Many think of Superman– the myth, the icon, the one that defined superhero comics– not as a man, but more of a symbol. Others see him as too naïve and one-dimensional to coexist in a superhero universe where heroes are either constantly wrestling with moral dilemmas or simply doing whatever it takes to stop the villain. In Superman: Birthright, writer Mark Waid gives us a more complete picture by showing a young journalist Clark Kent who starts to feel he must use his “special gifts” for the benefit of humanity but struggling with how, even going so far as to add a special assignment in Africa that cements Clark’s desire to share with the world what he is. Waid gives all the characters in Superman’s universe such varying degrees of personality, from Lois Lane’s tenacious, no-nonsense pursuit of a story to Lex Luthor’s maniacal pursuit of recognition, that they seem as real as people you see in the news or on the street. Yet it is how Waid adds layers of Superman, making him a man desperate to embrace the cultures of both his home planet and his adoptive home, which shows Waid’s understanding and love of the icon that is Superman. He even explains how the nebbish persona of Clark Kent, and not Superman, is the real disguise.
While the writing in this book is top-notch, the artwork of Leinil Francis Yu and Gerry Alanguilan show Superman that can be bigger than life and amazingly real. When Superman is beaten down, poisoned by Kryptonite, soldiers surrounding him, the reader can see that Superman is hurting and when he fights that he’s fighting through the hurt. This attention to detail makes the characters more like real people instead of characters out of Saturday Morning television.
Superman: Birthright works because the icon known as Superman is given just enough humanity to make him relevant to young and older teen readers; problems like the need to understand one’s past and future and the dichotomy of wanting to blend in and yet stand out are all part of one’s emotional growth. This book has Superman soaring through the air, discovering his abilities and his nobility, while happily bringing readers along for the ride.