Superman: Birthright - Waid Diagrams The Path Of An Icon
Posted: Monday, May 26, 2003
By: Tim O'Shea
Mark Waid has a deep and abiding respect for Superman. He has a high opinion for the superhero genre in general, but there’s clearly a special place in his creative heart and mind for the Man of Steel. And starting this July, Waid, along with artists Leinil Yu and Gerry Alanguilan, embarks upon Superman: Birthright, a 12-issue re-examination of the icon’s formative years. This maxi-series also signals Waid’s return to the DC universe. Given the story’s content and the significance of the project to Waid, it struck us as a proper subject to interview him about.
Tim O’Shea: While Superman: Birthright is clearly Waid/Yu's reinterpretation of the icon, of the myriad interpretations that have gone before are there any in particular that you can point to and say, "I want to capture the modern day equivalent of that run." I know the 1979 movie, of course, is a fundamental source of inspiration for your career in general. But in terms of this project, are there other influences?
Mark Waid: Ideally, the best approach is to take the best of ALL eras, each of which had something to offer--and I don't mean just the comics. There are elements of the old radio show that still work, such as Superman being largely mistrusted at first. The WB cartoon series did great things with making Jor-El a man with a passion for his world. But beyond that--and only time will tell if we succeed or fail--the idea is to share with readers a unique, contemporary, forward-looking vision that OTHERS will want to capture. As I've said elsewhere, the original request from DC was to put myth first and continuity second. Is it an "elseworlds"? Was SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE? Was the WB cartoon? Was Superman's first "reboot" in 1945, when Superboy was retconned into the mythos? Ultimately, all that's important is whether or not he makes you believe a man can fly.
TO: Yu's artistic style is quite unique--what it is about his work that so clearly impresses and engages you?
MW: His characters are expressive and detailed, energetic and dynamic. Leinil is also, unlike some of his contemporaries, not afraid to draw things he's never drawn before and won't take the easy way out when confronted with challenging scenes.
TO: When collaborating with an artist of his talent, the creative process is clearly give and take. Are there certain scenes that you envisioned playing one way, that Yu helped you to see it should play in a different manner?
MW: Primarily, he's helped remind me that Clark Kent is a young man with a young voice. He's also given me the courage, with his excellent grasp of quiet moments, to curb the urge to get Superman into costume as fast as possible. Originally, I wanted that done by issue two; as it is, it's now issue four before we see Kal-El in the familiar red and blue (though not issue four before we see the familiar red and blue itself; make of THAT what you will).
TO: I think it's safe to say that this series would not have occurred without Dan Didio. What is it about Didio's approach to the DC universe and the creative process in general that won you back?
MW: Dan's greatest strength and probably his most attractive quality, as creative business types go, is that he's a Weeble. He wobbles, but he won't fall down. After years in the TV business, he's used to battling for what he believes in, and if he's convinced something will make for a good story, a good comic, or a better DC Comics, he'll fight for it. And if he can't win on the merits of his case, he'll win by wearing out the opposition with his unflagging enthusiasm. Certainly, without Dan as Birthright's champion, it probably wouldn't have happened. I'd been told before that I was welcome to do a Superman mini-series or one-shot, but when Dan came to the table and said, "rebuild from the ground up," that was a much larger--and much more exciting--challenge.
TO: Is fame/success in the comics world sometimes more a curse than a blessing? It seems more people are ready to nitpick the nature of your work because of who you are, and hold you to a higher standard than they would a typical writer.
MW: That, in its way, is a nice thing to say, and thank you. Honestly, every morning of my life, I feel a bottom-of-the-ocean level pressure every single second of every single day to top myself and outdo my previous script. I'm not kidding. But I don't know how to change that, and I wish I did. I could probably add five years to my life.
TO: Just as many creators and readers have a unique vision of Superman, what is your vision of Metropolis? What makes that city different than Gotham, Keystone City and other DC towns (other than they don't have Superman)?
MW: I think of Metropolis, even moreso than New York City, as the world's greatest melting pot of cultures. With that in mind, it should come as no shock that Superman, the ultimate immigrant, would gravitate towards it.
TO: Is there room in these 12 issues for Batman or other super guest stars to pop up?
MW: Nope. We're not denying the existence of other super-heroes, but it's Superman's story.
TO: That being said, you're a man with an abundance of ideas about the icon that is Superman. I assume there were some elements that could not fit into the 12 issues. Did anything end up on the "cutting room floor" so to speak?
MW: Yeah. At one point, everything. When I first put together an in-depth outline back in April of 2002, the entire plot of Birthright revolved around Kal-El's ship becoming sentient, speaking with the voice of Jor-El, and evolving into a villainous presence. True story. Luckily, at some point, I had the presence of mind to call Smallville's newest producer, Jeph Loeb, who couldn't tell me specifically what they WERE doing on Smallville in Season Two but COULD warn me what NOT to do. Talk about being put in a creative tailspin! Jesus. Fortunately, once Didio and others talked me off the ledge, I was able to come up with (as it always happens, of course--damn you, creative process!) a much better story, so it was a blessing in disguise. Y'know, except for how much I spent at the liquor store that month.
TO: Other than clearly Superman/Kent, who is the most important character to the story?
MW: Lex Luthor--in part because of the time he spent in Smallville as a younger man. (Surprise.) Perry White's turning out to be a key player, as well. He's actually asserting control over his scenes and writing himself. My hand to God, I was genuinely shocked when he turned Clark down for a job at the Planet.
TO: Will you have written Superman out of your system after this maxiseries? Or could you be persuaded to write him more (be it in one of the ongoing monthlies or could a regular series spin out of this maxi)?
MW: If this is successful and if it comes together, I could probably write about this Superman for a long, long time. But we'll just have to see how it goes. That decision's not in my hands yet.