Review of Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid

8172Title: Superman: Birthright

Author: Mark Waid

Illustrator: Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan

Publisher: DC Comics

Format: Trade Paperback

Review:

I am a few weeks after seeing the disappointing Man of Steel movie and was looking to connect with a modern Superman that stays true to its nostalgic roots. Superman: Birthright is an origin story, that holds true to the Superman mythos that we know and love, but tells it through the eyes of modern technology.

 

Unlike Man of Steel, Birthright has a very short episode on the planet Krypton. Kal-El’s (Superman’s) parents are the only Kryptonians who make an appearance and they send their boy off in a prototype life pod while their planet is imminently about to explode. There is no mention of General Zod or the politics that inflict Krypton.

screen-capture-1The story of Superman on Earth begins with Clark intervening in a political revolt in Africa. For twenty-five years he has hidden his powers, but his emotional connections with the people there drive him to take action when their lives are in danger. He has not yet created the persona of Superman — nor of “Clark Kent.” I am making an important distinction here, because Superman is who he is first, donning bright red to draw attention to his abilities. Clark Kent — with a suit jacket, glasses, and a clumsy streak — is his disguise.

 

In a similar fashion to the movie, Birthright tells of Clark/Superman’s upbringing in flashbacks. I found this approach a little jarring in the movie, but it works well here. The Man of Steel only makes passing suggestions of Lex Luthor (company logos, for instance), but in Birthright, Superman’s arch-nemesis plays a prominent role. Through a series of vignettes, we see a young Clark Kent trying to befriend the outcast genius in Smallville, even bringing him home for dinner. There is great level of detail devoted to understanding Lex’s psyche and how he became evil, which really enriched the story. I will be curious if the second Man of Steel movie will incorporate Lex into Clark’s childhood.

screen-captureThe use of technology was probably the greatest strength of the graphic novel. Lex uses drones to attack the Daily Planet, Clark communicates with his parents using the internet, and he artfully has to dodge the satellites’ field of vision whenever he flies. My only qualm was with Lex using Kryptonite to develop a telescope that could see into the past. I know it is hard to make a case about suspension of disbelief when the story is about a flying man who shoots lasers from his eyes, but I found Lex’s abilities to adapt a meteorite to such extremes was a bit convenient. He gained knowledge of Krypton’s advanced technology, but frankly, he is genius enough to develop whatever he needs on his own.

I am a novice when it comes to Superman comics, but another interesting commonality I noticed was the meaning of the letter “S.” In both Man of Steel and Birthright, it is a Kryptonian sign that means hope. Waid has a way of sharing information like this matter-of-factly, which educates the reader without being intrusive. The movie, which perhaps was written for a younger audience, lingers on this detail in such an opaque manner that it becomes distracting.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Birthright and it was a suitable story to tell through the lens of the twenty-first century. There is nothing that truly raises the bar for Superman like Grant Morrison did with All Star Superman, but it is still an entertaining read that actually develops the characters rather than focusing merely on plot points and action. For this reason alone, Birthright far exceeds Man of Steel in its storytelling.

 

 

 

The Man of Steel’s Identity Crisis

man of steel

Warning: this review contains spoilers

Superman’s iconic “S” is one of the most recognizable symbols in pop culture. For decades, we have known it to stand for Superman, but in the new Man of Steel movie, we learn that it is not an English letter, but a Kryptonian symbol of hope. While this detail may seem trivial, or perhaps a novelty, it exemplifies the identity crisis that the Man of Steel suffers throughout the film.

Christopher Nolan, who directed the latest Dark Knight trilogy, comes back in The Man of Steel as a producer and co-writer. With suspicions of this movie setting up a future Justice League movie (in a similar fashion to Marvel’s The Avengers), I instantly became nervous how Superman’s character would be handled. The Dark Knight finds its roots primarily in Frank Miller’s pivotal comic, The Dark Knight Returns. (more…)

Review: All Star Superman #1 by Grant Morrison

Title: All Star Superman

Author: Grant Morrison

Illustrator: Frank Quitely

Rating: 

Publisher: DC Comics

Review:

I was unsure of what to expect when I first picked up this novel. After all, it is Superman, who to me often seems a little too invincible. Add to that the premise of the novel that Superman, in attempting to save a group of astronauts from being scorched by the sun, is overloaded with radiation, giving him magnified powers. Only Lex Luthor knows that secretly his cells are dying inside due to the overexposure.

What attracted me to the novel was Grant Morrison, who really is a brilliant writer. This is a fun series — Lois Lane gets super powers for a day; Superman is exposed to black Kryptonite, making him evil (and a little dim-witted); and as Clark Kent, has an opportunity to interview Lex Luthor in the penitentiary (that predictably goes awry).

Superman is still iconic in the novel, but is not the Christ-like savior depicted in most Superman scripts. His powers are not used to save the world in any point in the novel, but to win Lois’s affection and when turning evil, to attack Jimmy Olsen. I wasn’t particularly fond of the knightly contest with Atlas and Samson to win Lois (it seemed somewhat absurd and dated), but most of the story left a smile on my face.

Frank Quitely’s artwork is truly superb. With very few lines, the emotion of each character leaps out of the page. Lois is truly stunning. The depiction of Clark Kent is brilliant as well — his superhero physique hidden beneath his suit gives him an almost pudgy appearance.

Lex Luthor’s character is (as typical) a bit one-dimensional, focused solely on destroying Superman. He is not able to figure out that Clark Kent is Superman, even though he compares their builds and also notices that they have the same eyebrows. I suppose that just adds to the mythos that is Superman — even Lois Lane was flabbergasted to find out his true identity.

All Star Superman is a fun read for those who want a departure from gritty, dark comics, without being juvenile. I am excited to read the second volume to conclude the series.