Top positive review
19 people found this helpful
Let Him Never Forget. . .
on September 13, 2008
"People know now, it stands for courage. It stands for hope. It stands for SUPERMAN."
What makes the Man of Tomorrow take his stand? What goes through a young boy's mind that causes him to don tights and a cape and a big red "S" and stand up to fight for truth, justice, and the American way? These are questions that get asked when the real question is, "Why should we care about a man who cannot be hurt?"
These are the questions that Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu set out to answer in Superman: Birthright.
This book was the big effort from DC to bring the Man of Steel into the 21st century, and it was the job of the writer, artist, and the rest of the collaborators to accomplish this while keeping true to the spirit of the character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. A new view of a familiar origin was needed, a new perspective on characters that had been loved for over six decades, and Superman Birthright accomplishes all that and more.
We first see Superman as Kal El, infant son of Jor El and Lara during Krypton's last dying hours. The familiar elements are there - his parents will send him to earth where his Kryptonian biology will gain incredible powers from the radiation of Earth's yellow sun, but before he goes, he is wrapped in the Flag of Krypton and given a recordings of its history. This is where Waid and Yu really start to dig into the mythology and explore some new motivations. The "S" symbol is not just the El family crest, not just a sign on a blanket sent with the last son of Krypton to his new home - it is a reminder of his heritage, a symbol of his people and what they stood for, and something that Clark Kent will always carry with him.
When we first meet Clark, adopted son of John and Martha of Smallville Kansas, he's in the middle of tribal war that's broken out in Ghana, and trying not only to protect a charismatic civil rights leader, but also find his purpose in the world. Any time he tries to use his powers to help someone, he ends up distancing himself from people who fear his strength, his. . . difference. Clark has spent years traveling the world trying to find himself, and trying to find a connection to his otherworldly birthplace. When he decides to take on the identity of Superman, it is not only as a way of helping those in need and honoring the lessons his adopted parents taught him, but of honoring the memory of his native people.
This is what Birthright really plays up - what it means to be a symbol in a world where symbols are corrupted every day, what it meas to use power for good when power is only used for selfish corrupt means, and what it means to truly inspire people. These are ideas that Siegel and Schuster used when creating Superman, and they're called to the fore again to reinvigorate the character when cynicism and corruption are more pervasive than ever.
Of course, when Clark moves to Metropolis and starts displaying his awesome abilities, his alter-ego attracts the attention of Lex Luthor. Keeping the suave businessman version of the character, complete with a closet of dirty secrets, Birthright echoes TV's Smallville in that Luthor and Clark knew each other as kids back in Kansas. However, Birthright's Lex is a twisted bitter sociopath, alienated from a world he feels he has outpaced, and disgusted with the city's fascination with a muscle-bound alien. With various criminal schemes foiled by the Man of Steel, Luthor wages war against Superman for the trust of the city, playing on Metropolis' fears of a man with so much power and about him they know so little. This culminates in a climactic clash between Superman and a climactic "invasion" that tests our hero not just physically, but emotionally as well.
The classic standbys all play a part here - Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White at the Daily Planet (the last honest newspaper in the city), Ma and Pa Kent back home on the farm, and all stay true to the spirit of the characters that have been in comics for so long (even if Ma Kent is pretty computer savvy and has a thing for alien conspiracy web sits). But they all have their moment to shine, especially Lois, who defends the intentionally meek and quiet Clark against mocking coworkers and marvels at Superman - a man who shatters her preconceptions about what Prince Charming is really like.
All this is drawn in Yu's bold, thick strokes, and while the characters tend towards the more simplistic style favored in many comics today (a bit more John Romita Jr. than John Cassidy), they still have fine detail and incredible emotion on the page. And the colors, whether in the smaller "in between" panels or on the huge full-page action spreads (and there are some images so incredible that they will stick with you forever), pop out and shine with beautiful clarity.
Whether you're a long-time fan of Superman, or are looking for a good introduction to the Man of Tomorrow, Birthright is a great book. The Daily Planet may have a web page and digital cameras, but it's the same bastion of decency trying to report the truth to the world, where a mild-mannered reporter watches for signs of trouble. For anything that might be a job for Superman. Because it's his birthright, his legacy, his duty, both as a decent man in an indecent world, and as the last son of Krypton. And he will never forget.