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Birthright #3

"A Legacy Reborn"
A Review
September 5, 2003

Birthright #3 - click to ZOOM

As with the first two issues, I'm amazed at how Waid, Yu and the gang have recast the familiar into something fresh and invigorating.  Long-time Superman fans have witnessed literally dozens of scenarios (in comics books, movies and television) portraying the creation of the Superman identity, each with their own unique flavor and societal influences.  Yet, as many times as I've witnessed this familiar process, the collaboration shown in "A Legacy Reborn" was the most elegant, organic and authentic-feeling approach of them all.

The historical Kryptonian imagery, combined with the collaborative conversation between Martha and Clark, infused the development of the costume with a new sense of internal logic, where I found myself thinking "Of course!" as each element fell into place.  Adding to the richness of Clark "forging" his new identity (identities?) is the poignant background struggle of Jonathan Kent, as he tries to come to grips with not only Clark's mysterious "calling," but also with the very familiar anxieties of a father who fears he's lost his son's affection.

While I've resisted the popular sentiment of recent years that it's imperative we have a Superman with feet of clay, I found the somewhat flawed Jonathan Kent an interesting, almost daring, departure from the standard pair of Pa Kent archetypes: either the stoic, unflappable "Midwestern Moses" or the "Jumpin' Jehosephat"-spouting cornpone hick.  While not exactly mirroring the troubled, nightmare-haunted Pa Kent I enjoyed in Elliot S! Maggin's classic Miracle Monday novel, Birthright's Pa Kent exhibits a similar, more fully-rendered humanity.  He has fears balanced by tender memories, and anger balanced by repentance.  I suspect that Mark Waid will not dwell upon Jonathan's inner turmoil, since men typified by Jonathan Kent usually move on once they've spoken their mind, rather than nursing their anxieties for years to come.

It was also invigorating to see Martha Kent elevated beyond her traditional role of Seamstress and Baker of Pies.  While the father-son dynamic has been an often explored and discussed angle of the Superman mythos, comparatively little attention has been given to Superman's mother figures.  Knowing how important a mother's influence is in shaping a life, I appreciate seeing Martha do some of the "heavy lifting" when it comes to helping Clark through this crucial transition.

Through it all, as I noted with Birthright #2, despite the input from the Kents, Clark demonstrates that he is still very much "in the driver's seat" of this transition, reinforced by his determination to continue on this path even in the face of Pa Kent's agitation.

The smaller details of Birthright #3 were also appreciated.  Seeing various pieces of the Superman costume being assembled in the midst of casual conversation (a boot here, a belt buckle there) sparked the thrill of recognition and foreshadowed adventure, much like when you read of Aladdin as he first discovers the smudged oil lamp.  The visions of historical Krypton were breathtaking and powerfully absorbing. 

Like Clark and Martha, I also found myself "transported" into the scenes from Clark's image projector.  Unlike the rather effete Kryptonians of John Byrne's vision, these obviously more rugged Kryptonians have a brassy sort of toughness and a fire in their eyes.  Finally, smaller touches like Clark insisting people need to see his entire face as Superman in order to earn their trust, or how his glasses mute the dazzling color of his eyes, were pure gold.  Once again, bringing something new to something very old and familiar is the singular accomplishment of this exceptional mini-series.

Along with Mark Waid's writing, the artwork continues to amaze me.  Though the majority of the scenes simply showed people talking in front of a Midwestern backdrop (hardly the typical recipe for electrifying comic book imagery), the design and beauty of Yu's artwork kept me fully engaged all the way through.  His vision of Krypton dazzles me with its fresh, yet somewhat familiar design, while his younger, very Smallville-esque Jonathan and Martha Kent seem more and more "natural" with every issue.  The inking by Gerry Alanguilan and coloring by Dave McCaig simply cannot be over-emphasized.  The graceful ink line and sculptured dimension of the color add a defining beauty to the unique look and feel of this series.

As the first quarter of Birthright comes to a close, we've seen important foundations of Superman's beginnings put into place by inspired creators who all believe, like many of us do, that there's abundant life remaining in the Superman character.  Hats off for an outstanding start to a mini-series that has all the promise of achieving "classic" status.


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