Saturday, 17 August 2013

Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu Review

Wow, where do I start? The short review of this book is: Birthright is the ONLY Superman origin book you need to read, it’s the book Mark Waid was born to write, and it is a true literary masterpiece. 

That’s the short version. The longer version that will now follow will read like a firebrand preacher babbling on about the Saviour, etc. because reading this book and being an atheist, I had the same reaction and feelings that I imagine religious people do when they hear stories about Jesus or whoever their deity of choice is - that uplifting inspiration that inexplicably chokes you up and makes your heart beat stronger. Yeah, it’s Superman I’m talking about here guys, which might make some of you roll your eyes but he’s more real to me than any world religious figure.

I don’t want to scare any readers off though - if you’re not a devoted Superman fan, this book is hugely accessible and you’re going to have no trouble reading it. Hell, it’s basically written so that anyone wanting to read a Superman book can pick it up without knowing a damn thing about the guy and still getting a lot out of it! But if you love Superman - LOVE Superman - then this book will take pride of place on your bookshelves, to be taken down many times over the years and read again and again. 

Basically this is the Superman story we all know - the exodus from Krypton, landing in Kansas where the alien baby is adopted by childless farming couple Jonathan and Martha Kent, becoming Clark, realising his powers, moving to Metropolis, and becoming Superman. It’s the classic origin - but it goes deeper than that. Waid doesn’t simply go through the familiar motions with this character but explains WHY Kal/Clark becomes Superman. 

If you’re reading this after watching Man of Steel, there’s a lot here that’ll seem familiar to you - Jonathan telling Clark to hide his powers, that he’ll scare people if they know who he really is. There’s even some lines here that were used in the film like “you’re the answer to ‘are we alone in the universe?’”. However, unlike Man of Steel, Superman isn’t a murderous lunatic flinging his enemies into crowded city blocks with no thought to human life. 

Clark leaves high school and goes travelling from then on, spending the next few years traversing the globe, slowly earning credits for his degree in journalism while filing reports wherever he goes. He winds up in an African country where he’s reporting on a tribe that is looking for equal representation in the government run by another tribe, and without getting into particulars, learns why he must put his all of his natural abilities to use, that he can no longer hide, and that one man can make a difference - all this from an ordinary man fighting an insurmountable system. It’s a breathtaking and emotional opening to the book that’s perfectly suited to the story. 

From there we see the persona of Clark being developed to hide Kal’s true identity as Superman, we see a beautiful representation of Clark and Jonathan’s relationship in a highly charged emotional scene, Lois is superbly realised and has some fantastic zingers, Superman’s introduction in Metropolis is handled perfectly while Lex Luthor also takes a turn in the spotlight as Waid shows us why Lex became the way he did. He also writes the tragic friendship between Clark and Lex brilliantly. Great Caesar’s Ghost, there’s a lot to talk about! So I’ll stop there because otherwise this’ll go on forever, and just say this: 

Reading Superman: Birthright doesn’t just familiarise you with the talking points of Superman’s origins - Waid writes the character in such a way that you understand him totally. You know why he thinks the way he does, you know why he must be Superman, why he does what he does. It’s an origin story that goes beyond treading familiar territory and revitalises the character for a new generation while paying homage to the many creators, writers and artists that worked on the character, going right back to the teenagers who created the Man of Tomorrow, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. This is the old Superman and the new Superman in one flawless representation.

Leinil Yu’s art is great as always, Waid’s writing is perfect - there’s no other word for it, he’s leaving nothing in the tank on this one; Birthright, like I said at the start, is a masterpiece. It’s a truly brilliant comic with no mis-steps, a real emotional core, and a deep and profound understanding and respect of the character that is rarely seen with Superman. 

You’ll believe a man can fly - I sure do.

Superman Birthright

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