Mild Mannered Reviews - Specials
Superman: Birthright #10Scheduled to arrive in stores: May 5, 2004
Cover date: July 2004
Writer: Mark Waid
Penciller: Leinil F Yu
Inker: Gerry Alanguilan
Reviewed by: Neal Bailey
Behind a cell phone billboard, Clark Kent regards the monstrocity tearing apart the city, a giant robotic spider (Reviewer's note: Yes, a giant metal spider). It's Kryptonian seeming in origin.
The police, seeing Superman attack the giant spider, open fire on Superman.
In the Daily Planet, Lois steals Perry's phone and downloads an image of the spider on the computer so that Perry can see it. Perry stops asking for his phone.
Superman downs the spider, and soldiers dressed in Kryptonian garb depart from the spider.
In Kryptonian they say:
"Ready Phantom Zone cannons!"
"On my mark, open fire!"
And then, when they start pouring out, they shout:
In the Lexcorp Towers (which appear to still be being built, but somehow in the B13 style...) Lex Luthor tells his staff to go home, that he may have a way to stop the Kryptonian invasion, but he needs silence.
He presses a button, and Superman goes wonky from a greenish emanation from the Lexcorp Towers.
Superman falls, and the police open fire on him. He gets hit in the shoulder, then ducks around the corner.
Seconds later, Clark Kent appears next to Lois with the police, looking for Superman, bleeding from exactly the same place Superman was shot. They all scratch their head and wonder where Superman went.
Clark walks down streets that have looting going on, and ignores the looting.
At the Daily Planet, Perry yells at him for missing the story, and puts him on a time clock.
Mr. Galloway, the publisher, bullies Clark into writing an article about Lexcorp and how they are coping with the crisis.
Clark chats with his parents, who encourage him to come home.
Clark empties his desk, and tries to leave. Lois tells him to stop being a spineless worm, and then tosses his stuff in the garbage when he walks off.
Van-Gar, the supreme leader of the Kryptonian fleet, tells everyone that they're now under Kryptonian rule, and thanks to their advance scout (Superman) the invasion is well in hand. Remember our symbol, they say, burning a giant Superman S into the ground.
Clark, flying off, takes off his Kent disguise and flies back to the city saying, "Like Hell."
Story - 1: I've been very fair to this series so far. Very fair.
I've pointed out the duality of the fact that we don't need another origin for Superman right now, we don't need a retcon, we don't need a CONFUSING ret-con, and we certainly don't need paradoxes.
But I'd always qualify that with, "But hey, the writing is good, and the story is interesting, so let's take it for what it is, give Waid a chance". This is because I underestimated "Superman: Metropolis", and it turned out to be the best series of last year, at least for me, even beating "Superman/Batman #1-6", which is tough.
But with "Superman: Metropolis", it was getting to a point by around issue 6, even though it took a while. "Birthright" is to issue 10 of 12, and NOTHING about the supposed revamp has changed Superman, save where Lex came from, which did NOT need changing in THIS continuity, at least, not without preparation. You can't just say, "Boom! Lex is a woman!" because Mark Waid said so and have it make sense. Concurrently, Lex can't be a millionaire businessman who killed his parents for insurance money and grew up poor one minute, then POOF, he's a guy who was always rich and a mad scientist, to boot. I mean, you can, but it's just odd.
But that's all stuff I've said before. Let's talk this issue, and how it relates to the overall story.
What is the overall story so far? Well, Superman grew up in approximately the same time period of Smallville (the TV show) but somehow, he's had all of his adventures he's had since 1985. Or just the ones people remember. Or...well, no one on the editorial staff seems to care, as long as the story is MODERN!
And this story just SCREAMS modern. It doesn't scream well thought-out, but it does scream modern. Everyone has a cell phone and a computer. It's the year 2000! Problem? Well, let's get to them, but let's face the first, worst, and obvious one right here.
Lex Luthor's L Tower became the tower it is in this book through the B13 tech. Now, it's that way as he's BUILDING it, without the tech, and it's post 2000 when it's constructed for the first time. And hey, the B13 tech came into being when? 2000. It was a Y2K virus.
What the heck were they thinking?
Now, there's that, that's the thing which bugged me the most, but then, there's always the giant spider.
If anyone has ever seen An Evening of Questions and Answers with Kevin Smith, a good show, I'll say, he's asked questions about writing the Superman movie, our woe begotten project of dreams, being fanboys.
He talked to Barry Sonnefeld I think it was (sorry if that's the wrong guy, but basically, the guy in charge of the show), and they were discussing the production of the Superman movie, and the director was very excited and gung-ho to make Superman his own. He said, "It's gonna be totally new, modern, different! Superman's gonna just have this...HOMICIDAL look in his eyes, and we'll have him fight a giant spider!" And then they don't get the movie because they can't get Nick Cage or whatever to play Superman, and then the guy goes on to make Wild Wild West and get his giant spider.
The moral of the story? When you have good intentions, but you don't pay attention to what you're doing, you may have something that LOOKS neat, but when you look at it critically, it's a pile of, well, crap. Like Wild Wild West, like Superman would have been fighting a retarded giant metal spider, and...
Wait a second! Superman DOES fight a giant metal spider, doesn't he? And where?
Yes, that's right, this issue.
The irony does not escape me.
We have a story that is supposed to be the definitive new story of Superman, and what's it been? Two issues of set-up in Africa that doesn't really make much sense save in the most cursory of "here's where the costume came from" senses, which really isn't better than the Byrne take, and then the "Hello, Metropolis" scene, which also needed no changing.
What it seems, at least to me, is that they wanted to make Metropolis new and hip (like it bloody well wasn't already, who cares), and Lex more like Smallville Lex. Well, okay, you did it. Why do we need all of these issues to do it?
But oh, you say, there's the Kryptonian armada! Well, hmmmm... hate to give you a spoiler (and I haven't been told this, I'm just, you know, guessing) but I'm betting it's Lex Luthor automating some people to smear Superman. If it isn't, if there really is an invading Krypton armada, we're in bigger trouble than retconning continuity if Krypton didn't really blow up.
Now look at it as it occurred to me. There are many ideas of a Superman movie being bandied about, many. But what were the worst ones, ever, for the whole history of the beleaguered project?
A giant spider.
Giant polar bears.
Beyonce Knowles as Lois Lane.
A gay Jimmy Olsen.
Superman dying onscreen for about ten minutes, then returning to life, to parrot the death of storyline.
Well, let's see. We don't have the really stupid stuff, but WE DO HAVE THE BIG METAL SPIDER AND KRYPTON SURVIVING!
Is this a collaboration of some of the worst ideas for the Superman movie? Well, there's also the leader of the surviving Krypton that Superman has to fight (that was in a draft of the script, apparently). That sounds a lot like Van-Gar.
And that's just my overarching criticism of the series as established so far (I won't remark on the last two issues, but after this decidedly down turn, I will say I don't have much hope.)
Now, after all that, I hit on the stuff that's inconsistent or just nuts about this issue.
This issue screams modern, and it tries too hard. You know, there's nothing cooler than Superman behind a cell phone billboard, right? No. But nonetheless, he spends the whole first page (after the spider was already revealed last issue) to prepare to see the massive spider in a massive splash. Ah, cell phones. Phooey.
And then he attacks this spider which has torn apart downtown, right, and it doesn't even dent Superman. Superman tears it apart with his bare hands. Talk about a waste of time, talk about anticipation wasted. It doesn't even have eye lasers. It's a big red metal spider full of fake Kryptonians. Yawn.
So then he's beating the crap out of this spider, right, and though the police can see this, they shoot at Superman. Let's see, folks. You play the cop, and I'll play devil's advocate to character motivation.
Look! Up in the sky! A giant metal spider, and that Superman guy we don't trust. But wait! Superman's tearing the heck out of the spider that's just torn half the city apart!
Okay, sarge, what do we do?
OPEN FIRE ON THE BIG SPIDER! (NOT SUPERMAN!)
But nonetheless, they fire on Superman. Crap.
And hey, what modernizes Superman more than making him curse, right? Either that, or making him homicidal or angry all the time, or acting like a teenager?
Cursing Superman! Twice in THIS ISSUE! I stand against it on principal. I'm a cursing man, I am. I curse, curse, curse. But I am NOT Superman. Superman is a boy scout, a mild mannered, aw shucks nice guy. He doesn't cure. It seems like every issue he's "Dammit!" this and "Crap!" that and "Like hell!". Now, that's okay from Batman. Batman's, well, Batman. This is Superman. He can't tell a lie, he won't sacrifice a life, he rescues cats from trees, and he DOES NOT CURSE. He's like that annoying guy who never has to curse because he comes up with other words. He tries to do what his momma taught him, not what you or I might do. So it irks me when in this issue he says, "Damn it, I'm not the enemy!" Because A) That's bloody obvious, and thusly the writer shouldn't have written the cops shooting at Supes, and B) Supes does NOT curse. Well, at least, he shouldn't, and he has quite often since Berganza took over the main books.
I'm sure he calls it letting the artists run, and there's a lot to be said for that, but that's why you hold the leash, man. Steve, my editor, he saves me from saying things I'll regret, that's Eddie's job, too. Making Superman curse because it makes him more hip with the youth is like having an actor playing Christ in a crucifixion passion play turn to the crowd and say, "Damn, man! These nails HURT!"
It's funny. It's probably hip. But it's not Jesus, either.
And in a sense, it's not funny to people who take Jesus and Superman rather seriously.
Then we emphasize MORE how modern "Birthright" is by having picture cell phones, which have only been around for the last two, three years at most. So that sets "Birthright", and thus the entire Superman universe, post 2001. Great going. So B13 happened and yet did not happen.
CRAP! (See, told you I curse.)
CRAP CRAP CRAP! (Ah, I did it again. Sorry. I'm violently angry with this storyline's stupid ret-con).
Okay, so Superman beat the giant spider, and then Lex Luthor projects a web across the entire city that takes away Superman's powers and makes him vulnerable to gunshot wounds. But still capable of super-speed.
I'll take this one slow, because there are a lot of ways to flay it.
First, if Lex Luthor, long ago and far away (though less than three years ago, take your pick), before all of the events of the last 15 years of comics, had a weapon that would take away Superman's powers and leave him vulnerable to gunshot wounds, then I have a few questions.
1) Why didn't he just invite Superman up to his office, turn it on, then blow his brains out?
2) Where has that weapon been for the last 15 years of continuity, and why did he never try to use it again?
3) Why broadcast it from the Lexcorp Tower, where Superman would be able to trace it? Lex is more careful than that.
Now, assuming you can get by this...
The Kryptonians indicate that this is a Phantom Zone cannon. Why in the WORLD does the Phantom Zone effect Superman like Kryptonite? To quote Superman:
I don't agree with the article on our main page from TIME magazine suggesting Superman is boring. But if I had to write that article, I'd say the reason Superman is having problems is instead of telling stories, we are focusing on CONVOLUTING AND RET-CONNING him so much we forget to have fun with the hero.
Superman is NOT hard to write. He's hard to write in a very brief space (meaning, in one comic) but he is fun and easy to write. I couldn't say that before, but now I've written a few Superman scripts of my own, I feel fairly confident that they are fun and worthwhile, and they're not that tough. They take time, care, and they take a knowledge of what has come before, but they do not need the touch of Neal Bailey, the new thing that only I provide. Same goes for Mark Waid. And, to a degree, Eddie Berganza. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't kill the guy, change his costume, shake it up. I like that kind of stuff. But making things incoherent, convoluted?
Forgive me, but
STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT! You are RUINING the chances of the new teams and turning long-time readers off.
FIX the DEBACLE that is BIRTHRIGHT.
A reimagination of the Batman myth that suggested that he never had a Robin would make no sense, no matter how well written, nor does a Superman story that essentially renders moot every story since 1986 and every other Superman related tie in the DC Universe unless it fits within this narrow 12 issue series' origin point.
So, continuing with the craziness of the Phantom Zone cannon, assume that the cannon works as it seems to (which is nonsense). Superman crashes to the ground, the cops open fire.
The cops open fire after Superman STOPS the giant spider single handedly, despite the cops shooting at him. Hey, Mark Waid? This isn't the Marvel Universe. In Marvel, they shoot at Spidey even after he saves the day, I'll concede. But as "Avengers/JLA" pointed out, in this universe, the heroes are just that. Heroes. And revered. Cops do not shoot at Superman after he saves the city.
Assume you buy the preposterous Phantom Zone cannon with Kryptonite effects. Also assume you buy the cops shooting. Then Clark somehow moves faster than a speeding bullet (bullets) and ducks down an alley (after having his powers stripped) at super speed, changes into Clark, then ends up standing behind Lois. Uh, but wait. He has no powers, right, because he got shot? But I guess he still has super speed.
WHAT the HELL?
Cut to Lex in his Tower, acting Lex like, perhaps, but then when he hangs up on his secretary, engages in a cheesy, "NYAH!" type monologue a cheap hood would engage in. "Chaos? Check. Destruction? Check. Mwu ha ha ha ha ha!"
Lex is supposed to be a misunderstood anti-hero, and one of the only things I respected this series for was that they made Lex into a guy who wasn't deep down evil, just misunderstood. And as I understand it, the motivation of Lex is not really to cause chaos, but to rule the world well. He believes that Superman will try to rule the world with tyranny, so he wants to take Superman out. Lex may use tyrannical means to institute his rule, but he doesn't revel in evil. Note the conscience he shows when he decides not to annihilate Metropolis in the Fall of Metropolis series, the compassion he has for Lois when he finds out Clark is Superman, the way that though he won the Presidency, he didn't try to out and out kill Superman until he threatened his own power.
He doesn't go "Nyah" in his office and sow chaos for chaos' sake. He creates objectives and goes after them, like destroying Superman, ruling the world...
I don't know. I might be reading too much into that one, but it's easy after all the other stuff above.
So Clark gets shot, magically escapes the police, and then what does he do?
Well, there's looting, the city is destroyed, people are fighting in the streets, there's an invading Krypton armada, and what does Clark do?
He walks the streets and checks stuff out. Watches the looters, goes to the Daily Planet to file a story.
He's been shot in the shoulder, he may or may not still have his powers, the city is in shambles, and he walks to the Daily Planet.
This is the biggest load of crap I've seen since...since...since the STEEL movie with Shaq! Since...since I was a kid and saw cheerleaders hammer dancing to Walt Disney's Hi-Ho! Superman does NOT walk around when people are in chaos, even when he has no powers!
Remember the time he lost his powers and he saw someone being robbed a few years back (I'm guessing 5-7 years ago), and he basically put on his suit anyway and walked to where he could get his powers back, and along the way, he saw some guys robbing someone? He picked up a rock and he threw it at the guys, then told them it was a warning of what would really happen if he were to get mad, because he's Superman, and he protects those in trouble. The goons run off.
I'm not saying something as creative as that. I'm saying that even CLARK KENT, seeing massive scale looting, would turn to the people and say, "HEY! THAT STUFF BELONGS TO SOMEONE!"
It's out of character, and it's very Spider-Man as well. The "I don't want to be a hero any more..." crap that is NOT a mainstay of Superman.
Spider-Man quits every few years. Superman goes toe to toe with The Elite, even when he's losing, and he goes down with the ship.
Who the heck is Mr. Galloway, and why the heck do we need another publisher for the Daily Planet, when Franklin Stern did all right? Or is Franklin Stern just no longer in existence? Or is the Daily Planet even still a physical paper?
Lots of questions, thusfar, NO answers.
Clark's parents then urge him to come home. Clark's parents would not do that. They know their son has powers, they know he lives in Metropolis now. Pa Kent would turn to his boy and say, "Son...the people need you. Tough up."
And then Clark's solution to being bullied by Galloway. Quit again. Run away from the Daily Planet.
Okay. But then Van-Gar makes a flaming S in the ground, and suddenly the situation changes enough to spark Superman's motivation?
And he has his powers back, somehow?
Once more, with impunity, as only a fanboy can say it:
Art - 2: It was epic in scope, the spider was interesting looking, Van-Gar has a bit to him, but everything is a bit dark. I don't like a dark Superman. I don't like a Neanderthal Superman. I also don't like how angry everyone looks in this universe, as if it sucks to live in the City of Tomorrow. It's a joy, it's a pleasure, it's a privilege.
A few too many unnecessary splashes, but I'm guessing that it doesn't help that the story was so immeasurably bad that it rubs off on the art. Sorry for that.
Cover Art - 3: It's neat to see a skeleton Superman, but it has nothing to do with the issue at hand. Nothing at all. I don't have any clue what this is supposed to symbolically represent. Maybe an effect of the Phantom Zone gun? Well, not really.
The logo is still sharp, I like it. And there is a really good color quality here, I like the tone it sets.
The image is detailed, it's the best part of the cover, but it's also irrelevant to the story at hand, and that takes from a cover a great deal for me unless it's just an astonishingly good cover or perhaps, a special occasion, like an anniversary or a crossover where the cover artists don't know what the story will be.
Mild Mannered Reviews
2004Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.
- Action Comics #809
- Adventures of Superman #622
- Superman #199
- Superman/Batman #4
- Superman: Birthright #5
- Superman: Metropolis #10
- Superman: The Kansas Sighting #1
- JLA #90
- Justice League Adventures #25
- Superman/Batman: Generations III #11
- Superman/Thundercats #1
- Smallville #5
- Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity #3
- JLA/Avengers #3
- JLA-Z #3
- Action Comics #810
- Adventures of Superman #623
- Superman #200
- Superman/Batman #5
- Superman: Metropolis #11
- Superman: The Kansas Sighting #2
- JLA #91
- Justice League Adventures #26
- Superman/Batman: Generations III #12
- Action Comics #811
- Adventures of Superman #624
- Superman #201
- Superman/Batman #6
- Superman: Birthright #6
- Superman: Metropolis #12
- JLA #92
- Justice League Adventures #27
- Smallville #6
- Superman: Secret Identity #1
- Action Comics #812
- Adventures of Superman #625
- Superman #202
- Superman/Batman #7
- Superman: Birthright #7
- JLA #93
- Justice League Adventures #28
- Superman: Secret Identity #2
- Action Comics #813
- Adventures of Superman #626
- Superman #203
- Superman/Batman #8
- Superman: Birthright #8
- JLA #94
- JLA #95
- Justice League Adventures #29
- Smallville #7
- Superman: Secret Identity #3
- JLA/Avengers #4
- Action Comics #814
- Adventures of Superman #627
- Superman #204
- Superman/Batman #9
- Superman: Birthright #9
- JLA #96
- JLA #97
- Justice League Adventures #30
- Superman: Secret Identity #4
- It’s a Bird [Vertigo] (Hardcover)
- Action Comics #815
- Adventures of Superman #628
- Superman #205
- Superman/Batman #10
- Superman: Birthright #10
- JLA #98
- JLA #99
- Justice League Adventures #31
- Smallville #8
- Justice League of America: Another Nail #1
- Action Comics #816
- Adventures of Superman #629
- Superman #206
- Superman: Secret Files and Origins 2004
- Superman: Birthright #11
- JLA #100
- Identity Crisis #1
- Justice League Adventures #32
- Justice League of America: Another Nail #2
- Action Comics #817
- Adventures of Superman #630
- Superman #207
- Superman/Batman #11
- Superman: Birthright #12
- JLA #101
- JLA #102
- Justice League Elite #1
- Identity Crisis #2
- Justice League Adventures #33
- Smallville #9
- Justice League of America: Another Nail #3
- Action Comics #818
- Adventures of Superman #631
- Superman #208
- DC Comics Presents: Superman #1
- Majestic #1
- JLA #103
- JLA #104
- DC Comics Presents: Justice League of America #1
- Justice League Elite #2
- Identity Crisis #3
- Justice League Adventures #34
- Action Comics #819
- Adventures of Superman #632
- Superman #209
- Superman/Batman #12
- Majestic #2
- JLA #105
- JLA #106
- Justice League Elite #3
- JLA: Secret Files and Origins 2004
- Identity Crisis #4
- Justice League Unlimited #1
- Smallville #10
- Action Comics #820
- Adventures of Superman #633
- Superman #210
- Superman/Batman #13
- Majestic #3
- JLA #107
- Justice League Elite #4
- Identity Crisis #5
- Justice League Unlimited #2
- Superman: True Brit
Back to the Mild Mannered Reviews contents page.
Check out the Comic Index Lists for the complete list of Superman-related comics published in 2004.