Comic Book Review: SUPERMAN BIRTHRIGHT (2003)
Let’s not get into the multiple iterations of Superman’s origin story as told by multiple Authors through out time! Because let’s face it, they are all awesome in their own ways. However, I find SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT by Mark Waid, to be the definitive Superman Origin story. This is Superman’s YEAR ONE story.
BIRTHRIGHT is a 12 issue series that gives us yet another alternative take on the origins of the Man Of Steel. Unlike the other Superman comic book I reviewed, I won’t do an issue-by-issue break down of this, as that was an anthology in a way of Superman’s best adventures, whereas BIRTHRIGHT is a cohesive story that follows issue to issue.
We start off by seeing Jor-el and Lara on Krypton, putting their, soon to be famous baby, in a pod to escape the destruction of Krypton. (None of this is spoilers, as EVERYONE knows the origins of Superman… and if you don’t… what’s wrong with you!?) Everything else plays out, as we know it. Baby Supes lands in Kansas, to be adopted by the loving Kents who, unable to have a child of their own, adopt him.
What sets BIRTHRIGHT apart, similar to Batman’s Origins, in that it gives us a Clark Kent who’s seen the world. Not the bumbling, moronic Clark, who goes off to Metropolis, becomes a Journalist then Superman. No… this book changes some key elements of his Origin. Giving the character deeper motivations to become the legend we know.
The Clark Kent we meet in BIRTHRIGHT is a travelling journalist, who has seen the world, is confident and had a clear distinction between right and wrong. He experiences the brutal unjust and immoral way of the world, which is what eventually becomes the reasons that he chooses to don the famous primary colors and become who he does.
A lot of Superman’s glaring questions are also touched upon in BIRTHRIGHT. Why should people trust this stranger? Does his being of another world matter and change the way people perceive him? Why is he one of the only Superheroes not to wear a mask!?
Mark Waid is able to touch upon a variety of themes relating to the Superman story and provide in depth detailed motivations for the key players. Even Lex Luthor is humanized and the reasons behind his being Superman’s greatest enemy is expanded upon. The fact that the greatest enemies, started off, as friends is mind-boggling when put into the context of the decades long Superman mythos.
Even the relationship between the Kents and their adopted Son Clark is fleshed out. How Clark’s reasons to defend Earth are tightly tied into the morals and ethics instilled in him by his parents. The way they support and believe in him through thick and thin. Even how the Kents help Clark with his alter ego is amazing.
The biggest thing that BIRTHRIGHT puts forth that other origins stories fail to expand upon is the dual identity of Clark Kent and Superman. We finally see the reasoning behind how just putting on glasses changes a man between mild-mannered and iconic. It’s the biggest thing that bugs everyone about Superman. “The dude just takes off his glasses, slicks his hair back and becomes Superman and no one can tell the difference? That’s just dumb.” There’s more to it.
As Waid shows, the alter ago is never Superman which Clark becomes by ripping his shirt apart. Clark Kent, the bumbling, nervous and awkward man… is the disguise that Superman dons to keep people from knowing who he truly is. Clark Kent’s original persona is that of Superman. The mild mannered reporter, is the mask. The details and painstaking methods that Clark has to go through in everyday life, to make himself stand completely apart from Superman is innovative and brilliant.
The artwork of BIRTHRIGHT by Leinil Francis Yu is revolutionary. His crisp lines and almost abstract placement of characters and scenery make the book supremely artistic. Especially when he’s given splash pages or action panels, Yu creates art, in the true sense of the word.
BIRTHRIGHT has the same effect on Superman’s origins, that Frank Miller’s YEAR ONE has on Batman’s origin. It humanizes the Superman story and gives us more detailed look into Clark’s motivations for wanting to BE Superman. And it’s not as simple as ‘doing the right thing’.
The first Issues that establish Clark as an emotional, ambition driven man experiencing the world as the grassroots level, enhances the Superman story that much more. For all these reasons, SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT to me is the definitive Superman Origin Story.