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Comic Book / Superman: Birthright

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In the beginning...

"For ten thousand orbits, a clump of dirt careened around a red dwarf star. And it accomplished miracles no-one will ever remember."

"Our son. The Last Son of Krypton. Let him never forget."

Superman: Birthright is a 12-issue limited series published by DC Comics, lasting from September, 2003 to September, 2004. Written by Mark Waid and drawn by Lenil Francis Yu, Birthright brought Superman and his origins into the 21st Century. Originally intended to be an alternate continuity, it was actually retconned into Superman's Canon origin, replacing John Byrne's The Man of Steel miniseries. Waid described the project as being an "Ultimate" take on the the Superman mythos. He wanted anyone, be it long-time fans or newcomers, to be able to pick the comic up and enjoy the story. Waid also placed emphasis on making Superman much more relatable and avoiding him being seen as "dull".

Beginning in the familiar setting of the doomed planet Krypton, Kal-El's parents Jor-El and Lara are forced to send their only son against the odds to a galaxy light-years away. The story quickly finds itself following Clark traveling the world to better find his place in it. Soon enough, he is inspired to become a symbol of hope for the people of Earth, assuming two new personas: Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter, and the hero Superman.

His arrival is met with both awe and fear, with Superman now fighting to earn the trust of the citizens of Metropolis against modern cynicism and one Lex Luthor.

Birthright was itself retconned out of continuity after Infinite Crisis, with Geoff Johns' Superman: Secret Origin miniseries being the next retelling of Superman's origin to be deemed canon.

Tropes found in this series:

  • Absent Aliens: Kryptonians haven't discovered any evidence of alien life. Jor-El only finds Earth minutes before Krypton explodes.
  • Abusive Parents: Luthor's father believed he had the next "Einstein" on his hands and was completely ruthless in pushing his son to his creative limits.
  • Alien Invasion: Luthor uses holograms and his personal militia to fake a Kryptonian invasion, both to discredit Superman and to paint himself as Metropolis' protector. His plan fails when Lois shuts down the machine that he is using to project the holograms, and Jimmy takes pictures of Superman saving civilians.
  • Alternate Continuity: The series was intended to be an alternate origin story for Superman, but was then made Canon, at least until Infinite Crisis retconned Superman's origins.
  • Aura Vision: One of Superman's many types of vision is the ability to see a distinct energy source around living creatures. It fades when they die. Seeing them "empty" like this disturbs Clark and prompts him to become a vegetarian.
  • Bad Boss: Mr. Galloway is horrible to his employees at the Daily Planet. He constantly yells at them and throws trash on top of Jimmy Olsen after the latter brings him the wrong flavour of milkshake.
  • Big Bad: Lex Luthor is a Corrupt Corporate Executive who restorts to extremely vile methods to secure his influence over Metropolis. After losing a bidding to Wayne Enterprises, he tries to discredit the rival company by hijacking the Wayne helicopters and launching an attack against the city. When Superman dismantles his plan and causes him to lose approval from the public, he becomes obsessed with making the world see the hero as a menace, going as far as to stage an alien invasion to instill terror across the globe.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Superman just barely sees his birth parents for the first time and learns his birth-name, but Luthor's sub-space communicator is destroyed before he even knows if his message to them made it. Luckily, it did, and Jor-El and Lara see that their beloved son has survived and accept their fate in relief.
  • Bullet Catch: Superman shoots an illegal arms dealer and catches the bullet just before it hits him so he'll know what it's like when someone shoots you.
  • Canon Immigrant: This is the first comic where Lex's father looks like Lionel from Smallville.
  • Canon Welding: Was originally intended as an an Alternate Continuity but DC decided to make it canon and replace The Man of Steel.note 
  • Cartridges in Flight: In a scene where Superman watches bullets fly towards him, the artist was sure to include dimpled primers and manufacturer's stamps on the bottom of the projectiles. Those go on the bottom of the cartridge, not the bullet itself.
  • Child Prodigy: Lex, who we see in his Teen Genius years during flashbacks.
  • Clark Kenting: Martha and Clark go into detail on his new "disguise". Never wears clothes that show off his physique, unkempt hair, his mannerisms and Martha even lampshades the fact the glasses aren't there so much to hide his face as to tone down his "unique" eye color. It takes him some time to fully get into the groove of it though. Martha advised him to keep his voice softer and higher, but at first he makes himself too soft, with multiple characters telling him he needs to speak up. However, he eventually gets so good at it that he starts getting ignored at the office, with the cleaning crew not even noticing he's still there.
  • Continuity Nod: Wayne-Tech and Kord Technologies are mentioned as competing with LexCorp.
  • Covers Always Lie: Issue 10 featured the corpse of Superman on its front in all its creepy detail. Not that it actually happens to Superman, considering there's another 2 issues to go.
  • The Dark Side Will Make You Forget: All Lex ever wanted was to converse with an alien life-form, but when the moment finally occurs, he's so far gone that Superman sees him as a monster and Lex is more concerned with his bruised ego.
  • Death by Origin Story: Superman's biological parents Jor-El and Lara, per usual, perished when Krypton was destroyed.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Such is Lex's ego, he takes Superman's public shunning of him as a deeply personal slight. Despite the fact Superman was completely justified in his actions given Lex's direct involvement in the gunships going berserk. So Lex goes out of his way to destroy Superman in typical supervillain fashion.
  • The Dragon: "Van-Gar" is the one leading Luthor's alien invasion. Though not much is revealed about him, including his real name, he says his main motivation is to show to the world what a monster Superman really is,
  • Dude, Not Funny!: Apparently Lex finds a great deal of humour in informing Superman that his homeworld is gone and that he is all that's left of his people. He even takes a picture of his face so he can capture the moment.
  • Evil Former Friend: The Big Bad Lex was once a childhood friend to Clark.
  • Eye-Dentity Giveaway: As an Adaptational Explanation, Superman's Clark Kenting works not so much because the glasses hide his face, but because the lenses diffuse the unnaturally vivid shade of blue of his eyes, which give away his alien heritage.
  • Fling a Light into the Future: It's made very clear that Jor-El and Lara aren't sure if they'll be able to get their son to an inhabitable planet. They intended that the computer on Kal-El's spaceship might find one but then Jor-El discovered Earth just before he launched the rocket. We also see that the ship had just barely enough fuel to reach Earth.
  • Foreshadowing: As Luthor is trying to communicate with Krypton, a voice in the background exclaims: "Such a Lovely daughter, Allura!" Allura In-Ze is the mother of Kara Zor-El alias Supergirl, who was restored to the main universe a few months later. It must be mentioned that Mark Waid is a big Supergirl fan.
  • Heavyworlder: Goes back to the explanation of that Superman gets powers because of Earth's lower gravity as well as its yellow sun.
  • Human Aliens: Kryptonians. Lex goes into detail about how he was able to deduce the kind of alien environment that would create a being that was identical to a human in outward appearance and yet would possess extraordinary powers on our world. Though he secretly has significant inside information.
  • Insufferable Genius: Lex, from a very young age, displays both a highly developed intellect and extremely poor social skills. His arrogance leads him to humiliate his classmates on several occasions, making him an unpopular outcast among his peers.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Lex's entire backstory and path to villainy is centered on how he had no one to relate to and was perpetually shunned due to his abnormally high intelligence. Along with his lack of social graces.
  • It Was with You All Along: Luthor's greatest goal is to talk to an alien. Unbeknownst to them both, his best friend Clark Kent is a Human Alien. Lex moves away from Smallville before Clark learns of his heritage, and when they meet again as adults, Lex doesn't want to acknowledge his hometown and Superman is too pissed at Lex's shady business practices to want to talk to him.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Kebile is surrounded by the media after one of the terrorists quickly pointed at him as the one who told him to kill Kobe, out of fear of Clark's sudden super-strength. Kebile was later forced to resign.
  • Last of His Kind: Superman is the last living Kryptonian. Though he is unaware this is the case. Lex delights in revealing this to him.
  • Made of Indestructium: The rocket that brought Superman to Earth is also indestructible under a yellow sun.
  • Mr. Fanservice: In the first few chapters, Clark spends most of his free time shirtless, and Pa Kent comments that most people would be able to tell his son is a superhero purely due to how well built he is. During the final battle, "Van-Gar" rips out the "S" on Superman's costume, leaving the hero to spend the majority of the climax with an exposed torso.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • A panel references the cover of Action Comics #1.
    • References to Superman: The Movie include Superman calling Lex a "diseased maniac" and Galloway sarcastically proclaiming "You will believe a man can fly!".
  • Never Accepted in His Hometown: The residents of Smallville thought of Lex Luthor as a weirdo and as an adult he won't even admit that he lived there.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: The series infamously upgraded Superman's enhanced vision, giving him the ability to see auras around living creatures.
  • Origins Episode: The comic serves as an updated take on Superman's origins, replacing John Byrne's The Man of Steel as canon before itself being displaced by Geoff Johns' Superman: Secret Origin.
  • Our Wormholes Are Different: Lex Luthor developed a kryptonite powered wormhole that allowed him to see into Krypton's past and eventually communicate with the natives.
  • Panacea: Luthor discovers a universal cure for every disease while researching Krypton.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Superman fires a gun point blank at an arms dealer who illegally sold to a school shooter. He catches the bullet before it hits but it lets the guy know exactly what kind of trauma children received because of his actions.
  • Stock Star Systems: Krypton is said to be in the Andromeda Galaxy.
  • Subspace Ansible: Luthor uses a wormhole to communicate with Krypton, which is located both in another galaxy and 25 years into the past.
  • Symbolic Distance: During the funeral of Kobe Asuru, a human rights activist and Clark Kent's friend, Asuru's sister Abena and Clark are located in close proximity at the beginning of the sequence, but following the conversation about Clark's "secret identity" as a super-powered person, the final panel has them on the opposite ends of the page.
  • Thou Shall Not Kill: Superman's traditional rule is explored through "soul vision". Clark can now perceive auras in living humans and other animals. He grows up vegetarian since plants don't have auras and he feels profound sadness when such auras fade away.
  • Translator Microbes: Luthor uses a "Subspace Translator" to understand the kryptonians he views through his wormhole. He eventually uses it in reverse to make his human mooks sound like kryptonian invaders.
  • Virtuous Vegetarianism: Implicit. Clark is vegetarian because he can see an animal's "life force", and his compassion for other living creatures — human or not — underlines the fact that he's the greatest superhero in the world.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Lana Lang is noted to have disappeared from Smallville at some point before the beginning of the story. That element never comes up again, and the only other appearance she makes is during a flashback to when they were in high school.
  • X-Ray Vision: One of Superman's many types of vision is of course X-Ray based.