Saturday, February 14, 2009

Exfanding Review: Superman: Birthright

Let me say this right now: I am not, and never shall be, a Superman fan. Anybody who's ever played through a video game using an invincibility cheat code knows that, while being indestructible might be fun for a while, the game ultimately becomes rather dull because there's no challenge. And whenever a little green rock shuts off Superman's God mode, he's a pansy. And if I wanted to read a story about a pansy, I'd go back and look through my middle school memoirs.

It doesn't help that I don't really care about the other main characters. As far as I've seen, Jimmy Olsen is just a dude, and Lois Lane really isn't my type. And, limited as my Superman exposure has been, the only Superman villain I've ever seen is Lex Luthor, who is just a dude. Okay, so I've seen a single cameo by Brainiac, but there were so many other superheroes there at the time that he very well could have been a Green Lantern villain for all I knew.

Superman: Birthright coverAnd, on a personal level, Superman's just not that interesting to me. I don't mind "perfect" characters who don't really have any flaws, but I've never picked up any personality vibes from Superman other than the HERO vibe, which is the vibe I get from most superHEROES anyhow. Based on what I've seen, Superman is--after taking away all of his powers--just a dude.

Despite all this, I still decided to give Superman a try. I chose Superman: Birthright, which is a retelling of Superman's origin story with a hefty dose of Smallville.

starts off with the obligatory scene of two desperate parents on the collapsing planet Krypton in which they strap their baby to a rocket and launch him into space for safekeeping. Fast-forward to that infant, now Clark Kent, as a young man who's trying to juggle being a hero with keeping his powers secret amidst a particluarly volatile ethnic conflict in West Africa.

From there, Birthright goes on to establish how Clark Kent first ended up at the Daily Planet, how he first met the alliterative likes of Lois Lane and Lex Luthor, how he decided on that bright blue costume, and how putting on glasses clearly makes him someone other than Superman.

There's plenty of action, of course, but one of Birthright's greatest strengths is how it develops the characters and their relationships. We see Clark's parents as actual parents who have undergone the joys and hardships of having an unstoppable alien for a son. We see Lois Lane as a tough-talking woman with a passion for her work. We see Lex Luthor not so much as a villain but as an extraordinary man whose life circumstances have twisted him to seek whatever he wants through any means necessary.

Superman: Birthright sample page of Superman confronting Lex LuthorHeck, I was rooting for Lex Luthor half the time. Birthright makes him out to be a pretty awesome and complex character, and so much more than just a dude.

Jimmy Olsen, however, is still just a dude.

So Birthright does pretty well in the story department, at least as far as the characters go. It hasn't radically changed my view of Superman, but I at least appreciate the key players a little bit more, and it certainly has inspired me to become a criminal mastermind like Lex Luthor when I grow up. He's my new hero.

It's the art that's really hit or miss with me. Most of the time, the art is quite good, and there are certainly pages and panels that really capture the sheer power of Superman, but I have issues with the way the faces are often drawn. They often look... unnatural. And I'm really not fond of the sort-of-futuristic-but-not-really costumes of the Kryptonians, but that could just be me. The "S" that Superman wears is the symbol of his people, but it just looks strange with the Kryptonians. Like if the sickle on the flag of the USSR were paired with the Arm & Hammer baking soda logo.

Other than that, the artwork looks great.

What I'm getting at here is that Superman: Birthright is a safe bet if you're looking to get into Superman comics, or if you're looking for a fresh take on Supes' origin story. You might not like everything about the story, and you might not like everything about the art, but it's good enough overall for the guy who dislikes Superman to say he kinda liked it, so that should count for something.

Superman: Birthright sample page of Clark Kent flying


Scott said...

Superman is also vulnerable to magic.

Check out Kingdom Come if you haven't already.

Anonymous said...

Superman also needs solar energy to recharge / regenerate. Complete cloud cover (such as in The Dark Knight Returns) or being on a planet too far away from the right kind of star (Maelstrom) will akin him to a DK mine cart without fuel barrels.

- Shannon

Flashman85 said...

I knew about the solar energy bit, but not about the magic or right kind of star bits.

Just goes to show that even in God mode there are sometimes things that can kill you (I.e. falling down a bottomless pit--gets me all the time.)

Still, he's too invincible for my tastes. If they changed around Batman so that he could only be harmed by, say, the sound of a sonic boom, being too high above sea level, voodoo dolls, and moldy fish sticks, I'd complain about him, too.

Oh, and Shannon, you meant those track-guided platforms, not mine carts, right? Unless you've found a secret level that I'm not aware of...

Scott said...

Kryptonite, non-yellow stars, no sunlight, magic, stupefying moral dilemmas... and apparently intelligence.

Batman has taken out Superman before.

PS, whyisn't Batman bin Suparman a poll option? :P

Scott said...

One more thought -- "magic" is a pretty broad category, especially considering the range of DC villains out there. Solomon Grundy is a classic Batman villain, but can hurt Superman, IIRC.

Before you go naming ridiculous vulnerabilities, consider the Green Lantern, who was once vulnerable to only... yellow objects.

Flashman85 said...

Hey, I'm just going off of what I've seen and heard of Superman thus far. And I've read very little Green Lantern, so I can't speak for him yet.

What I'm getting at is that heroes that have a very limited number of vulnerabilities, no matter what they may be, tend to bother me. Villains I'm more okay with, but not so much with the heroes.