four issues of Trinity to retelling the origins of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, among the most well-known and familiar stories in the western world today, even among the general populace, let alone the core comic fans whom this series is aimed at. There is not a single reader being introduced to Joe Chill’s crime or Themyscira’s games for the first time. And yet, in revisiting such, the reader is not merely learning about the characters of Bruce and Diana, but learning Manapul’s unique take on them. Because who they are in the series going forward will in some small part be defined by their seventy-five year histories, but for the most part will be defined by the specific elements Manapul is here showing he’s selected to work with.
It made a huge narrative and thematic difference that Krypton in Man of Steel was destroyed by over-drilling, whereas in Donner’s version it was non-anthropogenic causes. Likewise, exegetical theologians often emphasize the differences in each Biblical book; whereas most modern Christians harmonize in their minds (and churches in their pageants) the holy family’s trek to Bethlehem as told in Luke with Matthew’s magi visiting there subsequently, exegetes explore how each evangelist’s inclusion of different events in the Nativity narrative inform the writers’ theological emphasis throughout the rest of their respective Gospels.
It will be interesting to do the same for Manapul’s take on the Trinity once the series has made more significant progress. I’d love to find that he’d emphasized certain aspects of these familiar origin stories in ways that later pay off in his characterization of Clark, Bruce, and Diana. Already its evident how his view of Superman differs from that of Alan Moore’s, and given all the attention and intention he’s poured into Trinity thus far, it’d be a challenge and a joy to squeeze out of the series all the meaning he’s put into each and every panel.
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