08 April 2011

Book 14 of 2011

This sat on my shelf for quite awhile. I started it a few times but always got distracted by something else. This weekend, I finally took some time to not just read it but really soak in the entire story.

Superman: Birthright

14) Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu
Waid and Yu take on the not-so-enviable task of retelling Superman's origin for the millionth time while updating it for a modern audience. The story clicks so well because the common complaint most people make when Superman comes up is that he's not relatable, and here Waid and Yu make him so.

Over the weekend, I read the Superman 2000 proposal for the first time. Back in 1998, writers Mark Waid, Grant Morrison, and Mark Millar, along with editor Tom Peyer, submitted a 21 page proposal in an effort to usher in a new era for the Man of Steel. Much of the 1990's saw Superman become increasingly marginalized in his own series of books: stories tended to focus on Clark Kent, Lois Lane and the Daily Planet and Metropolis supporting cast instead of the far more interesting idea of a powerful alien that can fly and shoot lasers out of his eyes. The group wished to make Superman larger than life, increasing his power, re-introducing the love triangle between him, Lois and Clark, and shifting Lex Luthor from evil businessman back to scary mad scientist. Unfortunately, DC got cold feet and rejected the proposal.

It wasn't until a few years later that Waid and Morrison got their own shot at writing the Man of Steel, while Millar has yet to tackle him beyond an Elseworlds tale or two. Morrison is responsible for All Star Superman, a twelve issue series that serves as a beautiful send-off and final story, where here Waid writes a terrific origin that streamlines the beginning of Clark Kent's rise to becoming Superman without seeming like it's trying to do that.

The proposal also details how the writers would approach the idea of continuity and how to make all of the past stories "fit" with the rest of the DC universe and the recent past of Superman comics. There's a great line where instead of using the tired trope of a "cosmic reset button" as DC has been wont to do before, they decide to adopt a policy of "include and transcend." It's that policy that makes both All Star Superman and Birthright work. There are so many wacky, awesome, situations that can only happen in comics things that Superman has been known for that writers abandoned throughout the late 80s until the early 2000s in favor of gritty, dark, "realistic" approaches to the characters that comics stopped feeling fun. Meanwhile, both Marvel and DC wonder why kids have stopped reading comics despite the fact that their properties are actually more popular than they've ever been.

Birthright realizes Superman as the person Ma and Pa Kent raised. Sure he thinks of himself as Clark Kent underneath it all and during those first 18 years of his life before he goes out to explore the world on his own, but Superman is who he is, a man with the desire to be as good as his immense power allows him to be. While the overall story demonstrates how lonely being Superman is, there are several little nuances that get to the heart of what it must feel like to be him. His vision allows him to see into all sorts of different spectrums, including the aura each living thing gives off that disappears when they die. As a corollary to that idea, Superman is a vegetarian. And I just love that because it makes so much sense. How could a guy that works to save as many living beings as he possibly can ever slaughter one for food when it's possible that he doesn't even need food?

This is a great collection and worth anyone's time who has a passing fascination with the Man of Tomorrow because, ultimately, Superman represents all that is good and decent about humanity, and who wouldn't want to experience that?

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