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Birthright #4

A Review
October 3, 2003

"Acting is the ability to live truthfully under given imaginary circumstances."

-Sanford Meisner

As the fourth chapter of Birthright began, I was intrigued by the partially obscured title of the book Clark Kent was carrying on page three, so I did a little research.  I discovered the full title was Meisner on Acting, written by Sanford Meisner, who was one of the 20th century's great teachers of acting.

I realized later that the Meisner quote nicely captured the flavor of Birthright #4, as we see Clark take on not one, but two new "acting roles."

The first role is the "new" Clark Kent he and his parents devised last issue.  After years of DC blurring the distinctions between Clark Kent and Superman, the return of the distinctive, mild mannered Clark was a welcome change...and an encouraging sign that Mark Waid truly "gets" the core concepts of the Superman character.  Waid seems to understand that there are many gradations between the Geek-Spaz Caricature (where even the Christopher Reeve performance occasionally strayed) and John Byrne's sturdy, self-assured GQ model.  This Clark Kent seems to rest comfortably somewhere between those two inauthentic, irritating extremes.

The second role is, of course, Superman.  Taking yet another cue from Superman: The Movie, Mark Waid wisely bided his time before bringing Superman "on screen," and the impact was just as dramatic as it was on film.  It takes a special story to get this old Superman fan's pulse racing at the sight of the "S", but Waid and Yu pulled it off on the bottom of page 18 as Clark pulled open his shirt, hoping he wouldn't "look ridiculous" (loved that line).

But I'm getting ahead of myself, aren't I?

Before the aforementioned pulse-racing panel, we're also reintroduced to the Daily Planet and the classic trio of Jimmy Olsen, Perry White and Lois Lane.  Jimmy was, well.... Jimmy, though this time around curiously without his trademark freckles.  Perry had a little more bark and bite to him than I've seen lately in the Superman books, which only helped enhance the enjoyment of Clark's grilling in Perry's office.

And then there's Lois.

When Lois first appeared in this story, I recalled Mark Waid's commentary on Lois from an interview he gave earlier this year:

"One of the reasons Superman is instantly attracted to her is because she constantly surprises him, and he's hard to surprise.  Plus, the moment Clark first meets Lois, he's awed--and you'll see why in issue four."

I must admit, the reason Clark was awed was not as clear to me as Mark Waid might have hoped it would be.  I thought Waid overplayed his hand a bit with Clark thinking that he was "in love" after witnessing Lois sticking up for Jimmy.  I understand how Clark would admire someone who shares his need to "stick up for the little guy," but the "love at first sight" thing was too much, too soon... and was something I'd hoped someone of Waid's caliber would naturally avoid.  However, Lois was much less the snarling, acerbic Fem-Bot she's normally portrayed as, which is a refreshing change for the better.  But, she's still Lois, as demonstrated by her impulsive "borrowing" of the Daily Planet's helicopter.

Which brings me back to Superman.

Now.... how cool was that double-page spread of Superman grabbing Jimmy and the 'copter?  It was, quite possibly, the most awe-inspiring, tingle-inducing Superman scene in quite some time.  As dramatic as the costumed Superman's first appearance was way back in Byrne's Man of Steel mini-series, Birthright's Superman debut easily exceeds it with it's daring, dizzying camera angle combined with the raw power and stoic confidence of Leinil Yu's Superman.  Absolutely stunning.... and difficult to turn the page!

The drone battle was pretty standard Superman stuff, and the sudden appearance of Lex Luthor was a bit awkward, so the issue didn't end as strongly as I'd hoped it would.... but after the thrill of Superman's double-page debut, I'm not sure what Waid and Yu could have done to sustain the rush through the end of the issue.

Speaking of Yu, he delivered yet another masterful job, with the able assistance of inker Alanguilan and colorist McCaig.  The opening shot of Metropolis was breathtaking, and the new design of the Daily Planet city room was perfect for our zippy new century.  I want to work in an office like that!  Though Yu's highly stylized pencils occasionally gave characters a distracting, distorted look (like Jon Bogdanove before him), the majority of his work is a continual wonder to behold.  He obviously finds great joy in capturing the diverse faces of regular people without resorting to the generic Ken and Barbie clones far too many artists are limited to.  Of course, I could do without everyone's eyelashes reminding me of the Malcolm McDowell character "Alex" from A Clockwork Orange, but that's just a minor quibble.  All in all, an exhilarating, cinematic experience from the Birthright art team.

So, if "acting is the ability to live truthfully under given imaginary circumstances," the entertaining debut of Clark's new double-roles begs the question:  Which role is the more "truthful" role?  The "new" Clark, Superman, or both?  After far too long a time, the Birthright crew finally has the audacity to revive this classic comic book conundrum.

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