Sunday, August 13, 2006

The library came through for me again. This gets more and more important as unemployed time stretches on and on and on.
Anyway, I picked up Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid in beautiful soft-covered graphic novel format.
First published in 2003, this series is a clear attempt to not only refresh the origin story but also to bridge the gap between the well-known Justice League version of Superman and the insanely popular WB Smallville version.
The Superman Returns movie earlier this summer showed through the audience demographic that the movie version of Superman hasn't changed with the times enough to speak to younger audiences.
Anybody over thirty is able to associate Superman with a more simple time.
Anyone younger has grown up in a much more frightening post 9-11 world.
Birthright starts with the destruction of Krypton as any self-respecting Superman origin story should. Unlike in the movie, the "S" is not a family crest but is a global symbol of peace and unification. Kal-El is draped in a flag instead of a baby blanket.
A tablet PC looking device (which is a birthday gift intended for Jor-El) chronicles the history of Krypton and is thrust last minute into the escape rocket.
Further, Earth is selected because of the energy given from the young yellow sun and because the gravity is .03% of Krypton's standard gravity.
So --
After that scene, the comic immediately shifts to freelance investigative reporter Clark Kent. Clark is in Africa interviewing a tribal leader who is trying to make life better for his people.
Touched by this leader's extraordinary strength and sacrifice, Clark returns to Kansas to talk to his mom about superhero-ing part-time.
The Kents are also slightly different and I like the changes. Upstanding if plain Kansas farm people is about as far as it ever got before, but in this version their role is slightly more.
In addition to providing Superman with his sense of right and wrong and hard work and decency, they also help him with his search for who he is.
In the same way that the parents of Olympic gymnasts become experts in judging standards and parents of autistic children become experts in child development -- Martha Kent (screen name "Area52") has become an expert on UFO's.
She helps him create his costume from the flag of Krypton.
"But these bright colors? People will see you coming from a mile away. And no mask?" she asks the questions all good geeks ask from time to time.
"No, Mom. No mask. People have to trust me. You can't trust someone you don't see coming and you can't trust someone in a mask."
So, she helps disguise the six-pack abs and advises him to slouch more as Clark.
Jonathan Kent contributes the glasses.
After reaching Metropolis, he has a run in with Lex Luthor. There is a flashback to the year Lex spent in Smallville as a classmate of Clark.
Lois is Lois.
Another update is that there are a LOT of references to the online edition of the Daily Planet.
Further, Clark chats a lot with "Area52". His screen name (and lately mine) is "MildMannered".
The tone is darker, overall. Superman will never be Batman gritty, but he shouldn't be. The dirt and grime of society can be reflected in the story without having to change who Superman is.
In once scene that struck me, Superman catches a criminal who held a little girl at gun point. He takes the criminal's gun and points it at him.
"You held this gun to the head of a nine-year-old girl. That feeling will never leave her." and he fires the gun, point blank, into the criminal's face.
In the next frame, we see that Superman has caught the bullet in his hand. As he drops it he says, "and now it will never leave you, either."
I think the emphasis is drawn a lot from the classic description "disguised as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent . . ." The key seems to be that Superman is who he is. Clark Kent is the disguise. He spends a lot of time coping with his never fitting in, to the point that the Clark Kent persona becomes that background guy at the office. The guy who gets forgotten. The guy who no one can remember attending the Christmas party but who was probably there.
For the record, Birthright is the second attempt at a series reset for Superman. I liked it a lot.
I'll also check out John Byrne's 1986 The Man of Steel.

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