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Superman: Birthright #8

Superman: Birthright #8

Scheduled to arrive in stores: March 3, 2004

Cover date: May 2004

Writer: Mark Waid
Penciller: Leinil F Yu
Inker: Gerry Alanguilan

Neal Bailey Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

Beginning reviewer's note: This issue's review may be biased, because I do think Leinil has the coolest last names of anyone I've ever seen.

The issue starts with Clark and his father on a cliff overlooking Smallville, noting that where they're standing is where Luthor's mansion used to be. Apparently after the accident, Lex had it taken apart.

Flashback to Clark growing up, with Lex Luthor in a class with Clark. The teacher touches on deductive logic, and a student fails to answer a question, so Lex jumps up and blames the teacher, telling her that she's not making the subject interesting. He makes several Moriarty-esque and scathing deductions of logic towards several members of the class, then rams it home by poking fun at the teacher, who makes him stay after class, and Clark as well for trying to take the heat off Lex.

Clark then recalls how Lex studied physics and offered the mayor a revised plan on city government, which the mayor quickly discards. Lex begins feeling more ostracized, and like he can't relate to anyone. Clark understands.

Later, at a football game, water boy Clark tries to ask Lana out for the homecoming dance, but she's too busy paying attention to the game to hear him. Clark hears something strange, and with his X-Ray vision sees Lex giving probabilities for plays to the opposition coach, helping them to win their first game in many years.

Clark finds him later and tells him not to do it again.

Clark finds that Lex's parents were distant from him, encouraging him to make money with his intellect and little else. Clark comes to visit, and Lex's father slams the door on him.

Later, after a long time apart, Lex speaks with Clark, showing off what appears to be a metal detector. Clark asks what it is, and Lex tells him it's an Extra-terrestrial matter detector, but since it's going off on Clark, it must be a failure. He slams it into pieces and leaves it with Clark, crying over his failure because he worked on the piece for months.

Clark throws it into space.

Lex becomes more and more withdrawn, and Clark decides to go and see him after a substantial period of time. He brings his telescope, knowing they had good times with it previously.

Lex lets him in after a bit of dubious conversation and shows Clark his machine for contacting a long lost alien civilization through time and space. Lex opens the power source, and reveals a shard of Kryptonite, causing Clark to shrink back.

Lex thinks Clark is reacting to Lex, and in paranoia kicks him out of the laboratory, telling Clark that he doesn't know him any more, that he (Lex) will be the only good thing to ever come out of Smallville.

He fires up the machine, and sure enough sees Kryptonians. His eyes widen, and then the EM field breaches, blowing his house to cinders and killing his father. Lex's hair disappears into fire as well, and a destroyed Lex emerges from the ruins blaming Smallville and vowing to be the only good thing to come out of it.

Pa consoles Clark, telling him that Lex had to choose his own path in life.

Later, at the Daily Planet, Jimmy points out a headline to Clark, who looks at it in astonishment. There is a picture of a fleet of spaceships with the S Superman symbol on them in Earth's orbit, ready to attack with an army of Supermen.

5Story - 5: Okay. This is a good story. It is. I'll review it on two levels.

The simple level. As a story, it's great. The writing is impeccable, clean, interesting, well done, strong, etcetera. I love seeing Lex in his prime, in fact, we don't see enough of it, and I love seeing a bad guy who's actually justified in some of his anger, which is rare. Being the kid who was always picked on and beat up for being a bookworm, lord help me, I identify, even sympathize with Lex Luthor.

I'm a fan of logic in an age when people would rather be emotional.

I'm into learning for the sake of learning, one thing at a time (this year it's the internal combustion engine, last year it was construction and building houses, and ongoing, it's writing and reading).

So a story where he is right and wrong, beaten and successful, it pulls at my strings, and I love to see it, love to read it. For this, I grant my five.

For what I can discern of its motivations, I have to offer a one.

I've read and heard a lot about this series. One of the things which continues to come up is that the reason it was written was for new readers. It's because so many people think that the Silver Age Superman is the one that we're reading, so it's strange for them when we find out that Lex Luthor wasn't in Smallville, that there isn't Kryptonite all over the place, that Lois and Clark are married, they step back, go "huh?" and never pick up an issue again.

This, using deductive logic, per Lex, is counter-exampled with me. You know Quint, right? He says a certain phrase in Jaws.

Y'all know me.

At least, most of you reading this do. You see how absolutely fanatical and dedicated I am to Superman, how much I care for him, how much I fight to get the stories I want, the level of professionalism in his creation.

So guess what? I read the first arc I read of Superman in almost five years, Man of Steel #17, and I was a kid, and my first response was, "Huh?" Lex Luthor had long red hair and a beard. Supergirl melted into purple goo. Superman could be weakened and killed. Lois was engaged to Clark. There had never been a Superboy.

Well, the simple solution to that problem is to simply make two pasts, right? Make one where everything is like I see it on TV, and another where it's like the comic guys who read all the issues know it, right? And maybe confuse them, depending on whether or not there's enough response, eh?

Does that sound as silly to you as it does to me?

Now... let's say you like the idea. I can see its plausibility, despite the fact that now a number of storylines that happened in the past can no longer have happened with the Birthright past. Let's wonder how to do it.

Waid is a great storywriter, and I love reading this story. I do. But what the idea seems to be here is to Ultimatize Superman without the concordant risks that come with streamlining and changing a continuity. We just can't have that, because fans would go nuts. Like me. So what do you do?

Well let's look at what Marvel did. Marvel kept the original universe for the folks who lived and died by their comics for the last thirty years, and then they created the Ultimate line for the kids. Ultimates sold like mad because it had a good writer (like Waid), a good storyline, and heck, I like Bendis' dialogue pretty much, but Waid's storytelling ability is nothing to spit at, either.

Here's the difference. Ultimate Spider-man has some neat plot twists, some NEW imaginations of characters, and the story isn't one a rehash of an old Spider-man story. It's original.

We've already seen Lex's hair burned off, in a similar context.

We've already seen Clark Kent come into the Daily Planet mild mannered. In fact, it was junked, because realistically, he's a good writer and would have respect, but hey, I'll go with it.

We've seen #@$&*, rhymes with witch, pre-marriage Lois.

We've seen Clark in his first foray with Luthor, many, many times. In comics, in cartoons, in movies.

The real question is what, continuity wise, this story offers or changes, and the reality is that while the story is good, many of the "changes" just maintain the status quo, per above, or worse, take from some good potential character issues.

For instance, Lana is now an airhead cheerleader who never pays attention to Clark and Pete is nearly absent, unlike the Byrne version where they were chummy and Clark was a normal kid.

Clark is now the water boy again, when great pains were taken to show that his powers came on late in puberty, after he was normal for a while and played football. It helps him identify with the human race, and is important.

The Internet is now with Clark at a young age, for whatever reason. I guess it's necessary to some people. I don't see the point.

Lex Luthor was rich from birth. I think this #@*%ed me off the most. A very important part of Lex's story is that he knows what it is like to be normal as well, like Clark, and that's why he's so capable of exploiting people. He's been "common". He's been poor. As much as I love the idea that a rich man, a man who's known only money, being a villain, I have to say that I identified with Lex to a modest degree for his poverty, and now that's been taken away.

And why?

Well, let's just put it bluntly. Smallville. The TV show.

I love the show. I do reviews of all the episodes. I enjoy it. I think the Lex they've created is magnificent. But, and this is important, I must stress, this is a SILVER AGE Lex. We are regressing back to a previous age in comics where things were less mature out of nostalgia, and paying less attention to story and more attention to whether or not it has our favorite villains. This story is a notable exception, in that it is well written, but nonetheless, I question the motives.

Why pander to the TV watching folks? Easy. Comics aren't selling, and they're looking for any way to sell they can. Kids just don't read any more, and comics are a business. So I shouldn't indict the industry for trying to make money, should I? I should be happy that comics are working to stay around rather than fade away.


It's like saying that because the big three channels are all going smuttier and smuttier in order to get readers, (and I like smut, but not LCD smut. Smut can have substance. Trust me on that) and I should be happy, because it will preserve the sacred trust of NBC, ABC, and CBS.

I say you tell the best stories you can, you don't pander, and if people don't buy, that doesn't change the fact that you did a good thing. Icons stagnate if they follow the crowd, and as a friend of mine puts it, is it worth it to have a rapping Superman, just because that's what the public wants?

#@&%$# the public. Give me the respect I'm due for reading for ten straight years. Going on 11.

On a hypocritical note, I have written 3 very good novels, going on 4, but to date have sold none. Not one. Accessibility is a large part of writing to some, and is thus my bias, but really, I like it when authors follow their hearts. I don't know if it's Waid, but I do know one thing.

Birthright doesn't follow the heart, Birthright follows the buck.

Adventures? Action? The main book? They seem to be following the heart.

Regardless, all four are telling great stories right now, and for that I have to be thankful at the end of my rant, regardless.

4Art - 3.5: Per usual, I am a bit distracted by the rough hewn, somewhat angry look on everyone in this book. The colors are fantastic, the story is very well put to the page, but I like a more idealistic and defined Superman.

However, Lex is done in fine style here, and is totally believable. It all evens out, and the burning scene, while a bit graphic for the children, is still amazingly well done. I like what I see in that respect, but still knock a little for the rough aspects. Thus the better picture. It's close to four.

5Cover Art - 5: For adults: 5 of 5. For kids: 1 of 5.

Let's see, this series is supposed to bring in the kids, right? Nothing like a young kid being immolated on the cover to make the kid love it and the parent approve, am I right? Am I right? Well, okay, maybe I'm not right.

But for me, an adult in good standing with the open mind, I love it. It's graphic, visceral, it brings Lex's burning, despite being repeated in this story, all the way home. It's horrible, it's vivid, it's an amazing depiction, enough to drag me away from the horrible, teen catching words at the bottom and into the story itself, which does indeed include a burning Luthor.

Praise that.

Mild Mannered Reviews


Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

January 2004

February 2004 March 2004 April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004 October 2004 November 2004 December 2004

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