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Superman: Birthright #10
writer: Mark Waid
artists: Leinil F. Yu and Gerry Alanguilan

Oh, cripes. If Hollywood had any idea what it was doing with the Superman franchise, the powers that be would drop-kick McG and turn a screenwriter loose on the storyline laid out here. (It would be too much to hope that Waid himself would get the assignment.) Birthright isn't just retelling the early days of Superman for a new (and old) audience, it's firmly positioning The Last Son of Krypton as the first among heroes in a way that nobody has really made click in the modern age.

It helps that no other heroes have been involved. This story is about Superman and his supporting cast alone. Thank goodness, because it always gets a little sticky to have people worried about this alien when you've had the Martian Manhunter running around for decades. (Granted, J'onn J'onnz has most likely been in disguise for most of his time on Earth, but still…)

If you severely condense the first four issues or so, you have the outline for a great movie. Waid has re-introduced and to some extent redefined every character you think you know without necessarily jettisoning all their continuity baggage.

The character most toyed with, perhaps, is Lex Luthor, and yet all Waid has done is stripped him to the core while picking and choosing from all the different Luthors the media has given us. As in Smallville and pre-Crisis, Lex and Clark were friends in their youth. But losing his hair was not the thing that drove him into what we consider evil; at his heart, Luthor's tragic flaw is an arrogance and loneliness that prevents him from connecting with humanity. Though on some level he may realize he just wants to be loved (is that so wrong?), Luthor cannot see that he has made himself unlovable. Charming, perhaps, in the right situation, but unlovable.

And so that flaw spurs him on to trying to dominate humanity, which would have succeeded financially if not for that meddling Kryptonian.

Luthor has done the only logical thing: faked an invasion from Krypton. In a cool tweak to the origin, Waid has also made Luthor the one privy to Superman's origins, not Superman himself. Over in Superman/Batman, Jeph Loeb used a similar invasion scheme, but that was more for bombastic action and an excuse to reintroduce Supergirl; here, Waid uses it to highlight characterization and the forging of a hero.

Until this invasion, Superman has had setbacks. But this, even though he knows it cannot be real, shakes his fledgling confidence. (And what a magnificent third act it makes.) Some of the Planet staffers don't know which way to side, but the public has made up its mind: Superman is against us. Waid has shown it bubbling for a couple of issues now, and it explodes here. Clark Kent hides while changing to Superman, not just because his identity must remain secret. The way Yu and Alanguilan stage it, there's clearly a strange element of shame to the whole thing.

Their art continues to be incredible. Let me not say "forget about Jim Lee," but really, this team should pose a threat to Lee's dominance. They have subtly aged Clark Kent over these past ten issues, and as artists really know how to act the emotion of Waid's scenes.

If that's not enough, the last three pages of this book should stand as iconic representations of the character. There's a palpable shift from Clark to Superman, so good you can hear the horns playing John Williams' theme in the background.

Oh, please, Warner Brothers - read this book. More importantly, understand it. If it means Mark Waid has to start billing himself as McWaid, so be it. Birthright is what Superman is all about.


Derek McCaw

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