Tuesday, February 08, 2005

50 in 05: Superman: Birthright

#6: Superman: Birthright, by Mark Waid, Leinil Francis Yu and Gerry Alanguilan. Despite recent reading patterns, I am not a Superman fan. The Grant Morrison interview really got me thinking about him, so I've been doing a little reading to back up that interest. This book is a collection of a DC Comics mini-series that updates Superman's origin for, as Waid puts it, a 21st Century audience. If you're going to do superheroes, or any serialized characters, really) over a period of time that stretches over decades, you have to update their coming-out story every few years. That's why there will always be a new Tarzan movie/TV show as long as there is a Tarzan, and that's why John Byrne's redefining of Superman from the "Man of Steel" series of the mid-80's is being pushed aside in favor of Birthright.

Essentially, Birthright ties the comic book Superman into the version seen on "Smallville." Clark's parents resemble their television counterparts and Lex Luthor is Clark's childhood buddy again. Some of the details are tweaked, but the TV show is the thing that cements the early pages of this book. And that's fine--I don't have a problem with that part of how Birthright is told. What bothered me the most about the storytelling was a moment towards the end that was taken right out of both Spider-Man movies, when the crowd that had only recently been against Superman, come to his aid in spite of overwhelming odds. But more than that, now that I think about it, was that this was a 12-part series that really should have been told in six--it's the Marvel/Ellis "decompressed" method where you have a Superman comic where Superman doesn't show up until the third or fourth issue.

In Waid's notes at the end he alludes to wanting to modernize Superman, make him relevant to an audience that sees Superman on a level with Marmaduke, and not as a hero to be looked up to. But the only way to enjoy this comic is to already be familiar with Superman comics. The situations and circumstances in Birthright are simply reinterpretations of what has already been seen in other comics, on Smallville, and in the Richard Donner "Superman" motion picture. The only people who would enjoy Birthright are the folks who already like Superman, and want to see how their favorite bits are going to play out in this new interpretation.

As for the artwork, the lack of backgrounds was a distraction and the moment-to-moment action was hard to follow at times. Yu also employs a common trick these days in which certain panels (or specific figures in those panels) are copied-and-pasted for the sake of various effects. There are so many repeated figures or plain brown space on these pages that it's distracting.

I think my Superman fix has been met for the time being--I'll check back with the character once Morrison and Quitely's All-Star series is up and running.

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